By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Splurge: "The snowcat operation out here, formerly San Juan Ski Company and now called San Juan Untracked, is under new ownership, and everybody's really excited to see what they do with it," Thibodeau says. "They cover so much ground that you're pretty much guaranteed to get into some great snow." San Juan Untracked is the largest cat skiing and snowboarding operation in the state, prowling over 35,000 acres, and ranges in cost from $285 to $385 per person over the course of the season. "As far as lodging, my favorite place to send people is the Strater Hotel, because it's high-end, historic and haunted — everything you could want. For nicer dining, I like to send people to the Cosmopolitan or Seasons."
Ski bum tips: "It wouldn't be right to come to Durango and ski at Purgatory and not go to the Olde Schoolhouse Cafe & Saloon, a bar on the other side of the highway from Purgatory," Thibodeau says. "It's in an old one-room schoolhouse, and it's got about as much character as any place in town. They do great pizza and wings, and it gets downright rowdy and ridiculous in there. If you're truly ski-bumming it and looking to couch-surf, that's probably where you'll meet the person who might put you up for a few days. Otherwise, try the Durango Lodge downtown, which is a nice no-frills place if you're just needing a place to sleep in between skiing and checking out the town."
Drink locally: "Durango's a crazy beer town, and there are five breweries within the city limits. In addition to Ska Brewing, there's Carver Brewing, Steamworks, Durango Brewing, and the Brew Pub & Kitchen," says Thibodeau. "I'd bring or rent a mountain bike and plan on hitting all five, because that's the best way to see the whole town, and there are different food and drink specials at all of them." Try the Euphoria Winter Pale Ale, brewed in partnership with Silverton's Venture Snowboards for the last eight years running, or other seasonal brews like the Autumnal Mole Stout (available through December) or Hibernal Vinefera Stout (available beginning on the winter equinox, December 21). Souper Thursday is the best day to hit Ska Brewing if you're looking to meet some locals to show you the slopes; buying them a drink and a bowl of soup while you're at it won't hurt your chances.
"The snow is so good right now, and we're set up for a very good winter," says Nicole Babcock, bartender at the Montanya Rum tasting room in Silverton. "I was drawn here by all the backcountry-skiing opportunities and have never been disappointed. We've already been skiing around here since September, there's so much early-season snow."
Silverton Mountain, which opens on December 21, has just one chairlift, but offers guided skiing and snowboarding in small groups of eight to ten, with hike-to access to open bowls, tight chutes, and some of the best tree skiing in the state. "If you're an experienced skier or snowboarder but are new to the backcountry, Silverton is the best way to go," Babcock says. "You're gonna get the real-deal backcountry experience, but with a guide and in an avalanche-controlled area." Avalanche beacons, shovels and probes are mandatory and can be rented at the base area, where you can also rent skis and locally made Venture Snowboards (but not boots or bindings).
Splurge: "You'll definitely want to cross heli-skiing off your bucket list while you're here," Babcock says. Silverton Mountain offers helicopter drops starting at $159 and, new this year, overnight heli-accessed ski-touring trips starting at $429. "The Wyman Hotel & Inn or the Alma House are both great places to stay. As far as dining goes, we have an excellent selection of tapas here at Montanya, and I'd also recommend the Teller House Restaurant."
Ski bum tips: "For super good deals, I would recommend the Silverton Inn & Hostel, which can be as low as $20 a night, but everything's really affordable around here, and you can easily find a room for as low as $50 a night," Babcock says. "Winter is off-peak time for Silverton, believe it or not, so you're going to be getting lower prices on all of the hotels. Triangle Motel, Canyon View Motel and Prospector Motel are all in the $40-$50-a-night range. For cheap eats, I like the Kendall Mountain Cafe, which has amazing Mexican dishes and is really affordable. Grumpy's Saloon, in the Grand Imperial Hotel, has really good bar food and libations, often with live music." Bringing the family? Send the beginner and intermediate skiers in your group to nearby Kendall Mountain, where adult lift tickets are just $20. Unofficial local motto: "It ain't steep, but it's super cheap."
Drink locally: Start your après-ski game at Grady's, a small but popular bar inside the yurt at the base of Silverton Mountain, where Colorado brews take pride of place. "After that, Montanya's is the place to be all the time and always," Babcock boasts of the local outpost for Crested Butte's award-winning distillery, which specializes in drinks made with Montanya's Platino light rum or Oro dark rum. "We always have a winter menu with hot drink specials — hot buttered rum, hot chocolate drinks and hot coffee drinks — and you can come in and warm up by the wood stove or hang out by the fire on the rooftop." Also try the Avalanche Brewing Company, which doubles as a coffeehouse and cafe. Popular brews there include the White-Out Wit, Treasure Mountain Pale Ale, and Pride of the West Porter.