By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Melanie Asmar
Some of Colorado's favorite ski resorts will mark big anniversaries this season, and you're invited to the party with The Edge, our annual insider's guide to all of Colorado's ski and snowboarding destinations. Copper Mountain turns forty, Vail and Steamboat celebrate fifty years in business, and Loveland is entering its 75th "black diamond" season. And then there's little Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, which has 100 years of service under its belt.
"It's going to be a fun year to get a little bit nostalgic and celebrate the great history of skiing and snowboarding," says Colorado Ski Country USA spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph. "It's also an exciting time, as many of those areas are looking to the future with their master development plans and some big things in store this season and the next couple of years."
To help us get the most out of this year's season, though, we turned to the owners of some of the coolest local ski, snowboard and winter outerwear companies for tips to make the most of our local winter wonderland. Not only did they give us recommendations on how to splurge and how to save like a ski bum, but they also pointed us toward some great local beer choices.
Find more on winter recreation and special events in the Calendar section and Show and Tell blog at westword.com.
Now, let's see that white stuff fly!
ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI &
888-ARAPAHOE (press 1 for snow conditions)
A-Basin won first-to-open bragging rights again this year, spinning the wheels on the Black Mountain Express high-speed quad chairlift on October 17. "Arapahoe Basin always has the best early-season skiing, and the best part is, it just keeps getting better and better throughout the year," says David Liechty, owner of Denver-based Grace Skis. "Don't think skiing in Colorado is just December, January, February; at A-Basin, things really start to get fun in April, May and even June or July. I always tell people, 'Don't quit skiing once those golf clubs come out of storage, because in Colorado you can do both!'"
Liechty uses some of the steepest terrain at A-Basin as a research-and-design lab for his company's three-ski quiver concept, which includes big-mountain, all-mountain, and powder skis. All of them have bamboo topsheets and a no-frills design aesthetic he says was inspired by the classic skiing experience offered at his favorite mountain.
"I love the simplicity at A-Basin," Liecthy says. "You can drive up, park for free, and ski quality vertical right off of the Pallavicini lift from the base area. And, when it opens a little bit later in the season, the North Pole and Upper East Wall area is very fun. Second notch is hands-down my favorite little slot up there when it's open. It's about as extreme as you can get in-bounds at any ski area I know of. A-Basin is also super family-friendly, so you get the best of both worlds."
This season, the ski area is pushing the latter, with the addition of the new Pika Place Learning Area, a surface lift for beginners, and the Ace's Kids Park, a new intro-level terrain park adjacent to the Black Mountain Express lift.
Splurge: Tickets to chef Christopher Rybak's popular Moonlight Dinner series at the mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge have become a hot commodity in recent years, frequently selling out months in advance, thanks to his reputation for stuffing diners so full they're glad to have the option to burn some calories by snowshoeing down. This year's first dinner is the ski-up/ski-down Night in Bavaria Randonee Dinner ($69, no lift service) on November 24, followed by A-Basin's annual New Year's Eve celebration ($95, lift service only) and monthly themed dinners worthy of howling at the full moon over ($82 each, lift service optional).
Ski bum tips: With free slopeside parking, a free spring concert series, regular bashes on the base-area "beach" and an overall no-frills vibe, A-Basin has been a ski bum mecca since 1946. To get the best deals on lift tickets, order them online at arapahoebasin.com, and check the "Hot Deals" tab for lodging discounts. Or just go full-out dirtbag style: "I have a six-foot bed on my truck, and I'll sleep down the road in a pull-off to make sure I'm up and at 'em for first tracks in the morning," says Liechty.
Drink locally: The 6th Alley bar at the base area offers brews from Odell, Avery and New Belgium. "Oh, and another dirtbag tip: If you can't afford to buy a drink and a meal, step to the bar and ask for the Bacon Bloody Mary," Liechty suggests. "It's worth every penny."
"The Highlands Bowl at Aspen Highlands is probably the single biggest draw for me out of all the in-bounds terrain in Colorado," says Mike McCabe, master builder at Folsom Skis, which recently expanded to add off-the-shelf skis to its full-custom business. "It's natural, steep terrain that makes for good, consistent high-alpine skiing. It's off the beaten trail a little bit, so you're never waiting in a lift line for more than a minute."
Folsom recently topped Freeskier magazine's 2013 list of the "Top 10 Microbrew and Independent Brand Skis" and is also outfitting the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol with new planks this season. Austin Nelson and Jordan White, two of Folsom's sponsored athletes, won the Helly Hansen Battle of the Bowls last year at Aspen Highlands, and McCabe says he's looking forward to the brand-new Highlands Bowl Slopestyle competition this year, set for January 28-30. "That's going to be a sweet event," says McCabe, who competed on the big-mountain freeride circuit before joining Folsom.
Another popular event at Aspen Highlands is the Fallen Friends Memorial (March 30), which unites skiers and snowboarders for a contest on the bumps, rails and jumps of Scarlett's Run to honor those who've died on the slopes, and to benefit the Aspen Valley Ski Club scholarship fund.
Splurge: Try the fondue and Swiss cuisine at the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, which also offers Thursday-evening snowcat dinners (call 970-923-8715 for reservations). "Other than that, the single best splurge a skier can make — other than ordering full-custom skis from Folsom — is to get a good pair of custom boots," McCabe says. "I get mine at the Surefoot shop in town."
