Welcome to the online version of The Edge 2011-2012, Westword's annual insider's guide to winter activities. This season has already seen plenty of snow, and that's just the beginning, as the 25 resorts profiled below have added new terrain, lifts, features, events and restaurants. To sort it all out, we tracked down the people who know these mountains the best. Enjoy their take, and stay tuned to the Show and Tell blog all season long for daily updates on openings, closings, top-ten lists from the mountain, contests, coverage of the hottest events on the slopes and fresh-powder photography.
Page 2: Beaver Creek Resort Page 3: Breckenridge Page 4: Buttermilk Mountain Copper Mountain Resort Crested Butte Mountain Resort Page 5: Echo Mountain Eldora Mountain Resort Page 6: Keystone Resort Loveland Ski Area Page 7: Monarch Mountain Powderhorn Resort Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort Page 8: Silverton Mountain Page 9: Ski Cooper Snowmass Page 10: SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch Steamboat Sunlight Mountain Resort Page 11: Telluride Ski Resort Vail Page 12: Winter Park Resort Page 13: Wolf Creek Ski Area
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
This mountain, known as "The Legend," won the race to open this year -- daily operations began on October 13 -- and will almost certainly be the last to close, as it was last summer, when patriotic skiers and snowboarders were still celebrating on the slopes on July 4.
A-Basin is best known for its extreme terrain on runs like Pallavicini, the East Wall chutes, the lift-served back bowls and easily hikeable "sidecountry" (don't miss the annual Beacon Bowl and Avalanche Awareness Day on February 11), but it's also an increasingly family-friendly ski area.
"We have three new kids' trails this season -- Moose Hollow, Lynx Lane and Weasel Way -- to get kids skiing and help them learn about the mountain environment they're playing in," says spokeswoman Kimberly Trembearth. "Beginners can find their legs on the Magic Carpet surface lift and the Molly Hogan bunny slope, then work their way up to the rest of the mountain and even into our progressive terrain parks."
The Black Mountain Express, new last season, cuts the trip to mid-mountain in half and decimates lift lines at the base area. And the formerly no-frills ski area has added other nice touches, such as the world-class Black Mountain Lodge restaurant at mid-mountain. Chef Christopher Rybak's Moonlight Dinner series is so popular that last year, the entire thing sold out months in advance. The series has been expanded for 2011-2012, with themed dinners including A Night in the Swiss Alps (December 10), New Year's Eve in the Mountains (December 31), A Night in France (February 4), A Night in Italy (March 3), A Night in Spain (April 7) and A Night in Asia (May 5). Ski, snowshoe or hike up -- or take that posh new chairlift ride -- then gorge yourself on the multi-course meal and burn off excess calories on the way down. The dinners start at $79 per person and are worth every penny; discounts are available for splurging on multiple events or booking the entire series via www.ArapahoeBasin.com.
The website's Hot Deals section features the best prices on everything from season passes and advance lift tickets to bargains on wax/edge tunes and rides on the Colorado Mountain Express Shuttle (the perfect designated driver for revelers planning to party on the legendary base-area "Beach"). Check out the Basin 411 for A-Basin's social-media feeds, webcams and mountain snapshots, and don't miss Al's Blog, where CEO Alan Henceroth likes to post chatty wish-you-were-here videos of himself getting dumped on and boast about A-Basin's numerous powder days.
Pick one of those days this season to pay your respects to A-Basin co-founders and Colorado Ski Hall of Famers Max Dercum and Marjorie "Marnie" Jump. Dercum -- one of seven ski pioneers who installed the first rope tow and opened A-Basin in 1946 -- died in September, a few days before what would have been his 99th birthday. Jump, 92, died in June; she came to Colorado in 1947 after serving in World War II, and is credited with financing the ski area's early operations as well as founding its ski school and the amputee ski program. (That program later moved to Winter Park and became the National Sports Center for the Disabled.)
General Information: www.ArapahoeBasin.com; 888-ARAPAHOE. 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 4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekends. Snow Report: 888-ARAPAHOE. Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $59 through December 16; regular-season rates 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
Make your way to the Merry-Go-Round restaurant at Aspen Highlands to see what a $6 million remodel looks like at a mountain aiming for "grassroots style" and "duct-tape chic." The building is much more energy-efficient, and if you look up, you'll notice the LED lights, part of the Aspen Skiing Company's resort-wide green initiative to ban incandescent lightbulbs. The restaurant's official reopen coincides with Aspen's opening day (December 10), and the menu's been overhauled at this locals' favorite, too, with a new "home-style" BBQ station and pizza, pasta, soup and dessert options.
"Aspen invested more than $26 million in on-mountain improvements across all our resorts this summer, and you're going to notice it," says Snowmass spokeswoman Meredith McKee. "The gut renovation of the Merry-Go-Round is going to be the one the locals like best, because we've made some much-needed improvements but managed to keep all its beloved character intact."
Keeping the locals happy is key at Aspen Highlands; t's quieter and more challenging than the other Aspen resorts, which is precisely why it's worth exploring. "Aspen Highlands is a true skier's mountain, and Highland Bowl is where it's at," says McKee. "This is where you'll find some of the most extreme terrain in Aspen, but you can also get on some nice groomed cruisers and let loose." For the signature Aspen Highlands experience, get a team of two ready for the fifth annual Helly Hansen Battle in the Bowls on March 25: Local hero Chris Davenport will be designing the course and sending GPS-equipped teams out in a grueling competition to find the fastest route to complete every designated run.
General Information: www.AspenSnowmass.com/Highlands; 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; book seven-day advance multi-day visits for best discounts. Terrain: 1,028 skiable acres with 118 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' (lift-serviced), 12,392' (hike-to). Aspen Mountain
What was that about a down economy? The Aspen resorts have invested $164 million over the past eight seasons, enriching the entire resort experience, and if you haven't been there in a while, it might be time to see what you've been missing.
Aspen Mountain's as good a place to start as any, although there's not much in the way of beginner terrain here. If you're looking to live it up on the mountain's steeps and deeps, then stop in at guest services and ask for the free Ambassador's Tour.
Opening day is November 24; stick around to enjoy the start of the Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series on November 26-27 and to watch the world's fastest women skiers handle the mountain during the 2011 Nature Valley Aspen Winternational Audi FIS Alpine World Cup.
Other cool events include the sixth annual Aspen Summit for Life on December 10 (www.SummitForLife.org) and the four-day Wintersköl festival, January 12-15.
Aspen Mountain Powder Tours offers snowcat excursions in the Elk Mountain backcountry (rates fluctuate throughout the season; call 970-920-0720 for reservations), while Aspen Mountain has a Fresh Tracks experience for powder chasers looking to beat the crowds: Call 970-925-1220, ext. 3543, on the night of a storm to get on the mountain an hour before the lifts officially open the next day.
