New ski terrain, massive capital improvement projects, and an eye toward training top athletes for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games will have every ski area in Colorado looking to the future this season, while important anniversaries like the 100th birthday of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club serve as fun reminders of the long history of playing in the Colorado snow.
"I made it to opening day at both A-Basin on October 13 and Loveland on October 17, and I'm proud to say we're off to a great start," says Colorado Ski Country USA spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph. "Because we had such a big snowy spring to end last year on and have already had some good early-season snow, that momentum is carrying us into the start of this season. We're seeing that early-season-pass sales are going well, and bookings through the end of the year are already looking good."
Ready to get the party started? For this year's insider's guide to winter fun, we raised a glass with the ski and snowboard bums behind some of the state's most popular mountain-town craft breweries and distilleries to get the straight pour on how to make the most of your visit, on and off the mountain.
"Colorado's such a hotbed for microbreweries and distilleries that you can easily map out an ideal brew-ski tour that hits every ski town in the state," says Rudolph. "I can't think of a better pairing."
ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI &
"I just picked up my season pass for A-Basin for the fifteenth year in a row," boasts skier David Dellamora, a server at Pug Ryan's Brewery in nearby Dillon. "It's the smallest and closest community of any of the local ski areas, the kind of place where you can get to know all the employees by name."
Dellamora is partial to the hike-to terrain on the Upper East Wall, which typically doesn't open until the spring, and the expert terrain under the Pallavicini lift. "To ski A-Basin like a local, what you want to do is ski Alleys 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, under Pali, then head to the 6th Alley Bar at the base area," he says, noting that the 6th Alley Bar is just wrapping up a million-dollar renovation. "It's like the skiers' version of the nineteenth hole on a golf course. That place is pretty special to me: It's where my wife and I got married."
Arapahoe Basin opened on October 13.
Splurge: "The Moonlight Dinners at the Black Mountain Lodge are a must, and they're very popular and sell out for the whole season, so you'll want to get right on that," Dellamora says. The monthly dinners, hosted by chef Christopher Rybak, range from $69 to $95 and each feature different mountain cuisines (A Night in Bavaria, December 14; New Year's Eve in the Mountains, December 31; A Night in France, January 11; A Night in Spain, February 15; Foods of the Pacific Rim, March 15; and A Night in Italy, April 12). "Another worthy splurge around here is to take some backcountry and avalanche-safety classes. I teach — and recommend — classes through RockyMountainGuides.com and the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education."
Ski bum tips: A-Basin is very affordable, especially compared to other ski areas in Summit County, but "there's also some terrific and reasonably safe sidecountry terrain in an area called the Beavers that A-Basin is looking to get lift service to in the coming years," Dellamora says. "For lodging, there's a cool little hostel in Silverthorne called the Riverside Lodge that I recommend. And, of course, there's no shortage of great backcountry lines to be had for free on Loveland Pass. Just make sure you come equipped, get some proper avalanche-safety education, and make smart decisions, because things can and do go wrong up there."
Drink locally: "Colorado beers are front and center at both the Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain and the 6th Alley Bar at the base area — Pug Ryan's pilsner has been a mainstay there since we opened in '96 — but I'd definitely recommend a visit to our brewery, too," Dellamora says. "We've got three full-time brewmasters now, and at any given time, we have between ten and twelve beers on tap. I'm partial to our pale ales, and the most popular beer right now is an oatmeal stout aged in a whiskey cask from the Breckenridge Distillery. That's the go-to beer right now."
"If you think of Aspen as all four mountains — and you should, because Ajax, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass are all on the same lift ticket and all have their strengths — then Aspen has to be, hands-down, the best ski option in Colorado, if not the whole world," says snowboarder Craig Turpin, a bartender at the Aspen Brewing Company.
Not interested in the easy stuff? Then stick to Ajax, which is right in town and home to nothing but intermediate-level and expert terrain. For steeps, un-groomed runs and hike-to bowls, try Aspen Highlands. And for a bit of everything, including world-class terrain parks and superpipes, hit Buttermilk and Snowmass. Better yet, suggests Turpin, plan to stay for at least four days — or just drop everything and move to Pitkin County, like everyone else he knows — and make the most of each mountain.
If you have to pick just one, Turpin suggests Snowmass. "You could ride there for days and still not see everything on the mountain. But if you're up for something a little more hard-core, there's nothing better than hiking Highlands Bowl at Aspen Highlands. You'll put in 30 to 45 minutes of work to earn your turns, but it's worth it for the view alone, and those turns just might be the best you'll ever make. Buttermilk gets overlooked but can also be great fun, and you can't beat Ajax if you're looking to ride right down into the world-class après scene." Opening day at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass is November 28; Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands open on December 14.
Splurge: "If you're gonna splurge, try getting a room at the Sky Hotel, which has the quintessential Aspen après party and is right at the base of Ajax," Turpin says. "The Aspen Mountain Powder Tours snowcat trips would be another great splurge, and definitely hit the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro at Aspen Highlands; that's where we like to go when someone's rich parents are in town for a visit." Turpin also loves the ski-in/ski-out Viceroy hotel and restaurant in Snowmass. For in-town dining, try the Chef's Club at the St. Regis Hotel, which features Best New Chef winners invited by Food & Wine magazine, or shell out for a temporary membership to the private Caribou Club (memberships start at $500 per couple for the week, but even temporary members are encouraged to bring guests to the nightly dinner parties).
