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Ski bum tips: Head to Dillon for the best deals on lodging and food, Blincoe says, at places like Adriano's, Dillon Dam and Pug Ryan's brewery. "A lot of us have been here for twenty to thirty years and are locally owned and operated. Arapahoe Buffet is another place you'll hear a lot of locals talking about."
Drink locally: Dillon Dam Brewery is partnering with the Denver Art Museum to brew a specialty "steam" beer inspired by the Passport to Paris show, a followup to the popular Dam Gogh de Garde collaboration brewed for last year's van Gogh exhibit at the museum. "We're doing a lot of specialty beers lately and have some great seasonal beers this winter, like a black rye IPA with fresh hops from Anderson Farms in Boulder and a pumpkin beer by popular request," Blincoe says. "We're always running happy-hour specials, and Thursday is ladies' night, with free half-pints for ladies from 9 to 11 p.m. and $2.75 pints for everyone from 9 p.m. to close."
"We consider ourselves a sister company of the Loveland Ski Area," says Steve Indrehus, brewery operations manager at the Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs. "Last year, we brewed a special Pine Bough Pale Ale to help them celebrate their 75th anniversary, and even though we only sell it at Loveland and at our brewery, we ended up making 114 kegs of it. It was such a hit we've brought it back again; we were just up there last week picking spruce pine boughs around the ski area."
That and other Tommyknocker brews will be on tap at the newly remodeled Ptarmigan Roost Cabin at the top of Chair 2, the first on-hill restaurant at Loveland, as well as in the bars at the recently renovated lodge at the base area. "My wife and I call our favorite run 'Spillchards,'" Indrehus says. "We take Chair 1, then link up Spillway to Richard's Run for a nice blue cruiser that's just our speed."
Loveland Ski Area opened in mid-October.
Splurge: The nice thing about Loveland, Indrehus says, "which makes us different, is you don't have to spend very much to splurge around here. Clear Creek County in general and the Loveland ski area specifically are both very economical, and that's the beauty of it. But if you're looking to make your visit extra-special, I'd send you to the Peck House in Empire. Chef Gary St. Clair has a great thing going in the restaurant there, and the Peck House is also the longest-running hotel in the state, if you're looking to stay somewhere with some historic flair. It's the original building from the 1880s."
Ski bum tips: "Get to the mountain early for up-front parking and to make the most of the tailgate-party scene," suggests Indrehus. "And don't miss the Ridge Cat, which gets you free snowcat access to the North ridge and some of the best powder on the mountain. They just started running that last season, and it's incredible to me that they're not charging for it." The Ridge Cat runs from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. seven days a week from North Gate 1 at the top of Chair 9, weather and snow conditions permitting, and serves black and double-black-diamond terrain. "The true ski bums will skip the ski area altogether and earn their turns on Berthoud Pass or Loveland Pass — but if you're going that route, make sure you come prepared and know what you're up against, because it's some of the best backcountry skiing anywhere, but people get into very real trouble out there every year."
Drink locally: The Rathskellar at Loveland's base area features beers from Tommyknocker and other Colorado brewers including New Belgium, Boulder Beer, Oskar Blues and AC Golden. Stop in at Tommyknocker in Idaho Springs on the way back to Denver for a full restaurant menu and more than a dozen beers and sodas on tap. "Our small-batch Pumpkin Ale is available now, and we're about to introduce our Cocoa Porter Winter Ale and other seasonal specialties," says Indrehus. "Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring $3 pints and daily food and drink specials."
Monarch is a ski mountain as opposed to a ski resort, explains snowboarder Andy Astor, the tasting-room manager for Elevation Beer Company in nearby Poncha Springs, just down the hill from Monarch. "Nothing against the places with the superpipes and massive terrain parks and warm cookies they serve you at the lift, because those can all be a lot of fun, too, but I'm kind of old-school. I like the smaller mom-and-pop ski areas, where the emphasis is on making good turns in good snow — and by that measure, Monarch is as good as it gets."
Astor recommends the short hike to Mirkwood Basin (enter the gate from the top of the Breezeway lift) for anyone willing to work for it, but he says you'll find powder stashes all over the mountain. "It's worth exploring, and with how the mountain's situated, it's almost impossible to get lost: Everything eventually funnels back down to the base area."