You don’t have to leave the state to lose the crowds. Southwest Colorado’s dream mountain range boasts snow, non-existent lift lines and aggressive terrain. Here’s our breakdown on how to maximize your time when you point the grill to the San Juans.

Wolf Creek Ski Area is the ideal place to start that epic Southwest Colorado ski jag. Authentic and steep, Wolf Creek typically enjoys bountiful snowfall—averaging 430 inches annually, the most in the state—and offers up some of the best hike-to and backcountry terrain in Colorado, especially in the Knife Ridge area. Soak your limbs in the rooftop pool at the Overlook Hot Springs Spa in Pagosa Springs at the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass and then head to Purgatory Resort , just north of Durango. The deceptively good resort offers a mix of terrain for every level of skier within its 1,360 skiable acres, with the town of Durango providing an ideal spot to spend time sampling the local brewery scene (hit Best of the Rockies winner Ska, see page 20) in between days on the slopes.

Leave the kids—or beginners—at home when planning a stop for the famed steeps at Silverton Mountain just a bit further north on US 550 from Purgatory. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, book a heli-trip with the ski area’s guides for some deep turns on expert terrain. Relive the action over a pint at Avalanche Brewing Company, located on one of the dirt turnoffs from “the paved road.”

And then there’s Telluride Ski Resort, which has some of the steepest in-bound terrain in the state, topped off with the feels-like-you-are-in-the-wild hike up Palmyra Peak. The mountain also grants access to four hike-to areas with terrain status designated as Advanced to Extreme. If lift access brings an element of sacrilege to your San Juan pilgrimage, the area has some incredible opportunities to head into the backcountry, as well. San Juan Mountain Guides is an established outfitter able to guide both day and overnight hut trips within the area’s terrain. If you plan on heading out without a guide, keeping up with area conditions via Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s daily forecast is a must.

—Kirsten Dobroth