Visitors love Aspen Mountain because it's closest to Aspen's legendary après-ski scene and the town's luxury shopping and gourmet dining; Aspen's lift tickets are also good at nearby Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, with free shuttles between mountains, so make a week of it if you can. For the ultimate Aspen challenge, try the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race on March 3, where you'll log more than 10,000 feet of total vertical gain in race stages at each mountain.
More interested in rubbing elbows with the rich and famous? Plan your trip to coincide with Aspen Film's twentieth-anniversary Academy Screenings, December 20-January 1, when nearly all of this year's Oscar contenders -- including last-minute entries screening only in Los Angeles, New York and Aspen -- will be shown at the Wheeler Opera House and other venues around town (www.AspenFilm.org). General Information: www.AspenSnowmass.com/AspenMountain; 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; book seven-day advance multi-day visits for best discounts. Terrain: 675 skiable acres with 76 trails; 48 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced, 26 percent expert. Base is 7,945', with a 3,267' vertical rise; summit: 11,212'.
Beaver Creek Resort
Save room for dessert on opening day (November 23) at Beaver Creek, where you can enjoy a powder day and serve as judge and jury in the eighth annual World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition. The mountain, living up to its "Not exactly roughing it" slogan, will continue to serve up the winning recipe daily at 3 p.m. throughout the season.
And while you're indulging, be sure to smile for the cameras and have the radio-frequency-enabled chip in your lift pass scanned: This year, Vail Resorts unveiled EpicMix Photo, an upgrade to its popular social-media app, and will be employing a small army of professional photographers on each of its mountains. Now, in addition to tracking stats like vertical feet skied, number of days skied and digital pins awarded for various on-mountain accomplishments, your EpicMix account will be loaded up with free photos you can share to your Facebook account -- as if your friends back home weren't already jealous enough. If you're nerding out on all that high tech, try the EpicMix Scavenger Hunt on January 7, where you'll race all over the mountain collecting virtual pins and points. Also in the interest of not exactly roughing it, check out the new high-speed-quad Rose Bowl chairlift, which cuts the old lift's time in half, to about five minutes. Drop down Cataract, Spider, Web or Ripsaw for a taste of the good life, or take the leisurely Cinch down if you're feeling duly pampered.
"We also have great beginner terrain at the top of Chair 8, the Cinch Express," says resort spokeswoman Sarah Lococco. "You get the big-mountain high-up feel, but there's still nice easy terrain up there, as well as our beginner terrain parks, the Zoom Room and Park 101."
For steeper thrills, the same lift also serves the double-black Golden Eagle, which doubles as the Birds of Prey downhill course. (Catch the Audi Birds of Prey World Cup, December 2-4, for the only U.S. stop on the men's alpine World Cup circuit.)
"If you like trees, one of my favorite runs on the mountain is Stickline, which you can get to from either the Centennial Express Lift or Birds of Prey," says Lococco. "Otherwise, any run named after a raptor is going to be pretty good." That includes Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Redtail, Goshawk and Harrier under the Birds of Prey lift, plus Bald Eagle, Falcon Park and Osprey under the Grouse Mountain Express Lift. Try the Talon's Challenge on March 3 to rack up nearly 24,000 feet on those runs, or let your little eaglets test their wings at the new Talon Kids event on March 4.
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: 800-427-8308. Lift Rates: TBA; order in advance at www.BeaverCreek.com for best discounts. 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
Adult lift tickets were just $4 when Breck first opened on December 16, 1961, but you got what you paid for: Peak 8 boasted a bunny slope T-Bar lift and one Heron double chair serving terrain in the vicinity of what is now a terrain-park mecca with a 22-foot superpipe at the world's most-visited ski resort. This year, Breck begins its fiftieth-anniversary season on November 11 and will hold a blowout bash on Peak 8 on December 16. And that's just for starters.
"You're going to see celebrations all season, in town and on the mountain, because this is a big one," says resort spokeswoman Austyn Williams. "December 16 is going to be huge, because we're also hosting the Dew Tour's Nike 6.0 Open that weekend, so all your favorite action-sports stars will be here for the party."
Root for the home team when the competition gets under way: Breck team riders JJ Thomas and Steve Fisher are perennial podium favorites in snowboard halfpipe, and Breck skiers Bobby Brown and Colby West will be going big in the slopestyle contest.
Williams suggests working up to your own Dew Tour dreams in the Bonanza and Sundown Park beginners' lines on Peak 9, the thirteen-foot Gold King mini-halfpipe, or the new Trygves beginner zone on Peak 8 before heading into the more imposing Park Lane or the world-class Freeway Super Park. Visit www.Breck1080.com for more on the parks, pipes and Breckenridge Freeride Team athletes.
But if "the world's most-visited ski area" isn't exactly a selling point for you -- the ski area reported 1.63 million guests in the 2010/2012 season -- remember that Breckenridge is more massive than most of those visitors realize. "If you're not feeling the crowds on Peak 8 on a busy weekend, head over to Peak 7 for nice long, rolling groomers and a quick shot from the Independent Lift to the T-Bar to get up higher," says Williams. "Or, better yet, take a short hike: Right above the Mercury chair on Peak 9, you can hike twenty or thirty minutes to the Windows for some double-black steeps. My personal favorite is a run called Broadway. I'd also recommend taking the Imperial Express SuperChair -- the highest high-speed quad chair lift in the world -- and then hiking a bit farther up to the 12,998-foot summit of Peak 8 and drop down any of the chutes, or head for Snow White. You're likely to find untracked snow back there even on our busiest days."
For fiftieth-anniversary deals and giveaways, visit www.facebook.com/Breckenridge. General Information: www.Breckenridge.com; 970-453-5000. Location: 104 miles west of Denver on I-70 (exit 203) and Colo. Hwy. 9 to Breckenridge. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Snow Report: 970-453-6118. Lift Rates: TBA; order in advance at www.Breckenridge.com for best discounts. Terrain: 2,358 skiable acres with 155 trails, 14 percent beginner, 31 percent intermediate, 19 percent advanced, 36 percent expert. Base is 9,600', with a 3,398' vertical rise; summit: 12,998'. Buttermilk Mountain
"The big story at Buttermilk is we retired the old Eagle Hill and Upper Tiehack lifts last season, replacing them over the summer with a $7 million high-speed quad," says resort spokeswoman Meredith McKee. "It's going to cut the combined ride time from eighteen minutes to less than seven minutes, and there's also some new, gladed intermediate and advanced terrain back there to open up some of the tree skiing a bit."
Head toward Tiehack Parkway after getting off the new lift to explore the new glades and some of Buttermilk's steepest runs, or head left for long, rolling groomers. For more beginner terrain, get to the opposite side of the mountain, under the West Buttermilk Express lift.
Buttermilk, famous for more than fifty years for its family-friendly vibe and wide-open groomed trails, is now even better known for its world-class terrain park and 22-foot superpipe. Catch the Winter X Games on January 26-29 to see how it's done, then try the beginner Panda Pipe and S3 Ski & Snowboard School Park before heading into Buttermilk Park's big-kid territory. "This year's terrain parks will include more than 100 features," says McKee. "Come back just after the X Games for a chance to ride the same park and pipe the pros compete in."
