Last year's ski and snowboard season was the best on record, according to Colorado Ski Country USA, with a record 12.6 million visits to Colorado ski areas — and this year's snow forecast is even better.
"Seeing our visitation punch through the 12.5 million level and best our prior mark demonstrates the vibrancy of Colorado's ski industry and the passion of our resident and visiting skiers and snowboarders," says Colorado Ski Country president Melanie Mills. "With two consecutive years of growth, momentum is certainly in our favor as our resorts continue to set the industry standard in terms of snow quality, skier safety and guest service."
Ready for more? So are we. In The Edge, you'll find everything you need to make the most of your own adventures at Colorado ski areas.
ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI & SNOWBOARD AREA
A-Basin kicked off Colorado's ski season again this year, winning the race to open on October 17 with the help of unseasonably early fall storms and prime snowmaking conditions. The ski area has earned a reputation among Colorado's most extreme skiers and snowboarders for its expert terrain on the famed Pallavicini face, accessible by chairlift from the base, and for hike-to terrain that rivals any of the steepest stuff in the state. The après-ski party vibe is first-rate too, thanks to the raucous scene at the "Beach" area of A-Basin's parking lot and inside the recently renovated 6th Alley Bar & Grill, which opened last season. The mountain is also now catering more families, with improvements to its Molly Hogan Learning Area and new multi-pack lesson packages. First-timer? Take advantage of multi-day lesson packages and head-to-toe rental packages that can include jackets and pants as well as boots and skis or boards.
Signature Experience: "I think there are two ways to go — the fully extreme bucket list and the fully extreme après bucket list. If you're really good, you can do both in the same day," says A-Basin spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac. "If it's open, expert skiers and snowboarders should hike to the top of North Pole and ski down the East Wall. You can't beat the view from the top, and it's an exhilarating run. If it's not open, you have to ride the Pali lift and ski the Pali face, period. If you're more into après, my suggestions are to grab a spot on the Beach near the Pali lift and grill with your pals, then finish your day with an A-Basin Bacon Bloody Mary in the 6th Alley Bar & Grill."
Splurge: "Big spenders won't find much to blow their cash on here in terms of the ski and snowboard experience," says Isaac. "Every lift ticket — whether you buy online, at the window or have a pass — gets you the longest season in Colorado and some of the best terrain around." Still, the all-you-can-eat Moonlight Dinners at the mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge, $69-$98 per person depending on the event, are worth every dollar. Ride the lift or bring your snowshoes. Ski Bum Tips: Buy early and buy online for the best lift-ticket deals. Powder in the forecast? Get there early, before the parking lot fills up, but don't be surprised if someone living out of his truck has beat you to it. Ready to turn your kids into powder fiends? Kids fourteen and under ski free at A-Basin from November 30 through December 19, with no purchase necessary and no strings attached.
Drink Locally: Look for a rotating selection of twenty beers on tap in the 6th Alley, including New Belgium, Avery, Elevation, Ska and Left Hand. To get your suds straight from the source, head to the Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon or Bakers' Brewery, opening this month in Silverthorne.
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.
BEAVER CREEK RESORT
"We have a ton of news for the upcoming season," says Beaver Creek's Jen Brown. "Most notably, we're hosting the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships February 2 to 15, 2015. The world will descend on Vail and Beaver Creek, and it will be a great time to visit. Spectating the races are free, and there will be plenty of concerts, events and festivities taking place during the two weeks. And in terms of race impacts, less than 1 percent of Vail's terrain will have racing and less than 5 percent of Beaver Creek's will be impacted." To help get ready for it all, the mountain added 24 new fully automated snowmaking guns this year along its Gold Dust trail, and another ten along Lower Larkspur to help keep Larkspur Bowl open for more of the season. There's also a new combination lift — half chairlift, half gondola — that will increase uphill capacity in time for the World Ski Championships crowds, and a new on-mountain Candy Cabin at the top of the Strawberry Park Express and Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.
Signature experience: The lifts run until 4 p.m., but don't be surprised if you see kids of all ages racing down the mountain just before 3: That's cookie time around these parts, when the resort gives away free chocolate chip cookies. For a higher-end dining experience that is pure Beaver Creek, book a dinner at Beano's or Zach's Cabin.
