The Edge: Our guide to the season's best skiing, boarding and more

As that flaky white stuff starts to pile up on roofs and in back yards, Denverites turn their heads toward the hills, sniffing out winter adventures while they wax their skis and boards in anticipation. The Edge, Westword's annual winter activity guide, is here to help. Whether you're returning to your old stamping grounds or trying out a new favorite this year, the Edge has all the information you need to have a blizzard of fun this winter.

Find six months' worth of winter event listings in our special Edge calendar.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Local skier Jeremy Dobish thinks Arapahoe Basin stands out from the crowd because of "the vibe. The fact that you can hang out with friends on the Beach, ski runs on Pali Cornice and still listen to the music from the parking lot." But make no mistake: The skiing is why Dobish is still hitting the Basin eight years after his first time — and still finding it challenging. His favorite runs are Pali Main Street, the Alleys off Pali Cornice, and First Notch. But it's hard to pick a favorite at a resort like A-Basin, with half the mountain above timberline and open-bowl skiing and snowboarding well through the spring. The front side of the mountain contains an assortment of runs for all ability levels, and intermediate-level skiers and riders can ride the Lenawee Mountain and Norway lifts for quite some time without getting bored. You can hike the Upper East Wall for some expert (and extreme) steep slopes like North Pole and the Corner Chute — plus, there's the back bowl of the resort, which features enough intermediate runs to keep your out-of-town relatives comfortable while you take the Zuma Cornice or Mountain Goat Traverse down to the hike-back terrain via Lightning Trees or Lower Elephant's Trunk.

"Make sure you carpool as much as possible," urges Dobish. "The mountain is a big place, but if everyone drives themselves, your friends who show up at noon don't have a parking spot. They even give discounts for people who carpool. How cool is that?"

And when you're ready to kick back and relax with your carpool buddies at the end of the day, Dobish recommends the Goat Soup & Whiskey, the Snake River Saloon or the Dillon Dam Brewery.

General Information: www.arapahoebasin.com; 1-888-272-7246.

Location: 68 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 205, then twelve miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekends.

Snow Report: 1-888-272-7246.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $49 through December 18, regular season TBA.

Terrain: 900 acres with 105 trails; 10 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 37 percent advanced, 23 percent expert. Base is 10,780', with a 2,270' vertical rise; summit: 13,050'.

Aspen Highlands

If you haven't checked out Aspen Highlands in a while, this would be a good year to do so. The area has added acres of skiable terrain, new lifts and other amenities over the past three seasons. And with its abundance of challenging runs and the infamous Highland Bowl, there's a reason the Highlands is known as the locals' favorite. You can warm up by taking the Thunderbowl lift for a quick run down Golden Horn, perfect for a fast lap or the first run of the day. The steep, big-mountain skiing in the Highland Bowl, Olympic Bowl and Steeplechase are perfect for thrill-seekers, and the new Deep Temerity lift makes it all even more accessible. You can ride a snowcat to the hike-in ridge, where you can drop into the Highland Bowl — with a summit of 12,392 feet — and enjoy the bliss of in-bounds backcountry skiing. Be sure to take in the breathtaking views after that 45-minute hike! If you want to go steep without hiking in, you can always hit up Go-Go Gully.

Aspen Highlands has also expanded its Mushroom trail for all you bumps fans, guaranteed to challenge even the most muscular legs. On powder days, you'll want to check out Deep Temerity's Log Jam Gully, Bowling Alley and Fran's Love. Then take your lunch break at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, a lovely little cabin serving delicious and hearty European fare, including wild game and fondue. You can also catch a snowcat dinner at the bistro, scheduled throughout the season. And art lovers will want to check out the contemporary ceramic art, paintings and jewelry at the base of Aspen Highlands. Bring your friends, too: High-occupancy vehicles (those with four or more people) park free at Aspen Highlands, saving $12 on your ski adventure.

General Information: www.aspensnowmass.com/highlands; 1-800-525-6200.

Location: 219 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow report: 970-925-1221.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 1,028 skiable acres with 119 trails; 18 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 16 percent advanced, 36 percent expert. Base is 8,040', with a 3,635' vertical rise; summit: 11,675'.

Aspen Mountain

Aspen is known for its people-watching — much of it done on the lifts or in the on-mountain restaurants Bonnie's, Ajax Tavern (now open for dinner; try the truffle fries), Montagna Restaurant and the beautiful Sundeck at the summit. It's also known for the shrines hidden in the woods and erected in honor of various celebrities, local or otherwise, including Elvis, Jerry Garcia, Marilyn Monroe and last year's addition: an homage to John Nicoletta, who died at the Freeskiing World Championships in Alaska in 2008. You can even ask a mountain ambassador for a shrine tour.

But despite the see-and-be-seen atmosphere and the whimsy of the shrines, what Aspen is really known for — has always been known for — is its black-diamond terrain. Book a Powder Tour on the backside of Aspen Mountain atop a luxury snowcat, where fresh tracks are guaranteed and a gourmet lunch is included. Intermediate slopesters will want to hit up the groomed cruising runs under the Ruthie's and Shadow Mountain lifts, where they can carve up the same runs World Cup racers do. Head down North Star to Gentleman's Ridge from the summit, which will give you access to an array of expert glades and trails on which to test your skills, including Gent's Swing, Jackpot and Bingo Glades (Bingo could be gated, depending on snow and weather conditions). And if you want a real challenge, check out the Trainors gated terrain (again, snow and weather conditions permitting) to try your hand at some truly extreme skiing and riding.

