Loveland spokesman John Sellers says the top reasons people cite for coming to Loveland are snow, price, proximity to Denver and the atmosphere around the ski area. "I think people like that we're not huge and overwhelming," Sellers says. "This is a place you can come and be yourself on the mountain and not have to worry about anything."

Start at Loveland Valley's Chair 7 if you're a first-timer or teaching your kids, then spread out all over the mountain to find the goods. "The terrain park's always changing with new features, and it's a great place for anyone to get in there and play around," Peak says. "But you'll have just as much fun on the rest of the mountain. The thing about Loveland is that they always get hit with the big storms, and the snow stays so much longer than any other place. People bitch about it being windy, but from my perspective, it's a good thing. The wind starts to set areas up, and you find these untracked pockets even on days when there hasn't been snow."

Stop by Emage or check out the early-season demos at Loveland to get your gear sorted out for the season; to support the locals, check out the Never Summer Snowboards demo on November 6 and 7 and the Icelantic Skis demo on December 5. Finally, check the TVs in the bars and cafeterias at the base: They'll be tuned to the CDOT camera feed and can help you decide if it's worth kicking back and waiting out the traffic.

General Information: www.SkiLoveland.com; 800-736-3754.

Location: 56 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 216.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays.

Snow Report: 303-571-5554, ext. 221.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass through Dec. 17: $47; Dec. 18-April 10: $59.

Terrain: 1,670 skiable acres; 13 percent beginner, 41 percent intermediate, 46 percent advanced. Base is 10,600', with a 2,410' vertical rise; summit: 13,010'.

******

Monarch Mountain

Monarch, which celebrated its seventieth anniversary last season, spent about $1 million over the summer to celebrate and prepare for its 75th in style. Look for upgrades to the Garfield chair, a remodeled children's center, expanded parking, and better grooming coverage thanks to a new snowcat. But for the full Monarch experience, you'll want to skip all of that and get in the snowcat. "No Name Bowl in the backcountry on a bluebird powder day is pretty hard to beat," says Monarch local Chad Hixon. He owns Arlie Dale's Jug Liquors in town and has worked as a Monarch Snowcat Tours guide on the side for seven years. "It definitely depends on the snow conditions, but we get a lot of snow. We have about 12,000 acres of really good terrain in our permit area, and we'll do twelve to fifteen runs a day of the best skiing or snowboarding you've ever experienced." Tours run $210 to $275, depending on the month.

If you're staying in-bounds, try Panorama Ridge, anything under the Garfield lift, and the ten-minute hike to the "backcountry lite" Mirkwood Bowl and Elation Ridge. "We call it backcountry lite because it's avalanche-controlled and our patrollers are back there all the time — partly because it's their favorite spot on the mountain," says Greg Ralph, Monarch's marketing director. "Our long-term goal is to get a 200-acre expansion into the back side of the mountain, deeper into Gunnison National Forest — but for now, I think you'll find plenty to play in out here."

Monarch's also a magnificent reason to steer clear of the I-70 corridor. "We might be a little bit farther if you're looking at a map, but when you factor in drive time from Denver, you could be here quicker than just about anywhere in Colorado," Ralph says. "Once you try it, you'll want to get the season pass," which was great last year and even sweeter now.

"I'm calling it the Big-Ass Pass," says Ralph. "In addition to unlimited skiing here, you'll get up to three free days at ten partner resorts: Loveland, SolVista, Sunlight, Powderhorn, Silverton and Durango here in Colorado, plus Angel Fire, Pajarito, Sipapu, Alta, Grand Targhee and our new partners at Red River and Taos in New Mexico, China Peak in California, Snowbowl in Arizona, Indianhead in Michigan, and Revelstoke in British Columbia."

General Information: www.SkiMonarch.com; 888-996-7669.

Location: 157 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285 south and U.S. Hwy. 50 west.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $56.

Terrain: 800 skiable acres with 63 trails; 14 percent beginner, 28 percent intermediate, 27 percent advanced, 31 percent expert. Base is 10,790' with a 1,162' vertical rise; summit: 11,952'.

******

Powderhorn Resort

Adrian Burke grew up in Denver and skied everything off I-70, but after moving to Grand Junction six years ago, where he's a mechanic at the Board & Buckle Ski & Cyclery, Powderhorn has become one of his favorite places. "I've had more powder days here than I've ever had anywhere else," Burke says, adding that Powderhorn's reputation as a family-friendly mountain is what makes it worth checking out. "There's definitely a lot of families here, but that's kind of why I like it. Those people tend to stay out of the trees, which is where you'll always find me."

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