Ski bum tips: "Look on Craigslist for crazy-awesome deals on short-term apartment rentals at places like the Skier's Chalet or the Tyrolean Lodge before you head up," McCabe says. "Sometimes you can even find entire trailers for rent in the trailer park."
Drink locally: "My favorite beer in Aspen is the Independence Pass IPA from Aspen Brewing Company," McCabe says. "Look for that and other local brews at the recently remodeled Merry-Go-Round restaurant at the top of the Exhibition lift at Aspen Highlands."
ASPEN MOUNTAIN (AJAX)
"Ajax is a skier's mountain," says Anson Fogel, owner of Forge Motion Pictures in Carbondale, who just unveiled his company's spots for Visit Colorado's winter tourism campaign and whose own short film, Cold, swept the adventure-film awards circuit this year. "It's got incredibly varied terrain and a gondola that takes you from the very bottom to the very top. It's got steep trees and glades all over the place, and the mountain has a bunch of different aspects, so as the day goes by, you can always find soft snow by following the sun. It's like God engineered the place just for skiers."
You can say "Namaste" to it all and warm up with snow salutations at the free Yoga for Skiers sessions held every morning on the sun deck at the top of the gondola. On Saturdays, go for the $25 First Tracks breakfast, a lift ticket add-on that will put pancakes in your belly and you on the gondola and the slopes with local ski pros before anyone else.
Even if you sleep in, making fresh tracks shouldn't be a problem, says Fogel. "There are so many little secret stashes all over the mountain, little spots that don't get skied, and if you know where to go, you can pretty much always find powder. My favorite spots are in the Mine Dumps and on Wallisch's, a short and steep run that always seems to have a ton of snow."
Splurge: Aspen Mountain Powder Tours pick up from the top of the gondola. For dinner try Element 47, the new restaurant at the five-star Little Nell hotel. "I also really like Cache Cache Bistro and Nobu Matsuhisa," says Fogel. "Especially if someone else is buying."
Ski bum tips: Skip the organized tour and do it yourself. "If you know what you're doing, then go for it and be careful out there. And if you don't know what you're doing but still want to get out there, try Aspen Expeditions and hire a guide," Fogel says. For cheap eats, he suggests Johnny McGuire's Deli. "They have incredible hot sandwiches, very cheap. It's an institution."
Drink locally: "The Aspen Brewing Company has some great local beers and a cool little tap room," says Fogel. Also, try the twice-monthly beer dinners at the Limelight Hotel, presented in partnership by Aspen Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewing, and Craft Beers by Anheuser-Busch ($40, includes three-course meal, beers, tax and tip).
BEAVER CREEK RESORT
Barry Clark doesn't need a lot of luxuries, just good snow — and at Beaver Creek, he says, "they get a lot of snow, and you can almost always avoid a lift line."
It's also a great family mountain, says Clark, who is celebrating the grand opening of Weston Snowboards, his shop at 106 Main Street in the nearby town of Minturn, where he stocks his own line of backcountry-ready snowboards and gear.
"My family loves riding in the Royal Elk Glades, a super-steep black-diamond playground that gets big pillows of puffy snow," he says. "A close second is the Bachelor Gulch Glades — and by the way, Bachelor Gulch is also a great place to park; even when the Beaver Creek Village parking is full, you can park at the Ritz-Carlton. Just go in and buy a drink at the end of the day and get your ticket validated."
Splurge: Indulge your inner one-percenter with a stay at the Osprey, Travel + Leisure magazine's top-ranked U.S. resort. It's just steps from the Strawberry Park Express lift, and the huge, spacious suites and A-list customer service will help you best understand Beaver Creek's "Not exactly roughing it" slogan. Toscanini is a great Italian restaurant at the base area, and a snowcat-towed sleigh ride to Beano's Cabin is a fun on-mountain splurge.
Ski bum tips: "The beauty of Beaver Creek is they'll treat you the same way whether you're a multi-gazillionaire or a dirtbag, so you'll feel like royalty up there no matter what," Clark says. "Besides the free three-o'clock chocolate chip cookies Beaver Creek is famous for, I'd also recommend the s'mores they have by the firepits at both the Ritz and the Hyatt, where nobody will ask to see your room key card." For lodging discounts, try the Christie Lodge in Avon or the Hotel Minturn near Clark's shop.
Drink locally: Bonfire Brewing in Eagle is "killing it with beers like their High Altitude Pale Ale and Mistress Winter Wheat," Clark says. Or try the SnowCat Coffee Stout at Crazy Mountain Brewing in Edwards.
Breckenridge opens its 51st season this year and marks the 50th anniversary of its signature Ullr Fest, in honor of the skiing Norse god. And there's a good reason why people keep coming back.
"Breck has every aspect of terrain covered, from the parks to the steeps," says Mike Waesche, a Breck local and owner of the Rocky Mountain Underground ski company. "Breck's terrain parks are the perfect testing ground for our skis, and when the snow is good, there are some great spots on the mountain to do some hiking and really put them to the test."
Waesche suggests picking up Rocky Mountain Underground demo skis — which have earned editors' nods this season from Freeskier, Powder, Skiing and Backcountry magazines — at the Mountain Wave shop on the way into town, then heading for Peak 8 or Peak 7. Time your visit to coincide with the Dew Tour's Mountain Championships, December 13-16, for a tutorial on how to slay Breck's parks, pipes and party scene like a pro.
Splurge: For a night out, Waesche suggests Blue River Bistro, a gourmet Italian place in town, and for an experience, try Breck's Ski & Ride Camps and special events like the Rocky Mountain Park & Pipe Camp and the Ladies' Snowboard Fest.