For an expert run with a view, try Silver Queen, a double-black diamond trail that overlooks downtown Aspen and includes the Elevator Shaft, the steepest terrain on the mountain. On powder days, do as the locals do and hit Bell Mountain, with bumps and gladed runs that hold powder stashes for quite some time. You could spend a whole day making tracks on the Face, the Back, the Ridge, the Shoulder and the Nose of Bell Mountain. And Aspen Paragliding allows you to get a bird's-eye view of the area from the jump-off points at Walsh's or Ruthie's Run.

Bonus: Vehicles with two or more adults of driving age can pick up a carpool parking permit at the airport parking kiosk and park free all day.

General Information: www.aspensnowmass.com/aspenmountain; 1-800-525-6200.

Location: 219 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-925-1221.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 673 skiable acres with 76 trails; 48 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced, 26 percent expert. The base is 7,945', with a 3,267' vertical rise; summit: 11,212'.

Beaver Creek Resort

Warren Miller athlete Chris Anthony has been skiing at Beaver Creek "since the very first lift ride that they opened, from the very first day." In other words, he knows what he's talking about when it comes to the Creek.

"People sort of think it's an exclusive place," he notes, "but it's very much a village-type setting that's offset from the I-70 corridor, and it has kind of a private, down-home feel to it. With that, it never gets crowded. It stays pretty quiet, and a lot of people forget that it's there because they won't make it past Vail. So it's a little secret — or a big secret, I guess. And a lot of people think Beaver Creek is not quite as cool, but it's a rippin' ski area."

Because many expert skiers will stop in Vail before they ever get to Beaver Creek, Anthony says that leaves the expert terrain wide open. "What people don't realize is, there's actually more expert terrain in Beaver Creek than in most ski areas. Grouse Mountain, all those backcountry aspects from the back of Grouse Mountain; Stone Creek; all the Rose Bowl chutes. You have the Birds of Prey, and there are days — like two days after a storm — that there will still be uncut snow on it, because it doesn't always gather those people. It's like a little stash, and the locals really take advantage of it, and the tourist or the Front Range skier forgets about it."

Beaver Creek is a great area for snowboarders, too, with its four terrain parks and gladed and tree runs accessible straight from the lifts (read: no traversing). And free mountain tours for intermediate-and-above skiers are available daily. "The après is pretty good," Anthony adds. "Coyote Cafe has been popular for years and years and years. The Chop House has a deck out front that gathers people right at the base of the mountain. And at the Village Hall, there's always music and live entertainment. For the families, it's just a winter wonderland, with ice skating and everything else. So the families can come up there and safely let their kids terrorize the village while they go to the local pub, because it's all kind of there in this nice, condensed way." The resort is adding a tubing hill this year, too, for some extra entertainment when the runs are done.

General Information: www.beavercreek.com; 970-845-9090.

Location: 110 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 167.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 1-800-427-8308.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 1,815 skiable acres with 149 trails; 19 percent beginner, 43 percent intermediate, 38 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,100', with a 3,340' vertical rise; summit: 11,440'.

Breckenridge Ski Area

Everyone knows Breckenridge is popular with the out-of-town crowd, but Colorado native and seven-year Summit County resident Drew Pashley thinks it's just as good for the locals as the tourists. "They have an amazing terrain park," he enthuses. "They have probably the biggest booter line as far as resorts go, and every year they have the Triple Crown. A lot of the professional snowboarders are coming out of Breck, and I think their terrain park stands out from everyone else's. I think it's the crew they have there building it. They really know what they're doing; they hire really good staff. And their half-pipe is always world-famous."

Although Pashley doesn't venture outside the terrain park too much, he does take the top lifts up to Peak 7 and Peak 8 after a big storm. "The hidden trees off Peak 7 are phenomenal on powder days," he reveals, "because what you find is that a lot of intermediate skiers and riders stay lower on the mountain. They don't make it all the way to Peak 8 or Peak 7, and it's such a big mountain that it doesn't really get tracked-up too quick." Beginners can stick to Peak 9, and the expert-level Back Bowls off Peak 7 and the Imperial Bowl offer spectacular views and challenging terrain.

"It does get busy," Pashley notes, "but you can always get away from everyone else. As long as you get up on Peak 8, it goes forever up there."

Pashley likes to hang out Downstairs at Eric's when the day is over, calling it "a really good local scene and a great place to eat, as well."

General Information: www.breckenridge.com; 970-453-5000.

Location: 104 miles west of Denver on I-70 (exit 203), then Colo. Hwy. 9 to Breckenridge.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-453-6118.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 2,358 skiable acres with 155 trails; 14 percent beginner, 31 percent intermediate, 19 percent advanced and 36 percent expert. The base is 9,600', with a 3,398' vertical rise; summit: 12,998'.

Buttermilk Mountain

Not only is it the seat of X Games fame — and will continue to carry that honor through 2012 — but Buttermilk also features more runs for beginners than any other ski area in Aspen, making it perfect for families as well as newbies wanting to learn to shred. The 22-foot, Olympic-standard Superpipe and X Games slopestyle course in the main terrain park is perfect for advanced practice, but there's also a Panda Pipe and Ski and Snowboard Schools Park for beginning riders to practice their moves. The easier runs off the West Buttermilk Express Lift, including Big Face Hollow, Larkspur, Westward Ho and Red's Rover, tend to be well-groomed, providing the perfect place to hone your skills, but there are also advanced runs off Tiehack Parkway for the skillful skier or rider, such as Ptarmigan and Timber Doodle Glades, Javelin and Racer's Edge, all of which stay relatively untouched on powder days.

It's not the most advanced skiing in the area, but for a gentle day on the slopes with the family, Buttermilk is just what the doctor ordered. Check out lunch options at the Cliffhouse, where you can make your own Mongolian barbecue and enjoy the lovely views of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Creek Valley — a perfect family photo op. And the resort offers free parking in all Buttermilk lots — except during the X Games, of course, when the area suddenly becomes a swarm of activity.

