The resorts are all booked up and swarming with wanna-bes. If you are truly seeking some big-mountain Colorado action away from it all, we suggest you head to three of our favorite towns—Buena Vista, Silverton and Steamboat—and sign up for helicopters, snowmobiles and snowcats that can ferry you off to your own special place.
Buena Mountain Adventures
SNOW: Buena Vista Mountain Adventures is a one-stop shop for all types of mountain excursions in the high country. Based out of The Trailhead outdoor retail shop on Main Street in Buena Vista, the highly certified owner/guides here—Chris Nicewarmer, Tommy Gram and John Mackinnon—simply love taking clients out to play. And don’t be intimidated: The operation features everything from avalanche education courses to alpine ski mountaineering courses to trips for people who have never ever been in the backcountry. But the winter highlight is a snowmobile-led excursion into the high reaches of Cottonwood Pass for backcountry skiing and split-boarding. After an exhilarating ride up the closed road, you strap on skins and get well above 12,000 feet to seek out powder stashes in alpine bowls and among ancient Douglas fir glades. Book a trip in late winter or spring and you can take on steep chutes when the snowpack consolidates. And it’s always safety first with these guys. bvmountainadventures.com
EAT AND BE MERRY: Using that pure BV tap water that filters down from the peaks where you were just skiing, Deerhammer Distilling Company makes some of the tastiest American single-malt whiskey that will ever knock your bindings off. If you are looking for something a little different, try the powerful Rough and Tumble corn whiskey or brandy made from local fruit. deerhammer.com
STAY: Former pro kayaker Jed Selby is hard at work pumping up Buena Vista as the epicenter of outdoor recreation with his South Main development, kayak park and, best of all the new, luxurious Surf Hotel. surfhotel.com
SNOW: Heli skiing feels out of reach for most of us mere mortals. Not so at the advanced ripper’s paradise of Silverton Mountain. There’s a philosophy of powder for the people here where you can hop on a one-trip ride to heli-skiing Nirvana for just $179. Want to blow your paycheck? A full day on the bird runs a fairly reasonable $1,190. Book well in advance. It’s worth it. silvertonmountain.com
EAT AND BE MERRY: Head down the highway to Ouray if you feel hungry. You can get your daily joe and pastry at Roast & Toast (roastandtoastouray.com) on Main Street. For a heartier breakfast or lunch, hit up Backstreet Bistro (970-325-0550). Fresh and affordable, the place serves dishes like huevos rancheros and a bear burrito that will fuel your engine. Brickhouse 737 (brickhouse737.com) has the best dinner in town. Owner Hans Vander Ploeg and Chef Cory bring gastronomic sophistication to town, with local Colorado fare like seared Boulder natural chicken and elk Bolognese.
STAY: The quirky Wyman Hotel & Inn (thewyman.com) is conveniently located in the midst of town and has maintained a steady influx of guests since the early 20th century.
SNOW: There are loads of snowcat operations in the Centennial State and they all ferry you up and away to untracked lines that you can lap over and over without putting the slightest strain on your hip flexors. But Steamboat Powdercats lays claim to some truly special terrain: Buffalo Pass, where they operate, claims an annual average of over 500 inches of fluffy white manna (yeah, yeah, they trademarked the term “champagne powder here for a reason). Best of all the operation runs several different levels of cat trips. Level I tours are ideal for skiers and snowboarders who have never been out in the backcountry or older less-experienced folks who would rather chill a bit than charge. Level II trips take it a a moderate pace with plenty of glades and some steeps. Level III is for those freaks who want to put the pedal down all through the day and venture into steeps, jumps and heads-up terrain. steamboatpowdercats.com
EAT AND BE MERRY: Head back into town for a table at Mambo Italiano (mambos.com). This authentic Italian joint serves up cuisine that even impressed the cranky New Jersey Italian locals in our clan. Grab a cold craft beer at Butcherknife Brewing Company (butcherknifebrewing.com) where growlers sell at half price on Mondays and you can raise a Buzzcock English pale ale to the turns you made and the memory of Pete Shelley.
STAY: On the outskirts of town the Rabbit Ears Motel (rabbitearsmotel.com), where a no-nonsense room runs about $189 per night and the rabbit sign out front provides just enough kitsch.