Best Halfpipe 2015 | Buttermilk | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Only a handful of resorts in the world have the equipment needed to build 22-foot superpipes to the specifications required by premier events on the World Snowboard Tour, Association of Freeskiing Professionals World Tour and FIS World Cup. Nobody builds them as well as Snow Park Technologies, the team responsible for the X Games pipe at Buttermilk and the Burton U.S. Open pipe at Vail. Buttermilk's U-ditch is at its best just before and just after the X Games in January, then gets sliced and diced and doubled up into a spine ramp for the Red Bull Double Pipe contest in March. It's a truly humbling experience worth dropping in on, if only to better appreciate precisely how nuts a full-on pro ski or snowboarding competition really is.

To follow in the tracks of your 2015 FIS World Ski Championships heroes, head to Beaver Creek and make your way to the 11,440-foot summit, the starting point for the Birds of Prey men's downhill course and, a bit farther down, the Raptor women's downhill course. Stay left on the double-diamond Golden Eagle run to ski the same terrain as the men, or point down Peregrine and Kestrel to get your Lindsey Vonn on. For the full experience, have your friends and family ring cowbells for you as you cruise into Red Tail Stadium before making your way to the new Talons Restaurant for celebratory drinks.

Readers' choice: East Wall, Arapahoe Basin

The best things in life are free, and at Copper Mountain, rides on the Tucker Mountain Snowcat are free with any lift ticket or season pass. The cat picks up at the base of the Mountain Chief chairlift, Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., then dumps you into in-bounds terrain that feels like pure backcountry, including steep chutes and wide-open treeless runs above timberline. Tucker Mountain has been a focus of The 12s, a two-phase high-alpine development plan to expand the resort's offerings on its three peaks above 12,000 feet. The project has also seen the installation of a new T-bar lift on Storm King and the Celebrity Ridge lift, serving Union Peak, Union Meadows, West Ridge and Copper Bowl.

Lift tickets at many Colorado resorts have blown past the $100 mark and are now well on the way to $200, which makes bailing out before the Eisenhower Tunnel more appealing than ever. Loveland's lift tickets start at $51 in the early season — before most other ski areas in North America are even open — and jump to just $63 during the peak season. Once you've got your lift ticket, it gets even better: Sign a waiver at the lift-ticket office to pick up a free pass for Loveland's Ridge Cat, then catch a ride from near the top of Chair 9 that will take you along the North Ridge and save you from some hiking to get to the goods. The wind blows around quite a bit up there, so you're likely to make fresh tracks even if it hasn't snowed in a while. Drop in on double-diamond runs Tickler, Marmot or Rock Chutes for the best thrills money can't buy.

Flickr/Bureau of Lane Management

Ready to step up your game? A mere $999 will get you an all-day heli-skiing or snowboarding experience at Silverton Mountain. You'll ride in the same helicopter that's used to blast avalanche chutes in the area, and be shuttled to six runs on the steepest, deepest and highest-elevation terrain of any ski area in the state. If the 2014-2015 season is any indication, you'll want to book your trip — well in advance — for early March, when you just might get a 100-inch storm to help cushion the blow. Just need a taste? Single heli-drops are also available, for $179. And no worries if your gear is better suited to more conventional ski areas: Silverton can rent you K2 Powder Skis or a locally made Venture Snowboard, as well as a full avalanche equipment package.

Raise a toast to your pow-chasing peers at the Oasis Champagne Bar, a 2,000-pound mobile pop-up bar built on a snowcat trailer. Oasis is run by Sabato Sagaria, director of food and beverage at the Little Nell at Aspen Mountain, who says he wanted to marry food truck chic with Aspen charm to serve caviar and Veuve Clicquot from "secret" locations on the hill. Follow @TheLittleNell on Twitter to help track it down and start poppin' bottles.

Kids fourteen and under ski free at Arapahoe Basin from November 30 through December 19, with no purchase necessary and no strings attached. The ski area, better known for its extreme terrain and its base-area party scene, went all out this season to make the place more family-friendly with its new three-story, 7,100-square-foot, $2.3 million Kids Center, as well as a more developed system of beginner runs and family fun zones near the base of the mountain.

As single-day lift-ticket prices have skyrocketed astronomically across Colorado, multi-mountain season-pass prices have actually stayed pretty much the same. That's good news for locals committed to getting up to the hills for more than a couple of days, especially since those passes increasingly offer days at national and international resorts. For the 2014-2015 season, Vail Resorts' $579 Epic Local pass offered unlimited access to Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin locally, as well as Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mount Brighton in Michigan — plus, crucially, ten restricted days at Vail and Beaver Creek, and restricted days at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe and — new this year — Park City in Utah. Planning your adventures during peak-season dates around the holidays? Splurge on the extra $200 for unlimited access to all of the above and some bonus days at a handful of international resorts.

Just when you think you've seen everything a ski film could possibly have to offer, along comes the next installment of whatever Nick Waggoner and his Sweetgrass Productions crew are up to. Best known for longer documentaries, this year they went decidedly short. The eleven-minute "Afterglow" features Pep Fujas, Eric Hjorleifson, Daron Rahlves and Chris Benchetler prowling the slopes at night in Alaska, bathed in swaths of otherworldly ambient light and wearing LED light suits. Yes, the film was actually branded online film content — it was basically an advertisement co-sponsored by Philips Ambilight TV and Atomic Skis — but it went massively viral and garnered Best Short and Best Cinematography prizes at the 2015 Powder Awards.

No weather forecast is perfect, particularly when it comes to predicting pow. But if you start to recognize your fellow addicts in line for first chair at whatever ski area happens to be boasting the morning's biggest snowfall, you can thank — or blame — Joel Gratz and his Open Snow app for blowing it out. Download the free app for iOS or Android, then subscribe to Gratz's Colorado Daily Snow and set powder alerts for all of your favorite mountains. Gratz tends to really nerd out on all the relevant weather science and computer storm models, which you'll appreciate as you check the app obsessively every night and again every morning when the 5 a.m. snow-stake tallies go live. Whether he got it right or wrong, it'll give you something to chat about on the chairlift.

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