Ski bum tips: "I like to send people to the Northside Bar at 315 Main Street," says Waesche. "Pizza. Beer. Wings. What more do you need?" For discount lodging, try the Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel, with winter dormitory rates as low as $45 per night and the highest-end four-person suites maxing out at under $200.
Drink locally: "You can't go wrong with the Breckenridge Brewery," Waesche says (try the Avalanche Amber Ale or the seasonal Christmas Ale). "But that's the obvious choice. I also really like the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco," where he's partial to the Whiteout Barleywine.
BUTTERMILK SKI RESORT
The Winter X Games will return to Buttermilk for the thirteenth year in a row January 24-27, and the entire spectacle is free. The mountain boasts world-class terrain parks and the superpipe that sent Shaun White launching toward a perfect score last year. But once all the pros and their energy-drink sponsors roll out of town, it can all be yours. And the X Games notwithstanding, Buttermilk is actually the mellowest of the Aspen/Snowmass resorts, in terms of both terrain and temperament. In fact, the mountain is best known for its long, rolling groomers.
Nursing ambitions of X Games glory? Buttermilk's Ski & Snowboard School can get you into the restricted S3 Park, where beginner and intermediate terrain parks will help you get your legs under you before taking on the bigger features in Jacob's Ladder Park and the X Park. And when you're ready to test your mettle, register for the Aspen/Snowmass Freeskiing Open (an FIS-sanctioned event held on the X Games superpipe and slopestyle courses), set for February 21-24, or the Buttermilk Rail Jams on March 24 and April 7.
Splurge: Book a room at the ski-in/ski-out Inn at Aspen, at the base of Buttermilk ($99/night for hotel-style rooms, $204/night for the Royal King Suite), and dine at the Elkhorn Bar & Grill.
Ski bum tips: The grab-and-go Bumps cafeteria at the Buttermilk base area has good grub and is among the most affordable of any of Aspen's on-mountain options. Head higher for the similarly priced Cliffhouse Restaurant.
Drink locally: The Elkhorn Bar & Grill has Colorado beers including Aspen Brewing's Independence Pass IPA — a beer that comes with a warning: "Independence Pass marks the eastern boundary of the Roaring Fork Valley and the City of Aspen. With a summit elevation of 12,095 feet, we HIGHLY recommend that the inexperienced beer drinker is EXTREMELY careful drinking this high-alcohol brew at such altitude. You wouldn't want to fall down the pass!" On your way back to Denver, stop in Carbondale for a visit to the Carbondale Beer Works Ale House & Wienery for beers and sausage (no, "Wienery" is not a typo).
For forty years, Copper Mountain has been building its reputation as a mountain with something for everyone: Head to the back bowls for the steep stuff, catch a free Tucker Mountain Snowcat ride to get into the deep stuff, stay on the front side for groomers, head west to Union Creek for beginner terrain, or hit up the ever-expanding network of progressive terrain parks and the Olympic-sized superpipe to learn some new tricks.
"Copper is a favorite Colorado resort because it's not too far, has the full package of terrain and is friendly throughout — in the park, bowls and bars," says Andrew Langford, art director for Snowboard Colorado magazine, which published its twentieth issue this month and is now in its third season. "For me, the biggest attraction is the terrain parks. Ever since they brought Jason George on as park manager, the park has had a real skatepark flow. They've started building more creative features, and each time you come up there's something completely new or switched up. You can tell a lot of time and effort goes into the park, and the partnership with Woodward at Copper has been very good for snowboarders and freeskiers."
Woodward at Copper has also made the mountain a premier destination for some of the world's top athletes; you can catch them in action January 9-12 at the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix — a qualifier for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, where ski halfpipe and ski and snowboard slopestyle events will make their Olympic debut.
Splurge: If you're looking to learn some new tricks, try the One-Hit Wonder first-timer's session in the Barn ($59.99) or other camp and clinic offerings at Woodward at Copper; the three-day Holiday Camp, December 27-29 is $499 if you already have a lift ticket or season pass, $599 without. A trip to the Copper Mountain Spa & Athletic Club for a massage (starting at $50) or the popular après-ski foot reflexology treatment ($45) might be in order. And lastly, "Copper Mountain does have some pretty tasty sushi at Storm King Lounge," Langford says.
Ski bum tips: "The decent way to save some money when it comes time for shelter is the Edge employee housing," says Langford. "On a first-come, first-served basis, you can sometimes get a room at the Edge for just $40." Check out the over-the-hill throwback deals when Copper celebrates its fortieth birthday (December 7-9), including $40 lift tickets, 72-cent beer at Endo's, $40 equipment rental for two, and $40 Ski & Ride School and Woodward at Copper packages. For cheap eats all season long, try Pizza Carlo.
Drink locally: Coors rules at Copper, but you can also find New Belgium beers on tap at Endo's Adrenaline Cafe, or cans of Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues at Pizza Carlo.
The ungroomed extreme skiing on the Headwall and North Face of Crested Butte is what gets all the attention and differentiates the resort from other ski areas,"says Caleb Weinberg, co-owner, with his brother Morgan, of Romp Skis in downtown Crested Butte. "But I think the real secret about Crested Butte is that it's a great mountain for everybody. The word's been getting out, and we're starting to see more and more families and more and more kids, which is pretty cool."
The ski area has been pushing its Camp CB winter kids' program in recent years and built kid-friendly terrain parks and a year-round Adventure Park with tubing, bungee trampolines, zipline tours and other family activities.