General Information: www.aspensnowmass.com/buttermilk; 1-800-525-6200.

Location: 218 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-925-1221.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 740 skiable acres with 44 trails; 35 percent beginner, 39 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced. The base is 7,870', with a 2,030' vertical rise; summit: 9,900'.

Copper Mountain Resort

Pro skier Jess Cumming, like most other Copper Mountain fans, is enthusiastic about the resort's park and pipe program. "They have the first pipe that opens in North America," she notes, "so for me, getting in there and training right away is huge. Of course, she spends a lot of time in the Superpipe and the Catalyst Terrain Park. But, she says, "when there's a lot of snow, I normally go over to some of the glades off the Alpine chair, and then we'll ski in the Black Bear and the Free Fall Glades. They have a lot of good snow in them, and it's really steep there, so it's fun."

Both Cummings and Todd Casey, an alpine and telemark instructor and longtime local at Copper, love the resort's Woodward Center. "It's an indoor training facility for freestyle," explains Casey. There are foam pits, trampolines and a skate bowl, all of which allow you to "learn all the tricks you've maybe wanted to do on snow, but you didn't want to land on your head," says Cummings. "Instead, you land in the foam, which makes it safer and less stressful. That's where I've been a lot, early season, training. And I'll probably be in there after skiing some days."

"Copper is a good resort for families in the respect that it's easy to navigate," Casey says. "It's not spread out as laterally as some of the other resorts in the area." He mentions the complimentary snowcat skiing at the bottom of Copper Bowl, which gives access to Tucker Mountain and all the steeper terrain that area offers. "It takes you about halfway up to the hiking-only terrain. It saves you quite a bit of time hiking, it's a neat place, and it's really great skiing because there's no lift access."

Casey also recommends the Rendezvous lift for beginner-level skiers (but not first-timers), because "it allows beginner skiers to get all the way to the top of the mountain and see the view." Copper offers ski-school programs that provide bus transportation from Denver, too, and "because of the elevation and a large portion of the resort facing to the north, we don't get that spring melt as much as other resorts. The skiing is good at Copper right till the end."

General Information: www.coppercolorado.com; 1-800-458-8386.

Location: 75 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 195.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends.

Snow Report: 1-800-789-7609.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 2,450 skiable acres with 126 trails; 21 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, 36 percent advanced, 18 percent expert. The base is 9,712', with a 2,601' vertical drop; summit: 12,313'.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Clif Dimon is both a skier and a rider; he won the North Face Masters snowboarding competition last year, and he's been hitting the slopes at Crested Butte for the past twenty years. "If you're starting to get a little bored with your skiing, doing the same runs and feeling like you're not really testing yourself anymore, then you should definitely get over here for a long weekend, especially on a powder day, and see what can be done on skis as far as lift service goes — not having to hike up into the backcountry," he recommends.

"Crested Butte has a ton of big-mountain snowboarding," Dimon adds. "Experienced skiers and riders can come here and really push themselves. It's got hard stuff that you can do that's lift-served to any level. Anyone, no matter how good they think they are, can come here and ski something that they'll find very difficult. That's one of the qualities that I think kind of separates it from the pack.

"That, and the craziness of the local populace," he adds. "It's kind of a quirky little town."

Dimon recommends the Headwall, Spellbound and Phoenix terrain. "One lap on those three runs, and you could be good for the day," he says. He also recommends Butte 66, the Avalanche and the Brown Labrador Pub. "Those three are kind of your focal points. In the spring, you'll have snowball fights between the bars."

New this year is a base-area Adventure Park with year-round ice skating, bungee trampolines and a climbing wall, a lift-served tubing hill (lit for nighttime tubing) and a new beginner learning area.

Nearby, there's the Crested Butte Nordic Center, which provides 35 kilometers of groomed trails for traditional and skate skiing, an ice rink, snowshoeing and a sledding hill, plus rentals, lessons and guided backcountry tours into the Gunnison National Forest. Call 970-349-1707 or visit www.cbnordic.org for Nordic Center information.

General Information: www.skicb.com; 1-800-810-SNOW.

Location: 231 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285, U.S. Hwy. 50 and Colo. Hwy. 135.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 1-888-442-8883.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $59 through December 16, $63 December 17-April 4.

Terrain: 1,167 skiable acres with 121 trails; 23 percent beginner, 57 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. Base is 9,375' with a 2,775' vertical rise; summit: 12,162'.

Durango Mountain Resort

Durango local, former ski patroller, current ski coach and longtime Purgatory skier Ivan Unkovskoy has been hitting the slopes for 42 years and currently owns the Steaming Bean, a popular Durango coffee shop. "Purgatory is a great family area," he notes. "All the locals kind of rally and get up there; it's been like that for a long time. The lift tickets are affordable, and because the town's at a lower elevation, you can go mountain biking in town in the morning and skiing in the afternoon."

On powder days, Unkovskoy likes to hit up any black-diamond run, front or back side. On a cruiser day, he likes Dead Spike, Chet's and Sally's Run. "I really appreciate carving or high-speed turns," he notes. "On a powder day, I'll be all over the mountain, like a little kid again."

And the atmosphere is another factor in Unkovskoy's preference for Durango. "It's off the radar," he says. "We're not in the league with those big ski resorts. And the weather here is so nice; I barely wear a ski jacket unless it's a powder day."

General Information: www.durangomountainresort.com; 1-800-982-6103.

Location: 340 miles southwest of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy 550 south.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-247-9000, ext. 1.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $65 regular season, $70 holiday season.

