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Drink locally: "We have a great new brewery at the bottom of the mountain in Poncha Springs: Elevation Brewery," says Monarch spokesman Greg Ralph. "We'll be working together this year on numerous promotions, including a Park & Ski, where you park at the brewery, meet up with friends and drive up, then stop at the brewery for a cold one at the end of the day." Try the Imperial Stout or the Little Mo' Porter (named for Monarch Mountain), or the Mount Blanca Belgian Saison.
POWDERHORN MOUNTAIN RESORT
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This season marks the second full one under new ownership at Powderhorn, and the owners — former Vail Associates president Andy Daly and Gart brothers Tom and John — have been busy improving every aspect of the guest experience and making major mountain improvements, including the addition of three new gladed runs: Sven's Bend, Thunderbird Glade and Bronco.
"The new owners got that place for a song last August, and the atmosphere has been coming around ever since. I'm really eager to see what they do with the place now that they've had some more time to make some investments in the mountain," says Seth Anderson. Anderson is co-owner of Loki, a Grand Junction-based maker of shape-shifting outerwear — jackets with built-in gloves, neck gaiters that transform into face masks, mittens that allow easy five-finger access — that he calls "wearable Swiss Army knife winter ninja gear."
"We get killer dry snow here, some of the best snow anywhere, and there's been constant clearing of the glades over the summer, so there should be new powder fields everywhere this season," Anderson says. "Powderhorn's known for its pillowy powder fields, and the farther west you go on the mountain, the bigger they get."
Splurge: "The Slopeside Inn is also under new ownership, and it's a great little place," Anderson says. "It's a splurge, but for ski-in/ski-out convenience, it's pretty affordable." Mini-suites start at $119, and condos that sleep up to ten people start at $259.
Ski bum tips: At $50 to $59, Powderhorn's one of the most affordable tickets in the state. Pick up a $10 Colorado Gems card from Colorado Ski Country USA to save even more. The $439 early-season pricing on the Powderhorn season pass is available through November 15, with benefits including local discounts and lift-ticket deals at partner resorts like Aspen/Snowmass, Steamboat and Crested Butte.
Drink locally: Hit the bar at Powderhorn's Sunset Deck to try award-winning brews like Palisade Brewing's Dirty Hippie Dark American Wheat and the Standing Wave Pale Ale from Grand Junction's Kannah Creek Brewing. "If you're coming through Grand Junction, don't miss the restaurant at the Kannah Creek," Anderson says. "But to really get a taste of what the Grand Valley is famous for, I'd also recommend a stay at the Wine Country Inn in Palisade and a visit to the Palisade Brewery or the tasting room at Peach Street Distillers. It's the best distiller in the U.S., and I recommend the Jackelope & Jenny Gin, the Goat Artisan Vodka, or one of the brandies, which use local peach, pear and plum fruit varietals and are out of this world."
PURGATORY AT DURANGO
If you haven't been to Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort in a few years or have never been, it might be time to make the trek. The ski area has been quietly but steadily increasing its gladed expert terrain — by 35 percent over the last four years — and simultaneously stepping up its amenities in the $50 million base lodge built back in 2008. There are also more terrain parks: five total, including some with bigger and burlier features permanently built up out of dirt to cut down on the need for snowmaking. And family programs have also been greatly expanding, building on the ski area's 47-year reputation as a beginner and intermediate-friendly haven.
"Lift lines and crowds are very rare at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, but to stay ahead of the pack, ski directly over to the backside of the mountain and ride Chair 5 or Chair 8 to lap the steepest untracked lines," suggests resort spokeswoman Kim Oyler. "Work your way back to the front side of the mountain around lunchtime and find untracked snow in the trees near Styx, Lower Hades and Catharsis. The terrain parks at DMR are located on the front side of the mountain, so they are prime for late-afternoon sessions as the afternoon sun illuminates the huge peaks of the Needles Mountain Range, providing a glowing amphitheatre-like backdrop."
Splurge: Snowcats from the San Juan Ski Company, based at Durango Mountain Resort, prowl 35,000 acres of expert backcountry terrain, making it the country's largest snowcat skiing and snowboarding operation; $350 will get you a seat, proper powder sticks for your feet, avalanche safety gear including a beacon and shovel pack, and a sack lunch. And book a massage at the Trimble Spa at the Durango Mountain Club while you're at it: You're gonna need it.
Ski bum tips: Fill up at the $10 all-you-can-eat buffet at Iron Horse Pizza on Friday and Saturday nights. Lodging in town is mostly affordable, but for ski-in/ski-out convenience, book the Rocky Mountain Stay & Ski package: $87 per person per night includes lodging and lift tickets.