Ski bum tips: "If you're a true ski bum, you've got to know somebody in Aspen you can stay with, and if you don't, then you should get to work on that as soon as you get here or start looking on Craigslist," Turpin says. "I can't remember a single weekend last season that we didn't have someone sleeping on our couch." Turpin says the Westin Hotel in Snowmass is a popular choice because frequent travelers can use their Starwood Points there, and also suggests the Mountain Chalet at the base of Ajax. "The Limelight Lodge is another great option," he says. "It's pretty luxe and not exactly a ski-bum joint, by any stretch, but the free breakfast buffet is the best in town, and Aspen Brewing Company does regular tasting events there."
Drink locally: "Right now, my favorite beer we brew is the Cougar — and not just for the Aspen-appropriate name," Turpin says. "It's a version of This Season's Blonde, a blond wheat ale that has been one of our most popular beers for the last couple years, but the Cougar is sour-aged in oak barrels with Colorado peaches." And every hour is happy hour at Aspen Brewing, with most beers priced at $4.75 and pitchers at $15. "Our beers are also served at the mountain bars and almost everywhere in town, so I'd definitely do some bar-hopping," Turpin says. "And if spirits are more your thing, definitely ask for anything from the Woody Creek Distillery, which is down-valley in Basalt and has a tasting room there. They have a couple of signature vodkas and outstanding spirits like apple brandy and pear eau de vie, and are gearing up to release a much-hyped Colorado whiskey."
BEAVER CREEK RESORT
"Everyone thinks Beaver Creek's all family-friendly, and it definitely is, but we also have some of the best advanced and expert terrain in America," boasts snowboarder Stephanie Merritt, tasting-room manager at the Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards. "The Birds of Prey runs they use for the Talons Challenge and will use for the World Cup races are all really great, and we also have awesome glades like Royal Elk Glades, Black Bear Glades and Boettcher Glades, which are some of my favorite stamping grounds. If you're really after a challenge, take Chair 8 and Cinch up and then go down Red Buffalo, which is a green run, and take the gate to the Stone Creek Chutes. There are some great trees back there, cliffs you can huck off, and some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Beaver Creek."
Opening day is November 27, and the resort will host the Birds of Prey World Cup ski racing event November 29-December 1 and December 6-8. Another popular event at Beaver Creek is the annual Food & Wine Weekend, January 23-26, which gets crowded.
Splurge: "There's this really awesome sushi place called Hooked, and everything there is great, but if you're going for something really extravagant, you'll want to order the Crimpster," Merritt suggests. "It's like the seafood version of turducken: it's crab meat stuffed inside jumbo shrimp stuffed inside a lobster and wrapped in bacon. It's awesome." For high-end Italian, try Toscanini, right by the ice rink at the base area, or venture out to nearby Edwards, where Merritt suggests both Juniper and Dish, the restaurant where Jenna Johansen — a contestant on Bravo's Around the World in 80 Plates and current Innovation Chef at Epicurean Catering — first made her name. "You can also class up your après game at the Metropolitan, which has great tapas, wine and cocktails."
Ski bum tips: To save on lodging, try Airbnb.com or VRBO.com, which are very popular. "You can also stay in Avon, Edwards or Minturn to save some money and then drive over, since Beaver Creek has free parking. I like to send people to the Christie Lodge in Avon," Merritt says. And don't miss the free chocolate chip cookies, served hot daily at 3 p.m., and the free s'mores at the outdoor firepits by the Ritz and Hyatt hotels just after the lifts close. "The best pizza in the valley, hands down, is Pazzo's Pizzeria in Avon."
Drink locally: The locals bars are the Dusty Boot and "my personal favorite, Coyote Cafe. I'm a member of their mug club, and their head bartender, Heather, is awesome," Merritt says. Crazy Mountain's beers are available in Beaver Creek at Hooked, Coyote Cafe, Beaver Creek Chophouse, C-Bar, Dusty Boot, Blue Moose, Black Diamond Bistro, and Spago at the Ritz-Carlton. "I'd definitely recommend coming up to check out the brewery, too, because we have some seasonal specials you can only get here, and because there's a great food truck outside, the Crazy Wagon."
"The big news on the mountain this season is going to be the Peak 6 expansion," says Miyuki Takeda, operations manager at Breckenridge Distillery and a former Breck ski patroller, referring to the 543 acres of new in-bounds terrain opening this season. The expansion represents a 23 percent increase in the resort's skiable acreage, including three new bowls and ten new trails of mostly intermediate terrain.
"It's going to be a lot of fun back there, especially because there will be hike-to access to some of the better spots — but personally, I prefer the steeper stuff elsewhere on the mountain," says Takeda, who suggests heading for the upper mountain steeps on Peak 8 first thing in the morning to make fresh tracks on Snow White and the Lake Chutes, then heading to Peak 10 to dodge the crowds later in the day. Opening day at Breckenridge is November 8.
