All signs point to go
for the 2021-22 season in the Colorado high country! Operations at ski areas are back to (almost) normal while still keeping common-sense safety precautions in place. That means that eager skiers and boarders can hit the powder without fear, taking advantage of new additions along with returning traditions and events throughout the Colorado Rockies.
Here are updates on what's new (and what's back) at the state's resorts:
A-Basin, where early openings and late closings are traditional, opened in mid-October, but be aware that for 2021-22, unrestricted season pass sales are limited, as are daily lift tickets. Arapahoe also dropped the Epic Pass in favor of the Ikon Pass. But the goal of shorter lines and less crowding on the slopes to preserve fresh powder is a tradeoff that any bargain-conscious skier can appreciate, along with improvements including expansion of the Beavers/Steep Gullies terrain and a new chairlift. Uphill access is currently closed; updates will be posted online
What to do once you get to lean, mean A-Basin? The Rise and Shine Rando Series comprises six rise-and-shine morning races scheduled through January. Try the newest gear during Ski + Snowboard Demo Weekend, December 11-12 at Mountain Goat Plaza (lift ticket required), or kick off the Moonlight Dinner Series with a New Year's Eve feast, champagne toast, party favors and a 10 p.m. balloon drop at Black Mountain Lodge.
Mountain openings roll out between November 25 (Aspen Mountain and Snowmass) and December 11 (Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk), and a renovated Limelight Hotel Aspen and the debut of the new Alpin Room restaurant on Snowmass will add to the glory. But everyone's favorite season initiative is surely the return to a full events schedule. That said, what's new is old — 75 years old — at Aspen Snowmass, where the anniversary celebration will guide the spirit of the combined resorts throughout the season with a focus on the region's ski history and future, a special Aspen 75 cocktail available around town and three days of mixed-media storytelling at the Wheeler Opera House.
The holidays are well taken care of at Aspen Snowmass, with 12 Days of Aspen promotions from December 20 to December 31, the interactive art and light display Snowmass Luminescence lighting up the Snowmass Base Village, and a New Year's Eve torchlight spectacle and fireworks on Fanny Hill. After the holidays, Wintersköl brings four days of on-mountain fun, music, more fireworks and a bonfire to Aspen Mountain beginning January 21. Looking for something arty? Aspen Snowmass’s ArtUP program features art by Italian artist Paola Pivi on this year's 2021-22 winter lift tickets and passes, as well as on the slopes in the form of feathered polar bears.
Aspen Snowmass eats up the competition when it comes to major events on the slopes: The Winter X Games, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary at Buttermilk last year (with no fans on the sidelines) returns to Buttermilk (and in-person crowds) on January 21-23, with
nearly 100 athletes competing. Spectating is free. In preparation for the Nastar National Championships, April 4-9 at Snowmass, free NASTAR racing will be available for local hopefuls at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass all season long.
Beaver Creek Resort opens on November 24, with the promise of a season full of events and new adventures at McCoy Park, which boasts a 250-acre expansion of beginner and intermediate skiing and riding terrain. Beaver Creek Wonder, a playground of selfie-friendly oversized sculptures in the village, returns in December, in anticipation of a village-wide Wonder Celebration January 14-16.
Family-friendly Beaver Creek, with its stellar children’s ski and snowboard school, keeps kids occupied on and off the slopes all winter long: The Vilar Performing Arts Center provides evening entertainment, from the latest Warren Miller ski adventure to a full season of holiday shows, including classics like A Christmas Carol, and a full roster of musical guests. Start the season sweetly with opening day's traditional
World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition, then keep up with the action on December 2-5 at the Birds of Prey Men's World Cup Races; weekly Family Funfest activities start on Saturday, December 11. Stay merry and bright with live music and favorite characters the week after Christmas, aka Cheer week, and ring in 2022 watching the ball drop in Times Square on giant screens.
There's another anniversary in the high country this season: Historic ski town Breckenridge celebrates its sixtieth with the new Freedom SuperChair over Peak 7. Breck is already welcoming skiers for the 2021-22 season with a serious dose of high-alpine adventure. Try as many runs as you can: Peak 6 will give advanced intermediates a taste of above-treeline thrills, while experts can hike to wide-open expanses, cliffs and technical chutes. If you’re looking to notch some bragging rights, ride the Imperial Express, North America’s highest chairlift, then follow the boot pack up to nearly 13,000 feet to the famed Lake Chutes, where the views, steeps and altitude will literally take your breath away.
