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.