Splurge: Beaver Creek Ski School is offering "elevated" private lessons this winter that include express chairlift access through a special lane at designated lifts (different from the regular ski-school lane), as well as ski valet service and access to an exclusive on-mountain lunch at SaddleRidge; the new packages start at $625. "In addition to the customized day offered by the school's top pros in a private lesson, the elevated lesson is designed to blend Beaver Creek's legendary guest service with its 'Ivy League' ski-school experience," says Brown.
Ski bum tips: Park in the free lower lots and ride the bus to the village, and if you're planning to get a bunch of days in, buy a $769 Epic Pass or a $589 Epic Local Pass. With daily lift tickets climbing over $100, Vail's signature season pass is looking more attractive than ever.
Drink locally: Once you come down off the mountain, get out of your boots and head for the Gore Range or Crazy Mountain breweries in nearby Edwards, or Bonfire Brewing in Eagle.
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT
Vail Resorts dropped a cool $85 million on improvements for the 2014-2015 season, and you'll see evidence of it at all three of the company's Colorado ski areas. Breck upgraded its Colorado Super Chair over the summer from a four-person chair to a six-person express, which should relieve the lines at what has become the resort's busiest peak, but you'll still want to get away from it all with a trek over to Peak 6, which opened last season with 540 acres of high alpine terrain — some above 12,000 feet — and intermediate-level bowl skiing. You'll drop in on wide-open slopes above timberline, with groomed trail options and lots of paths into gladed tree runs. There are no restaurants over there, but word has it that there will be a snowcat food truck of some sort at the base of the Kenosha lift this season.
Signature experience: On any powder day — and Breck seems to get more than its fair share of them — follow the locals for laps on the T-Bar lift until it gets tracked out, then recuperate with drinks at the bar at the base of Peak 8 (also called the T-Bar). And don't miss the Dew Tour, which returns to Breck December 7-11 and should be much more laid-back now that the Winter Olympics are over.
Splurge: If you've overdone it (trust us, it happens), dip into the Rejuvenation Center in One Ski Hill Place at the Peak 8 base area. The $130 Lost Horizon Sports Massage should do the trick.
Ski bum tips: Stay at the Bivouac Hostel — "The Bivvi," to those in the know — to bunk with your shred crew in rooms and suites that sleep up to six people. The website disclaimer should be enough to convince you one way or another: "The Bivvi is a hostel. We like to play a little rock n' roll, adventure in the mountains, and make new friendships with other awesome guests. If the above is not your scene, please visit another site and book a more conventional hotel." Breakfast is included, local beers are on tap in the Great Room. Making a late call on staying in town after a storm rolled in or you partied too hard to drive home? The Bivvi accepts walk-ins without a reservation until 10 p.m.; you can also book at TheBivvi.com. Rates vary during the season but can be as low as $45 per person.
Drink locally: Make your way to Breckenridge Brewery, founded here in 1990, and/or the new Broken Compass Brewing, or to Breckenridge Distillery.
Nowhere in Colorado is the "something for everyone" claim more true than at Copper Mountain, where the terrain naturally progresses from beginner-friendly runs to the west to expert terrain to the east and in the high alpine back bowls. Copper's famed terrain parks follow a similar progression, and you'll find little kids ripping their first tricks on the rails as well as the world's top pros training in the superpipe and slopestyle courses. For your own virtual guide to the best of it, download Sherpa: The On Mountain Intelligence App to your phone. The hands-free app is now open-sourced, meaning you can use it to get tips from locals or leave tips of your own as you explore the resort.
Signature experience: Ready to try some new tricks? Start at Woodward Copper, an indoor-oudoor action-sports training facility designed to safely help everyone from first-timers to experts looking to step up their game. Sign up for an intro or drop-in session in the indoor Barn or full-day freestyle lessons starting at $169. Multi-day Winter Camp sessions start at $369, beginning December 27.
