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'.
"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'.
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."