Splurge: Takeda suggests staying at the Beaver Run resort, because it's right at the base of Peak 9, and going to the Hearthstone Restaurant for a high-end dining experience. "On the mountain, I would always recommend going to Peak 9 Restaurant, near the top of Beaver Run chair, because they have the best food," she adds. "And, this isn't really a splurge, but if you're an expert skier, there are some great spots to get out into in the sidecountry at Breck. A lot of visitors never go through those gates, and that's probably for the best, but it's worth it if you know what you're doing and have the right safety gear."
Ski bum tips: "Almost all of the bars and restaurants in Breckenridge have really great happy hours with two-for-one appetizers, so you really can't go wrong," Takeda says. "One of my favorite spots, where a lot of locals go, is the Motherloaded Tavern. Get the deep-fried pickles , with a deep-fried Twinkie for dessert. It's probably not the most healthy place in town, but it tastes great after a day on the slopes."
Drink locally: Spirits from the Breckenridge Distillery are on the menu at the T-Bar on Peak 8 and other bars on the mountain, as well as at the Breckenridge Distillery's downtown tasting room. "We also offer complimentary tours at our distillery, which is north of town, at 1925 Airport Road," Takeda says. "We'll show you how we make our booze, show off our new 3,000-square-foot barrel-house expansion, and give you a free taste." Try the Breckenridge Vodka, a platinum award winner at the 2012 SIP Awards International Spirits Competition, and the Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey, a 2012 gold-medalist at both the International Whiskey Competition and the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards.
Snowboarder Josh Boeser, a server at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco, has competed at the USASA Nationals and other slopestyle contests at Copper Mountain, so Woodward's Central Park there is a big draw for him. "It's my favorite mountain in Summit County, because on a powder day there's plenty of good stuff to get into, and you always have the terrain park and perfectly groomed superpipe to play in."
Copper has made itself a pivotal stop on the road to Sochi for skiers and snowboarders, hosting the U.S. Ski Team for early-season Olympic training on its Speed Center race course under the Super Bee lift and bringing U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe and slopestyle events to the other side of the mountain in December. For the rest of us, there are $7 million in new capital improvement projects around the resort, including an overhaul of the Woodward Barn, where skiers and snowboarders can practice their airs over trampolines and foam pits, as well as a new surface T-Bar lift serving the high-alpine Storm King terrain and a new "West Ridge Platter" surface lift to improve access to Union Peak, Union Meadows, West Ridge and Copper Bowl.
"Woodward at Copper is another major draw for any serious skier or snowboarder looking to learn some new tricks," Boeser says. "And bring your skateboard, too: the wood bowl at Woodward is so much fun."
Copper Mountain opened on November 1.
Splurge: "To get right in the heart of things, I'd spend the extra coin and stay at one of the condos right at the base area, because there's nothing like waking up, stepping outside your door and strapping in," Boeser says. Try the Mill Club, near Burning Stones Plaza, or Copper One, both in Center Village and overlooking the resort. "For higher-end dining, try C.B. Grille or the Storm King sushi restaurant. But honestly, the best splurge would be to get over to Woodward and do a session in the Barn or one of their on-snow programs. They do all kinds of camps and group and private lessons over there that would be pretty sweet."
Ski bum tips: The Tucker Mountain snowcat gives free rides from the base of the Mountain Chief lift Friday through Sunday, accessing 273 acres and 1,200 vertical feet. "The Sugar Lips Mini Donut shop is also pretty tough to pass up," says Boeser. Ski bum in training? First-timers at Copper Mountain can ride the Easy Ryder magic carpet in Center Village for free, then progress to the Pitchfork lift in Green Acres for a $15 lift ticket. "If you're really looking to save some money, I'd stay and eat in Frisco," Boeser advises.
Drink locally: "Our recent expansion pushed our capacity up to 3,500 barrels a year, up from about 1,000 last year, so we've got a lot more room to play," says Adam Dunbar, a spokesman for Backcountry Brewery in Frisco. "The transition has also helped us make the move from only selling 22-ounce bombers to now being able to offer almost all of our beers in twelve-ounce bottles for six packs." Try the amber or pilsner, both bronze-medalists at the 2103 Colorado State International Competition, or the ever-popular Breakfast Stout, made with a blend of Guatemalan and Costa Rican coffee.
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT
Crested Butte deserves its reputation as home to some of the most extreme skiing and steepest slopes in the state; paradoxically, it's also one of the most kid-friendly resorts anywhere. Over the summer, the mountain crew put in work on both fronts, glading tree runs between Double Top and Black Eagle while cutting three new kids' trails that wind through the trees in the Painter Boy area. The trails, which boast features like a ski-through bear cave, nod to Crested Butte's mining-town history.
"If you're here for the Extreme Limits terrain like the rest of us, the $10 Extreme Limits Ski Guide is worth it, so you don't find yourself in over your head," says Eli Pardini, who funds his snowboarding habit by bartending at the Eldo Brewery & Taproom in town. "For example, Dead End Chute is called 'dead end' for a reason: If you're not comfortable with some mandatory air, you can find yourself in a precarious position pretty quick. You can also link up with a guide for an extreme tour.
