The weather has been good for skiers and snowboarders so far this season, and that means more openings. Steamboat and Crested Butte plan to open for the season today, while Monarch, Snowmass and Telluride will open tomorrow, on Thanksgiving.
We profiled all of Colorado's ski-country destinations in The Edge, our insider's guide to the 2014 ski and snowboard season. We'll be rolling out those profiles as the mountains open, but here are our looks at the resorts mentioned above.
See also: Vail, Aspen, Eldora Open This Weekend
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT skicb.com
Get into the tree glades, where Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the U.S. Forest Service have spent the last two summers thinning out trees and "dramatically improving access to forested skiing," says resort spokeswoman Erica Mueller. "Intermediate skiers looking for more gentle gladed terrain should get ready to weave through the trees in the East River area and off the Teocalli lift."
Signature experience: Bring a local or study the Extreme Limits Ski Guide -- available in most local ski shops -- before heading to Extreme Limits, an appropriately named area of the mountain that both beckons and humbles the world's best big-mountain riders.
Splurge: Snowcats, snowcats, snowcats. Book a day on a luxury snowcat with Irwin Colorado Winter, prowling an area in the Elk Mountain range that gets over 600 inches of snow annually. For a more leisurely snowcat adventure, try the Sleigh Ride Dinner at Uley's Cabin ($100 per person) with chef Chris Schlaudecker. Prefer to be behind the wheel? Crested Butte also offers a $199 Snowcat Driving Experience from the Adventure Center in Mountain Square that will have you pushing snow around in a Prinoth 275 machine and grooming trails on a closed course.
Ski bum tips: Mueller suggest stopping by the Stash for the Poor Boys Special -- "$6 for a slice of cheese pizza, a beer and a shot." Or try Teocalli Tamale or the Brick Oven in town, local spots used to catering to ski bums. "The Brick Oven offers happy-hour specials for those who show up in ski boots. They're downtown, not on the mountain, which makes it funny."
Drink locally: The Brick Oven has a lot of Colorado microbrews among its thirty beers on tap. Also try the tasting room at Montanya Distillers. "This is a must," says Mueller. "Locally distilled rum, and the tasting room is downtown on Elk Avenue, featuring fantastically unique rum cocktails."
MONARCH MOUNTAIN skimonarch.com 888-996-7669
We can't help but love Monarch, and not just because the base-area lodge has more than a decade's worth of Westword Best of Denver accolades framed and on display. The place still has its small-mountain mom-and-pop vibe, but you can get yourself into some great runs (and even better snow) without too much work, and into even better terrain with a short hike in Mirkwood Basin. The Never Summer-branded terrain park is a favorite for intermediate rippers, and the entire mountain tends to hold its snow -- partly because the place is never crowded, and partly because it just seems to snow all the time down here.
Signature experience: Stay at the Palace Hotel, a recently renovated and utterly charming historic fifteen-suite boutique hotel in Salida. The place dates back to 1909 and was recently overhauled with a "vintage chic meets modern amenities" aesthetic. Splurge: Monarch Snowcat Tours will get you to the goods in Mirkwood Basin and beyond for just $225 per person (make reservations at least 48 hours in advance). You'll get as many as a dozen runs, some of them with options to get into chutes, cliff drops and expert terrain to challenge even the best athletes. Bring some extra cash for a tip, because Monarch's guides are top-notch and will sort the group by ability level to make sure everyone gets their money's worth.
Ski bum tips: Stay at the Simple Lodge & Hostel in Salida for as little as $21 (no, seriously) for a bunk in a shared room or $78 for a two-person private suite. There are also six-person bunk rooms ($108), eight-person bunk rooms ($136) and other options available, but be prepared to pay $5 extra for the shower you'll surely need after a day on the mountain. Bringing your whole powder-chasing posse? Book the whole place -- room enough for 24 people -- for $475. Check simplelodge.com for peak-season pricing.
Drink locally: Nearby Salida just might win this category, with Elevation Beer Company, Amicas Pizza & Microbrewery, Moonlight Brewpub, Wood's High Mountain Distillery, Deerhammer Distillery and Vino Salida covering the full spectrum. Nearly all are represented at the Sidewinder Saloon at Monarch's base area.
AJAX/ASPEN HIGHLANDS/BUTTERMILK/SNOWMASS aspensnowmass.com 800-525-6200
The four mountains in Aspen share lift tickets and free shuttles, so plan to make your adventure last at least a couple of days. The Aspen Mountain base area -- aka Ajax -- is right in town, and a quick gondola ride will put you into intermediate and advanced terrain with the best views of the Aspen Valley that you'll find without putting in some legwork. Aspen Highlands is steeper and features more hike-to terrain for those who like to earn their turns. Buttermilk has the family-friendly vibe and reputation of a small ski area but also features long, steep cruisers and an X Games-level terrain park and superpipe. Snowmass, the biggest of the four, has all of the above.
Signature experience: In January, Buttermilk Mountain -- home of the Winter X Games since 2002 -- renewed its contract with ESPN through at least 2019. Seeing X Games Aspen 2015 live and in person (January 22-25) is a must, and the best part is that the world-class halfpipe and portions of the slopestyle course will be open to the public afterward and for the rest of the season. Another Aspen must for the hardcore is a hike in Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands, which summits at 12,392 feet. You'll be stomping around for 45 minutes or more, depending on your line choice, and you won't believe how many others will be joining you. Need a hiking partner for life? Offer to buy one of your fellow climbers lunch at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, suggests Aspen/Snowmass spokeswoman Tucker Vest Burton, then grab a table with a view of the Maroon Bells.
