Ski Cooper near Leadville, and Sunlight Mountain Resort, near Glenwood Springs are both opening today. Ski Cooper got so much snow recently, in fact, that it is opening two weeks early. They join many other Colorado mountains that have already opened for the season. We profiled them all in The Edge, our insider's guide to the 2014 ski and snowboard season. We'll be rolling out those profiles as the mountains open, but here are our looks at Ski Cooper and Sunlight.
See also: Vail, Aspen, Eldora Open This Weekend
SKI COOPER/CHICAGO RIDGE skicooper.com 800-707-6114
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.
SUNLIGHT MOUNTAIN RESORT sunlightmtn.com 800-445-7931
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.
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Drink locally: Glenwood Canyon Brewing, Keg Creek Brewing and Casey Brewing & Blending have this small mountain town more than covered.