"As for my own personal-favorite powder stashes on the mountains? That would have to be the None-ya Woods, as in 'None-ya business,'" he adds. "Let's just say that anywhere the ski patrol has just pulled the rope is going to be awesome, and if you're wearing an avalanche transceiver, they'll bump you to the front of the line." Opening day at Crested Butte is November 27.
Splurge: "Soupçon Bistro is absolutely phenomenal and worth every penny if you're trying to make your trip here extra-special," says Pardini. "Definitely make reservations, because it's a tiny little place and they only do two seatings a night. But chef Jason Vernon and his crew just kill it. And if money's no object, the best splurge around is the luxury snowcat tour with Irwin Colorado, which I can't say enough good things about, and their Scarp Ridge Lodge — also known as Irwin's Eleven — is definitely the highest-end lodging around here."
Ski bum tips: "The Crested Butte Hostel is the cheapest in town, and it's actually pretty nice," Pardini says. "For cheap eats, try Teocalli Tamale. There are so many good restaurants in town and they all do different deals, but honestly, you can't go wrong with the Eldo — or anywhere in town, for that matter."
Drink locally: "Our happy hour is $3.50 drafts from 3 to 8 p.m., with discounts on everything else, including Colorado craft beers. Out-of-towners are always shocked by the bar tabs, because it's pretty damn cheap to drink around here for a ski town," Pardini says. But he also recommends a visit to the Montanya Rum tap room at the Powerhouse. "Their specialty cocktails are off the chart, and you'll definitely want to leave with a bottle or two as a Crested Butte souvenir."
ELDORA MOUNTAIN RESORT
"Location, location, location. Eldora is the epitome of a locals' mountain," says Jeffrey Greene, whose pub, Very Nice Brewing, is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month in nearby Nederland. "You don't have to travel up and down I-70, the place has very good terrain with something for everyone, and we seem to get really great snow even when some other places don't get any. I'm expecting we'll see some new faces this year now that Eldora's on the Epic Pass, but for the most part, this is where people from Boulder and Denver come to ski. The employees are locals, and you're not paying resort prices or getting resort vibes."
Eldora, which opens November 22, is known for its beginner-friendly slopes and lessons for first-timers, but Greene prefers some of the ski area's most extreme offerings. "I'll start my day off right by hitting Corona Bowl, Moose Glades and Brian's Glades first thing in the morning before heading in to work," he says.
Splurge: "Up just above where you turn for Eldora is the Sundance Lodge. They have a wonderful restaurant, and you can stay there if you're making it more than just a day trip: it has a real private mountain-cabin feel to it," Greene says. "For a nice splurge in town, Westword readers might like to know that we have an inordinate amount of weed shops, which is kind of fun. It cracks me up how many shops there are relative to the tiny population here, but Grateful Meds, Nedicate and the Canary's Song all have great reputations in town."
Ski bum tips: "I recommend stopping in town with the family or your ski date for a ride on the Carousel of Happiness, a restored carousel from 1910 with an original Wurlitzer organ," Greene says. "A local guy named Scott Harrison carved all the animals after the original wooden animals were sold off, and it's really the gem of the town. They run it year-round, and it'll be the best dollar you spend all day." To fill up on the cheap, Greene recommends the $10 Indian and Nepalese buffet at Kathmandu, at 110 North Jefferson Street. Spend $20 at Kathmandu or any local business — including Eldora — and bring your same-day receipt to Very Nice Brewing to get a two-for-one deal on your first round.
Drink locally: "I love the beer selection at the bar at Eldora because they always have really great Colorado microbrews on tap," Greene says. His own operation is still too small to distribute to the ski area, so stop by the brewery to try one of his five flagship beers or an ever-rotating mix of seasonal brews. Greene's especially proud of his "crazy locals" program, brewing up concoctions dreamed up by some of his most colorful customers. And like a true Nedhead, Greene also recommends checking out his closest competitor. "Wild Mountain, the other brewery in town, has smoked wings — pretty much the greatest wings I've ever had — and some great beers to go with them."
"When you come here after school and see 1,000 kids training on Howelsen Hill, it's pretty special," says Jim Boyne, who joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club as executive director on October 21, just in time for the club's 100th-anniversary season. "We've got ski jumpers, alpine skiers, snowboarders and freestyle skiers, cross-country skiers training at elite levels, as well as beginners, families and locals on the mountain.... Everybody's doing their thing."
The tiny ski area is named for Carl Howelsen, who founded it in 1913 and built a Nordic ski jump there, starting a tradition that continues today. "It's the oldest continuously operating ski area in Colorado — since 1915 — and we're proud of both our Olympic heritage and our strong partnership with the City of Steamboat, which owns the ski area," Boyne says. Howelsen Hill opens on November 30, and upcoming events this season include a sendoff to the many Olympic athletes with Steamboat roots headed for Sochi, as well as the annual Winter Carnival, February 5-9, when the SSWSC will mark its birthday.
Splurge: "If you've ever wanted to try Nordic ski-jumping, Howelsen Hill is your place," says Boyne. "We have the largest ski-jumping complex in North America, and there are opportunities to give it a try. For food, Bistro CV is a wonderful restaurant downtown, and Sweetwater Grill is right by Howelsen Hill, just across the river."