Splurge: Spring for the $519 Secret! Season Pass (the regular season pass is $419), which gets you on the mountain fifteen minutes ahead of everyone else — pretty much guaranteeing fresh tracks on a powder day or first cuts in the corduroy on groomed runs — and also lets you cut lift lines all day. Ski bum tips: Rides on the Tucker Mountain Snowcat are free with any lift ticket or season pass and will pick you up at the base of the Mountain Chief chairlift, Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., then dump you into in-bounds terrain that feels like pure backcountry, including steep chutes and wide-open treeless runs above timberline. Tucker Mountain has been a focus of The 12's, a two-phase high-alpine development plan to expand the resort's offerings on its three peaks above 12,000 feet. The project has also seen the installation of a new T-bar lift on Storm King and the Celebrity Ridge lift, serving Union Peak, Union Meadows, West Ridge and Copper Bowl. Drink locally: Look for local beers on tap at Endo's Adrenaline Cafe, a base-area favorite, then head for the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco to sit out the ski traffic before getting back on I-70.
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN
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."
ELDORA MOUNTAIN RESORT
Unlimited skiing at Eldora is now included on the $549 Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus, bringing the area's no-frills charms to a wider audience and presenting a nice option for turning off I-70 early if the traffic to Copper Mountain, Winter Park or Steamboat is dispiriting.
Signature experience: Visit the Eldora Nordic Center to explore an extensive system of groomed trails perfect for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Rental and lesson packages are available for anyone from first-timers to experts.
Splurge: Book the Private Lesson Express and you'll find an instructor and a high-end rental package waiting for you upon arrival. Or pick up the 5-Pack Special, good for five one-hour private lessons any time during the season. For lodging, try the Alps Boulder Canyon Inn, where room packages include a full gourmet breakfast and where some of the rooms come with private double whirlpool bathtubs built for two.
Ski bum tips: Stay at Foot of the Mountain Motel in Boulder, with Stay and Ski packages starting at $95 per person that include Eldora lift tickets, then take the ski-and-ride RTD bus to the mountain. Alternately, pick up a $20 Gems Card from Colorado Ski Country USA at coloradoski.com; the card is good for buy-one-get-one lift ticket deals at Eldora and seven of the state's other big-things-come-in-small-packages ski areas.
Drink locally: Stop in Nederland on your way out of town and visit Very Nice Brewing and Wild Mountain Brewery.
Keystone is all in on the family-friendly front with the return of its Kids Ski Free program for any kids twelve and under who stay at least two nights. Also look for the new Family Ski Trail; a full program of kids' ski-school offerings at Camp Keystone; and signature details like the Kidtopia snow fort on Dercum Mountain. Of course, the resort is also known for catering to skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels and for its award-winning A-51 Terrain Park system.
Signature experience: Looking for a sufficiently cheesy way to close out the final night of your trip? Der Fondue Chessel, at the top of North Peak Mountain, offers a traditional Bavarian dining experience complete with fondue pots and raclettes, chocolate fondue for dessert, and live Bavarian musicians making the rounds. Reservations required; call 800-354-4386.
Splurge: The $275 ladies-only Betty Fest Weekend, January 24-25, makes the perfect gift for your loved one (or yourself): Keystone's top female instructors lead the charge on the two-day clinic for intermediate and advanced skiers ages fifteen and up, with an emphasis on skill-building and, more important, confidence-building.
Ski bum tips: If Keystone and A-Basin are the only ski areas on your agenda, grab the $309 Keystone/A-Basin pass. You'll pay it off in about, oh, three days, then exult in the knowledge that you'll be riding gratis for the rest of the season. Enjoy!
Drink locally: Head to Dillon Dam Brewery on your way out of town, then kick back and let the ski traffic up to the Eisenhower Tunnel do its thing.
LOVELAND SKI AREA
Is it the 2014-2015 season already? After hosting deep-powder days well into May and getting an early jump in October, Loveland still managed to spend the summer building the new Ginny Lee warming hut at Chair 8, bringing restroom facilities, vending machines and a large deck to what was previously a sparse but beloved section of the mountain. Now you can stay over there all day without having to return to the base area. Other improvements include new gladed terrain in the Cat's Nix trees of Chair 1, and a new magic carpet surface lift for beginners at Loveland Valley.
Signature experience: Pick up a free Ridge Cat pass at the ticket office for snowcat access Wednesday through Sunday; it'll put you into some of Loveland's steepest and deepest terrain. The wind blows around enough out there that you're likely to make fresh tracks days or weeks after a big storm, and most of the best ways down will send you straight to that new warming hut.