In town, Breckenridge lights up for the holidays, beginning with a Race of the Santas on Main Street (bring your Santa hat), dog races, a children's moose march and more on December 4; 250,000 LED holiday lights switch on after that hoopla to top it all off. Breck's stalwart Ullr Fest follows December 8-12, when locals and visitors of all ages gather and parade through town to praise Ullr, the Norse god of snow, ensuring a powder-filled ski season. The high point? The mighty Ullr Fest bonfire. After the holidays, look for the International Snow Sculpture Championships, coming up on January 24-28.
Cooper is tentatively set to open on December 8 with two new black-diamond trails open in the Tennessee Creek Basin, extending last year's lift and terrain expansion to create even more expert runs, a first for the resort when it debuted last season. A new wooded trail, Leprechaun Lane, also launches down near the base. And If you’re looking for unobstructed views of 14,000-foot peaks, try Trail’s End at Cooper.
Copper opens on November 22, getting right down to business that weekend with the Snowsation fest, two nights of free concerts: a TBA band on Friday, November 26, followed by fireworks and a snowcat parade, and Colorado's own Leftover Salmon on Saturday, November 27. Copper is also upping its game for beginners with the first stages of the WesternTerritory, a multi-year expansion kicking off in 2021-22 with two new family-friendly adventure zones, two new trails and a connector trail.
With the Winter Olympics just around the corner in February 2022, the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe competitions for freeskiers and boarders on December 8-11 is a must-see preview of daredevil tricks being perfected for medal-worthy performances in Beijing. The Dew Tour Copper Mountain comes through Copper on the following weekend, December 16-19, bringing some of the world’s best male and female skiers and snowboarders to compete in individual halfpipe, slopestyle and para snowboard competitions. Spectating is free.
Crested Butte, set to open for the 2021-22 season on November 24, is known as the North American birthplace of in-bounds extreme skiing and riding, so you’ll find a bevy of exciting runs here. Bask in the views of the Elk Mountains from the top of Painter Boy Lift; you might also find some powder stashes near the trees along the side of Elko Park or Panion’s Run. For the ultimate Crested Butte experience, hike to the peak and enjoy 360-degree views at 12,162 feet before descending more than 3,000 vertical feet.
The Crested Butte Nordic Center brings activity to town at the get-go, as the annual Thanksgiving Ski Camp, one of the best in the nation, gets under way on Thanksgiving morning with a Round-Robin Refresher. Half- and full-day clinics follow on Friday and Saturday. Along with cross-country skiing, Crested Butte offers a whole side dish of Nordic, backcountry and fat biking trails, along with romantic sleigh-ride dinners and grand torchlights on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. No excuse for getting bored!
Located less than an hour from downtown Denver, Echo Mountain, with a target opening date of November 26, is the closest ski area to the city; it also strives to be the most affordable. Along with its mostly intermediate ski and snowboard terrain, Echo offers a six-lane tubing hill (reservations required) and night skiing (start date TBA). If you go, try EJ’s Glades, a less-visited area that often leaves acres of untracked powder.
Eldora opened just in time for Thanksgiving.
The self-proclaimed “locals’ mountain,” Eldora lives up to it nickname with its low-key atmosphere and proximity to the Front Range (hence its other description: “Boulder’s backyard mountain”). Skiing at Eldora is awesome whether you choose an alpine or Nordic experience, but if you really want to get your blood flowing, the Corona Bowl is where it’s at.
Granby Ranch, opening on December 11, has something for everyone. A small resort with big-resort amenities, Granby boasts shorter lines, a laid-back vibe, and a ski and ride school that caters to every level: bring the kids and Grandpa the ski veteran, too. If you go, try Gettles Glade, an intermediate skier’s secret powder stash, with no crowds and fresh tracks to be grooved after a snowstorm.
Howelsen Hill, the oldest continually operating ski area in North America at 105 and counting, is a favorite training ground for hopeful Olympians in spite of being a bona fide city park. Howelsen will offer five A-frame-style warming huts on the mountain for guests to reserve this winter, as well as introducing a new triple chairlift, and Ski Free Sundays continue in 2021-22. Check out the terrain beginning November 27, conditions permitting.
The ski hill is part of the Kendall Mountain Recreation Area, which has worked since 2017 to create an expanded ski area and make use of the recreation area year-round to provide visitors to Silverton with plenty of good old-fashioned family fun. Tentatively opening December 17, the easygoing, affordable hill caters to all ages and makes it easy for the whole family to ski without breaking the bank. It’s possible to explore all of Kendall’s sixteen acres in one visit, but the terrain is varied; with several green, blue and black runs, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.