Terrain: 1,200 skiable acres with 85 trails; 23 percent beginner, 51 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,793' with a 2,029 vertical rise; summit: 10,822'.

Echo Mountain

Echo Mountain park designer and creative director Marc Moline has been busy this summer. The area completely rebranded all existing features and built three new beginner freestyle features. "We're trying to bridge the gap between people just trying to get into the park for the first time and the seasoned veterans," he says. And although freestyle skiers and riders definitely hit Echo up for its park, Moline says he thinks the vibe is another big draw to the resort. "We definitely have that not-so-corporate mentality that a lot of the other resorts do," he notes. "It's a little more grassroots."

Fifteen-year-old snowboarder Mike Fehrle has picked up on the vibe, but not in those exact words. "It's cheap and it's fun," he says. "Everybody there is nice. The lifties are awesome; they're not mean. And when it's snowing really hard, they always have a park crew every half-hour grooming everything so it's always perfect."

The location is another reason Fehrle likes Echo. "It's 35 minutes away, so when we get out of school, it's way easy to go up there for a couple of hours," he notes. "For the kids who can't get all the way up to the resorts, who live in Denver and who need to train, they can go up and have a couple of hours after school." And with the night riding available, Echo just might keep you up past your bedtime.

General Information: www.echomt.com; 303-325-7347.

Location: 19285 Hwy. 103; 35 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 103.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday.

Snow Report: 303-325-7347.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: early season $29, holiday season $50, regular season $45.

Terrain: 85 acres; four terrain parks, fifteen trails and tree skiing. Base is 10,500', with a 660' vertical rise; summit: 11,160'.

Eldora Mountain Resort

It's understandable that Boulderites would want to ski Eldora; it's only 21 miles west of Boulder, and the thought of dodging the I-70 parking lot has got to be too appealing to pass up. But Denverites should take note: An RTD bus runs to the ski area from the Boulder main station and costs only $4 to ride. And although the resort doesn't boast as much skiable acreage as some others, it's got the best snowmaking system by far. Eldora's snowmaking covers 100 percent of its groomed terrain, so you're nearly always guaranteed great conditions.

It's a great resort for intermediate and advanced skiers, offering breathtaking views of both the James Peak and Indian Peaks Wilderness Areas from the Lookout at the top of the Corona lift. The Corona Bowl's chutes and glades provide a challenge for the more expert snow demons. Eldora also offers an array of cross-country and snowshoeing trails, as well as a terrain park for freestylers.

General Information: www.eldora.com; 303-440-8700.

Location: 45 miles northwest of Denver via I-25, U.S. Hwy. 36 west and Colo. Hwy 119; 21 miles west of Boulder.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 303-440-8700.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 680 skiable acres; 20 percent beginner; 50 percent intermediate; 30 percent advanced/expert. Base is 9,200', with a 1,600' vertical rise; summit: 10,800'.

Keystone Resort

Keystone offers one of the longest ski days in Colorado, staying open until 8 p.m. on night-skiing days. It also boasts one of the top-ranked parks in the country (by both Transworld Snowboarding and Freeskier magazines): the A51 Terrain Park, which has features for skiers and riders of all ability levels, its own chairlift and three jump lines. There are guided snowcat skiing and riding tours that include lunch in a warming hut (catered by the five-star Alpenglow Stube restaurant), plus unfettered access to the thrills on North, South and Independence bowls. If you're strapped for cash, you can pay $5 for a ride to the North or South bowls (meet at the Outback Bowls Gate). Keystone has two more bowls, Bergman and Erickson, that you can hike to — and it's got Ripperroo's Forest, a kids' area on Dercum Mountain where young snow bunnies can learn how to tackle natural obstacles like bumps and berms.

But the resort also offers amenities for friends or family who want to enjoy a mountain atmosphere without the downhill action. Keystone's five-acre lake is the largest Zamboni-maintained outdoor skating rink in North America, and there's also Adventure Point Tubing at the top of River Run Gondola, with its own tubing lift and five lanes of fun.

General Information: www.keystoneresort.com; 1-800-468-5004.

Location: 90 miles west of Denver via I-70 (exit 205 at Dillon), then six miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6 to Keystone.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; open till 8 p.m. on night-skiing days.

Snow Report: 1-800-468-5004.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 3,148 skiable acres with 135 trails; 19 percent beginner, 32 percent intermediate, 49 percent advanced/expert. The base is 9,280', with a 3,128' vertical rise; summit: 12,408.

Loveland Ski Area

A lot of people on the Front Range tend to drive right past Loveland, assuming that the best snow is on the other side of the Eisenhower Tunnel. But as a generation of locals can tell you, not only is that assumption not necessarily true, but you're driving an extra thirty to sixty minutes to find skiing that's available at Loveland. Marc Vitelli, the brand manager for Sims and Lamar snowboards, is wise to that fact; he's been riding Loveland for the past nine years. "It's got a great selection of terrain and pretty decent snowfall annually," he says. "They're on the Divide, so they get a good amount of snow. And I live in Evergreen, so it's really close for me. I can make it there in 35 minutes, and to not have to drive through the tunnel is pretty sweet."

On powder days, Vitelli likes to hit up the runs off Chair 1 — Over the Rainbow, Avalanche Bowl and Zoom — and Chair 9. "There's some amazing terrain that's available off the lift that's accessible via hiking," he says. "One of my favorite runs is called Wild Child; it's probably a twenty-minute hike off Chair 9. And as soon as you integrate a hike, you eliminate 90 percent of the people on the hill. It's pretty much guaranteed fresh, and you can see the mountains and know it's pretty much you and the hill."