General Information: www.AspenSnowmass.com/Buttermilk; 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; book seven-day advance multi-day visits for best discounts. Terrain: 470 acres with 44 trails; 35 percent beginner, 39 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced. Base is 7,870', with a 2,030' vertical rise; summit: 9,900'.
Copper Mountain Resort
Copper Mountain replaced the old double chair in Union Creek with a new high-speed quad over the summer -- good news both for family skiers in the popular West Village beginner area and for the freestyle terrain-park rippers Copper's been catering to with its Woodward at Copper action-sports programs.
"The Union Creek high-speed quad will now access all the parks, so you'll be able to lap that lift all day," says Woodward at Copper spokesman Morrison Hsieh. "Our partnership with the resort is really coming into its own this season, and we'll be offering a complete park-and-pipe experience for anyone who's interested in learning some new tricks."
Copper opened in early November, and its 22-foot superpipe is traditionally the first Olympic-sized halfpipe to open in North America, just in time for the United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA) Grand Prix. Copper's park-and-pipe crews are led by new terrain-park manager Jason George, best known for creating the award-winning A51 terrain park at Keystone. And they'll be working to keep them in tip-top shape through the 22nd annual USASA Amateur National Championships, April 2-12.
"It's super-exciting to have Jason on board," Hsieh says. "He and the park crew have already built twenty new features since he came on board. He built our park this summer for the Woodward summer camps, and he brings a lot of leadership to our park crew."
To make the most of those features, visit www.WoodwardAtCopper.com to sign up for indoor/outdoor camp sessions that start over trampolines and foam pits in the Woodward Barn before taking to the slopes. Full-day sessions start at $149.99, and there are women's-specific camp days on February 19 and March 18. Woodward also offers four-hour group lessons in the park and pipe, starting at $99.
Copper, of course, is about more than just terrain parks.
"The mountain's terrain naturally sorts itself out so that you have a lot of easy access to good, steep terrain to the west and in the bowls for powder shredding without having to traverse or hike, and there's also plenty of intermediate and beginner terrain toward the east and coming down to the main base area," Hsieh says. "One thing you have to try is the Tucker Mountain Snowcat. It's free, so you just hop in the cat, and then from the top you can hike out to a couple of different drop points. Do it in the middle of winter after a recent snow and you'll be hooked. I don't think there's another ski area in Colorado offering anything like it."
Family skiing will always be a part of Copper, he adds, "but we're also trying to ensure the future of skiing and snowboarding. The next generation is really into the freestyle action-sports aspect. And increasingly, we're seeing those family skiers heading into the terrain parks together. The progression you're seeing at the USASA events, at the X Games, and now in the Olympics is transforming what it means to be a ski area." General Information: www.CopperColorado.com; 1-866-841-2481. 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 and holidays. Snow Report: 800-789-7609. Lift Rates: TBA; order in advance at www.CopperColorado.com for best discounts. Terrain: 2,450 skiable acres with 126 trails; 21 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, 36 percent advanced, 18 percent expert. Base is 9,712', with a 2,601' vertical rise; summit: 12,313'. Crested Butte Mountain Resort
Crested Butte concludes its year-long fiftieth-anniversary celebration on November 23 with a "ski free" day -- a nod to the resort's popular but discontinued free early-season skiing of yore, says resort spokeswoman Emily McCormack. "Ski free on your own birthday, too, if you're over eighteen and your birthday is during ski season," she adds. Just bring a valid photo ID.
Speaking of birthdays, the signature event at Crested Butte turns 21 this season when the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championship -- aka "The Extremes" -- returns with a junior competition on February 3 and the largest cash purse in pro freeskiing on the line, February 8-12. For a more spectator-friendly freeskiing event, try the Big Air on Elk on March 10, when the Colorado FreeSkier shop will build a 46-foot-gap step-up jump in town, in front of the businesses on Elk Avenue. "It's one event I wouldn't miss," says the shop's Gabe Martin. Crested Butte's terrain-park system now includes the beginner-friendly Painter Boy Terrain Park, the intermediate Cascade Park, and the progressive Keystone Park, as well as a seventeen-foot superpipe. "If you're looking for extreme skiing and snowboarding, then you've come to the right place," says McCormack. "But Crested Butte's also a great place for the whole family. We have Camp CB programs for kids ages zero to twelve, and lesson programs for new skiers and snowboarders of all ages. This year, we also got a new fleet of high-end demo gear and a new Learn-to-Ride snowboard fleet for women and children. To get an entirely different perspective on the terrain at Crested Butte, you should also try our new three-season zipline tour, which opened in June and will now be one of the only winter-canopy tours in the state."
After you've explored the steeps at the resort, try booking a luxe snowcat tour with operator CS Irwin in nearby Irwin, Colorado ($500 per person or $4,500 for the full ten-person cat in the high season; visit www.CSIrwin.com for reservations). CS Irwin operates on 1,000 acres of land that got about 800 inches of dry, fluffy powder last season and are already getting dumped on again this year. Expect eight to ten epic runs and as much as 15,000 vertical feet in a day you won't soon forget.
General Information: www.SkiCB.com; 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: 888-442-8883. Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $59. Order multi-day tickets online for best discount. Terrain: 1,167 skiable acres with 121 trails; 23 percent beginner, 57 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. Base is 9,375', with a 2,787' vertical rise; summit: 12,162'.
In its first five years, Echo Mountain managed to establish itself as the little terrain park that could; as it heads into its next five, its owners are hoping to similarly capitalize on some of the tiny mountain's other strengths. "Echo is the closest ski area to Denver and the most affordable in the state -- we're calling it Echonomical -- and it's also a great place to learn for beginner-to-intermediate skiers and riders of all ages," says spokesman Scott Gales. "We've always been known for our terrain-park features, but we've also seen an increase in family visits, school groups and first-timers. We're trying to get the word out that it's not just a terrain park."
Echonomical, indeed: Echo's $179 unlimited season pass is one of the best bargains in the state and includes three free days each at Ski Cooper and Sunlight Mountain. Rentals are just $20, and kids' lesson/lift/rental packages start at $85, less than a lift ticket alone at some other Colorado ski areas. Daily lift tickets and season passes are also good for night skiing five days a week, which means you can drive up after work and still get some runs in. (Echo leaves the lights on until 9 p.m. every night but Tuesday and Sunday.)
Look for expanded beginner terrain and lesson packages on the mountain this season as Echo shuffles its terrain-park features around and targets new demographics, with new programs including the Lil' Rippers Snowboard Experience and Parent & Me private lessons for kids as young as three. There are Magic Carpet and handle-tow surface lifts by the mid-mountain lodge for first-timers, and the lone chairlift -- the fixed-grip triple Milk Run Special -- is great for kids and families, because all runs funnel down to the same meeting spot. The entire mountain has snowmaking coverage, and Echo also tends to get big powder dumps, often on days when storm systems completely bypass their bigger competitors.
