By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Drink locally: With four brewpubs and a fifth on the way, Durango is the craftiest ski town in Colorado. There's Carver Brewing and Durango Brewing, and Steamworks, which has some fun with its locally themed beer names, including Ale Diablo, Devil's Fruit Basket, and Prescribed Burn. And then there's Ska Brewing, which has been collaborating to co-brand its Euphoria Pale Ale and the Euphoria Splitboard Powder Surfer built by Silverton's Venture Snowboards. Beers from all of the above are on draft in the bars on the mountain, as well as at Purgy's, the mountain's high-end restaurant.
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Silverton Mountain's infamous logo of a skier falling on a steep slope reflects two facts about the place: It's gnarly, and you might be better off on a snowboard. The mountain — owned by snowboarders Aaron and Jen Brill — gets an average annual snowfall of over 400 inches, and tends to get a lot of it all at once.
"Beginner skiers and snowboarders aren't going to have a real good time at Silverton," says Lisa Branner, co-owner of Silverton-based Venture Snowboards. "But if you know what you're doing and you're willing to work for it, it's going to become your favorite mountain." Venture's boards are built for the local terrain. "If you're feeling lazy and just want to drop something right off the lift, try taking Tiger for a warmup. But once you get a taste of it, you're going to want to hike for more."
Splurge: "That's an easy one: Get a $159 heli-drop at the mountain to get into untouched zones and super-deep powder," Branner says. For lodging, she suggests the Inn of the Rockies at the Historic Alma House. Silverton Powder Cats ($335/person) also has a great operation out on Molas Pass, and hiring Kling Mountain Guides is another good way to get out into the backcountry as safely as possible."
Ski bum tips: "Try the Silverton Inn & Hostel, because you can stay there for as low as $20 to help save up for those heli-drops," Branner suggests. Or look for deals at silvertoncolorado.com, "because winter is the down-season in Silverton, believe it or not."
Drink locally: Avalanche Brewing and Silverton Brewery "are both amazing," says Branner. At Avalanche, try the White-Out Wit, the Treasure Mountain Pale Ale, or the Pride of the West Porter, a dark ale with chocolate, named in honor of the Silverton dive bar that burned down in 2011. At Silverton, try the Bear-Ass Brown, Ice Pick or the Red Mountain Ale.
SKI COOPER/CHICAGO RIDGE
The 400 family-friendly skiable acres at Ski Cooper in Leadville make it one of the smallest ski areas in Colorado and a gem worth exploring for beginners and intermediate skiers or families looking to ride together. An additional 2,400 acres of snowcat-accessible terrain on Chicago Ridge make it one of Colorado's best-kept secrets.
"That Chicago Ridge area is special because it has a lot steeper terrain than Ski Cooper and gets a lot more powder," says Mike Collins, owner of Leadville-based Freeride Systems, one of the only made-in-Colorado ski and snowboard outerwear companies and the supplier of Leadville's Lake County Search and Rescue Team's uniform jackets. "In the past, Chicago Ridge has been accessible only by snowcat, but this year there are some gates that will allow people to ski or hike up there on their own." Chicago Ridge tops out at 12,600 feet, with vertical drops up to 1,500 feet per run.
For a taste of true Colorado ski history, head up on February 10 for the annual 10th Mountain Division reunion day, when some of the old-timers and World War II heroes responsible for laying down the roots of Colorado's ski industry still gather to take a few turns on the mountain and share way-back-in-the-day stories.
Splurge: Rates for the Chicago Ridge Snowcat tours start at $275 per person, or $2,800 to buy out a twelve-seat cat. But Ski Cooper spokesman Bob Casey recommends tacking on an overnight option at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center Sleep Yurts, with dinner and breakfast included in the package.
Ski bum tips: Ski Cooper is offering $30 Thursday lift tickets beginning January 10. Season passes are $309 and include three days each at partner resorts Monarch and Sunlight in Colorado, and Angel Fire Resort, Sipapu, Pajarito, Red River and Ski Apache in New Mexico. Pick up an unrestricted XP 4-Day pass for $99, available now through Thanksgiving Day or $119 after Thanksgiving. "Plan to spend the night in Leadville," says Collins. "There are great house-rental options through Aspen Leaf Realty, awesome B&Bs like the Governor's Mansion, cool old Victorian hotels like the Delaware Hotel, and newer places like Silver King and the Columbine that are all very affordable compared to any other ski town."
Drink locally: Pop into the T-Bar in the lodge, which features a selection of Colorado brews, or try one of the bars in town for the full Leadville experience. "I always send people to the Silver Dollar Saloon on Harrison Street: it's been there since 1883 and is the oldest Wild West bar around," Collins says. "The Scarlet Tavern, also on Harrison Street, is more of a locals' place, with great deals and a ton of draft beers, and there's a great dive bar called the Manhattan that everyone around here calls the Hack."