But, he adds, Loveland has "such a huge amount of terrain that you can almost always find powder, even if it didn't snow the night before."

He also likes the après scene at Loveland. "It's pretty much a local scene, which is kind of cool," he says. "It's pretty mellow. On nice days, they have bands playing outside on the patio.

"It's just a really rad place to ride — really down to earth, and it's just simple. You get here and have a good time, and people have smiles on their faces."

General Information: www.skiloveland.com; 1-800-736-3754.

Location: 56 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 216.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays.

Snow Report: 303-571-5554.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: Early season $46, regular season $59, late season TBA.

Terrain: 1,365 skiable acres; 17 percent beginner, 42 percent intermediate; 41 percent advanced. Base is 10,600', with a 2,410' vertical rise; summit: 13,010'.

Monarch Mountain

Monarch is celebrating its platinum anniversary this year. That's right: The ski resort has stuck around for a full seventy years, so there's never been a better time to check out the things that make it stand out from the crowd. Which, according to Ryan Matthews — who has been skiing and riding Monarch for the past eight years — is the people.

"The people who ski and ride there are real-life people," he explains. "Nobody's out to beat anybody on the slopes. Everyone's just out to have a good time. It's a real friendly and laid-back atmosphere; nobody's up there to cater to anybody."

Naturally, he's also a fan of the consistent snow and lack of weekday crowds. "During the week, there are no crowds at all. You're pretty much just up there by yourself most of the time, just skiing with the employees. And you can just keep running in and getting as many runs in as you can."

On powder days, Matthews takes the Garfield lift up and follows it right back down again via Examiner. He also likes to take the Panorama lift up to runs like Sheer Rocko, Mirage and High Anxiety. "I love to get up to Mirkwood Bowl. You have to hike a little bit, but it's definitely worth the hike. You can traverse a good amount and descend different routes, and it takes you back to the lifts. It's about a twenty-minute hike."

Monarch also boasts the K2 Organic Terrain Park, which is accessible via the Breeze Way lift and stretches from the top of the mountain to the very bottom.

General Information: www.skimonarch.com; 1-888-996-7669.

Location: 157 miles southwest of Denver via U.S. Hwy. 285 south and U.S. Hwy. 50 west.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 1-888-996-7669.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $54.

Terrain: 800 skiable acres with 63 trails; 14 percent beginner, 28 percent intermediate, 27 percent advanced, 31 percent expert. Base is 10,790', with a 1,162' vertical rise; summit: 11,952'.

Powderhorn Resort

"Do not come to Powderhorn expecting a ski experience like Vail or Telluride," warns local skier Ben Potter. "Prepare to clear your mind and go to a place where skiing is about skiing." Potter has lived in Grand Junction for the past seven years and skis Powderhorn every winter, usually well over twenty days per season. The location is perfect for Potter, but he also enjoys the "small lift lines and humble atmosphere." And, he adds, "when the snow falls, Powderhorn stays true to its name and provides a great powder experience."

Potter's favorite runs tend to be "the unnamed runs in between labeled runs," he says. "There are many great tree runs, as well as a few boulder fields. For the adventurous, Powderhorn provides a great and relatively safe side-country experience."

Thunder Mountain and Mad Dog Glades are two run accessible off the Tenderfoot trail, but the Take Four and West End lifts also offer access to acres of backcountry.

"Powderhorn is incomparable to other resorts simply because of the terrain and area it's located on," concludes Potter. "Once you look out north across the high desert and take in the surreal view unique to Powderhorn, you realize that you can always ski elsewhere, but somehow you choose Powderhorn as your go-to resort. Visiting larger resorts makes me appreciate the solitude and low-key atmosphere."

General Information: www.powderhorn.com; 970-268-5700.

Location: 250 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 49 to Colo. Hwy. 65.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-268-5300.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $53.

Terrain: 1,600 skiable acres with 40 trails; 20 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 15 percent advanced, 15 percent expert. Base is 8,200', with a 1,650' vertical rise; summit: 9,850'.

Silverton Mountain

You need an avalanche beacon, probe pole and shovel to even buy a lift ticket at Silverton. There are no arguments that it's the most hard-core mountain for expert skiers in the state, particularly because Silverton caps its amount of unguided skiers to fewer than 475 a day. Most days, though, there are fewer than eighty skiers on the entire mountain.

Silverton ski guide Alex Hunt has been at the resort since it opened ten winters ago. "The terrain is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the state, as far as I'm concerned," he says. "The mountain's a lot larger and more rugged, and the terrain within our permit area is some of the gnarliest and steepest stuff that there is in this state, for sure."

It's also some of the most pristine terrain you'll ever ski; the only trees cut at Silverton were taken down for the lift line, and the chutes you can ski are avalanche paths (though Silverton does an awesome job of keeping the area safe for winter sports).

Hunt likes to ski Rope Dee Dope, accessible from the lift, but his favorite area to hit can only be accessed by helicopter. "It's called the Sandwich Bowl, and there are a few different runs in that area — Hot Pastrami, Roast Beef. It's just gorgeous terrain. It's kind of a selection of chutes and couloirs, and basically, they all start off narrow and steep and really get your adrenaline pumping just thinking you're going to be skiing down it. The steepness ends and opens up into a really nice, open bowl that generally has excellent snow."

Hunt also highly recommends the heli-skiing at Silverton. "We just started doing that last year," he says. "It's probably the best heli-skiing in the lower 48; it offers up some of the best terrain and best snow conditions, as well. And if for some odd reason we can't go because of weather, there's still a chairlift they can use."

General Information: www.silvertonmountain.com; 970-387-5706.

Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver via I-70, Colo. Hwy. 550 south, and Colo. Hwy. 110. Base is six miles from Silverton.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends only, or Thursday through Sunday, depending on the time of year.

Snow Report: www.silvertonmountain.com.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $49; day pass with guide: $99; guided-only skiing January 14-March 31: $119 to $129.

Terrain: 1,819 skiable acres; expert and advanced only. The base is 10,400' with a 3,087' vertical drop (hike-to); summit: 13,487'.

Ski Cooper

Ski Cooper might not be the biggest name in the mountains, but that's one reason Chris Sutton, director of snowcat operations at Cooper, likes it. "We are a hidden gem, so we're not very crowded," he notes. "It's still kind of one of those unfound places. It doesn't have that big-resort feel, so there's no pretension. There's not a ton of real estate. It's just a very down-to-earth ski area. And the bonus is all-natural snow.

"It's a really great family resort," Sutton adds. "If people have children or family members learning to ski, the big resorts can be intimidating, and Cooper caters to them really well. It's not crowded; the lift lines aren't packed; and, of course, the snowcat tour is really for that advanced and expert skier who enjoys backcountry terrain. A lot of people don't know we run a snowcat operation."

Sutton likes to hit the gladed skiing and the trails off the backside of the Piney Basin Triple Chair, including Kamikazee, Nightmare, Powder Keg and Timberbash. "The tree skiing there is amazing," he reveals. "We get a good storm, and you can ski powder there for days."

Afterward, Sutton recommends the T-Bar, which he describes as "really chill, not very crowded and with a good vibe." There are also good restaurants and bars in Leadville once the T-Bar is closed for the day.

General Information: www.skicooper.com; 1-800-707-6114.

Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70 and U.S. Hwy. 24 west.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 719-486-2277.

Lift Rates: Adult full-day: $42.

Terrain: 2,400 skiable acres (400 lift-served acres) with 26 trails; 30 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 30 percent expert. The base is 10,500', with a 1,200' vertical rise; summit: 11,700'.


With the massive acreage and highest vertical drop in the United States, it might take more than a day or two to check out all that Snowmass has to offer, and it really does offer something for every level of skier and rider. The Sheer Bliss quad lift gives access to more than 700 acres in the infamous Big Burn area. And you can take the Cirque chair all the way up to the summit and try your hand at the double-black diamond trails heading down the hill, including the steepest runs on the mountain — Gowdy's and AMF, two expert pieces of terrain. Or just make your way across the Cirque Headwall and pick your own line between the rocks.

The Campground lift gives access to more solitary expert areas with beautiful views; try skiing the fence line at Powderhorn — especially on a powder day — for a quiet yet challenging run. Intermediate skiers and riders can enjoy the short hike to the Long Shot trail for a not-too-extreme in-bounds backcountry experience. And with three terrain parks — Snowmass Park (advanced), Makaha (intermediate) and Lowdown (beginner) — tricksters of all ability levels will find something to suit them. There's a total of nine on-mountain restaurants, including the Lynn Britt Cabin, which offers lunch in a rustic atmosphere as well as snowcat dinner rides; the Sweet Life, a 1950s-style diner with a rotating menu of 250 ice cream flavors; Junk, an organic eatery; and Liquid Sky, the hottest spot for après, featuring a huge deck overlooking the area.

For kids and families, there's the almost-new, easily accessible Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center, a one-stop area for ski and snowboard school check-in plus rental and retail, as well as kids' entertainment, including a family-friendly climbing gym, teen activities and themed rooms for infants eight weeks and older.

General Information: www.aspensnowmass.com/snowmass; 1-800-525-6200.

Location: 218 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 82.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-925-1221.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 3,132 skiable acres with 91 trails; 6 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 12 percent advanced, 32 percent expert. The base is 8,104', with a 4,406' vertical rise; summit: 12,510'.

SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch

SolVista Basin has earned a reputation as a great family ski area — and for good reason. It offers a cross-country and snowshoeing area for those who aren't big on the downhill scene, and all of the runs lead to a single location at the base of the mountain. The East Mountain offers an array of long, winding beginner and intermediate runs, while the West Mountain is geared more toward the expert skiers.

Keith Sanders owns three ski shops in the area and has been in the skiing business for almost thirty years. "I'm probably the largest provider in the area," he notes, "and I've noticed that the trend has been to ignore the very base customer that created the business, almost without exception. That's what you see at your major resorts. I think the ski industry has missed the boat on really identifying the difference between maintaining their profits and reaching a core customer."

That's not the case, though, at SolVista. "It's not all glitzy; it's not real pretentious," Sanders says. "As ski areas increase costs and go to very high per-day rates, SolVista is noticeably less expensive, and that's a real consideration."

And at the end of the day, visitors can gather at the fire pit at the base of the mountain and enjoy some hot chocolate.

General Information: www.granbyranch.com/ski/solvistabasin.asp; 1-888-850-4615.

Location: 78 miles west of Denver via I-70 (exit 232), then U.S. Hwy. 40 west over Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park, two miles south of Granby.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 1-800-754-7458.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $54.

Terrain: 287 skiable acres with 33 trails; 30 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. The base is 8,202', with a 1,000' vertical rise; summit: 9,202'.


The Steamboat steal of the season: Book three nights of accommodations November 25 through December 18, and ski free. (Keep your eyes peeled for a late-season deal, too.)

If you need more enticement than that, 39-year Steamboat veteran and director of skiing Billy Kidd shares this assessment of the area's trademarked, mostly-air Champagne Powder: "In Steamboat, we've got light, fluffy powder snow, the best in the world. You sink up to your waist, chest or up to the brim of your cowboy hat." Kidd also offers tips on how best to handle the stuff: "The most important thing in powder is never try to make a sharp turn," he advised. "Always make a round, smooth turn. You have to look ahead and anticipate."

