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 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.