On the surface, it’s hard to make a case for value when you see that Loveland’s season pass only gives you access to one ski area while Vail Resorts’ similarly priced Colorado Pass nets you access to five. But the simple fact that Loveland is underappreciated is exactly what makes it such a great place to ride. Loveland averages 400 inches of snowfall a year (only Silverton and Wolf Creek can claim more), which means that on a powder day you can count on finding freshies through the lunch hour—and beyond, if you know where to look. And should you feel that the area’s 1,365 acres (that’s bigger than A-Basin) aren’t enough, a season pass includes three tickets to Monarch. Liftlines? If you encounter one, it’ll take less than a couple of minutes to navigate. And if it’s value you’re after, consider this: Parking at Loveland is free and close to the lifts; you’ll spend less money on gas getting there from the Front Range; and it’s one of only a few resorts that will let you eat a brown-bag lunch in the cafeteria. And if you don’t bring your lunch, you can still buy a hearty meal for less than $10 (5 percent off if you have a season pass). A cup of hot chocolate is only $1.67, and a half-day of childcare runs only $50, snacks included. Try finding that at Vail.
Killer Deals: The “3 Class Pass” encourages newcomers to the sport by offering a free season pass to anyone who completes three beginner lessons. There’s no catch: a half-day lesson including a lift ticket and equipment rental costs $88. Loveland’s “Flex Pass” gives you a half-day ticket ($42) for any four hours you want to ski. A lunchtime tune, edges and wax, is $15 in the ski shop.
Local Knowledge: On powder days, it’s all about traversing the Continental Divide, accessed by Chair Nine, to hit the high alpine bowls. Avalanche control takes a little extra time in the morning, so while you ski elsewhere on the mountain, keep an eye on Chair Nine. When you see it start spinning, you know it’s time to head over. On non-powder days, the sheltered terrain off Chair One tends to be the best bet for soft, packed snow.
Après: You can’t beat Taco Tuesdays in the Rathskeller, with 50-cent tacos and $2.75 PBR tall boys.
Forget faux Alpine villages, fur coats, ski valets and paid parking. A-Basin is all about the terrain. This old-school resort, cradled at the base of the Loveland Pass, nourishes an insouciant vibe that’s attracted hard-chargers for decades. Last season, A-Basin opened an additional 400 acres off the backside in Montezuma Bowl, nearly doubling its terrain and adding more diversity for the regulars who thrive on leg-burning bump runs, powder stashes and expansive trees. When the skis come off, so does the intensity, as the party rolls out on the “Beach,” the festive stretch of parking lot that abuts the Basin’s base. Here you’ll see skiers rocking one-piece suits from the 1980s, rear-entry boots and three-pin, leather telemark boots. Their commonality? They love to ski and ride. Not that your middle name must be “Cattabriga-Alosa” to enjoy A-Basin. With a bunny hill, cheap day passes and a lodge that invites you to brown bag it (they even provide a microwave), A-Basin’s good for the entire family.
Killer Deals: Check liftopia.com for up to 25 percent off a day pass. Carpool with four or more folks, and you qualify for the carpool discount ($41 day passes) at the ticket window. Finally, look for the free Summit County six-packs at local shops and score coupons for discounts on tickets and food.
Local Knowledge: On a powder day, beeline to the Palavicinni lift, bang a right and farm the fresh down Main Face. You’re warmed up, so lap the lift again. This time, however, head skier’s left and traverse out the West Wall until you hit the treed knoll. “Drop in here,” says Jeremy Dobish, 28, of Golden. He should know—he skis the Basin three times a week.
Après: There’s something comforting about a bar that resembles that overcrowded dining room you shared in college with eight of your closest friends. Head straight to the on-mountain 6th Alley Bar for a pint on tap, and you’ll feel like you’re blowing off that final term paper again.
—Rachel Odell Walker
When Echo Mountain opened three years ago, the 240-acre, privately owned ski area expected to be a jibber magnet. And it was—grommets (a.k.a. your little brother) on twin-tips flocked to the terrain park/mini-mountain to launch big-air tricks off the oft-changing features. Then soccer moms looking for winter diversion for their kids heard about Echo, and mini-vans with aspiring schralpers soon filled the parking lot after school and on weekends. Then came the 20- and 30-somethings, Front Rangers looking to learn how to ski or snowboard. Nowadays, Echo Mountain’s a melting pot of terrain park and beginner slopes. Best of all? It’s only 40 minutes from Denver.
