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For some of the best tree skiing in Colorado, Burke recommends Mad Dog Glade off of the West End lift. "It's all big, thick aspen trees back there, spread out perfectly, and it mostly stays untracked. I've been back there a week after a good snow and still been in up to my knees in fresh powder. Another good one is Bear Claw, at the far west end. That's a new run they opened last season, and it's a lot of fun."
The mountain is naturally divided: You'll finds greens and blues near the bottom around the Easy Rider lift, and intermediate and advanced terrain off of West End and Take Four. There are also backcountry access gates at the top of the two main lifts. Powderhorn's been catering to the freestyle crowd in recent years and now features three terrain parks: Top Cut Park, at the top of Take Four, is full of small rails and jumps; the Maverick Park, at mid-mountain, has bigger kickers, a quarterpipe and an ever-changing landscape of new obstacles; and Rustler's Park, near the base area, features boxes, rails and a wall ride.
For a more natural terrain park, check out the boulder fields littered around the mountain. "Powderhorn is on the side of Grand Mesa and over the centuries it's had these crazy boulder gardens pile up as rocks have come crumbling down off the mesa," Burke says. "It's obviously not where you want to be early in the season, but as those fields start to fill in and get some big ol' pillows of snow on them you'll find little jumps and jibs all over the place."
General Information: www.Powderhorn.com; 970-268-5700.
Location: 250 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 49 to Colo. Hwy. 65.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Snow Report: 970-268-5300.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $56.
Terrain: 1,600 skiable acres with 40 trails; 20 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 15 percent advanced, 15 percent expert. Base is 8,200', with a 1,650' vertical rise; summit: 9,850'.
Purgatory at Durango Mountain
Purgatory is opening forty acres of new expert terrain in the glades on the front side of Durango Mountain, adding to last year's 125 acres of steep new tree runs: The newest run, Ambassadors, is named for Durango Mountain Resort owners Chuck Cobb (former U.S. ambassador to Iceland) and Sue Cobb (former U.S. ambassador to Jamaica), and brings the percentage of expert terrain at Purgatory up to 35.
"I've been up there on a mountain bike recently, and it looks pretty sweet where they're cutting new terrain," says Grady James, a junior at Fort Lewis College who's been skiing at Purgatory all his life and speaks of it like his own back yard. "They cut some trees down in there for me, and I'm looking forward to playing around in it a bit. There are some cliffs and stuff back there, so it's not beginner terrain by any stretch."
Purgatory also dug in with an early investment in its freestyle parks this summer, shaping a halfpipe and some of its biggest jumps out of dirt so it can keep its Paradise, Pitchfork, Angel's Tread, and Divine Comedy terrain parks open longer. Brush up on your Dante and go big in case God is watching. "There's a special circle in hell reserved for people who don't take chances," says James. Still, when the snow is good, the terrain park is the last place you'll find him: "If there's powder, the trick is to get over to Chair 5. You can have a lot of fun back there."
Purgatory's perfectly family-friendly, too, and has always had a reputation as a great resort for kids and beginners. On the other end, the San Juan Ski Company, which is based at Durango Mountain Resort, prowls 35,000 acres in the west San Juan Mountains as Colorado's largest snowcat-skiing operation ($250/person, book online at SanJuanSki.com). Make fresh tracks down from the 12,500-foot summit of Greyrock Peak, and you'll never forget it.
"We get so much snow out here it's sick," James says. "Worst-case scenario, you're having a blast on the groomers or in the bumps. But we get twenty to thirty feet of snow a year — we really don't have too many bad days."
General Information: www.SkiPurg.com; 800-982-6103.
Location: 340 miles southwest of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 55 south.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Snow Report: 970-247-9000, ext. 1.
Lift Rates: Adult regular season $67; holiday season $75.
Terrain: 1,360 skiable acres with 88 trails; 20 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 35 percent expert. Base is 8,793', with a 2,029 vertical rise; summit: 10,822'.
After ten years in business with a single lift, Silverton owners Jen and Aaron Brill have increased lift capacity at Colorado's most extreme ski resort by 50 percent this season — by adding more chairs to it. "People come to Silverton to ski lines, not wait in them," explains Aaron Brill. "So we spent most of the summer upgrading the chairlift and mounting a bunch of new chairs."
The bigger story: Silverton's heli-skiing operation now covers 22,000 acres. You need to bring or rent an avalanche beacon, probe pole and snow shovel to ski anything at Silverton (the mountain offers Level 2 avalanche training courses, too), so you might as well splurge and get up in the whirlybird — and deep into the San Juan Mountains backcountry — while you're at it ($159 per run, or $999 for a full-day experience; book online at SilvertonMountain.com).
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