Never fear, shredheads: Echo still has four distinct terrain-park zones and some of the gnarliest freestyle features in the state, including a rainbow rail built over a gangster-looking old Tucker snowcat left over from Echo's past life as Ski Squaw Pass; a permanent twenty-stair handrail setup; and log jibs in the Westside Glades.
General Information: www.EchoMt.com; 303-325-7347. Location: 35 miles west of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 103. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, and Wednesday-Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday. Snow Report: 303-325-7347. Lift Rates: TBA; check www.EchoMt.com for best discounts. Terrain: 85 skiable acres with 15 trails and 4 terrain parks. Base lodge at mid-mountain is 10,500', with a 660' vertical rise; summit: 11,160'.
Eldora Mountain Resort
Eldora's 2011 Master Plan was recently approved by the U.S. Forest Service, the first major update to the plan since 1994, and planned upgrades include developing 88 acres of new terrain and glading an additional 23.5 acres across the ski area. The resort also wants to construct four new lifts, replace the Challenge and Cannonball chairlifts with a single high-speed detachable chairlift, replace the Corona chairlift with another high-speed chair, and replace the Tenderfoot I & II lifts with Magic Carpet surface lifts for beginners.
While those upgrades have been a long time coming and will certainly be welcome, many locals love Eldora for its old-school ski-area charm and for the fact that it's just a short drive -- or RTD bus ride -- from Boulder. "Friends don't let friends drive I-70" has become their increasingly effective slogan as weekend ski traffic continues to clog the I-70 corridor.
This year, though, Eldora plans to spend $1 million, primarily on enhanced snowmaking, says spokesman Rob Linde. For a locals' favorite a bit off the beaten track, head to the backside of the mountain and try Corona and the Corona Glades. The resort offers three freestyle terrain-park zones, on the Corkscrew, Bonanza and Foxtail trails. Eldora also caters to first-timers with lesson/lift ticket/rental packages starting at $109, and offers a complete First Timers Guide on its website. For younger kids looking to learn over the course of the season, check out the five-week Eldorables program for kids ages four to six ($329 or $349, depending on the session). All-mountain ski, snowboard and telemark lesson packages start at $119.
Other programs include the Nighthawks racing series, Master's Racing, and the popular Women's Days sessions (four- and six-week sessions meet Tuesdays or Wednesdays) presented in partnership with the Outdoor Divas stores in Boulder and Cherry Creek. 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: Adult day pass: $69. 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'.
While Keystone markets itself as Colorado's kid-friendliest mountain, it's also known for its world-class A51 terrain park, says Meg Olenick, an X Games and Winter Dew Tour star who has made the park her personal training ground and has new Olympic ambitions now that Ski Slopestyle will be a medal event in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. "I think Keystone strikes that balance better than any other resort, so that there really is something for everyone, from the Kidtopia stuff and all the beginner skiing to big lines of jumps tailored to pro athletes," she says.
The former: Kidtopia (December 27-January 3, January 13-16, February 4-5, February 17-20, March 10-14) features a massive snow fort, disco tubing, kid-sized terrain-park features, and other activities at the top of Dercum Mountain. The latter: Olenick suggests skipping the base area and gondola altogether and heading straight for the goods.
"Park at Mountain House to get straight to the terrain-park area without dealing with the base area or the gondola, which can get clogged up with beginners," Olenick says. "The A51 chairlift is a dedicated terrain-park lift, so if you're a park skier or snowboarder, you can avoid the crowds and the beginners all weekend."
That chairlift also makes for one of the greatest shows on earth: "The lift passes directly over the Main Street jump line, guaranteeing thrills and spills," says Olenick, a self-avowed rubbernecker. If you don't see her hitting the jump lines and working the rails in the terrain park, look for her rubbernecking at the 9280' Tap House in River Run. "It's got this great big patio, and it's amazing for people-watching. The people-watching at Keystone is unreal."
General Information: www.KeystoneResort.com; 800-468-5004. Location: 90 miles west of Denver via I-70 (exit 205 at Dillon), then 6 miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; open until 8 p.m. on night-skiing days. Snow Report: 800-468-5004. Lift Rates: TBA; order in advance at www.KeystoneResort.com for best discounts. Terrain: 3,148 skiable acres with 135 trails; 19 percent beginner, 32 percent intermediate, 49 percent advanced/expert. Base is 9,280', with a 3,128' vertical rise; summit: 12,408'.
Loveland Ski Area
"I try to ride all the Front Range mountains, because each one has a special place in my heart, but if I had to pick just one, I'd go with Loveland," says Mike Gagliardi, snow sales manager for Denver-based snowboard manufacturer Never Summer Industries. "It's awfully hard for me to get past Loveland when it's snowing and I don't feel like fighting crowds and being stuck in traffic. It's a fantastic, friendly, come-as-you are kind of place, full of salt-of-the-earth locals who are just there to ride and have fun."
And like any local worth his salt, Gags (as he's known to just about every snowboarder in Colorado) wasn't too keen on giving up his secrets when asked about his favorite runs and secret powder stashes. "Just about everything I'm thinking about mentioning is stuff I'd rather to keep to myself, but if you see me ducking into the trees, then try to keep up," he says. "I'll say this: We had some nipple-deep days in Avalanche Bowl last season."
Never Summer is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this season and will be hosting a couple of demo days at Loveland; try the special-edition Heritage board or the new Proto CT, this year's hottest seller. Also look for a new Never Summer-branded feature in the terrain park at Loveland this season: The "Roller" is a sixteen-foot-long, five-foot-high, four-foot-wide hump, and joins an array of new terrain-park features.
"The terrain park has been growing over the last few seasons, and the crew at our warehouse in Denver built a great new feature that should be ideal for intermediate and advanced riders," Gags says. "It's definitely not a beginner feature."
The terrain park's not the only thing at Loveland getting an upgrade: This summer, the ski area replaced the old Chair 4 lift with a new fixed-grip triple from Leitner Poma, decreasing the ride time and increasing access to Creek Trail, Perfect Bowl, Scrub, North Chutes, the Fail Safe Trees, Sunburst Chutes and Splashdown. Also look for renovations to the popular on-mountain cabins E-Tow and Ptarmigan Roost, increased snowmaking capacity, and a host of improvements around the base area. (Loveland was the second ski area in Colorado to open for the 2011-2012 season and has been operating daily since October 14.)