Killer Deals: New to the sport? For $65, you can get a group lesson, lift ticket and equipment rental. If you already know how to ride but want to polish your skills, join a weekend progression session: an hour-long clinic for $15. Day passes start at $43, and after 3 p.m. the price drops to $29 (the mountain is open until 9 p.m. Mon. and Wed.–Sat. and until 5 p.m. on Sun.) Starting in February, Echo sells three-pack transferable tickets for $79, and the area’s teamed up with Quality Suites in Evergreen, Colorado, to offer a $115 “shred and bed” deal all season long, which includes a luxury suite, breakfast and a day pass.
Local Knowledge: Echo Mountain is nearly deserted every weekday (except Tuesdays, when it is closed). Call in sick and have the entire area to yourself.
Après: Quaff a beer at the tiny Echo Mountain Garage, which has libations and microwaveable food. Want something rowdier? Make tracks for Denver.
Mary Jane/Winter Park
Who wouldn’t want to ski at a resort named after a prominent “woman of the evening”? Just as the area’s riches were a lure for miners, Mary Jane—and her less promiscuous sister, Winter Park—offer plenty of prospects for world-class skiing, be it bumps or bowls. The closest major resort to Denver, together the pair dish up 3,060 acres across five mountains, comprising the fourth largest resort in Colorado. Want steeps? Head to Vasquez Cirque. VW-sized bumps? Outhouse and Derailleur. Groomers? Winter Park. Add 3,000 feet of vertical, 30 feet of snowfall, and the fact that you can ride there by train, and you’ve struck gold of your own.
Killer Deals: Wolf a breakfast burrito at Carver’s, and then bag lunch it at the Mary Jane Lodge. On Tuesday, hit the Winter Park Pub for dollar taco night. Rack with your brahs at the Rocky Mountain Inn, a youth hostel/B&B combo with communal kitchen and free breakfast, DVDs and Internet. Dorm beds start at $19, private rooms at $56 (therockymountaininn.com). Also try the Winter Park Mountain Lodge (www.winterparkhotel.com), where rooms for two start at $108/night. For discounted tickets, hit King Soopers along the Front Range (price varies), or buddy up to a season pass holder (they get discounts for friends and family).
Local Knowledge: To avoid crowds, park slopeside at Mary Jane and then take the SuperGauge up to the newly opened Panoramic Express, which whisks you to the top of Parry’s Peak. For pow, take Village Way to the Belle Fourche gate in Vasquez Cirque for trees (thank the pine beetle for these glades and more off Outhouse, Golden Spike and Sterling Way). For air, head to Winter Park, whose five progressive parks culminate with Dark Territory, a limited-access rail and jump fest fit for Tanner Hall. If backcountry’s your bag, two gates off the Cirque and Parry’s Peak lead down to US Hwy 40, where you can leave a car or hitch back (check avalanche conditions at www.avalanche.state.co.us/).
Après: On the Jane side, try the Mary Jane Ale on the Club Car deck. At Winter Park, listen for the Derailleur Bar’s train whistle, which signals the start of Happy Hour every day at 3 p.m. (try a “beer-and-a-bump”).
What can’t you do at Keystone? With a world-class terrain park, three mountains, guided cat skiing, nightskiing, and an entire village filled with restaurants and shops, there is absolutely no reason to be idle at this Summit County classic. Ride the new eight-person River Run Gondola directly from the River Run Village, central to the major, multi-year base development. Serious skiers will love the extreme, hike-to terrain in the Outback, and for $5, they can hitch a ride with the Outback shuttle. Better, pony up some cash and spend a day cutting freshies on the steeps of Indepence Bowl with the KAT (Keystone Adventure Tours) snowcat.