Ski bum tips: "You'll definitely want to find a good spot to watch all the kids jumping," Boyne reiterates. "They start on the smaller jumps and slowly but surely work their way up to the biggest of them, and it's quite a spectacle. It's the best free entertainment in town."
Drink locally: "We have a great local brewery called Mahogany Ridge, and I'd also recommend a visit to Carl's Tavern," Boyne says. "It's right by Howelsen Hill, was named for Carl Howelsen, and has all kinds of wonderful historic ski photos and memorabilia."
"The way to ski Keystone is to get on the chairs early and get right out to the Outback," says George Blincoe, general manager of the Dillon Dam Brewery in nearby Dillon. "When it starts to get more crowded, come to North Peak, where you can ski without much of a lift line even on weekends, and where you'll find some terrific tree skiing."
Keystone opened for the season on November 1 and is pushing its family-friendly vibe more than ever this season, adding new lesson packages, reserving free front-row parking in the main lot for families, and offering free lift tickets for kids with any two-night-minimum stay. (The resort gave away more than 25,000 kids' tickets under the program last season, according to Keystone spokeswoman Tucker Burton.)
Splurge: "The five-course dinner at Keystone Ranch is a favorite splurge, as is the Alpenglow Stube," Blincoe says. "If you've never done a hut trip in Colorado, I'd also recommend getting away from the resorts with a trip to Walter's Cabin up on Vail Pass or one of the other huts in the area. Check out Huts.org to book through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association."
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."
LOVELAND SKI AREA
"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."
Splurge: "For lodging, I would go with the Palace Hotel in historic downtown Salida; they recently did a huge remodel, so it has the antique furnishings but with modern amenities," Astor says. For high-end dining, he suggests Laughing Ladies or the Fritz. "Even on the splurge side of things, it's good to know that there's nowhere in Salida you couldn't walk into wearing your outerwear and fit right in. It's a pretty casual town."
Ski bum tips: "Monarch's day passes are some of the cheapest anywhere, so just by coming here you've made a proper ski bum choice," says Astor. "For lodging, try Simple Hostel in downtown Salida, where a bunk can be as low as 25 bucks a night."
Drink locally: "All the runs at Monarch eventually push you back to the Sidewinder Saloon, which in my opinion is the very best ski bar in the country," Astor says. You'll find three Elevation brews on tap at the Sidewinder, including the Little Mo' Porter (named for Monarch) and other local favorites like Señorita Horchata and False Summit. "Basically, our entire economy revolves around recreation, beers, wine and spirits," Astor says. "Here in the Arkansas Valley, we have a crazy-high concentration of breweries and distilleries for how small the population is. So in addition to Elevation, he recommends visits to Deerhammer Distilling in Buena Vista and, in Salida, Wood's High Mountain Distillery, Amicas Microbrewery and the Moonlight Brewpub.
POWDERHORN MOUNTAIN RESORT
"I'm pretty stoked to see Powderhorn getting some new life under new ownership over the past couple of seasons," says Danny Wilson, head brewer at Palisade Brewing Company. "Powderhorn's a fun family mountain in a great mountain community that is definitely worth the trip, but it had been neglected for a long time and is finally getting some much-needed lift improvements and an overall facelift."
The West End and Easy Ryder lifts were both upgraded over the summer, while snowmaking capabilities were increased, and a new restaurant, the West End Grille, is opening on the mountain this season. Opening day is December 12. "Powderhorn is a great mountain for families and kids, but what really makes it stand apart is the gladed skiing and our famous boulder fields, which pile up like pillows after a good storm," Wilson says, noting that Powderhorn has also been thinning out beetle-kill trees on the mountain, making the tree-skiing experience even better. "I'd say Mad Dog's Glade is my favorite run, but really, you'll have some fun on just about any run here."
Splurge: Wilson suggests the Goldenwoods Condominiums and the SlopeSide Ski Club and Hotel for lodging right at the mountain. "A lot of people also love the Wine Country Inn here in Palisade." He also recommends the extensive network of snowmobile and Nordic ski trails on the Grand Mesa, as well as nearby ice fishing and year-round fly-fishing opportunities. "Other than that, I'd mostly recommend drinking: That's what we do around here in the winter, and we do it very well, indeed."
Ski bum tips: "You're not going to pay more than $100 a night anywhere around here, but if you're really looking to save some money, there are several very nice budget motels in Palisade that will get you a bed for half that without looking too hard," Wilson says. "Winter is not the peak tourist season here, so you can find some great bargains, even at some of the nicer bed-and-breakfasts in the area. And we offer a ski bum special — a beer and a bowl of soup for $5 — to anyone who rode Powderhorn that day."
Drink locally: "We share a parking lot with the Peach Street Distillery, Buck Canyon Winery and the Colorado Alternative Health Care marijuana dispensary, so you can do all your stumbling right here, like we do," says Wilson. "Here at the brewery, we're best known for our Dirty Hippie, a dark American wheat beer, and this year we're also canning our Hula Hoppie. Some seasonal beers to watch for include an 11 percent ABV imperial porter coming out in mid-November and an imperial black pilsner coming out in January. We've also started a new barrel program that we've been having some fun with, and should have some nice small-batch beers coming out over the next few months."