But if you're in it for the steeper stuff, try the Crested Butte North Face Guide program, a new CBMR Ski & Ride School offering that takes guests out for guided in-bounds tours of the North Face terrain served by the High lift. And when the backcountry beckons, try the $350 five-hour session with Crested Butte Mountain Guides to learn harnessed climbing techniques and how to safely make the most of some of Crested Butte's most famous terrain.
Splurge: "Two of my favorite 'splurge' restaurants in town are the Lobar sushi bar and Soupçon Bistro, a great French restaurant in an old mining cabin," Weinberg says. "But the best way to drop a chunk of money around here is absolutely the Cat Skiing Irwin operation, where they get unreal amounts of snow.... It's definitely a very high-end experience, with leather seats in the cats and everything, and you'll get about ten of the best runs of your life if you time it right. It's a very top-of-the-line, over-the-top experience, and it's well worth the money."
Ski bum tips: Ski free on opening day (November 21), or pick up the $275 Getaway Pass, good for one night's lodging and two days of lift tickets for two people. The Secret Stash offers a pizza slice, a PBR, and a shot for $6. And if you want a piece of the pow, wear an avalanche beacon: Crested Butte ski patrollers give preference to the first fifty guests with transceivers when they're opening new runs after a big snow.
Drink locally: Weinberg's favorite local hangout is Talk of the Town, at 230 Elk Avenue. But there's also The Eldo Brewery and Taproom, and Montanya Rum Distillers.
Boulder-based meteorologist Joel Gratz issues reliable powder forecasts at OpenSnow.com, which keeps tabs on snowfall at ski areas nationwide. But his favorite storms are those closest to home. "I love Eldora for two reasons," he says. "First is that small-ski-area feel. There's plenty of terrain, but it feels homey. Second is that it gets big-powder days when other ski areas don't. Eldora benefits from 'upslope storms,' which hit Colorado with winds from the east. These winds rise from 3,500 feet in elevation at the Colorado/Kansas border to over 10,000 feet at Eldora, and this rising air creates lots of powder on the east side of the Continental Divide."
To find the biggest powder stash on the mountain, follow Gratz to Corona Bowl or into the trees on the front side of the mountain. Beyond that, he's keeping his secrets to himself. "Rather than give up all the local favorites, I'll let you explore and find your own secret stashes," he says.
Splurge: After the powder gets tracked at Eldora, Gratz suggests contacting Eli Helmuth at Climbing Life Guides for insight and backcountry skiing adventures in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and in Rocky Mountain National Park (get information at climbinglife.com).
Ski bum tips: "Parking is free, and things are pretty inexpensive in Nederland compared to other resort areas," Gratz says. "A must is a stop at Buffalo Bill's Coffee, which is housed in three old train cars right in the center of Nederland, at the intersection of Route 119 and Lakeview Drive."
Drink locally: Stop at the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery in Nederland for an Otis Pale Ale or a Redemption Oatmeal Stout, or try Very Nice Brewing, which opened in October. And don't forget Boulder's many breweries. "One that goes perfectly with Eldora is Upslope," Gratz says. "Who wouldn't want a beer whose namesake is responsible for the powder you just enjoyed?"
Of all the big ski-area anniversaries this year, the biggest will be at the smallest: tiny Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs was founded in 1913 by Norwegian immigrant Carl Howelsen, who began construction on a Nordic ski jump the following year. So there's an opportunity to "ski the oldest continually operated ski area in Colorado with past, current and future Olympians on any given day," says Craig Robinson, facilities supervisor for the City of Steamboat Springs, which owns and operates Howelsen Hill.
Ski-jumping has remained a focus at Howelsen for that entire stretch of time, and Robinson boasts that the mountain has been the training ground for more than 79 Olympians, fifteen members of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, and six members of the National Ski Hall of Fame. And, it turns out, old-school ski jumping never loses its appeal: One of our favorite viral YouTube videos of the year was posted from Howelsen Hill in March, featuring a fourth-grade girl talking herself into dropping in on the K40 jump. "Here...goes...something...I guess," she says, shortly before going for it, landing it, and letting out the most gleeful scream of all time.
The city council, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and the Howelsen Hill Centennial Committee had young skiers like her in mind this summer when it built a new intermediate HS45 (Hill Size) jump that will be usable year-round, spending a total of $1.8 million on the jump and other improvements.
Splurge: Tubing Steamboat offers one-hour tubing sessions ($25/adult, $22/ages 13-17, $18/ages 6-12, 5 and under free). Robinson also recommends a trip to Strawberry Springs ($10), dinner at any of the downtown restaurants within blocks of Howelsen Hill, or a trip to the (much pricier) Steamboat Resort just outside of town.
Ski bum tips: With $20 lift tickets, $10 night-skiing tickets and $10 tickets to access the Nordic trails, Howelsen Hill offers the least expensive ski experience in Colorado. Robinson also recommends bringing an extra dollar, the price of one of Howelsen Hill's locally famous cookies.
Drink locally: Mahogany Ridge Brewery is a short walk across the river from the Howelsen base area. Try the Alpenglow amber ale or the Spring Creek Stout.
"I like the vibe at Keystone," says Adam Browning, owner of Evergreen-based Oz Snowboards. "I like the night riding, I like sitting out and having lunch at LaBonte's Cabin and sitting in the Adirondack chairs, and I love hiking in the North Bowl to chase powder. The best part about Keystone is that it's close, you can park right up on it, and it has a great variety of terrain to ride."