Killer Deals: After battling the traffic on I-70, the last thing you want to do is pay for parking. Share the ride with at least four people and score free parking in the premier (read: paid) area of the Montezuma lot—spitting distance from the Gondola. KAT will be offering some late-season deals on daylong trips in the untracked.
Local Knowledge: Let the masses hit the Outback. When the snow’s deep, North Peak’s where you want to be. Also, any tree skier will love Keystone. Miriam Green, a Dillon resident who logs 200 days a year, favors Bullet Glades to skier’s right of Bullet Bump (marked on the map). If you like 10- to 20-foot spaces and well-limbed forests, you’ll agree with her.
Après: From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Dos Locos in the Mountain View Plaza has $1 happy hour tacos and drink specials. Or head to the Goat Soup and Whiskey Tavern on U.S. Highway 6, a local’s favorite where you can slum it in the original part of the bar with foosball and Pabst Blue Ribbon (go to www.thegoattavern.com to get a coupon for a free beer), or upgrade to the adjacent swanky dining room.
For the price of a regular lift ticket, which gives you access to more than 2,450 skiable acres and 2,600 vertical, Copper Mountain takes it up a notch by offering one thing that most resorts don’t: free snow-cat skiing. Whittle away the first hour by taking Resolution chair and Storm King Poma to wide-open freshies on Spaulding Bowls, and then head backside to Tucker Mountain, where a free snow cat operates on a first-come/first-serve basis from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every day. Depending on conditions, the cat carries you nearly 1,000 feet up to a saddle where you can boot hike to the top of Tucker Mountain for Rocky Mountain freshies all the way down to the Blackjack lift. Blackjack will carry you to the saddle between Copper and Union peaks, where you can ski Union Bowl. Back on the frontside, rip fresh corduroy off the Timberline Express quad, grab a late lunch at Solitude, and then hone your park skills at Copper’s SuperPipe, one of the biggest in the country.
Killer Deals: Visit a King Soopers along the Front Range or check online for discounted tickets. For lodging, check the website’s “Plan and Buy” packages, listed at $123 per person, per night, for a room and ticket in February and March. On the mountain, hit Jacks at the base for a breakfast burrito, homemade granola and a grande cup of coffee.
Local Knowledge: Feeling rusty in the park? Copper’s got you covered with its new Woodward Action Sports Training Facility (www.woodwardatcopper.com), a 20,000-square-foot aerial training center where you can polish your park skills on four belt-assisted trampolines, foam pits and a snow-flex ramp.
Après: Whether you went head over heels on the slopes or not, head to Endos near the base for happy hour beers (deals change daily) and the biggest nacho plate you’ve ever seen.
With four peaks, four terrain parks, three half-pipes, 772 acres of open bowls, North America’s highest ski lift—the Imperial Express, which tops out at 12,840-feet—and a legitimate Victorian mining village (connected to the resort by gondola), Breckenridge is like Hollywood’s vision of a ski town. Here, riders ski and snowboard hard throughout the day and then continue their revelry well into the night. Breck’s terrain parks regularly rank among the top three in the world, and the resort has a “Park Lane,” a series of adjacent parks that progress in difficulty. This season Breckenridge opened a new base area at Peak 7, the first since 1971, when the mountain developed the Peak 9 base area. And Breck’s beginner and intermediate runs promise to inspire confidence. Bottom line? Breckenridge is always on. Whether you’re hucking the halfpipe, skiing for the first time, or downing Jagerbombs, you’ll be in good company. After all, the more the merrier, right?
Killer Deals: Avoid the I-70 traffic jams Sunday night and stay overnight all season for just $79 per room (reservations.snow.com).
Local Knowledge: Breckenridge offers terrain for every snow condition. On a powder day, veteran Ellie Kane, 22 (who’s skied Breck since she was in diapers), laps Chair 6, farming the freshies under the chair and in the nearby trees. Calm days see her on Peak 10, and icy days send her and her friends into the parks on Peak 9. “Peak 7 is the best place to take out-of-town friends on their first day back, because it’s generally not too brutal on them,” says Kane.
Après: No visit to Breckenridge is complete without sampling the town’s outrageous happy hours, such as the 2-for-1 martinis at the Blue River Bistro, $1 margs at MiCasa Mexican restaurant, $1.25 pizza slices at Windy City Pizza and the 4-hour-long happy hour (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub.