"We spent about $2.5 million this summer on replacing Chair 4 and other various upgrades," says Loveland spokesman John Sellers. "We've certainly stayed busy enhancing the experience for this season, and I'm looking forward to it." General Information: www.SkiLoveland.com; 800-746-3754. 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, ext. 221. Lift Rates: Early-season adult day pass (to December 16): $47; regular season: $59, late season (after April 9): $46. Terrain: 1,670 skiable acres; 13 percent beginner, 41 percent intermediate, 46 percent advanced. Base is 10,600', with a 2,410' vertical rise; summit: 13,010'. Monarch Mountain
To stay competitive with multi-resort season-pass products like the Rocky Mountain SuperPass and Vail Resorts' Epic Pass, Monarch Mountain has been forging partnerships with resorts in Colorado -- Loveland, Purgatory, Silverton, Ski Cooper, SolVista, Sunlight and Telluride -- and across the country to offer free or discounted days at each other's resorts. There are now 27 partners on board, including ski areas in Canada, Germany and Austria.
"The One Planet, One Pass has a lot of power, because people all over the world know that these smaller-sized ski areas have the goods," says Monarch spokesman Greg Ralph. "We want them to come here, and we know our fans are eager to check out some new places, too."
Ralph is also pushing another promotion that should be popular: "Bring us a first-timer and we'll buy you a beer," he says. "We're really going for the new-skier market this year. We just put in a 450-foot covered Magic Carpet lift in the beginner area, next to the beginners' chair, and we've got 800 brand-new pairs of skis and boots in the rental shop, so spread the word: If you've got somebody who is looking to learn in a stress-free environment, I'm paying a beer bounty."
Monarch's learn-to-ski packages start at $99 (includes all-day beginner lift ticket, equipment and helmet rental, plus 1.75 hours of group instruction). Ralph recommends the $399 Learn to Ride Weekend sessions (seven hours of lessons over two days, with lift tickets and rentals included) being held on January 7-8, January 21-22 and January 28-29, during National Learn to Ski and Ride Month.
For more advanced skiing and riding, take the Breezeway lift and a fifteen-minute hike to get to Mirkwood Basin, a steep double-black terrain full of chutes, gladed trees and cliffs. Better yet, book a day tour with Monarch Powder Cats and prowl 900 acres outside the Monarch Ski Area boundary ($210 early/late season, or $2,300 for the full twelve-person cat; $275 or $3,000 during the regular season, January 14-March 25).
"We've got a newer, faster, more modern snowcat this year, and it's really nice," says Ralph. "A good group of skiers will get more runs out there in the backcountry than ever before."
General Information: www.SkiMonarch.com; 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. daily. Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $57 at window, $49 online (order 24 hours in advance). 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's new owners, Andy Daly and Tom and John Gart, picked up the flailing ski area at auction in August for a mere $577,500 and dropped another $825,000 for a 700-acre development tract below the resort. They've got big long-term plans for the place, which opens for its 45th-anniversary season on December 15, and have been busy making upgrades to the terrain parks, adding a thirteen-foot mini-halfpipe and increasing snowmaking and grooming.
Daly, a former chairman of the board at Colorado Ski Country USA and former president of Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts) knows a little something about running ski areas, and says he's always had a special place in his heart for Powderhorn. "It is a wonderful gem, and we are excited to bring our skiing expertise and capital to provide the best overall experience for you and our outdoor community," Daly said in a statement earlier this year.
The new owners endeared themselves to locals by dropping the early-bird season pass price to $399 (it went up to $520 on October 15), a nice gesture since there's not much competition in the area, and Daly says visitors will notice all-around improvements in guest services.
Skiers and snowboarders from Denver interested in checking out the changes should pick up the $10 Colorado Gems Card from Colorado Ski Country USA (www.coloradoski.com/colorado-gems-card), good for two-for-one lift tickets Monday through Friday (valid January 8 through April 1) or $10 off any ticket at the window at Powderhorn. The Gems card also includes discounts at Arapahoe Basin, Echo Mountain, Eldora, Loveland, Monarch, Ski Cooper, SolVista Basin and Sunlight.
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: $56. 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'.
Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort
Even a week after a good snow, you can still find powder at Purgatory "just by getting a bit off the beaten track," says Jake Hillinger, a Durango local who says he tries to ski at least a few runs every single day of the season. "We have our private little playgrounds here, and a lot of the best runs aren't even on the trail map, but if you see a glade through the trees that has some white stuff in it and looks good, it probably is. And unless I've already been there first, there's a good chance it will be untracked." After holding down bartending duties on the mountain for the past several years, Hillinger is opening his own spot in town this season: Stop in for pizza and craft brews at the new Mountain Madness Brewing Company, 1644 County Road 203, to make friends with some locals who can show you around.
Sweet spots on the mountain include the 125-acre McCormack's Maze and Hoody's runs (Ambassador's Glades), which won Westword's Best New Ski Terrain honors in 2010.
"Purg is predominantly an intermediate mountain, and it's excellent for kids, but there are also many options for expert skiers," says Hillinger. "The expert terrain increased immensely when they cleared out those trees in the Ambassador's Glades, and there's always fun to be had in the Paradise and Pitchfork terrain parks."
The road to hell will now be groomed with good intentions: This year the steepest runs at Purgatory will be a bit more accessible -- have a field day with that one, Dante fans -- thanks to a new high-angle grooming system that will run its corduroy comb through portions of Styx, Lower Hades, Catharsis and other trails. "Velvety white corduroy is the new black," says Durango Mountain Resort spokeswoman Kim McNulty, noting that half of each designated expert run will be groomed while the other half will remain unkempt. "It's going to open a lot of previously expert skiing to intermediates looking for something a little steeper, but should still keep the hard-core happy."
McNulty also recommends trying the new Purgatory Plunge Zipline -- which will send winter "plungers" zipping over Purgatory Beach -- and notes that the San Juan Ski Company runs Colorado's largest backcountry snowcat skiing and snowboarding operation out of Purgatory, offering everything from intermediate Family PowderCats experiences to big-mountain steep-skiing clinics.
For the full Durango experience, time your visit to the Backcountry Experience BrewSKI Demofest (December 17-18), Winterfest (January 14-16) or the Snowdown Winter Festival, or make your visit part of a bigger San Juan Mountains excursion.
"If I was coming over from Denver, I'd make at least week of it and hit Silverton, Wolf Creek and Purgatory while I was at it," says Hillinger. "After you've had a taste of everything the San Juans have to offer, you'll be looking to move out here."
General Information: www.SkiPurg.com; 800-982-6103. Location: 340 miles southwest of Denver via I-70 and Colo. Hwy. 55 south. Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Snow Report: 970-247-9000, ext. 1. Lift Rates: Value season adult day pass (opening to December 16, January 9 to February 17, and March 26 to closing day): $69. Regular season: $75. Terrain: 1,360 skiable acres with 88 trails; 20 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 35 percent expert. Base is 8,793', with a 2,029' vertical rise; summit: 10,822'.
Patrollers at Silverton were taking runs in mid-September when the season's first big blanket of snow dropped, and they're expecting another very snowy season. That's saying something for a ski area that gets more than 400 inches annually and last year had its snowiest season on record. But at Silverton, it's not hyperbole: The mountain got another several feet in early October, and it was dumping again as this edition of the Edge was heading to press.
