Winter Is the One

Check off this gotta-do-it list for Colorado’s Best Season this winter.

I like summer alright. The long days and the green, growing things. How the cold beer tastes even better after a hot day and seeing the stars from a campground when you’re far from the city lights.

But after that it just seems like so much busy multitasking. All the peaks you have to climb and trails you have to ride, rivers to float, bluegrass and brew-tasting festivals you have to hit, packing the Hula-Hoop, tent, and slackline. And every other night some new Red Rocks show that promises to be “all time!”

There’s so much damn fun to be had that, by the middle of October, you can hardly remember half of what happened—or that it’s really winter that first drew you here (especially if you moved here before legalized recreational cannabis) or that skiing is what put Colorado on the map before anything.

It’s the cold season that matters the most, when everything boils down to living the legend of Sisyphus. Going up the lift or the uptrack, then turning around to glide back down the long white slope again. OK, the bar for après—and then just about how good it is, with only the wind and sound of your sliding edges in your ears, and every worry disappearing.

December, January, February, and March—when the mountains are covered in snow and shining—are the best months to be outdoors. You want to impress me? Work nonstop from May through September; then take the winter off and just go skiing.

The Checklist

Of course, even then there’s a kind of checklist of days when you call in “too well” to go to work. It includes the best places to ride, eat, and stare into nothing at the end of the day thinking only of the turns you made.

For every Coloradoan, that checklist is a little different—from mountain to mountain, run to run, and lift to lift, right down to which side of the cornice you have to hit on that one little hike-to chute, and exactly which time of day to drop in.

For the sake of entertainment, and maybe as a kind of guide, here’s a few regular items on my annual winter “to ski” list. I’d be happy to make some turns down the runs on your list too. Preferably early in the week, when everyone else is working.

1. Vail: Yeah, people love bashing Vail, especially when it comes to ticket prices, parking, and crowded liftlines. But I still love it—as I have since I was a kid—especially the big blue views, wide-open groomers, and Highline and Prima’s bottomless bumps. While it’s hard to hit a powder day just right anywhere, the Back Bowls remain Colorado’s snowy grail of hero shots. I’ll never forget watching a snowboarder arc Forever like the Silver Surfer once from the lift. It’s also an awesome spot to stomp some April slush in the sunshine.

2. Monarch: Low-key and simple also works, and Monarch has plenty of that. My wife’s folks used to live in Salida, and every year my mother-in-law bought us a pass. I’ve got great memories of sharing chairs with people from Oklahoma in Starter jackets, fall-line skiing High Anxiety or Dire Straits, hiking the gate access to Mirkwood 12 times in a row, and one unforgettable day looping snowcat laps with big mountain ski legend Scot Schmidt.(P.S. Big thanks to Greg Ralph for making that happen!).

3. A-Basin: I’ve also got Aspen, Breckenridge, Copper, Crested Butte, Eldora, Mary Jane, scrappy little Ski Cooper, Snowmass, and just about any place else there’s a snow-covered hill as a must-do on this list. But A-Basin is as real as Colorado skiing gets, all the way from the gut-checking pitch at the top of Pallavicini down to the base of The Beach (the snow-world’s most famous—and friendly—parking lot). Any time the lifts are turning—and in Colorado they turn here longer than anywhere else—you’ll find runs that’ll challenge you, crazy weather, and people who will keep you laughing.

4. Hire a Pro: This isn’t exactly Colorado specific, but I can’t think of a better way to learn how to ride new terrain, travel out of bounds, and find the absolute best stashes than booking a local instructor, coach, or guide to show you around. Especially if you’re beyond the boundary ropes, trying to learn a new trick, or just want that one hot tech tip that helps make this one of your best seasons. Bonus points: Locals also let you in on the best breakfast, dinner, and après spots, so you can avoid the Texans.

5. Treat Yourself: Winter’s short and we often don’t get as many days as we think we will. So make those days the best. Buy yourself the new boards or jacket. Better yet, buy them for the friend you love the most. Book the hotel, even if it is just for one night (and especially if dogs are welcome!). And for the love of Skadi, eat at the best locally owned dining spot. The memories you make will reward you for a lifetime. 

—Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of TheGod of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Buy it here and read it now.

Illustration By Kevin Howdeshell

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