Splurge: "No real high-end add-ons here," says Loveland spokesman John Sellers, adding that even private lessons are a bargain. For lodging, Sellers suggests Hotel Chateau Chamonix, "a great little hotel in Georgetown that offers a very unique experience," including croissants and fresh orange juice every morning, wine at check-in, and hot tubs in some rooms. "Could be a good splurge for Front Rangers wanting to stay in the mountains for a night/weekend to avoid traffic," he adds.
Ski bum tips: Feed your face with 75-cent Taco Tuesday specials at the Rathskeller. There are also daily beer and drink specials at all of the on-mountain bars.
Drink locally: On your way back to Denver, stop at Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs for the Pine Bough Ale, infused with pine needles harvested at Loveland. The brew was originally made to commemorate Loveland's 75th anniversary and has become an annual tradition.
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.
POWDERHORN MOUNTAIN RESORT
In its second year under new ownership, Powderhorn has been completing some much-needed renovations and on-mountain maintenance, including widening the Equalizer run and glading trees and cutting brush all over the mountain. "Some of those areas took a lot of snow before they were able to open, but it will be much quicker, with not as much snowfall needed, to get some of our favorite trails open," says the resort's Dave Smith.
Signature experience: "You have to check out the amazing glade skiing we have," Smith says. "The trees are spaced just perfectly, making a great powder day even better. Plus, not many people take advantage of the glades, so you can find fresh tracks a few days after a storm." Splurge: "To start the day off right, you can take our early-bird private lesson, which runs from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.," Smith says. The ninety-minute lesson is $93, the same as a one-hour lesson later in the day. Ready to try hucking some new tricks? Last season, Powderhorn invested in a fifty-foot-by-fifty-foot Bag Jump that takes some of the sting out of the early phases of freestyle progression. Ski bum tips: "Our lift tickets are inexpensive, and with Palisade and Grand Junction just down the road, lodging is very cheap," Smith notes. "There are plenty of deals to be had." Adult lift tickets are $59, or $21 for the EZ Rider beginner lift. On-mountain lodging packages are available from Goldenwoods Condominiums, and other nearby choices include the Wagon Wheel Motel n Mesa, the Wine Country Inn in Palisade, a host of options in Grand Junction, and the Candlewood Suites in Parachute, which offers special rates for Powderhorn visitors.
Drink locally: "Palisade and Grand Junction have more than enough breweries and wineries, and a distillery, which will give you plenty of options to taste the greatness of the Grand Valley," Smith promises. "One of my favorites is to stop by the Peach Street Distillery and then head over to the Palisade Brewery for a nice beer."
PURGATORY AT DURANGO MOUNTAIN RESORT
Purgatory, one of Colorado Ski Country USA's highlighted "gems," features both family-friendly beginner runs and some of the steepest gladed terrain in the state. The resort spent the summer adding eleven new snowmaking tower guns to both the front and back sides of the mountain to help establish an early-season base and extend the season on both ends, and has also invested in its youngest little rippers: The new Burton Riglet Park, at the base area, will gets kids as young as three years old on snowboards. (While most Colorado ski areas offer learn-to-ski programs for kids that age, snowboarding lessons have historically been for ages six and up.)
Signature experience: "Be sure to hit the backside of the mountain, with some of the best gladed terrain, including Poet's Glade, Paul's Park, McCormack's Maze and more," suggests spokeswoman Kim Oyler. "Take a break and enjoy a delicious lunch at the Backside Bistro, which features products from locally owned Sunnyside Farms."
Splurge: San Juan Untracked is Colorado's largest snowcat operation, covering 35,000 permitted acres, including rolling glades, wide-open bowls, cliffs, chutes, gullies and trees, Oyler says. "SJU's permitted territory is so large, you can be assured powder all day long, even if it hasn't snowed in a while."
For an entirely different type of winter adventure, try ice climbing with King Mountain Guides, which is also headquartered at Durango Mountain Resort. "From fifty-foot introductory climbs in nearby Cascade Canyon to more than 1,000-foot technical alpine ascents around Silverton, professionally trained and certified guides of KMG will show you the ropes and the ice," Oyler explains. "Warmer days and arctic nights provide a prime setting for waterfalls to freeze into perfect cascades of ice that are ideal for all levels of climbers."