"Silverton is a no-joke mountain with a ton of snow, one lift and a lot of hike-to terrain," says Adam Schmidt, publisher and editor-in-chief of Snowboard Colorado. "The stuff right under the chairlift is amazing, and hiking's not absolutely necessary, but I'd definitely recommend it: The higher you hike, the better it's going to be. When you get off the chairlift, look for a big face called the Billboard. It basically looks like a great big billboard just waiting for you to make your mark on it, and the riding under there is absolutely phenomenal. Come down through Hell's Gate, then hit up Vodka Shots and Chaser Face."
Silverton's snowy reputation -- and more than 22,000 acres of recently opened terrain accessible by helicopter -- was enough to convince promoters of the Red Bull Cold Rush to bring their big-mountain freeskiing competition here in 2011, and Silverton owners Jen and Aaron Brill used some of that extra energy-drink sugar to upgrade the scant base-area facilities for the 2011-2012 season. Cold Rush competitors were judged in big-mountain, slopestyle and cliff categories, and if you're looking for steep and deep lines of your own, you won't find them any steeper or deeper anywhere else in Colorado.
The mountain offers unguided skiing on select dates beginning December 3 and again in the late season, with guided skiing in the extra-snowy season from mid-January through March.
"One of the coolest things about Silverton is it's such a non-resort mountain," Schmidt says. "There's a little trailer where you get your avi gear and a little tent where you get your lift ticket, and that's about it. They know we don't need all those extra luxuries, you know? Give us the kind of snow and terrain they have at Silverton and we don't need a hot tub and a massage to go with it! You'll end up meeting every single person on the mountain that day."
To experience the place in all its glory, book a whirl in the whirlybird: Silverton Guides' heli-skiing trips start at $159 per run or $999 for a six-run day. Those are the best prices you're likely to find anywhere, and proceeds help fund Silverton's avalanche control efforts, which do tend to get expensive at the highest-elevation ski area in North America.
"Definitely get up in the helicopter for at least one run while you're there because the guides at Silverton are super-experienced, and they're knowledgeable about every piece of that mountain," Schmidt says. "They'll walk you through avalanche safety and really make sure everything is safe, so you'll have the ability to hit some very extreme terrain under a very controlled environment. They do their own blasting, so the guides always know exactly what's safe to ride and what isn't." 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 conditions. Snow Report: 970-387-5706. Lift Rates: Adult day ticket: $49 unguided, $99 guided early/late season. $139 guided-only skiing (January 19-April 1). Mandatory avalanche equipment rental; packages start at $36. Terrain: 1,819 skiable acres, plus 22,000-plus acres of hike-to and heli-skiing; advanced and expert trails only. Base is 10,400', with a 3,087' vertical rise; summit: 13,487'.
The Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours at Ski Cooper have become one of the most popular and most affordable backcountry ski experiences in Colorado. "You'll get as many as a dozen runs back there for $275 and get as high as 12,600 feet," says Ski Cooper spokesman Bob Casey. The price also includes avalanche transceiver rental and basic backcountry training in case you need to put that transceiver to the test, plus a "gourmet" lunch served in a heated backcountry yurt. "We offer a discounted price of $2,800 if you buy out the whole twelve-seat cat, so get a good group of friends together for one of the best days of your life," Casey says.
Ski Cooper also specializes in less extreme ways to get on the mountain, like the new Magic Carpet surface lift in the beginner area: At 770 feet, Casey says its the longest Magic Carpet in the Rocky Mountain region and will be a big hit with beginners and ski-school guests.
In March, Ski Cooper -- beloved by snowboarders as the longest-running ski area in Colorado to allow them on the slopes -- celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of hosting the first-ever snowboard contest, King of the Hill. The mountain still caters to snowboarders after all these years, with terrain parks and a full complement of lesson packages. If you've still never tried it, this is your place: Try the $70 Never Ever Snowboard Package, which includes full rental, a two-hour group lesson, and an EZ Street Magic Carpet ticket.
Ski Cooper also offers private and semi-private telemark lessons at the Piney Creek Nordic Center, just west of the base area Day Lodge. The mountain will open for Thanksgiving November 24-27 and three-day weekends December 2-4 and December 9-11, then begins daily operations for the season on December 16.
"We're offering lift tickets at a low, affordable price that's less than half of what they're charging at some other nearby mountains," says Casey. "And at $294, our adult season pass is a great buy. If you love Ski Cooper, the pass is also a great way to explore some of the other gems in Colorado and New Mexico: You'll get unlimited skiing or snowboarding here and three days each at our partner resorts, which include Powderhorn, Monarch, Echo Mountain and Sunlight Mountain Resort here in Colorado, plus Sipapu, Angel Fire, Pajarito, Red River and Ski Apache in New Mexico."
General Information: www.SkiCooper.com; 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 day pass: $44. Terrain: 400 skiable acres (lift-served), 2,400 skiable acres (snowcat-served) with 26 trails; 30 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 30 percent expert. Base is 10,500', with a 1,200' vertical rise; summit: 11,700'.
Snowmass has been a popular spot for winter revelers for at least 43,500 years, according to scientists from the Denver Museum of Science & Nature. In the year since a bulldozer operator in Snowmass Village found the bones of a Columbian mammoth, excavators have found the remains of an entire après-Ice Age party, including bison, deer, a Jefferson's ground sloth, tiger salamanders and nearly a dozen American mastodons, henceforth to be known as the Snowmastodons. Any other Ice Agers still in the ground will be under a thick blanket of snow by opening day, but visitors can celebrate the spirit of it all by picking up some mastodon merch in Snowmass gift shops. Watch for a pervasive prehistoric theme this year in places like the Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center.
"The Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center has really transformed our whole learn-to-ski-and-ride program and other kids' activities over the last few seasons" says Aspen/Snowmass spokeswoman Meredith McKee. "It's the starting point for our kids' ski and snowboard school programs, and we now offer everything from child care for kids ages eight weeks and up to activities for teenagers."
Get mastodon-massive in Snomass Park, the Makaha and Lowdown terrain parks, and a scaled-down mini-halfpipe for beginners, and look for Gretchen Bleiler -- this year's ESPN Magazine Body Issue cover girl, training in the new 22-foot Olympic-sized superpipe.
"Visitors from Denver and the Front Range should check out our Classic Pass," McKee says. "It's a steal for Colorado residents planning four-day or seven-day trips, because it brings the lift-ticket price down to under $50 a day."
The slopes at Snowmass are also part art museum this season: A partnership with the Aspen Art Museum means contemporary art printed on each visitor's lift ticket, and the resort will also feature photographer Walter Niedermayr's large-scale images as part of the Aspen/Snowmass Art in the Mountains exhibition.