Make no mistake—you’ll have competition for freshies at Vail on a powder day thanks to these three words: Vail’s Back Bowls. The good news? Vail’s expansive 5,289 acres offer plenty to go around. But listen up: Do not, under any circumstances, get sucked into the I-70 traffic vortex when the snow report says 6 or more inches of new snow. Sure, wrenching yourself out of bed and hitting the road before 6 a.m. hurts, but you’ll forget the pain as soon as ski base meets snow and gravity takes over—especially at Vail, as close an approximation as you can get to Europe’s Alps without actually hopping the pond. From the wooden-shuttered, Bavarian-style hotels to the narrow cobblestone paths that spill onto the massive playground of a mountain, Vail is practically synonymous with Colorado skiing. There’s no doubt it draws a wealthy clientele, and you will see fur coats, fur boots, Botoxed faces and spendy haircuts. But Vail is more than skin deep. The mountain attracts world-class athletes, ski stars, dirt bags and regular weekend warriors. They launch off cliffs, slay the powder, and scalpel the immaculately groomed corduroy. You can too. Whether you’re loading your thighs with lactic acid on one of the punishing frontside bump runs, or floating through Lover’s Leap in Blue Sky Basin, Vail takes you to your own private “white room.” And the muse doesn’t quit when the lifts do. Dine on some of the best seafood in Colorado at Vail’s Montauk Seafood Grill or experience death-by-divine-pastry at the Sonnenalp. Slink into the night at the upscale Samana Lodge, or join the frat boys at Bacco’s Bar. Whatever you do, try to score a room, because one day at Vail is never enough.
Killer Deals: Vail’s expensive. Lunch—a cheeseburger, coffee, brownie, fries and Gatorade—will set you back $27. Brown bag it. Parking’s also exorbitant: $25 for a full day. Skip the fee and park in one of the public lots in East or West Vail (follow signs off of I-70) and ride the free town shuttle to the lift. Also, the town allows limited (free) parking on the frontage road there when the parking lot overflows. This season, merchants and hotels are offering continuously updated discounts at vailallthelove.com.
Local Knowledge: On a powder day let the lemmings charge the bowls—and the remote Blue Sky Basin—while you lap Northwoods and other long runs for fast, untracked stashes. To really find the goods, find someone like Kim Ross, a CU grad student who skis 100 days a year: “If you really want to see Vail’s finest, you must hook up with a local,” says Ross. “Look for the bright Gore-Ttex and ridiculously fat skis. Share a chair ride, compliment him on the machines under his foot, make friends, follow new friend into the trees.”
Après: On Tuesdays, head to the Tap Room at Bridge Street for $6 burger/beer night. Or check out the new Centre V at the Arrabelle at Vail Square for cheap, complicated happy hour cocktails.
Don’t be fooled by Beaver Creek’s “not exactly roughing it” slogan. The Beav is one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets. It’s the furthest drive from Denver (roughly 90 miles) and has an uber-exclusive reputation. Translation: nearly empty slopes and untouched tree and steep stashes. The powder lasts days after a storm because the Beaver Creek regulars prefer their slopes groomed and light on the angle. That is, unless the regulars are World Cup speed demons burning down the Birds of Prey race course. Lucky for you, the run’s open when races aren’t on, which means you can follow in the tracks of racing’s greats like Bode Miller, Picabo Street and Daron Rahlves.
Killer Deals: Unfortunately, Beaver Creek’s incentive to, well, incentivize its skiing isn’t as strong as some of the other Vail resorts. Best bets for spring deals will be found on www.beavercreek.snow.com.
Local Knowledge: Roger Walz, 36, may live in Boulder, but for the past 10 years, he’s spent every weekend at his family’s home in Beaver Creek, where he consistently rides the Rose Bowl lift. “Ripsaw on a powder day cannot be beat,” says Walz. Three (or more) days after a powder day finds him mining the trees for stashes. Then, to get his adrenaline rushing, he’ll spin through the Stone Creek chutes.