Kidd's been hitting the slopes for a total of 61 years and raced for a while, so he's been all around the world and sampled the best of the best resorts. But Steamboat is where he ended up planting his roots. "Powder snow is probably the number-one appeal," he admits. "I've traveled around the world; I've had a chance to ski throughout the world, and I think the best skiing in the world is in the Rocky Mountains."

Kidd does a free clinic at 1 p.m. every day he's at the resort. "I go down Heavenly Gates, which is an intermediate trail underneath the gondola. We stop every hundred yards and I tell people how to ski better, whether in the powder, in the Olympics, in the bumps, or just get down the hill without falling.

"When we've got new powder snow, my favorite place to go is the Shadows, which is an area where we just thinned out the trees on the top of the mountain instead of cutting trails. That's where the best skiers go; it's some of the best tree skiing anywhere."

There's also the impressive Mavericks Superpipe for freestylers, and Kidd points out that Steamboat has something most resorts don't: hot springs. "Steamboat's springs are filled with minerals, and they're very medicinal," he says. "Skiers know this, and so at the end of the day, if you go soak in the hot springs, you've got your knees feeling better for the next day."

Kidd also recommends the Tugboat Grill & Pub, a historic building that was almost demolished two years ago when the rest of Ski Times Square was torn down. It's now the only building from the Square still standing, and the hot après spot for locals.

General Information: www.steamboat.com; 970-879-6111.

Location: 160 miles northwest of Denver via I-70, exit 205; north on Colo. Hwy. 9 to Kremmling, west on U.S. Hwy. 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-879-7300.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 2,965 acres of skiable terrain with 165 trails; 14 percent beginner, 42 percent intermediate, 44 percent advanced. Base is 6,900', with a vertical rise of 3,668'; summit: 10,568'.

Sunlight Mountain Resort

Sunlight is known for its small-town roots, its Extreme East Ridge with the 52-degree-pitch trail the Heathen (one of the steepest in the state), and its views of Mount Sopris and the rest of the Elk Mountain Range. It's got great skiing for beginners and experts, including Ute, a beginner's trail that runs more than two and a half miles from the summit of the mountain to the base. And the Pump Haus Terrain Park certainly caters to freestyle skiers and riders. Sunlight is less well known for its array of options for those who want to explore winter sports and activities other than downhill skiing. For starters, there are 29 kilometers of cross-country and snowshoe trails; you can rent cross-country skis or snowshoes on the mountain and downtown, and trail use is free. There are also two different snowmobile tours available. Visitors will be happy to know that Sunlight follows a Sustainable Slopes policy to mitigate everything from greenhouse gas emissions and employee transit to vegetation management and land restoration.

General Information: www.sunlightmtn.com; 1-800-445-7931.

Location: 160 miles west of Denver via I-70, Colo. Hwy. 82 and Four Mile Road (County Road 117).

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-945-7491; www.sunlightmtn.com/the-mountain/snowreport.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $50.

Terrain: 470 skiable acres with 67 trails; 20 percent beginner, 55 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced, 5 percent expert. Base elevation is 7,885', with a 2,010' vertical rise; summit: 9,895'.

Telluride Ski Resort

Tom Watkinson, Telluride Ski Resort's communications manager and lifelong Telluride resident, thinks that the true, die-hard skiers and riders on the Front Range should know something about his resort:

"We've got the terrain that they're looking for," he says simply. "I think we also have the community that they're looking for: fun, easy, laid-back and not crowded. You're not getting any of the weekend-warrior traffic that you get in Summit County. The crowds are non-existent here. What we would consider a lift line, you guys would laugh at."

Not to mention the surroundings: "The scenic beauty of Telluride is really second-to-none," says Watkinson. "The town itself has character. And once you get into Telluride, you'll never get in a car again. Everything's walking distance. You literally can ski right up to a restaurant.

"We have enough for all levels of skiing for somebody to come here for a week," he adds. Even better, "you can get a beginner skier up to the highest lift points of the mountain and get the views that Telluride is famous for, and not have them committed to something they can't handle to get back down."

Watkinson grew up as a freestyler; he recommends the bump skiing underneath the Gold Hill Express lift down Millions. He also likes to hike Palmyra Peak and take the Gold Hill Chutes down. "You can hike up to 13,150 feet and see some amazing stuff up there," he says. The new-last-year Revelation Bowl is another favorite.

For a high-end après experience, try Allred's; Watkinson says that the Hop Garden has good beer on tap, and the X Cafe offers a more mellow environment.

One final suggestion: "If you're making the effort to come all the way to Telluride, you may as well go check out Silverton while you're at it. People who are committed to skiing and skiing amazing terrain: If that's why you're going to Telluride, then you want to check out Silverton, as well.

"When you get here, you're just going to be blown away."

General Information: www.tellurideskiresort.com; 970-728-6900.

Location: 335 miles southwest of Denver via I-70 to Grand Junction, Colo. Hwy. 50 south, Colo. Hwy. 550 to Ridgway, Colo. Hwy. 62 and Colo. Hwy 145 to Telluride.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-728-7425.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $69 to $92.

Terrain: More than 2,000 skiable acres with 120 trails; 23 percent beginner, 36 percent intermediate, 41 percent advanced/expert. Base elevation is 8,725' with a 3,845' vertical rise; summit: 12,570'.