PURGATORY AT DURANGO MOUNTAIN RESORT
"Purgatory's a much larger ski area than people from the Front Range might realize, and everybody in Durango skis or snowboards," says Dave Thibodeau, co-founder and president of Ska Brewing, who does a bit of both. "Most of the tourists tend to stay on the front side of the mountain, but on a good snow day, most of the locals will bomb right for the backside of the mountain, over to Lift 8. Once you're back there, you can get some really great tree runs — Paul's Park and Poet's Glade are some of my favorites — or really long, fast cruisers. There are also some new chutes they've opened in the last few years, called McCormick's Maze and Hoodies, and those are really fun."
Get as far west as possible on the backside of the mountain or as far east as possible on the front side, Thibodeau suggests. "The fringes on both sides are where the harder runs are. On the front side, my favorite run is Styx, partly because it's one of the last runs that still has its old name from when all the runs used to be hell-themed. The locals still use the old run names — and we still call it Purgatory, not Durango Mountain Resort — so don't get confused if you hear people talking about 666 and stuff." Purgatory at Durango Mountain opens on November 29.
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.
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."
Steamboat, which opens on November 27, will offer night skiing for the first time this season, complete with several illuminated features in the Lil' Rodeo terrain park.
Splurge: "On the mountain, check out the six-course dining experience at the new Four Points Lodge, and on a powder day, you can pay extra for the First Tracks deal, which gets you on the gondola early," Noble says. "In that half-hour, you might get a couple of the best runs of your life." For high-end lodging, Noble suggests the Steamboat Grand, Ptarmigan Inn or Christie Club. And for the ultimate Steamboat splurge, plan ahead and book a snowcat trip with Steamboat Powdercats. "Every year I help them with a Wounded Warriors program they do, and it's a top-notch operation. We like to take our staff on a Powdercats trip on Super Bowl Sunday, and it's always one of the highlights of the year. They always know where to go to find the snow."
Ski bum tips: "People are always going to mention the hot springs, and I'd make that part of your day, for sure, because it's part of what makes Steamboat special," Noble says, recommending both the famous Strawberry Hot Springs outside of town ($10, visit StrawberryHotSprings.com for more information and to book a massage) and the Old Town Hot Springs ($16, SSHRA.org). If you're coming before Christmas, save on lift tickets with the $129 Boat Launch 3-Day Early Season Pass, good from Thanksgiving through December 21. "For lodging, you'll find your best bets in town," Noble says. "You can't go wrong with the Rabbit Ears Motel, which is right across the street from the hot springs, has free breakfast, and is definitely the most affordable place in town," Noble says. "I'd also recommend the Alpiner Lodge, right across the street from us, and the Nordic Lodge."
Drink locally: "If you're up on the mountain, I would recommend the T-Bar at the base area, a great locals' hangout with really good food and drinks," Noble says. "Then come see us here at 435 Lincoln Avenue for happy hour, dinner, or our late-night happy hour. In addition to the seven beers always on our menu, this season we'll be doing a Scottish ale and a barleywine that should both pair well with a day on the slopes." Overwhelmed by all the drink choices? Start with the tasting flight and try them all.
"The standard good practice around here is to enjoy a day of skiing at Sunlight, head over to the hot-springs pool for a soak, and then come here to the brewpub to finish it off," says Ken Jones, brewery manager at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub inside the town's historic Hotel Denver. "That's the 1-2-3, as far as I'm concerned. And to really complete the picture, I'd suggest starting with a beer at the Wynkoop in Denver before hopping a train. That way you'll avoid I-70 traffic altogether, and when you pop out at the train station here, you can walk across the street and have another beer at our place."
Sunlight, which opens December 6, has a well-deserved reputation as a family-friendly ski area, but it's also home to some steep stuff. Be sure to head for the new gladed areas in the trees, where the ski area has been clearing out beetle-kill pine in partnership with local manufacturer Matt Cudmore, who turns the wood into planks for Meier Skis and Weston Snowboards.
Splurge: "The Pullman is a good spot to get a nice dinner, and there are any number of good restaurants downtown where you can get a pretty good steak," Jones says. "For lodging, a lot of people think of the Hotel Colorado, because it's the most iconic place in town, but I'd urge you take a close look here at the Hotel Denver, too. We run a free shuttle to the ski area, so you'll be all set. And, of course, don't miss the hot-springs pool. People love coming here in the summer, but I think it's best when it's cold and snowy outside. For me, it's that contrast that makes it special, and after a day on the slopes, your legs will thank you for it."
Ski bum tips: "If you're ski-bumming it, Sunlight's your place," Jones says. "It's not pretentious at all, unlike some of the other ski areas, and nobody here will care what you're wearing. Come mid-week to get unbelievable deals on lodging, and for a funky little locals' hangout with great food, try the 19th Street Diner. You'll find some colorful locals in there, for sure, as well as good eats and a decent draft selection."