The slopes at Keystone are already up and running for the 2021-22 season, with a new six-passenger Peru chairlift being readied to provide access to the mountain from the Mountain House base area, replacing the old Peru Express and Argentine lifts. And the action? The Outback, Keystone’s tallest peak at 11,980 feet, is an oasis for skiers and riders looking to find secret powder stashes and remote tree runs. The North and South Bowls offer access to secret stashes, tree runs and exclusive laps across Wapiti Peak. On the front side of the mountain, the well-known Schoolmarm is a long, meandering green run with stunning views of the mountains and the valley below — great for all skill levels.
Après-ski, check out the Warren Station Center for the Arts for the Winter Comedy Series curated by Denver's Comedy Works, the Align in the Pines winter yoga series, Keystone’s Winter Carnival on November 27, a Goods in the Woods holiday artisan fair on December 4 and the Summit School of Dance's Nutcracker Suite and Holiday Showcase December 10-11.
Loveland, known for having one of the longest ski seasons in the state, is already open for the business of skiing. Its perfect placement atop the Continental Divide practically guarantees healthy snow at all times. Loveland Valley and Loveland Basin comprise terrain for all levels with amazing views, all at family-friendly prices. If you're looking for something not so family-friendly, hunt for wild terrain via the free Ridge Cat snowcat ride that goes where no life has gone before. A lesser-known but still incredible trail at Loveland is In the Mood, off Lift 8. Although it’s not hard to get to, it does take a few lift rides — and because of its less-trafficked location on the mountain, the snow stays good for a long time after a storm.
Though Loveland is pure ski-bum country, there are a few events sprinkled throughout the season: Christy Sports Demo Day is November 20, the Outdoor Divas Women's Demo Day pops up on December 2, and you can get married along with a bunch of complete strangers at the Valentine’s Day Mountaintop Matrimony, celebrating its 31st season on February 14. The Loveland Derby, America’s largest amateur ski race, is set for April 9-10.
Monarch prides itself on being a natural-snow-only mountain, so opening day is on hold until further notice. But when it's ready, look out: Monarch has plenty of amazing runs, including Gunbarrel and the Mirkwood Basin, but elsewhere on the mountain, savvy skiers and riders can find underrated conditions at the Curecanti Power Line cut. Stay tuned.
Powderhorn, on the Grand Mesa, is making snow using last year's new gravity-fed snowmaking system and shooting for a November 26 opening.
A little off the beaten path at Powderhorn, the Mad Dog Glade run stashes powder for days after a storm. The steep grove of widely spaced aspen trees makes for a spectacular run that will have you going back again and again to stack your turns.
Hit Purgatory beginning November 20; the resort has been taking advantage of a slow 2020 by spending more than $2 million in improvements, including major modernizations to both the Purgatory and Hermosa Park Express detachables (Lifts 1 and 3). Work to modernize the Needles Triple Chair (Lift 6) continues, though hampered by supply-chain and workforce issues until 2022. Also added: two new grooming machines, additional TechnoAlpin fan guns and other equipment and improvements.
For skiing, Dead Spike is a long run that starts out as an intermediate trail with incredible fall-line skiing and finishes at the bottom of Lift 5 as a black diamond with moguls. There’s always consistent snow coverage, and very few people ski and ride the trail, so you'll find powder stashes even after a storm. For more fun, monthly Snowcat Dining Excursions to Powderhouse Restaurant kick off on December 18.
Silverton offers intense, high-energy skiing; its steep slopes will challenge you like nothing else. While there are varying levels of difficulty, the whole mountain is advanced or expert skiing only. The rollout of openings tells the whole story: Heli Ski season debuts November 25, Guided Skiing opens December 30 and a five-days-a-week Unguided Season gets going March 16. And ladies: The Women’s Big Mountain Camp for high intermediates and above, a two-day deal for $522, is coming January 15-16. Adventure awaits.
What else? Waterfall is the must-do run at Silverton Mountain. Although it’s just off the only lift and doesn’t require a significant hike, it’s still steep, boasting a 1,762-foot vertical rise. To avoid the frozen waterfall at the exit, skiers and riders have the choice of super-steep pitches like Skid Mark, Waterfall Ramp or TBS. All of the exits from Waterfall are exciting terrain challenges, even for the most expert of skiers or snowboarders.
Steamboat is ready to roll on November 20, giving way to a full season of fabulous skiing and the beginning of a three-year cycle of major improvements, with work already in progress on a Gondola Square redevelopment and on-mountain improvement plan. In the years ahead, expect the debut of the Wild Blue Gondola, a new Greenhorn Ranch school for beginners and development of 650 acres of advanced and expert terrain in the Fish Creek Canyon area for 2023.