Keystone's also known for attracting snowboarders and freeskiers with both its early-season terrain-park offerings and its world-class, award-winning A51 terrain park. This season, it will be going after the next generation of young rippers with its new Burton Riglet Park, aimed at snowboarders ages three to six, with an "if they can walk, they can ride" mantra that is new to the area, which previously only offered snowboard lessons for kids ages six and up.
Splurge: Expert riders can book a day on the snowcat with Keystone Adventure Tours ($240/person includes lift ticket, powder ski rental and lunch) in Keystone's Independence Bowl. If you have some schedule flexibility throughout the season, pick up the $500 standby pass, good for five tours, and check in 24 hours in advance to see if any seats are available for the next day. For a fun dinner splurge, try Der Fondue Chessel on Keystone's North Peak Mountain: you'll take two gondola rides on your way to a traditional Swiss fondue restaurant complete with raclette grills and Bavarian bands making the table-to-table rounds. Base cost is $58/adult, $29 ages 6-12, 5 and under free, with specialty add-ons available.
Ski bum tips: Browning recommends the $5 Outback Shuttle, "a snowcat ride that will save you a hike in the Outback bowls. The shuttle runs from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., weather and snow conditions permitting, and accepts cash only. A $50 transferable pass good for fifteen rides is also available. "True ski bums know you can fill up on Saltine crackers and packets of honey and leftovers in the cafeteria if you're starving — I've been there — but if you're that desperate, then you probably don't need me to tell you."
Drink locally: "The Dillon Dam Brewery is the place to be after a day of riding at Keystone," says Browning. Trade your ski goggles for the seasonal 2020 Beer Goggles Double Dam IPA or any of the six award-winning beers on the menu.
Colorado's second-oldest ski area opened its 75th-anniversary year on October 23, kicking off a season-long celebration that will build to a crescendo the weekend of January 12-13. "I think it's incredible that they've endured this long and stayed small and independent and family-owned, as nearly all of their competitors have gone corporate," says Matt Rinehart, owner of Origin Snowboards, a family-owned business specializing in "grom" boards for kids. "That's one of the charms of Loveland, and it's indicative of the type of resort that it is. I hope that they have another 75 good years ahead of them, at least, and that my kids are still ripping turns there with their kids and grandkids when it comes around."
Among the ski area's other charms: proximity to Denver, affordability, all-mountain terrain, and a family-friendly vibe. In fact, for his money, Rinehart says Loveland is the best place in Colorado to teach a kid to ride or ski. "It's where I learned to ride in the '90s, and it's where I've been teaching my kids over the last couple seasons," he says. "If you're just getting the groms started, head over to the Loveland Valley side, where they have a great lesson program, a kid-friendly chairlift, and a kid-sized beginner terrain park perfect for learning some of your first moves. If you're a pretty good snowboarder or skier yourself, I'd suggest skipping the lessons altogether and teaching them yourself. It's been some of the most rewarding time I've spent with my kids as a parent, and now we all ride together all over the mountain."
To catch Rinehart and his kids in action this season, watch for their Origin Snowboards hoodies in the terrain park — which moves back to its old home on Roulette under Chair 6 this season — or chasing powder under Chairs 4 and 8.
Splurge: "Loveland is a place where you can splurge without paying a high-end price," says spokesman John Sellers. "Our snowcat tours are free. Our sport shop has gear at Front Range ski-shop prices, not what you would expect at a resort. And even our high-end private lessons are very affordable when compared to prices at other resorts. We don't offer ticket or pass add-ons like early access or lift-line priority. At Loveland, everyone is treated equally. You can't buy preferential treatment here!" Still, Rinehart did offer one suggestion: "Splurge for the lunchtime wax deal there at the base-area shop. You drop your board off and then go eat, and by the time you're done, it will be all waxed up and ready to go."
Ski bum tips: Check out the Ridge Cat, a twenty-person shuttle, new this year, that will provide free access (when conditions permit) to Field of Dreams, Velvet Hammer, Tickler and Marmot for anyone with a lift ticket or season pass. Check skiloveland.com for "Hooky Days" sponsored by local radio stations, when ticket prices drop to just $20. And for lunch, hit the cafeteria or do it DIY style. "Another thing we love about Loveland is the tailgate vibe in the parking lot," Rinehart says. "We like to bring our tiny little propane grill and hang out by our car to eat lunch."
Drink locally: Step to the bar at the Wedge Bar or Rathskeller and ask for the new Pine Bough Ale from Tommyknocker Brewing in Idaho Springs, a special brew to mark Loveland's 75th anniversary that actually has pine needles collected from around the ski area among its ingredients.
Monarch Mountain added 500 new chairs for this season and has been busy remodeling its base lodge, adding 16,000 square feet, but the real appeal, says Nicholas Whittemore, is getting away from it all. "Monarch is a place where you can go take laps all day and keep finding untracked powder," says Whittemore, who owns Fortitude Skis in Arvada.
For that, he recommends the relatively short hike to the Mirkwood Basin terrain, along with the snowcat tour: " I first went three years ago with a group of other Colorado ski builders, and it's become one of my favorite Colorado adventures."
But no matter where you ski or ride in Colorado this winter, he adds, "Keep an eye out for Monarch's butterfly-logo stickers on people's helmets and car bumpers, because chances are that will be a person you'll want to take some runs with. In my experience, those are going to be people who know what's up."