Drink locally: On the mountain, Jones recommends the Last-Turn Lounge for a selection of Colorado beers on tap. Off the mountain, he likes his own place. "We've been open since '96, and we just won our twelfth medal at the Great American Beer Festival, taking silver for our Hanging Lake English Ale," he says. Also try the St. James Irish Red Ale, a 2012 GABF gold-medalist, and repeat prize winners like the Storm King Dunkel Lager. "We also make some great winter seasonals, and this year we're going to make our Sopris Strong Ale, Carbonator Doppelbock, South Canyon Imperial Red, and Deep Lake Scotch Ale."
TELLURIDE SKI &
"I moved here nine years ago for the skiing after graduating from Colorado College and just absolutely fell in love with the town and the community here," says Tommy Thacher, proprietor of Telluride Brewing "It's a special place full of special folks, and you can just feel the awesome spirit throughout town."
Thacher likes to kickstart his day at the Coffee Cowboy cart at 131 East Colorado Avenue before linking up Lift 8 to Lift 9 to get to his favorite runs. "I'm a big bumps skier, and Telluride has a lot of great steep terrain with a lot of bumps," he says. "My favorites are Can't-Make-'Em, Spiral Stairs and Plunge. Those three will really get your legs burning."
Telluride, which opens on November 28, has something for everybody, but Thacher — like a lot of locals — is partial to the resort's most extreme offerings. "Over the last few years, Telluride has really stepped it up, opening a ton of killer new hike-to terrain in the Black Iron Bowl, Gold Hill Chutes and Palmyra Peak," he says. "It's really attracted a lot of new people to the resort and to the town."
Splurge: "The number-one splurge in Telluride is a heli-skiing trip with Telluride Helitrax," Thacher says. "People come back and just rave about it. Another must is to get yourself a pair of custom skis made by Pete Wagner of Wagner skis. Each of us here at the brewery got a pair last year with the Telluride Brewing logo on them, and those skis have revolutionized my skiing." For high-end dining, try the five-course wine-pairing dinner at Alpino Vino; at nearly 12,000 feet, it's billed as the highest-elevation restaurant in North America. Thacher's favorite in town is chef Eliza Gavin's restaurant, 221 South Oak. "The nicest lodging in town is the New Sheridan Hotel, because it's super old-school. You get the time-machine feeling like it could be 100 years ago in there, and they also have a great restaurant, the Sheridan Chophouse. The Inn at Lost Creek is another high-end favorite."
Ski bum tips: For more affordable lodging, Thacher suggests the Victorian Inn and the Mountainside Inn youth hostel. As for drinks and dining, there are plenty of happy-hour deals, but Thacher's favorites include Oak BBQ, Floradora Saloon, and La Cocina's. "Almost every restaurant downtown has half-off deals at happy hour, so you really can't go wrong anywhere." The best times for a ski bum to find lift-ticket and lodging deals in Telluride are during the early season (November 28-December 20), in February, and in the spring, March 20-April 6. The resort specifically caters to women with its Women's Week sessions in January and February, and hosts the ten-day Telluride Gay Ski Week the last week of February.
Drink locally: "The Oak is a great spot to end your day, for the après-skiing, and they have great barbecue and specialize in bourbon," Thacher says. "There's also the Last Dollar Saloon, which the locals call 'The Buck,' and the New Sheridan Hotel bar. We have fifteen beers on tap here at the brewery, and they're also basically everywhere in town that has a liquor license: the support we get from everyone in town is overwhelmingly awesome." Try the Face-Down Brown, a 2012 Great American Beer Festival gold-medalist and 2012 World Beer Cup gold cup winner.
VAIL SKI RESORT
"Vail's my home mountain and my favorite ski area anywhere," says Rebecca Schroeppel, who supports her skiing-and-snowboarding habit with a gig at the Gore Range Brewery in Edwards. "It's just a really versatile mountain with something for everyone off of just about any of the chairlifts, which makes it super accessible and great for skiing or riding with groups of people."
Schroeppel suggests heading for Blue Sky Basin and the Back Bowls, which will now be served by the new six-chair Mountaintop Express Lift, increasing capacity by 33 percent, or to the North Woods. "Those are the two areas I can talk about," she says. "I have some other spots I love to hit, but that's not something I can disclose. As a local, I'd probably be shot if I gave up too many secrets."
Vail opens on November 22.
Splurge: "It's definitely not hard to splurge in Vail," says Schroeppel, noting that Game Creek and The 10th have brought new high-end dining options to the on-mountain experience, while the new Matsuhisa restaurant has helped raise the profile in the Solaris base area. "I also really like Montauk in Lionshead and Sweet Basil in Vail Village, but The 10th is undeniably cool if you're looking for something on-mountain. When you go in, you take off your boots and they give you slippers. It's pretty classy." For lodging splurges, try the Arabelle or Ritz-Carlton in Lionshead or Manor Vail Lodge in East Vail. "Another great splurge if you're looking to get out into the backcountry is to hire Nova Guides [NovaGuides.com]," Schroeppel says. "They do great snowmobile and snowcat tours around Shriner Pass and Vail Pass."
