New ski terrain, massive capital improvement projects, and an eye toward training top athletes for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games will have every ski area in Colorado looking to the future this season, while important anniversaries like the 100th birthday of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club serve as fun reminders of the long history of playing in the Colorado snow.
"I made it to opening day at both A-Basin on October 13 and Loveland on October 17, and I'm proud to say we're off to a great start," says Colorado Ski Country USA spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph. "Because we had such a big snowy spring to end last year on and have already had some good early-season snow, that momentum is carrying us into the start of this season. We're seeing that early-season-pass sales are going well, and bookings through the end of the year are already looking good."
Ready to get the party started? For this year's insider's guide to winter fun, we raised a glass with the ski and snowboard bums behind some of the state's most popular mountain-town craft breweries and distilleries to get the straight pour on how to make the most of your visit, on and off the mountain.
"Colorado's such a hotbed for microbreweries and distilleries that you can easily map out an ideal brew-ski tour that hits every ski town in the state," says Rudolph. "I can't think of a better pairing."
ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI &
"I just picked up my season pass for A-Basin for the fifteenth year in a row," boasts skier David Dellamora, a server at Pug Ryan's Brewery in nearby Dillon. "It's the smallest and closest community of any of the local ski areas, the kind of place where you can get to know all the employees by name."
Dellamora is partial to the hike-to terrain on the Upper East Wall, which typically doesn't open until the spring, and the expert terrain under the Pallavicini lift. "To ski A-Basin like a local, what you want to do is ski Alleys 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, under Pali, then head to the 6th Alley Bar at the base area," he says, noting that the 6th Alley Bar is just wrapping up a million-dollar renovation. "It's like the skiers' version of the nineteenth hole on a golf course. That place is pretty special to me: It's where my wife and I got married."
Arapahoe Basin opened on October 13.
Splurge: "The Moonlight Dinners at the Black Mountain Lodge are a must, and they're very popular and sell out for the whole season, so you'll want to get right on that," Dellamora says. The monthly dinners, hosted by chef Christopher Rybak, range from $69 to $95 and each feature different mountain cuisines (A Night in Bavaria, December 14; New Year's Eve in the Mountains, December 31; A Night in France, January 11; A Night in Spain, February 15; Foods of the Pacific Rim, March 15; and A Night in Italy, April 12). "Another worthy splurge around here is to take some backcountry and avalanche-safety classes. I teach — and recommend — classes through RockyMountainGuides.com and the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education."
Ski bum tips: A-Basin is very affordable, especially compared to other ski areas in Summit County, but "there's also some terrific and reasonably safe sidecountry terrain in an area called the Beavers that A-Basin is looking to get lift service to in the coming years," Dellamora says. "For lodging, there's a cool little hostel in Silverthorne called the Riverside Lodge that I recommend. And, of course, there's no shortage of great backcountry lines to be had for free on Loveland Pass. Just make sure you come equipped, get some proper avalanche-safety education, and make smart decisions, because things can and do go wrong up there."
Drink locally: "Colorado beers are front and center at both the Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain and the 6th Alley Bar at the base area — Pug Ryan's pilsner has been a mainstay there since we opened in '96 — but I'd definitely recommend a visit to our brewery, too," Dellamora says. "We've got three full-time brewmasters now, and at any given time, we have between ten and twelve beers on tap. I'm partial to our pale ales, and the most popular beer right now is an oatmeal stout aged in a whiskey cask from the Breckenridge Distillery. That's the go-to beer right now."
"If you think of Aspen as all four mountains — and you should, because Ajax, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass are all on the same lift ticket and all have their strengths — then Aspen has to be, hands-down, the best ski option in Colorado, if not the whole world," says snowboarder Craig Turpin, a bartender at the Aspen Brewing Company.