Splurge: Raise a toast to your pow-chasing peers at the Oasis Champagne Bar, a mobile bar run by the Little Nell at Aspen Mountain that serves caviar and Veuve Clicquot from "secret" locations on the hill. Follow @TheLittleNell on Twitter to help track it down. For an even bigger upgrade, try the $469 Friday Powder Cat Day with the Limelight Hotel: You'll get as many as fifteen runs on the backside of Aspen Mountain, followed by a late lunch in an on-mountain cabin with food prepared by the Limelight. "Aspen Mountain Powder Tours and the Limelight Hotel are teaming up to provide guests with the unforgettable experience of enjoying a day of powder on a guided cat skiing/riding tour," Burton says.
Ski bum tips: Snow in the forecast? Call 925-1220 3543 the night before to make reservations for the First Tracks program at Aspen Mountain, free with a valid lift ticket or season pass. Load up on free Green Mountain Coffee, sunscreen and Clif bars at the base area while you're at it.
Drink locally: You'll find Colorado brews on tap at nearly all of the on-mountain bars. End your day in the tasting room at Aspen Brewing or Woody Creek Distillers in nearby Basalt; both have beverages on the menus at most of the best restaurants and bars in town, too.
STEAMBOAT SKI RESORT steamboat.com 970-879-6111
Steamboat's following up on its 75th-anniversary season with some bold steps into the future, including expanded night skiing, massive upgrades at Thunderhead and Bear River, and recent renovations at several of its premier properties, including a $5 million overhaul at Four Points Lodge.
Signature experience: Steamboat is legendary (and trademarked) Champagne Powder is what you're here for, so splurge for the $35 First Tracks add-on, which will put you on the gondola as early as 8 a.m. to link up with the Sundown Express lift. By the time every one else is just getting started, you'll already be ripping freshies in the Priest Creek, Sunshine and South Peak areas. You could make that a habit, right? Go big with the $180 First Tracks Six Pass, a transferable pass that can be used in multiples per day to get your whole crew up early or help you get six powder days' worth of bragging about to your sleeping-in friends.
Splurge: Spring for the snowcat ride and Italian dinner with James Beard House veteran John Shaw at the new Four Points Lodge, suggests Steamboat spokesman Mike Lane. Four Points features panoramic views of the Flat Tops and Zirkel Wilderness Areas. Another Steamboat classic, especially after a couple of days in deep snow, is a trip to the Strawberry Hot Springs paired with a private massage (starting at $70 an hour) in a pool-side cabin built into the rocks.
Ski bum tips: Pick up the $469 Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus, which includes six days of skiing or riding at Steamboat and will also help you save up to 30 percent on lodging reservations. Stay at the Rabbit Ears Motel, conveniently located across the street from the Old Town Hot Springs.
Drink locally: Mahogony Ridge is the gold standard for Steamboat craft brews, but newcomers Storm Peak Brewing and Butcherknife Brewing are welcome additions to the local beer scene. You've got to love a tiny mountain town that can amply support three microbreweries.
TELLURIDE SKI & SNOWBOARD RESORT tellurideskiresort.com 970-728-6900
Signature experience: "Telluride Ski Resort has some incredible terrain, over 2,000 + skiable acres. It can be hard to know where to go, or even how to get to certain runs," admits Telluride spokeswoman Pepper Raper. "Ski or ride the resort like a local with a Telluride Mountain Guide, and get off the beaten path. Ski runs you never knew existed, find powder pockets only locals hit, and experience the mountain in a whole new way. Bookable through ski school, Mountain Guides can give the perspective of a local. Full-day sessions with up to five people plus the added benefit of ski school perks like express lanes -- not that you need them at Telluride -- are available through the Telluride Ski and Snowboard School."
Splurge: Treat yourself to a snowcoach-serviced Northern Italian dinner at Alpino Vino, with wine pairings selected by Telluride Resort wine director Andrew Shaffner, hosted Wednesday through Saturday. The restaurant, also open for ski-in/ski-out lunch daily, only accommodates 28 people, so book at least two weeks in advance if possible, as the restaurant only accommodates 28 people.
Ski bum tips: "The best-kept secret is to enjoy Telluride's many phenomenal restaurants early and choose to sit at the bar," Raper says. "Locals hit up the happy hours to get deals like half-price sushi and $5 signature Cosmos at the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, or order off of La Marmotte's special bar menu -- high-end eating at a low-end price. This is also a great way to sample a couple of restaurants in one evening, a happy-hour hop."
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Drink locally: "Telluride Brewing Company just won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for its Face Down Brown, a beautiful hybrid of an English and American-style brown that explodes with toffee, chocolate and nut flavors," Raper says. "The newly opened Telluride Distilling Company is currently offering Silver Rum, made from 100% pure Colombian evaporated cane juice, and will soon be adding whiskey and golden rum to the lineup this winter. Tasting-room hours are 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday." If you're after other local vices and looking to impress visitors with Colorado's newest legal treats, try Alpine Wellness: The region's premier medical and recreational marijuana dispensary specializes in "true mountain marijuana" grown at 8,750 feet, and offers a mobile ordering app this season that also features a full line of edibles from the Alpine Infusions kitchen.