Vail is one of the largest ski resorts in the world, which in this case makes it one of the best: The 5,000-plus skiable acres mean that for every crowded trail, run or bowl on the mountain, there's bound to be equally awesome terrain available that people are just passing right by. To help visitors get to know their surroundings, Vail offers daily free tours beginning December 7 for intermediate skiers who want to get oriented on the terrain and for advanced and expert skiers who want to get the ins and outs of Blue Sky Basin; there's also a weekly tour for skiers ages fifty and older. To get the best out of your Vail experience, grab a grooming report from any of the guest-services employees and check out what's fresh that day. Thirty-year Vail skier Julie Rust recommends all the back bowls for skiers who want to try a challenge.

Experts will enjoy the Blue Sky Basin at Vail, including the Cloud 9, Big Rock Park, Lover's Leap, Champagne Glade and Earl's Bowl terrain. Pack a brown-bag lunch, because there are no restaurants in the basin — but there are enough picnic tables to go around.

Intermediate skiers and riders will definitely want to hit up the runs off Chair 2, including Lodgepole and Berries. Chair 3 gives access to Game Creek Bowl, which includes Woods, Dealer's Choice and Lost Boy. The Northstar and Northwoods runs off Chair 11 are perfect for anyone looking to add variety to their day, and bumps-lovers will want to hit up Highline, Blue Ox and Rogers Run off Chair 10.

If you enjoy groomers, you'll want to check out Poppyfields in China Bowl, which is groomed daily in the morning. You can easily spend a whole day in Vail's back bowls, but make sure you head to Two Elk Lodge either early or late for lunch, as it tends to get crowded. And start making your way back to the front side of the mountain earlier rather than later, as the back bowls close at 3 p.m. Vail also boasts three terrain parks — Fly Zone, Flight School and Aviator — with an array of small, medium and large features, as well as one Superpipe and one half-pipe.

"We may ski a lot of people," Rust says, "but we're so big that we can tuck them away. There's plenty of room for everybody."

General Information: www.vail.snow.com; 970-476-5601.

Location: 120 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 173, 176 or 180.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Snow Report: 970-476-4888.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 5,289 skiable acres with 193 trails; 18 percent beginner, 29 percent intermediate, 53 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,120', with a 3,450' vertical rise; summit: 11,570'.

Winter Park Resort

For Chris Koch, manager of the Adult Ski and Ride School at Winter Park, the resort is all in the family: His father learned to ski again at Winter Park after he lost his leg, and he passed on his affection for the place to Koch. (This will be his father's 27th season at Winter Park; he teaches part-time on weekends.)

"Everybody knows about the bumps," Koch says. "It's easy to come and learn to ski the bumps or explore your bumps skills here, more so than at any other mountain." And with the beetle-kill mitigation and thinning and reforestations of certain areas, Koch thinks that the tree skiing is going to be noticed soon. "Especially on the Mary Jane side, it's just become incredible," he says. "It's kind of a hidden secret still."

Koch likes to hit Left Hand off the Eagle Wind lift. "On a powder day, you can't beat it," he says. "Some nice ski terrain, kind of gladed tree skiing, and it's an area that doesn't get a ton of traffic, so you can keep finding powder stashes all day long in that area.

"Outhouse, of course, is one of my favorite bump runs," he says. "But also, on the day after a storm, if you want to ski the bumps and want powder, the snow is not as tracked up on the Winter Park side as it is on the Jane. That's where the locals go first, so the snow doesn't get eaten up on the Winter Park side as quickly."

The resort is also adding an arcade in the Village this year, so parents can grab a brew at the Cheeky Monk while the kids play. And in the kids' Ski and Ride School this year, everyone is taking part in the Flaik GPS Tracking System, which allows them to log on to a website and see exactly where they skied and the vertical feet they put in. "It's also a way to increase the level of safety," Koch points out. "If for some reason a child gets on a different run, we know exactly where they are." Adults can rent Flaik GPS systems from the Mountain Adventure Center, too.

General Information: www.skiwinterpark.com; 970-726-5514.

Location: 67 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west to U.S. Highway 40 (exit 232).

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays.

Snow Report: 303-572-SNOW.

Lift Rates: TBA.

Terrain: 3,060 skiable acres with 143 trails; 8 percent beginner, 17 percent intermediate, 19 percent advanced, 53 percent most difficult, 3 percent expert. Base is 9,000', with a 3,060' vertical rise; summit: 12,060'.

Wolf Creek Ski Area

Wolf Creek gets 465 inches of natural snowfall each year — and local skier Stephanie Jones appreciates it. "It's such a great mountain because of its terrain," she says. "It's got a high-speed quad lift for beginners that you can take kids on, it's got lifts for backcountry so you can access any style of terrain. And it's got a peak above treeline that you can hike to."

Her kids' favorite trail to hit is Thumper; the family usually skis off the Raven lift when they have the little ones along. Jones's picks to ski with her husband are Horseshoe Bowl, Alberta Peak and the Knife Ridge Chutes. And the two-mile-long Navajo Trail is an easy route from summit to base that offers some of the same spectacular views as the more difficult runs.

"It's just a great family-owned ski area," Jones says. "It's really friendly, the lift tickets are inexpensive, and you get a great value for your price. There are fourteen local-appreciation days, and the snow is unsurpassable. It's just the lightest, deepest snow around."

General Information: www.wolfcreekski.com; 970-264-5639.

Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver in the Rio Grande National Forest, U.S. Hwy. 160, between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Snow Report: 1-800-SKI-WOLF.

Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $52.

Terrain: 1,600 skiable acres; 20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate, 25 percent advanced, 20 percent expert. Base is 10,300', with a 1,604' vertical rise; summit: 11,904'.

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Amber Taufen has been writing about people, places and things in Denver since 2005. She works as an editor, writer, and production and process guru out of her home office in the foothills.
Contact: Amber Taufen