Ski bum tips: Ski for $49 on Thursdays or $39 for the half-day Friday Afternoon Club. "For value-minded skiers, stay in town and book your lodging through Durango Mountain Resort to receive great deals on town lodging plus discounted lift tickets," Oyler suggests. Local vacation specialists at the resort can also book your reservations in downtown hotels and provide discounted lift tickets.
Drink locally: Durango is home to no fewer than five breweries, some of them among the oldest in the state. Oyler likes 2014 Great American Beer Festival medal winners Steamworks Brewing Company and Ska Brewing — as well as the new Durango Craft Spirits distillery and tasting room.
This snowboarder-owned extreme-terrain paradise has just one chairlift, but you'll want a guide to show you to all the good stuff. Here's the mountain's tagline. which runs alongside a logo that depicts a skier falling head over heels down a steep slope: "There are no groomed runs, no cut trails, just loads of nature's finest black diamond skiing in the U.S.A." Bring your splitboard or alpine touring skis and some climbing skins, because the best of it requires some work, but if it's powder you're after, this is the place. Patrollers at Silverton were making turns in the steep and deep back in September, and the mountain boasts more than 400 inches of snow annually, pushing it onto Men's Journal's list of the Top 10 Most Underrated Ski Areas in North America. "Needless to say, this resort is for advanced or expert skiers only," the magazine states. "But once you visit, you'll never look at another resort the same way again."
Signature experience: Just $179 will get you a lift in a helicopter to the best run of your life; make it the climax to a Southwest powder vacation that also includes trips to Wolf Creek, Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, Telluride and Crested Butte. If you have beginner skiers or riders in your group, leave them at nearby Kendall Mountain Ski Area (skikendall.com), because Silverton Mountain is the kind of place where patrollers check your avalanche beacon before you get on the lift (or in the helicopter).
Splurge: The ski area is closed to the public Monday through Wednesday, but you aren't the public, are you? "You can rent the whole mountain for the ultimate private experience," suggests co-owner Jen Brill. "Or if that's not enough powder for you, a private ride on a heli on a Monday through Wednesday gets you to the punch before anyone else." For $999 per person, you'll get you six drops from the helicopter.
Ski bum tips: "Silverton is the only ski town in Colorado where winter is the off-season," Brill says. "All hotels and food will be sharing off-season low pricing."
Drink locally: There are Colorado brews to be had in the yurt that passes for a base camp at Silverton Mountain, but everyone ends up back in town at Montanya, the local tasting room for the Crested Butte-based distillery.
SKI COOPER/CHICAGO RIDGE
Ski Cooper is scheduled to open on December 13, which will give you time to acclimate at some other Colorado ski areas; this one, just outside of Leadville, has its base area at 10,500 feet and summits at 11,700 feet. The five lifts serve 39 runs, and while it's known as a beginner-friendly mountain — boasting "Colorado's longest magic carpet!" — it has even more intermediate and advanced terrain.
Signature experience: After spending a day exploring Ski Cooper's 39 trails, your eyes (and your ski tips) will almost certainly be drawn to the 12,600-foot Chicago Ridge. Plan to stay the night at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts ($225 for up to six guests, by reservation only at tennesseepass.com), followed by a day exploring 2,640 acres of wide-open powder bowls in the Chicago Ridge snowcat. Splurge: About that snowcat. The terrain it prowls in the San Isabel and White River National Forests averages around 300 inches of snowfall annually, and the cat will drop you off right at the Continental Divide. Bring your camera. And if your equipment isn't up to the task, the Chicago Ridge team can outfit you with fat skis from K2 or Rocky Mountain Underground, as well as rockered snowboards from K2 and ORTOVOX avalanche transceivers.
Ski bum tips: Ski Cooper's $99 four-day XP Pass just might be the best value in Colorado.
Drink locally: Afterward, drop down into the Vail Valley in Edwards for a trip to the Gore Range Brewery for a pint of — what else? — Powder Day Pale Ale. While you're there, ask gloriously mustachioed chef Pascal Coudouy for the special of the day: The French chef, a four-time James Beard honoree, bought the place in 2011 and has been quietly reinventing the brewpub's menu ever since.