Ski bum tips: "I like to send people to the Evergreen Lodge, which has some of the most affordable lodging in Vail and also has the Altitude, one of the best bars in town," Schroeppel says. Also check out the "Good Snow Guarantee" at Antlers at Vail, where $449 per person will put four people into a two-bedroom condo for four nights, with two days of lift tickets and unlimited snowshoe use. "For cheap eats, I'd recommend La Cantina, which is right next to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum — also a must-see — and has cheap Mexican food and margaritas to die for."
Drink locally: "When you're ready to get out of Vail for a bit, it's definitely worth the ten-mile trek to Edwards to visit the Gore Range Brewery," Schroeppel says. "We don't distribute outside the brewery, so it's your only chance to try our beers. We also have an extensive gluten-free menu and some great food." Start with the $6.50 sampler to try any four beers on the menu, and ask for seasonal specialties like Farmhouse Ale and the new Scottish Ale, aged in bourbon barrels from the Breckenridge Distillery.
WINTER PARK RESORT
"Between Winter Park and Mary Jane, you've got everything from magic carpet rides for first-timers to a full terrain-park system, huge moguls, great trees, and even access to gates to drop into National Forest sidecountry that will leave you hitchhiking your way back to the chairlifts," says snowboarder Gary Zehner, bartender at the Library Sports Grille & Brewery in Winter Park.
This season, the resort is also offering a new snowcat ride called the Cirque Sled that will get people out to the Cirque terrain; it's selling unlimited passes for just $10, he adds. "If you've ever made the hike to the Cirque, you're going to be real stoked to catch the ride." Winter Park opens on November 13.
Splurge: The Powder Addiction snowcat tours on Jones Pass start at $300 per person in the low season and $400 per person during the peak season (January 5-March 7). "For lodging, there's actually pretty competitive pricing at the resort and in town, but if you're looking to step it up, I'd do a little bit of legwork to get into a nice condo or a vacation rental, because there are a lot of great properties around town," Zehner says. "I also really like Devil's Thumb Ranch, which is a bit outside of town but has great private cabins and some excellent fine-dining options."
Ski bum tips: "Couchsurfer.com is your new best friend," Zehner says. "We also have a Best Western that's competitively priced and some really small ten-room motels, chalets and bed-and-breakfast type places that are always running specials. The Rocky Mountain Chalet in Fraser is another great option. For food, we have great pub fare here at the Library, with almost everything on the menu hovering around that $10 mark, and you'll find happy-hour deals at every restaurant in town. I should also mention the Da Vinci Italian Restaurant, because they have a reverse happy hour from 10 p.m. 'til midnight. A lot of visitors are surprised to find that it's the only place in town to get food after 10."
Drink locally: The Library is an outpost of the brewery by the same name in Laramie, Wyoming, and brews all of its beers in-house. "We're currently the only brewery in the area," Zehner says. "We have happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., with $1.50 well drinks, $1 off our craft beers, 10 percent off appetizers, and daily specials. And we sell growlers for $12 or $18 depending on the beer, so you can take them back to the condo and keep the party going after last call or take a souvenir with you."
WOLF CREEK SKI AREA
"Let's just say I had to buy some wider sticks when I got here," jokes Jason Cox, co-owner of Riff Raff Brewing, which opened in Pagosa Springs in May. "Wolf Creek is a powder mountain and legitimately gets over 400 inches of snow a year. I used to live on the Front Range, and I'd see the snow reports and think 'No way,' but it's the real deal. Powder's definitely the number-one draw here."
Wolf Creek, which opens on November 9, replaced its Treasure Lift over the summer with a new high-speed quad, now known as Treasure Stoke. "That's one of the main lifts there, and I think it's going to make a big difference in getting people up the mountain faster to get to that powder," Cox says.
Splurge: The Springs Resort "is famous, and if you've never been, that's definitely where you should stay, because you'll get 24-hour access to the hot springs to soak your bones after playing in the snow all day," Cox says. "Dining-wise, I'd recommend the Alley House Grille, and for some other great splurge activities, visit the Wyndham Activity Center. You can book snowmobile tours there or even a hot-air balloon trip. Those are popular around here, and you'll be surprised to find they run them year-round, weather permitting. It's a great way to really appreciate the scenery here in the San Juan mountain range."
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Ski bum tips: "I'd recommend trying the Hippie Dip, which is right below the downtown bridge on Hot Springs Boulevard," Cox says. "The same hot springs water from the Springs Resort comes down the river, and it's free to jump in. If you get too hot, you can always jump in the 35-degree water in the river!" For budget lodging, Cox recommends First Inn, the San Juan Motel or the Pinewood Inn. "For cheap eats, I like Kip's Grill, Boss Hogg's, and the River Sports Bar & Grill."
Drink locally: Riff Raff opened on Memorial Day in a historic Victorian building downtown. "We usually have seven to ten of our own handcrafted beers, plus a couple others on our twelve taps, as well as wine and a full food menu." Try seasonal brews like the Weapon of Self Destruction (a Russian imperial stout) or the Scotch Ale. "Those are a couple of big, burly beers to warm you back up at the end of the day," Cox says. "And check out Pagosa Brewing & Grill, too, because those guys do really nice work, have a large menu, and have won a bunch of awards for their beers."