General Information: www.AspenSnowmass.com/Snowmass; 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; book online advance tickets and multi-day packs for best discount. Terrain: 3,132 skiable acres with 91 trails; 6 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 12 percent advanced, 32 percent expert. Base is 8,104', with a 4,406' vertical rise; summit: 12,510'. SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch
Last season the Duggar family -- of 19 Kids and Counting fame -- brought the whole clan to SolVista to put the resort's family-friendly claims to the ultimate test. Reserve a cabin or condo at Granby Ranch to make a vacation home base for your own posse, then set out to explore the vast network of Nordic ski trails or hit the slopes at SolVista together. (If you're rolling as deep as the Duggars, look into the special ski-and-ride packages for groups of twenty or more, with discounts of up to 25 percent.)
SolVista spent some time thinning out beetle-kill trees this summer, opening up five acres of new gladed terrain between the Bounty Hunter and Jackpot runs, according to SolVista spokeswoman Teresa Hill. Some of those sticks will find new life in Ted's Secret Stash, an all-natural log jib terrain park accessible from the Jackalope run: "Look for Nessie, a new rainbow rail tribute to the Loch Ness Monster," Hill says. "We also have some new log jibs back there, including the A-Frame, Tree Bonk and Up to Flat features. In the main terrain park, look for the Dish, a new feature made from a recycled satellite dish, and, back by popular demand, the Tank, which was once an underground fuel tank. Our terrain-park crew has been getting pretty creative."
SolVista's also been upgrading its rental fleet, and now offers snowshoe rentals as well as alpine skiing, snowboarding and Nordic skiing gear.
"Stick to the East Mountain and the Quick Draw Express lift for beginner and intermediate terrain, or take the Conquest lift up West Mountain for blues and blacks," suggests Hill. "For those of you looking for fresh powder, head over to Dean's Glade for a challenging tree run."
General Information: www.GranbyRanch.com; 1-866-SOLVISTA. 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: 800-754-7458. Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $56. Terrain: 406 skiable acres with 37 trails; 30 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. Base is 8,202', with a 1,000' vertical rise; summit: 9,202'.
While most Colorado ski areas now offer ski lessons for kids as young as three, young snowboard groms have typically had to wait until they're six or even eight years old (mostly because little boards and boots can be hard to come by in the rental shop). Steamboat's bucking the trend this season with the introduction of a new Bandits Snowboard Kids program for kids as young as four, and also has kid-sized terrain parks and a mini-halfpipe.
"The conventional wisdom, for whatever reason, has always been that you shouldn't start kids on boards until they're a bit older, but it turns out to be bogus," says Steamboat spokeswoman Loryn Kasten. "We're going all in with a new fleet of rental gear for kids and a bunch of great instructors to get kids ripping earlier. This is something our youngest guests have been asking for loud and clear for a long time."
It's looking like another La Niña year, which at Steamboat translates into big dumps of light, fluffy snow the resort calls "Champagne Powder." Last year the resort reported 433 inches of it. "Champagne Powder's not just a marketing slogan," says Kasten. "It snows like crazy here, and it's a different kind of snow than you'll find anywhere else."
Skiers looking to make the most of all that powder should try the new Steamboat Signature Four lessons, which max out at four people per lesson to ensure more one-on-one coaching, or sign up for the Billy Kidd Camps: Three-time Olympian and former U.S. National Champion Caroline Lalive joins the coaching staff this season after retiring from a thirteen-year run on the U.S. Ski Team, and will also be blogging all season at www.Steamboat.com/Caroline. Catch up on her pre-season posts for some winter-training workout tips, then try to keep up with her when you get the chance (fat chance: Lalive has been clocked skiing faster than 90 miles per hour).
If you're planning a multi-day visit or hoping to make multiple trips to Steamboat this season, go for the $499 Rocky Mountain SuperPass+, which includes unlimited days a bit closer to home, at Copper Mountain and Winter Park, plus six unrestricted days at Steamboat. 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; order advance tickets and multi-day packages online for best discounts. Terrain: 2,965 skiable acres with 165 trails; 14 percent beginner, 42 percent intermediate, 44 percent advanced. Base is 6,900', with a 3,668' vertical rise; summit: 10,568'. Sunlight Mountain Resort
Ask about the Ski/Swim/Stay packages to make the most of Sunlight Mountain Resort's proximity to Glenwood Springs, because you'll appreciate that hot springs soak after realizing that one of Colorado's smallest ski areas also has one of the state's steepest runs (Heathen, with its 52-degree pitch), extreme terrain in the Gibson and Sundown Glades, and a challenging terrain park to keep you on your toes.
Sunlight is better known for its beginner terrain, with long, groomed cruisers and intermediate slopes perfect for new skiers. Kids under five ski free, and it's the perfect place to take first-timers. If you're making a week of it, try the $325 Learn to Shine package, which includes three days of lessons, rentals and lift tickets plus a five-day ski pass to keep practicing. Half-day lessons start at $65. Spokeswoman Jennie Spillane suggests checking out the opening-day treasure hunt on December 2 to get to know the mountain, or stopping in on December 17-18 for Demo Days With Santa. Signature events include the Ski Spree on February 3-4, the Endurance Challenge on February 25, and the end-of-season pond skim and hot tub party. General Information: www.SunlightMtn.com; 800-445-7931. Location: 160 miles west of Denver via I-70, Colo. Hwy. 82 and Four Mile Road (County Road 117). Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Snow Report: 970-945-7491. Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $55. Terrain: 470 skiable acres with 67 trails; 20 percent beginner, 55 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced, 5 percent expert. Base is 7,885', with a 2,010' vertical rise; summit: 9,895'.
Telluride Ski Resort
Telluride is shifting the boundary rope on the north side of Bald Mountain to open an as-yet-unnamed new run on Bald 6 this season, part of continued efforts to open new controlled above-treeline skiing as the resort capitalizes on its steep-and-deep appeal following the installation of the Palmyra Staircase in the 2009-2010 season. If you came all the way to Telluride looking for a hardcore challenge, try the one-hour hike to the 13,251-foot summit of Palmyra Peak and the run of your life.
"It's a big mountain with something for everybody," says Telluride spokesman Tom Watkinson. "But we won't argue with those who come here looking for big lines on the steep faces. It does give the place a certain mystique."
The resort is also known for the pillows of snow that pile up in its tree stands, and has been busy removing dead and down trees -- and opening up new tree-skiing glades under the Palmyra Express and Plunge lifts in the bargain -- as part of its ongoing forest-stand maintenance project. Similar efforts last season opened up tree-skiing zones around Silver Tip, Henry's Run, Stella, Upper Magnolia, Log Pile and Joint Point.
Also look for expanded grooming across the mountain this season and increased snowmaking operations with new high-efficiency tower guns on upper Lookout, upper Woozley's, and in the terrain-park zones and Village Express terrain near the base area.
If you can't get enough of the rough-and-tumble boardercross events in the Winter Olympics and at the X Games, then time your visit with the SBX World Cup, returning to Telluride for the third time December 14-17.
For the classiest après-ski scene in Colorado (and a mountain view to beat all), pop into Allred's Restaurant, perched at 10,551 feet and accessible by gondola or as a ski-in, ski-out dining option. Allred's is strictly a private club at lunch, but opens to the public for drinks and appetizers from 3 to 5 p.m., and for dinner service starting at 5:30 p.m. Spend some time staring out the window while you plot to save up enough money to buy property in Telluride.