SKI GRANBY RANCH
Ski Granby Ranch, twenty miles west of Winter Park, has been pitching itself as both the perfect place for families and a mecca for Nordic skiing. Night skiing, affordable lodging options and a surprisingly excellent terrain park featuring log jibs made of beetle-kill pine make it an attractive option. The small resort, which opens December 11, has parking near the base, easy-access lifts, and ski terrain "that was created specifically to be family friendly," according to the area's website. "All trails begin at one point and end at the base, so parents and children can ski at their own level without getting lost."
Signature experience: Head for the East Mountain Nordic Trails, where two separate networks of groomed Nordic trails are available — one accessible by lift from Ski Granby Ranch, and the other at Golf Granby Ranch. Start on mellow quarter-mile loops and work up Nature's Way, a 1.6-mile trek. Splurge: Book a one-, two-, or three-bedroom condo at Base Camp One or a ski-in/ski-out slopeside home to make the most of your stay.
Ski bum tips: Night skiing, open Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 8 p.m. for most of the season, is just $14, cheap enough to justify heading up after work (or if your legs are still going strong after a day of skiing at nearby Winter Park).
Drink locally: Granby Ranch Grill features Colorado brews from Grand Lake Brewing as well as a full dinner menu.
STEAMBOAT SKI RESORT
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.
SUNLIGHT MOUNTAIN RESORT
Sunlight, twelve miles south of Glenwood Springs, is one of Colorado's best-kept secrets. You'll have the place pretty much to yourself a lot of the time. It's a perfect learn-to-ski mountain for families, but also offers steep runs and terrain-park features for more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
Signature experience: This being Glenwood Springs and all, you'll want to book a Ski/Swim/Stay package, available upon request from just about every reputable hotel, motel and condo in town. It turns out that a trip to Glenwood Hot Springs is good for what ails you after you realize that this tiny ski area actually has some of the steepest and most challenging runs in the state.
Splurge: Spare yourself the drive by taking a train from Denver's Union Station to Glenwood Springs; value tickets start at $43 one way, while premium seats in a private room go up to $248. You'll disembark across the street from the Hotel Denver, a distinguished choice and home to the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company. Ski/Swim/Stay packages including lift tickets and Hot Springs Pool passes are included, and the hotel also offers "Room With a Brew" packages. Done and done. Alternately, stay at the on-mountain Sunlight Adventure Lodge, where you can book a private snowmobile tour. Ski bum tips: With average lift-ticket prices around $45, you've already made the ski bum's decision just by coming to this Colorado Ski Country USA "gem" resort, which is about half of the cost of anything nearby in Aspen. "You'll park for free, walk to the lifts, and never stand in line," boasts Sunlight's website. "Without the crowds, the powder lasts for days. All 67 trails lead right back to the lodge where you can stow your brown bag lunch or pick up something hot at the grill. No hassles. No hype. It's exactly what you've been missing." For an ever better deal, show up on January 9, Skier Appreciation Day, for a $20 lift ticket.
Drink locally: Glenwood Canyon Brewing, Keg Creek Brewing and Casey Brewing & Blending have this small mountain town more than covered.
TELLURIDE SKI & SNOWBOARD RESORT
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."
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.
VAIL SKI RESORT
Six lift upgrades in the last six years have transformed the Vail experience so that your time on the slopes is maximized while lift-line waits are minimized. In addition, the resort is going all out to prepare for the 2015 World Championships at Beaver Creek, but spokeswoman Sara Lococco says she's just as excited about Décimo, a gondola-accessible nightclub experience at 10,250 feet that will feature six events, beginning with an unforgettable New Year's Eve party.
Signature rxperience: To really feel Vail, Lococco suggests skiing or riding all seven of the area's legendary Back Bowls: Sun Down, Sun Up, Teacup, China, Siberia, Inner Mongolia and Outer Magnolia. If you have kids, be sure to stop by Adventure Ridge, which features the requisite ziplines and tubing hills, as well as a miniature snowmobile course.
Splurge: "Kick off your boots and slip on a complimentary pair of warm slippers" at The 10th, a luxury ski-in, ski-out restaurant located at mid-Vail, Lococco says. For lodging, try the Lodge at Vail, newly renovated and just steps from the base of Gondola One, or the Game Creek Chalet, where you can opt for a personal private chef.
