At $399, Silverton's season pass is one of the best deals in Colorado. In addition to unlimited unguided skiing and half-price heli-runs, it includes four days at A-Basin, five at Loveland and five at Monarch. "We're taking the crack-dealer approach to get more people out here and get them addicted to the powder experience," Brill says. "We're averaging well over 400 inches of snow a year, and last year we got 520 inches. Up on my favorite run, the Grande, which is a 2,200-foot-long north-facing couloir, we're getting well over 600 inches a year."

Silverton is understandably popular with freeskiers and the telemark crowd, but for the true local experience, try a demo board from Venture Snowboards, made in Silverton by Klemens and Lisa Branner. "It's a little-known fact that Silverton Mountain is the only ski area in the U.S. owned and operated by snowboarders," says Lisa Branner. "Jen and Aaron joked in the early days about making it a snowboarders-only mountain. Like us, they're a mom-and-pop business and a husband-and-wife team: Silverton Mountain and Venture Snowboards are both no-frills operations where it's more about the backcountry experience than anything else. Our boards are purpose-built for the terrain you'll find when you get out here."

Branner recommends the Cabin run for Silverton first-timers ("It's one of the better runs you can get to without a massive hike") and also likes the hike-in Pope Face run. "If you're willing to put a little more effort in, you'll be rewarded for it, which is why you should come all the way out to Silverton in the first place," Branner says.

 

General Information: www.SilvertonMountain.com; 970-387-5706.

Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver via I-70, Colo, Hwy. 550 south, and Colo. Hwy. 550 south, and Colo. Hwy. 110. Base is six miles from Silverton.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends only, or Thursday through Sunday depending on conditions.

Snow Report: 970-387-5706.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass for unguided skiing $49, guided skiing packages from $99-$139. Heli-skiing starts at $159 per run (includes full-day lift ticket) or $999 for full-day experience.

Terrain: 1,819 skiable acres serviced by lift; 22,000 skiable acres serviced by helicopter. Base is 10,400', with a 3,087' vertical rise (hike-to); summit: 13,487'.

******

Ski Cooper

Ski Cooper will host this year's United States Ski and Snowboard Association Masters National Downhill Championship (March 19-20, 2011), a reminder that Leadville's local lode is still worth mining. "The race run, Black Powder, is really one of the nicest runs in Colorado," says Jeff Maddex, Ski Cooper's race director for more than twenty years. "Get up here when we're not racing on it and let loose sometime." Easier said than done: Between NASTAR racing, youth ski races and the Cooper Cup series, there's alpine racing almost every weekend at Ski Cooper.

Maddex also hosts Ski Cooper's 5th annual TeleFest on February 20, 2011, and it's not for the faint of heart or lungs: Ski Cooper's summit is 11,700 feet. "The highlight is the uphill/downhill Randonée Rally, where you start at the bottom, then head up, down, and back up to the finish," Maddex says. "But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to the first-timer."

With deep snow, steep runs and lots of alpine and Nordic touring opportunities, Ski Cooper's a popular destination for telemark and cross-country skiers all season; the ski school offers private and semi-private telemark lessons with PSIA-certified instructors, and the Piney Creek Nordic Center has telemark equipment rentals. Or skip the lifts altogether and check in at the Cross-Country Center at the base to get the lowdown on the network of local trails first established in 1942 as a training ground for the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division.

The historic mountain also holds a special place in the hearts of snowboarders: In March, it will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary as the first ski area in Colorado to allow snowboards on its slopes. Ski Cooper hosted the first-ever snowboard contest, King of the Hill, in 1981 (Jake Burton and Tom Sims were among the competitors), and still caters to snowboarders with a small terrain park, great powder and a full complement of snowboard lessons.

General Information: www.SkiCooper.com; 800-707-6114.

Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70 and U.S. Hwy. 24 west.

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

Snow Report: 719-486-2277.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $42.

Terrain: 400 skiable acres (lift-served), 2,400 skiable acres (snowcat-served) with 26 trails; 30 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 30 percent expert. Base is 10,500', with a 1,200' vertical rise; summit: 11,700.

 

******

Snowmass

"No matter what the conditions, you can go up and find something to ride at Snowmass," says Reggie Charles, co-owner of High Society Freeride, a ski and snowboard company based in Snowmass that manufactures its skis and boards at the Never Summer factory in Denver. In addition to the 18-foot superpipe and four terrain parks at Snowmass (Lowdown, Little Makaha, Snowmass Park and the 55-foot step-up jump on Fanny Hill), look for new features this season including a 12-foot minipipe and new rails, boxes and jumps all over the mountain.

High Society team rider Nate Berkel won the Big Air Fridays series last year, and Charles says the contest is a great opportunity to check out rising talent and local riders. "Snowmass is a freeriders' paradise," he says. "If it's dumping, you can go up to the Cirque Headwall or the Hanging Valley Wall and be in deep, deep powder, and if it's not, we've got some of the best parks in the industry here and just a giant mountain that you could spend a whole season exploring." Charles recommends checking out the Colorado Freeride Championships at Snowmass February 25 through 27, a big-mountain ski and snowboard competition up on the cliffs that you can watch from the base of the Hanging Valley Headwall (qualifiers) and from the deck of Gwyn's High Alpine Lodge. The finals are on the Burnside Cliffs, some of Snowmass's gnarliest terrain. You can ride those areas yourself in peak snow conditions, and Charles recommends the ten- to fifteen-minute hike to the Hanging Valley Headwall in particular.

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