By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
SKI COOPER/CHICAGO RIDGE
Sarah Dae Dallas, co-owner and general manager of the Two Guns Distillery and cocktail lounge in Leadville, says she loves Ski Cooper as much for its Tennessee Pass Nordic Center as for its downhill skiing. "These days, I'm much more into cross-country skiing, and there's a terrific network of trails around the ski area," she says. "Either way, whether you're getting on the chairlifts or not, you'll get a great high-altitude workout, a mellow anything-goes atmosphere and some spectacular views of Lake County."
The ski area, which opens on December 14, remodeled its rental shop over the summer, relocated its popular T-Bar, and even added a public Wi-Fi network, a big 21st-century step for a decidedly old-school ski area. "That old-school flavor is what everybody loves about Ski Cooper, but it's also nice to see them making some moves to be viable into the future," Dallas says.
Splurge: "To really make your visit special, go to TennesseePass.com to book reservations at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts," Dallas suggests. "It's a phenomenal and unforgettable destination, with great food, cozy accommodations and excellent Nordic skiing." Dinner at the cookhouse is $80 per guest; the sleep yurts rent for $225 per night and sleep up to six guests. "If you're more into downhill skiing or snowboarding, another great splurge would be the snowcat skiing on Chicago Ridge at Ski Cooper," Dallas says. Rates start at $299 per person and include optional high-performance powder ski rentals.
Ski bum tips: "The Leadville Hostel has really cheap rooms, starting at just $23 a night, and for inexpensive food, I would recommend High Mountain Pies for pizzas and subs," Dallas says. "Ski bums love Leadville, because everything up here is actually pretty affordable."
Drink locally: The Two Guns Distillery, at 401 Harrison Avenue, is open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. "We use all Colorado grains in our small-batch distillery, and we're making whiskey, moonshine and our own bitters," Dallas says. Try the Wild West Whiskey and Single Six Rocky Mountain Moonshine, the first two spirits made at the distillery. "We also have over thirty signature cocktails featuring our spirits, including some winter specials like the Autumn Sweater — our twist on the Old-Fashioned — and our Gunslinger hot toddy. You can also find our drinks at some of the bars at Copper Mountain, and we're coming soon to Ski Cooper."
SKI GRANBY RANCH
(formerly SolVista Basin)
"Ski Granby Ranch is the best place for families to learn to ski or ride," says spokeswoman Wenda Huseman. "We have lessons for kids as young as three years old, and we're now offering multi-week children's lessons for kids ages three to twelve that run for three-week or six-week sessions, for $225 or $425. We think that's going to be a great way to really get the little ones going with some fundamentals."
The ski area, which opens December 11, also has intermediate runs and some of the most innovative terrain-park features around, including log jibs made from local beetle-kill pine. Ski Granby Ranch also partnered with K2 to upgrade its entire ski and snowboard rental fleet for the 2013-14 season and added eight new low-energy snowmaking guns.
Splurge: "We are not in the luxury sector, for the most part, but you can book a private condo cabin or even mountain homes for up to eighteen people," Huseman says. There are also one-, two- and three-bedroom condo options slopeside and at Base Camp One. "Another relatively affordable splurge is that we have some great deals on private lessons starting at $129."
Ski bum tips: Night skiing at Granby Ranch is just $14, from 5 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays from January 3 through April 5. "Another good tip is to like us on Facebook to get the word of the week, which gives you access to special insider happy-hour specials and other discounts," Huseman says.
Drink locally: "We don't have any microbreweries or distilleries right around here that I know of, but the bar at our Granby Ranch Grill has an emphasis on Colorado beers, including Grand Lake Brewing's White Cap, and is very popular," Huseman says. Happy hour goes from 3 to 5 p.m.
Big dumps of light fluffy snow — like the thirty-plus inches that Steamboat got in October alone — are precisely why Charlie Noble set up his family and his business in Steamboat Springs, where he and his wife own the Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill. Around here, they call the stuff "Champagne Powder," and Noble says it's often good enough to make you want to drop everything.
"People come here on a good powder day — we get a lot of those — and never want to leave," he says, pointing out that the Steamboat Winter Sports Club is celebrating its 100th birthday this season during Winter Carnival, February 5-9. "When you get here, try to find a couple of people who look like they might have a plan, and have them show you where to find the goods," he suggests. "Steamboat's a 360-degree mountain, which means depending on which way the wind's blowing when a storm comes in, you'll always find big pillows of powder on the leeward side of it, especially off in the aspen groves and some of the new gladed areas where they've been removing beetle-kill pine."