Ski bum tips: "Pack up some burgers and brats and enjoy a winter barbecue at either Belle's Camp, in Blue Sky Basin, or Hawk's Nest Deck, at the top of the High Noon Express Lift; both offer complimentary gas grills. Also, prices on lift tickets and lodging drop in between peak periods, Lococco advises, so try to get there before Christmas or after New Year's Day, and skip three-day weekends and Spring Break season if you're looking for deals. Skip the ticket window any day of the season and order from snow.com/epicday for discounts up to 25 percent off daily tickets; tickets purchased at least seven days in advance will get the best available price.
Drink locally: The 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company is marking its first season in Vail, with a portion of sales benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project, the Vail Veterans Program and the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. The distillery is producing an Olathe corn moonshine, a rye whiskey, a bourbon, a potato vodka and a Colorado sage-infused Palisade peach-vanilla cordial. Also, stop by the Tavern on the Square at the Arrabelle, which features firkins from Colorado breweries: Try Odell Brewing's Haven & Hale Peach Ale if it's there.
WINTER PARK RESORT
Winter Park is celebrating its 75th-anniversary season this year with a gala celebration January 23 and 24, featuring fireworks, torchlight parades and a cross-country ski race. The resort published a 196-page coffee-table book for the occasion; Winter Park: 75 Years of Imagining More is full of fun historical facts. Did you know, for example, that George Cranmer, director of Denver's Department of Parks and Improvements from 1935-1947, is known as the "Father of Winter Park" and was also a driving force behind developing Red Rocks Amphitheatre? Or that all of the trails in the Eagle Wind Territory, like Left Hand, are named after prominent leaders from the Northern Arapaho tribe who were indigenous to the area? The biggest capital improvement to mark the anniversary will be the opening of the new mid-mountain Lunch Rock restaurant.
Signature experience: Buy the $20 season pass for the Cirque Sled, a 48-passenger snowcat-pulled sled that will be your chariot to the Cirque Territory and save you the hike to the big, treeless bowl.
Splurge: Book a day on Jones Pass in the Powder Addiction Snowcat ($400 per day, $4,000 to fill it up for a private tour with twelve of your most capable riding buddies). You'll get as many as twelve runs in on 2,500 skiable acres of the Arapaho National Forest.
Ski bum tips: If you don't already have a couch to crash on in Winter Park, you can pre-purchase credits for up to ten nights at the base area's Vintage Hotel with the Vintage Lodging Pass, starting at $719. The rooms sleep up to four people, with pet-friendly lodgings available for a small fee.
Drink locally: Churchill's Bar at Five Mountain Tavern is your best bet for a broad selection of made-in-Colorado beers on tap.
WOLF CREEK SKI AREA
Wolf Creek (motto: "The Most Snow in Colorado") is also celebrating its diamond anniversary this season, and owner Kingsbury "Pitch" Pitcher, who turned 95 over the summer, was recently inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Aside from developing the small ski area into a powder-chaser's paradise, Pitcher was one of the first certified instructors of the Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association and a racer for the Stanford University Ski Team. He still gets out on the slopes, too. Look for the new Elma lift this season, named for Pitcher's dog, to expand access to beginner and intermediate terrain, and a new Race Hutch to host the Wolf Creek Fun Race Series. Other summer projects included extensive glading and removal of beetle-kill pine trees.
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Signature experience: If you're coming all the way from Denver, check the powder forecast at opensnow.com to help you plan your trip. Time it right and you could be in up to your waist. Oh, and check the Colorado Department of Transportation Road and Weather Conditions website, because those powder forecasts tend not to over-exaggerate.
Splurge: Take that silly GoPro mount off your helmet and put your iPhone in your pocket before your fingers get frostbite. Whether you're after a family portrait or some pow-in-the-face action shots, do it right with Powder Portraits Ski Photography. Prints come as small as 4x6, but if you get the ski porn you're looking for, Powder Portraits can print it as large as 40x60 and immortalize the moment.
Ski bum tips: You'll find ridiculously cheap lodging deals on either side of Wolf Creek Pass, and be sure to check the online calendar for Local Appreciation Days (no ID required), when adult lift tickets drop to $41.
Drink locally: Rest your weary legs at Pagosa Brewing or Riff Raff Brewing, both in nearby Pagosa Springs.