Coming up this season: VISA Big Air brings board and freeskiing big-air Olympic qualifying action to Steamboat on December 2-4; the resort does up New Year's Eve with a lit-up snowcat parade, synchronized torchlight run and fireworks on December 31; the town's 2022 Winter Carnival brings people into the streets to celebrate the week of February 9-13. For music lovers, the 2022 WinterWonderGrass festival is coming February 25-27.
Sunlight has a planned 2021-22 launch date of December 10. While the three-phase, $4 million expansion begun in 2019 is still under way, a new lift and completion of 100 acres of new terrain are still on the horizon. Meanwhile, Sunlight debuts smaller improvements this season, such as a parking lot expansion, installation of six new electric-vehicle charging stations and various tech tools to improve the Sunlight experience.
A couple of things to look forward to in this season's future: Skier Appreciation Day on January 7, and the Ski Spree 2022 Mountain Treasure Hunt on February 26. On the mountain, try the iconic 2.5-mile Ute Trail, named one of America’s Top 10 Scenic Green Runs by Liftopia in 2017. Skiers and riders from around the globe rave about its terrain and panoramic views.
Telluride opens on Thanksgiving, allowing plenty of time to experience forty acres of north-facing gladed terrain around Lift 9 that opened in recent years. This new tree skiing is for advanced and expert skiers, and includes natural features such as steep chutes and rock drops. Guests can also download the resort’s app, which includes up-to-the-minute lift status information, snow reporting, trail status, an interactive trail map, push notifications and more.
Telluride's exciting event schedule heats up right away with the Telluride Fire Festival on December 3-5, a Burning Man homage and spectacle of fire art, flaming art cars and fire performances. Things get more down to earth December 11-12 with the more traditional Mountain Village Holiday Prelude, two days of tree lightings, train rides and Santa convos for families.
Vail is open! In fact, the fruits of the resort's massive snowmaking expansion project, the largest in Vail Mountain’s history, allows more diverse terrain that opens earlier, creating more reliable early- and late-season conditions with high-quality snow; it also makes existing snowmaking technology more energy- and water-efficient. Vail's 5,317 acres of skiable terrain (the most of any ski area in Colorado) let skiers feel worlds away and completely immersed in nature.
Vail also has a full event agenda for every taste: The Magic of Lights Vail winter walking tour through the Betty Ford Alpine Garden will brighten anyone's evening, from November 20 through January 2; Vail Snow Days offer live concerts by Nathaniel Rateliff and Dierks Bentley, plus festive activations on and off the slopes December 2-5; the Vail Skating Festival performs free outdoor shows on December 18 and 26 — and that's just a fraction of what's happening in December!
Winter Park, two-time winner of the #1 Ski Resort in North America title bestowed by USA Today readers, is open. Check out the new six-person Sunnyside chair installed for the 2019-20 season; the $6 million upgrade has reduced ride time to under four minutes, providing quicker lift lines at the bottom of Parsenn Bowl. Eagle Wind, tucked into the backside of Mary Jane, is well off the beaten path, providing some of the resort’s most persistent powder stashes, as well as some of its best tree skiing.
Winter Park Village lights up for the holidays on November 27, fetes visitors with live music, dog sledding demonstrations, new ski/snowboard gear demo during the December 11 Venture Out Fest and a Christmas Eve torchlight parade, fireworks and a bonfire.
Wolf Creek, generally known for its abundant snowfall, is open, but unexpectedly on a day-to-day basis due to warmer and dryer then expected weather this fall. Access over Thanksgiving weekend is promised. Check the webpage for daily status...and do a snow dance, too. It couldn't hurt.
This is Wolf Creek’s 82nd year of operation, its fourth anniversary of going solar, and the sixteenth straight year that the ski area has used some form of renewable energy year-round for 100 percent of the mountain.
Wolf Creek debuted a new trail called Orion’s Beltway two years ago; recommended for strong beginners and intermediates, the trail can be accessed using Pitch’s Gate or Serendipity and continues down to the Charity Jane Express bottom terminal. For advanced and expert skiers, the Numbered Chutes are some of the most underrated terrain in the Alberta Peak area. The highlight of the Numbered Chutes is how little the terrain is accessed, leaving fresh tracks a couple days after a storm cycle.
Because of both snow and COVID conditions, rules could change at Colorado's resorts. Find more information at Colorado Ski Country USA, or contact the individual resort.