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: TBA; order mutli-day advance tickets online for best discount. Terrain: More than 2,000 skiable acres with 120 trails; 23 percent beginner, 36 percent intermediate, 41 percent advanced/expert. Base is 8,725', with a 3,845' vertical rise; summit: 12,570'.
On December 1, Vail will open The 10th, a new gourmet ski-in, ski-out restaurant at Mid-Vail that takes its name from the 10th Mountain Division, a U.S. Army division that trained in Colorado for fighting in the mountains of Italy during World War II. After the war, some of the division's heroes returned to Colorado and helped build the ski industry here." And you might have to fight for a seat at the 10th. "You can expect a world-class, modern, upscale restaurant with table service, great food and contemporary flair," says resort spokeswoman Liz Biebl. "It's a little bit different than you might be used to, but that's how we do it at Vail. Then again, it's also quite a bit different than anything else at Vail."
Executive chef Paul Wade, a three-time James Beard award winner, is best known as founding chef at the Montagna Restaurant at the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen and comes to the gig after a stint at the Lodge at Vail. Wade calls his concept "modern alpine cuisine" inspired by food in the Friuli, Swiss Alps, Catalonia, Andorra and Rocky mountains.
On the mountain itself, look for upgraded grooming this season, thanks to two new Prinoth BEAST snowcats (four feet wider than traditional snowcats and able to handle steeper terrain), and new Kids Adventure Zones. Add in the Chair 5, which was installed last year, and "we're really getting into great position as we head into our 49th season and come up on the 50th anniversary next year," Biebl says.
Vail opens on November 18, and signature Vail Snow Daze events run December 5-11. The free Snow Daze concert series features performances by Guster (December 8), Jakob Dylan and his Band (December 9), and Yukon Kornelius (December 10). Don't miss the official grand opening of the Colorado Snowboard Archive on Thursday, December 8, at 6 p.m. at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum.
"We're also really excited this year to host the first-ever Winter Teva Mountain Games, February 10-12, after having great success with Summer Teva Mountain Games," says Biebl. "Events will include ice climbing, on-snow biking, telemark skiing, Nordic competitions, running, dog events and an Ultimate Mountain Man/Woman event, plus art and music events, snow and ice sculpture contests, and a series of concerts, films and parties."
General Information: www.Vail.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; book advance multi-day tickets online for best discount. 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
Slopestyle skiing and snowboarding just became Olympic sports, points out Kristi Johns Collins, the new head coach of the Winter Park Competition Center's Freeride Team. "So I think what's happening in the terrain parks is only going to get bigger as it gets out in front of the public even more." Collins has a good gig for an athlete with Olympics dreams of her own. "It's going to be a really big moment for the sport, and it's going to be huge for Winter Park, because we have a great, progressive terrain-park system and we have the...programs to support it. If you're looking to learn some new tricks or try something new, then Winter Park is definitely your place."
Almost everything newsworthy at Winter Park this season reflects investments in the terrain parks and related programs, from the new Burton-branded lounge at the base area's West Portal Station to the thirteen new terrain-park features on the mountain and a new dug-in halfpipe that will require less snow and less work to maintain (and should be open much earlier than in previous years). And Collins, who grew up skiing at Winter Park and Mary Jane with her family and started ducking into the terrain parks as soon as freestyle features first started popping up around the mountain, is precisely the kind of skier Winter Park has in mind: She worked her way up through bigger and more challenging features as a teenager, building up to a Women's Ski Slopestyle win at the 2010 Alt Games Collegiate National Championships.
"Progression is the name of the game," says Collins. "You'll see it in everything, from the toddler-sized rails and jumps by the new private lesson center to the massive jumps in the Dark Territory terrain park, which require a special pass and safety class to ride." There's even a new website, www.rlyrd.com, devoted entirely to Winter Park's Rail Yard terrain-park system. Check in for info on freeride camps and amateur competitions like the King of the Grommets (kids fifteen and under) and USASA Slopestyle events that are stepping stones to the Olympic team.
"If you're new to Winter Park and new to the terrain parks, I'd recommend starting on Jack Kendrick, which is a great green run for families and also has the Ash Cat beginner's terrain park in case you want to get a taste," says Collins. "Beginner kids love to hop on the little rails in the Starter and Bouncer parks, and from there you can work your way up to the intermediate features in the Gangway and Re-Railer parks. Even our biggest, most advanced features and jumps in the Rail Yard and Dark Territory jump line are designed for safe progression so that you're working your way up to the big stuff."
Terrain parks not your thing? Collins is with you there, too: "As much fun as I could have playing in the terrain park all day, when there's a big snow, I'll be the first one chasing powder over at Mary Jane."
General Information: www.WinterParkResort.com; 970-726-1564. Location: 67 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west to U.S. Hwy. 40 (exit 232) over Berthoud Pass. 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: Early-season adult day pass (November 16-23): $63. Pre-holiday (November 24-December 16): $79. Holiday (December 17-January 1): $94. Regular season (January 2-February 17; April 2-8): $85. Early spring (February 18-March 9): $87. Spring break (March 10-April 1): $92. Late season (April 9-22): $79. 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 averages 465 inches annually, and this could very well turn out to be its snowiest season on record. In fact, before it even opened, Wolf Creek got an astounding 68 inches of snow in October, including the 36-inch dump that helped the area open for weekends way back on October 8.
"We're certainly off to an impressive start," says Elesha Goad, Wolf Creek's ticket-office supervisor. "I can't recall ever seeing this much early-season snow or early-season business from our powder-chasers."
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Wolf Creek actually gets so much snow that it can sometimes be problematic, so the ski area invested in a Formatic snowcat this season. Heavier than other snowcats in the fleet, it helps pack down some of that powder and decrease avalanche risk as the season continues.
All that snow, combined with a treasure trove of hike-to terrain, makes Wolf Creek a favorite among snowboarders, telemark skiers and big-mountain freeskiers. The rental shop upgraded its rental offerings for the season, adding a line of Nordic skate skis and classic touring skis as well as new alpine skis, snowboards, boots and poles. To brush up on your technique, check out the Telemark Clinics starting on November 13, the Ladies' Ski/Board Clinics starting on December 3, and the Men's Ski/Board Clinics starting on December 10.
Wolf Creek caters to students with regularly scheduled College Days and Local Appreciation Days, when the adult lift-ticket price drops to $33. Other popular events include the Super Bowl Sunday Race, Valentine's Day Race, President's Day Race, St. Patrick's Day Race, and an Easter Egg Hunt on closing day, April 8. Fun Race series participants will appreciate the new race hut under the Raven Lift.
Sign up online to get daily snow reports e-mailed to you, and make sure you have good snow tires or chains at the ready to get over Wolf Creek Pass when the situation calls for it. 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: 800-SKI-WOLF. Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $54. 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'.