Splurge: "If I had to name the top three splurge items at Monarch, I'd say to take the Monarch Snowcat Tours three days in a row," Whittemore says. "We got like ten laps in the snowcat last time I did it, and it's a real playground out there."
Ski bum tips: Monarch's One Planet. One Pass deal includes free days at 31 resorts around the world, including eight in Colorado and enticing ones elsewhere, like Revelstoke in British Columbia. The cost, $359, may sound like a splurge, Whittemore says, "but that's got to be the best season-pass deal anywhere if you actually go out and use a bunch of them, even just here in Colorado.... It'd pay itself off in a hurry."
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
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.
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.
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."
SKI GRANBY RANCH (formerly SolVista Basin)
"I actually grew up riding at this mountain with my family, and it's always been one of my off-the-grid favorites," says Jeff Popp, owner of Mile High Mountaineering, a Denver-based backpack company that recently won the 2012 Something Independent Award for Colorado entrepreneurs.
Ski Granby Ranch spent the summer thinning out beetle-kill trees and opening up five acres of new gladed terrain between the Bounty Hunter and Jackpot runs. (Let the beetles know what you think of them with a slash in Ted's Secret Stash, a log-jib terrain park where some of those trees have been finding a new life.) The area also opened three new expert runs on West Mountain.
"What's special about it is it's a hidden little place where you can find plenty of good powder lines," Popp says. "My family always liked to go there because there are two peaks, but no matter which run you take, it's going to feed you back down to the same base, which makes it super family-friendly. You don't have to worry so much about going at the same pace or having everybody stick together, because you'll catch up with each other or see each other riding under the lift sooner or later."
Splurge: Book a private condo cabin — from $85/night for a traditional hotel room to $349 for a mountain home that can accommodate up to eighteen people — and make it a multi-day adventure, with options for night skiing, tubing, or dining at the Granby Ranch Grill.
Ski bum tips: Bring a giant posse and get a 25 percent discount for groups of twenty or more, or pick up a $329 season pass (with extra discounts for family passes) and get three free days at Monarch and Sunlight. "If you want 'ski bum,' you can't go wrong anywhere in the town of Granby," says Popp. "It's a cool little low-key town, and there's not a lot of fancy stuff. If you want to go fancier, you're going to have to head back toward Winter Park."
Drink locally: The bar at the Granby Ranch Grill in the Base Lodge has a rotating selection of Colorado beers on tap.
The biggest news at Colorado's second-biggest ski area is the addition of 230 acres of new expert terrain dubbed Burnt Mountain, where lightly gladed trees connect a series of open, powder-filled rolling meadows — and the opening of the new $13 million Elk Camp Lodge, a 300-seat mid-mountain restaurant at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola.
"The only problem with Snowmass is you'll get spoiled and won't want to go anywhere else," says Matt Cudmore, owner of Glenwood Springs-based Meier Skis, whose Big Nose Kate (BNK) ski was an official selection in the Skiing magazine 2013 Gear Guide. "Snowmass reminds me of a European mountain because it's just so big, and exploring all over the place is really cool — cruising all over this huge mountain. There's good snow and cool trails everywhere, and there's no lift lines."
The mountain's long, groomed cruisers make it a favorite among beginner and intermediate skiers and riders, but Cudmore says he favors the big-mountain lines of the Hanging Valley Headwall, served by the High Alpine lift, and suggests expert skiers and riders explore the just-beyond-the-boundaries terrain outside the backcountry gates near the top of the Cirque poma lift, which tops out at 12,500 feet.
Splurge: Cudmore plans to check out the new Elk Camp Lodge, and says "you'll find high-end splurge options within a snowball's throw of anywhere you stand in Snowmass!"
Ski bum tips: "Load up the car with four or more people to get free parking at Snowmass or any of the Aspen resorts — which is easy to do, especially if you have kids," Cudmore suggests. "Stay here in Glenwood Springs or one of the other awesome little towns on the way into Aspen to save on lodging. And keep in mind that most of the events and concerts up here are free. I'd also recommend getting the $219 4-Day or $349 7-Day Classic Pass, which can bring the lift-ticket price under $50 a day and save you a ton of money. It started out as kind of a locals' discount, but now it's available to everybody."
Drink locally: Check out the New Belgium Ranger Station, set to open on November 15 at the newly renovated Wildwood Snowmass hotel bar, featuring ten of the Fort Collins brewery's beers and a selection of other seasonals on tap, along with a lunch and dinner menu and a restaurant theme inspired by the label design of New Belgium's Ranger IPA beer. And Cudmore loves This Season's Blonde, Pyramid Peak Porter and Midnight Mine Imperial Stout from the Aspen Brewing Company.
STEAMBOAT SKI RESORT
Known for its deep, fluffy "Champagne Powder," Steamboat managed to get one of the biggest dumps of the year even in the midst of last year's bum season. "I was there on my thirtieth birthday and got thirty inches overnight, the best snow day I got all year," says Ben Anderson, owner of Denver-based Icelantic Skis and the newly launched First Degree Boots. "It was the best birthday present ever, and solidified my lifelong love of Steamboat."
In that case, look out for a fifty-inch snowstorm this year, because Steamboat is celebrating a big birthday of its own this year, with season-long events and discounts that will culminate in an extended fiftieth-birthday party January 11-21.
To make the most of your trip, Anderson says, "just point for the pow in the aspen trees. Shadows and Closets are two of my favorite zones on the mountain, and some of the trees off of Pony Express are awesome. You'll find pockets of powder all over the place at Steamboat once you get into the glades. But my absolute favorite thing about Steamboat is the gate access into the Fish Creek sidecountry. It's a whole 'nother world in there."
Splurge: "Going up to Strawberry Hot Springs is a must," says Anderson. "It's only a $10 splurge, but it's kind of out of the way, and a lot of people get deterred and don't know what they're missing. Book a massage, starting at $50 for a half hour, to make the trek even more worthwhile after a long day in the pow [www.strawberryhotsprings.com]." For lodging, he suggests Trappeur's Crossing Resort and Spa. "The other splurge I'm looking forward to this winter is my first trip with Steamboat Powdercats," Anderson says. The snowcat operation operates on Buffalo Pass, about 25 minutes outside of town, with rates starting at $375 (early season, December 14-31) or $450 (peak season, January 1-April 12) per person.
Ski bum tips: "The Rabbit Ears Motel in town has free breakfast with Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal!" Anderson exudes. "And, for the price, the location right across from the Old Town Hot Springs can't be beat." Rooms start at $89, and the motel is billed as "always the most affordable in Steamboat Springs." For advance lift-ticket discounts and fiftieth-anniversary specials on and around the mountain itself, visit steamboat.com.
Drink locally: "Mahogany Ridge Brewery is my favorite spot in town," says Anderson. "They brew their own beers, and the entrees and happy-hour specials are amazing, with all these different dipping sauces." The Alpenglow amber ale is the most popular beer on the menu, but you can buy your kids and your designated driver each a pint of the Rabbit Ears Root Beer before heading back over the pass to Denver.
With just 470 acres of skiable terrain, Sunlight is one of the state's smallest ski areas. It's also one of the most charming, and offers a surprising mix of steep, challenging slopes as well as family-friendly beginner and intermediate terrain and a well-kept terrain park. Still a non-believer? Try dropping in on Heathen: At 52 degrees, it's one of the steepest in-bounds slopes in Colorado.
And while it's keeping its old-school trappings, Sunlight is making moves into the 21st century this season. "Sunlight is happy to introduce cell-phone reception!" exclaims resort spokeswoman Jennie Spllane. "Also, we have just launched a new website that makes it even easier to plan and enjoy your vacation at Sunlight Mountain Resort."
Splurge: The $120 guided alpine/telemark/snowboard tours of nearby Williams Peak is a splurge by Sunlight standards, but it's also the best backcountry bargain in the state. And the terrain is worth the trek. Just in it for the sightseeing? Sunlight also offers snowmobile tours of White River National Forest starting at $99.
Ski bum tips: Sunlight's $44 ticket price is one of the lowest in Colorado, but if it's still too rich for your blood, try skier appreciation day on January 11, when the price drops to $15. And for the full Glenwood Springs experience, check out the packages offered by ten local hotels, which include lift tickets, passes to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and lodging, starting at under $100.
Drink locally: "Sunlight works closely with Glenwood Canyon BrewPub, a hotspot in Glenwood Springs downtown life since 1996," Spillane says. "They offer a variety of microbrews, varying from their Old Depot Porter to the Hanging Lake Honey Ale." Also try the Irish Red, a 2012 Great American Beer Festival gold medalist.
TELLURIDE SKI & SNOWBOARD RESORT
Telluride is beautiful, has great terrain and a cool local vibe. But once you've been there, warns Pete Wagner of Wagner Skis, you just might be tempted — as he was — to stay for good. "The important thing is just getting here in the first place: I know it can be hard for people from Denver to drive past all the other ski areas to get to Telluride, but once they're here, people realize how unique and special it is. Do yourself a favor and give yourself a four-day long weekend to come skiing and spend some time here."
Telluride's a big mountain and has a good mix of beginner, intermediate, expert and "no, seriously, experts only" terrain, says Wagner. "Palmyra Peak allows you to hike up to 13,100 feet and get amazing steep, technical skiing and Telluride has world-class sidecountry skiing just beyond the ski-area boundaries. If you like steep tree skiing as much as I do, we've got some of the best that Colorado has to offer."
Splurge: For fancy dining, Wagner recommends La Marmotte and 221. "Probably the most over-the-top splurge you could do is to go to Dunton Hot Springs, this really sweet little resort with all these restored old miner's cabins and a natural hot springs, and you have Telluride Helitrax pick you up from there and then drop you off back at the resort," he says. "It's the ultimate way to do heli-skiing in the San Juan Mountains."
Ski bum tips: "Try Oak BBQ and La Cocina de Luz, two really great restaurants that are a lot of fun and have great food at an affordable place," Wagner says. "The Mountainside Inn (rooms as low as $30/night) and the Victorian Inn are two affordable places you can stay in town in walking distance of all the bars and chairlifts and still get a good rate."
Drink locally: One-year-old Telluride Brewing just won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for its Face-Down Brown Ale and another at the World Beer Cup in San Diego. "So I'd say they're off to a good start," Wagner says. "Their beer is awesome, and the brewer, Chris Fish, is amazing. Definitely worth checking that place out."
VAIL SKI RESORT
Vail's fiftieth-anniversary season opens on November 20, and a luxe new heated gondola will be the first change many visitors notice. "One thing I like about Vail is the amount of high-speed quads, and I'm looking forward to the new gondola," says Tim Canaday, co-owner, with his brother Tracey, of Denver's Never Summer Industries snowboard empire. "Even when there's large amounts of people on the mountain, you don't end up standing around in a lot of lift lines."
His favorite runs to hit with his riding buddies are in the back bowls: Ptarmigan Ridge, Sundown Bowl and Game Creek Bowl. But these days he mostly rides with his kids, ages ten and thirteen, and has come to love the more family-friendly terrain around the Sourdough Express lift and North Woods. "The amount and variety of terrain at Vail is phenomenal, so pretty much anything you're looking for you're going to find," he says.
Director Roger Cotton Brown will premiere his film on Vail's fifty-year history on December 14 at the Vail Marriot Resort & Spa, and the official birthday celebration will be held on December 15 at Mountain Plaza. The Winter Mountain Games return on February 8-10, and the venerable Burton US Open — the longest-running snowboarding competition in the world — comes to Vail this year, February 25-March 2, following a thirty-year run in Vermont.
Splurge: Dine at the 10th, a new "modern alpine cuisine" ski-in/ski-out restaurant that opened last season at Mid-Vail and recently appointed Vishwatej Nath as executive chef. "We always stay with Grandma and Grandpa when we're up there, but there's plenty of high-end lodging in Vail," Canaday says. Try Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the Sebastian, or the Christiana Lodge to make your visit extra awesome.
Ski bum tips: If you're turning fifty this season, too, you can ski or ride for free on your birthday, you old bum. Also free, regardless of your age: a visit to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard History Museum. Several of Canaday's boards, including one of the early Swift Snowboards he and his brother made in the 1980s and the first Never Summer prototype they made in 1991, are on display in the museum's Colorado Snowboard Archive exhibit, which opened last season.
Drink locally: "I'm a Coors Original drinker, if you want to buy me a beer," Canaday says, "since Never Summer is turning 21 this year." For craft brews, try the Bonfire Brewing tap room in Eagle or Crazy Mountain Brewing in Edwards.
WINTER PARK RESORT
"I love the commute over Berthoud Pass to Winter Park, especially compared to having to go further up I-70 to get to the rest of the resorts," says Pat Milbery, founder of the So-Gnar Snowboard Camp Tour and Shred Circuit Contest Series, which concludes at Winter Park on April 13, 2013. "That drive reminds me of everything I love about the mountains, with gorgeous views as you get near the top. Some days I'm planning on making it to Winter Park and decide Berthoud Pass looks really good, and I'll just go shred the backcountry there instead."
Milbery's camps specialize in making the most of freestyle terrain parks, which Winter Park now has all over the place, but it's the full-mountain experience that attracts him.
"I love Winter Park because you can cruise the groomers, play around in the beginner and intermediate Rail Yard terrain parks, go big in the Dark Territory jumps, and get over into the trees and bumps at Mary Jane, all within a couple of runs," he says. "It's a great place to become a well-rounded rider and get a great taste of all aspects of snowboarding or skiing. The place also just has a good vibe, very laid-back, that I think sets it apart from a lot of the other big resorts around here. It's one of the oldest ski areas in Colorado and one of the biggest, but it still feels like a locals' secret."
Splurge: "For lunch, get up to the Lodge at Sunspot, which has a classy little bar by a big fireplace that's great for getting warmed up and getting some good grub," says Milbery. "And for a bigger splurge, try the Powder Addiction snowcat operation on Jones Pass, because there's some amazing terrain just beyond the ski-area boundaries, too." (Go to powderaddiction.com; rates start at $350 per person, which includes a beer from Durango's Steamworks Brewing and lunch from Winter Park's Back Bowl Soup Company.) Need a regular place to stay while you're up there? Pick up a $699 Vintage Lodging Pass and get credits for up to ten nights at the Vintage Hotel during the season, bringing the per-night rate to as low as $69.
Ski bum: Milbery suggest the Coffee and Tea Market in the old Balcony House at the base area. "And when I'm really doing it on the cheap, I'll buy a beer or a $3 happy-hour margarita at Lime and then munch a bunch of chips to fill up." The best buy on lift tickets is the $149 Winter Park Four Pass, with December 27-31 as the only blackout dates.
WOLF CREEK SKI AREA
Wolf Creek reports an annual average natural snowfall of 465 inches, the most in Colorado by a long shot, which makes it the perfect place for Fat-ypus Skis owner Jared Mazlisch. "People look at those skis for the first time and wonder who would ever need such a fat ski, but if you want so see our A-Lotta powder skis in their natural habitat, then you need get out to Wolf Creek after one of their four-foot dumps." For people who are willing to make the drive, Wolf Creek also offers a classic and mostly frill-free ski experience. "Wolf Creek is the place to go when you're ready to get out of town, take a break from the big resorts and just get away from it all," Mazlisch says. "I love it because it's pretty much all about skiing and nothing else."
There's practically no beginner terrain at Wolf Creek — Mazlisch favors the double-black-diamond terrain in Horseshoe Bowl, the Dog Chutes, the Knife Ridge Chutes and Montezuma Bowl — so check out the monthly ski and ride clinics if you're ready to step up your game. Wolf Creek will host the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup for the first time on December 15.
Splurge: "A stay in Pagosa Springs on the other side of Wolf Creek Pass can be an extravagant, wonderful experience," Mazlisch says. Try the Ski & Soak package at the Springs Resort & Spa, which includes a full-day lift ticket at Wolf Creek and unlimited access to 23 mineral pools.
Ski bum tip: Lift ticket prices drop to $35 most Wednesdays throughout the season. There are also a few College Days a month, also $35 with a college ID. "The $8.50 'Hot Special' at the Wolf Creek Lodge has to be one of the best meal bargains in Colorado Ski Country," Mazlisch says.