Après: The crowd that doesn’t exactly rough it doesn’t exactly rage, either. Après is limited at Beaver Creek. Join ski patrol and other locals at the on-mountain Coyote Cafe, or head to the Blue Moose in Beaver Creek Village for cheap pizza and beer.
Had Steamboat remained open for another two days last year, it would have broken the magical 500-inch mark of snowfall. As it stands, it will have to officially settle for a record of 489 inches. Even if it doesn’t reach that level this year, as often measured on the statue of Olympian Buddy Werner up top (hint: tap his head with your ski pole for good luck), the resort in the Park Range of northwest Colorado is known for its powder-to-your-knees and trees, meaning you’re as apt to find fresh tracks as you are resort ambassador Billy Kidd giving clinics in his cowboy hat. And while it’s just three hours from Boulder, it’s far enough away to escape the day traffic that plagues other resorts, meaning the only lines are the ones you leave on the slopes.
Killer Deals: For the bulk of the spring (February 19-April 5), the Breakaway Package offers two nights’ lodging and two tickets for as low as $215 per person. (Plus you can ski free Friday afternoon, and kids ski free.) The Rocky Mountain Escape program, offered to Rocky Mountain Super Plus passholders, offers rates as low as $34 per adult per night at the Rabbit Ears Lodge; two-night minimum required.
Local Knowledge: The runs off the Sundown quad are named for the times of the day; tell someone you’ll meet them at 3 p.m. at Three o’Clock. When the day’s done, make a short trip to the hot springs downtown, or the seven-mile pilgrimage to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, where you can change in a teepee, get caressed by a hot waterfall, and clothing is optional after dark.
Après: The best place for a coldie? Ski right up to the ice-bar at the Slopeside Grill and suck down a Sunshine Wheat to live music (happy hour starts at 10 p.m. and ends at midnight). Hungry? Try the gourmet BBQ chicken Wally World pizza. (Fun fact: all the pizzas carry ski themes. Owner Chris Corna used to give a free ACL pizza (pepperoni and mushroom) to anyone who showed an ACL scar, “but it got so out of control we couldn’t do it anymore.”)
Viva El Niño! So goes the local mantra at southwestern Colorado’s Monarch Mountain. Located just 20 miles west of Salida in the Arkansas River Valley, Monarch Mountain has inspired more cult-like, die-hard fans than The Big Lebowski. Some consider it one of Colorado’s unsung gems. It’s relatively small (800 acres), has four fixed double chairs and one fixed quad, and operates on 100 percent natural snow, making it a hit-or-miss destination in off-snow years. But in El Niño years like this, Monarch gets pounded by storms that dump feet of snow. Experts can hike to Mirkwood Basin, a cliff-lined, backcountry-like area that’s controlled for avalanches. Best of all, Salida and Monarch are roughly a two- to three-hour drive from most Front Range locations—slightly further than Summit County, but with much less traffic.
Killer Deals: Buy a day pass online (www.skimonarch.com) and get $10 off the normal $54 ticket price. And from March 23 to April 5, reserve a day in the cat for $180 per person (normally $250). Or fill up the entire cat with 12 people for $1,800 (normally $2,500).
Local Knowledge: Salida is one of Colorado’s friendliest places, and Monarch Mountain makes no exception. Befriend any employee and they’ll point you to choice lines. Like the trees skier’s right of Mirage, off the Panorama lift.
Après: Meet one of the state’s best hamburgers at Benson’s Tavern, 128 N F Street, in downtown Salida, and kick back some drinks with locals. Congratulations, you just experienced Monarch’s après.
Long known as Colorado’s crunchy outpost and the home of extreme skiers Wendy Fisher, Alison Gannet and Seth Morrison, Crested Butte’s undergone an impressive $200 million renovation that brought a revamped base lodge, new luxury hotels and swank restaurants and bars. Even the mountain itself got a mini-facelift, with expansion into Teocali Bowl. In a good snow year, expect to tear up CB’s expert terrain, but bring your rock skis when the coverage is thin. The mountain’s new snowmaking investments, however, promise to make for better skiing during dry spells. CB’s a five-hour drive from Denver, which makes day-tripping inconvenient. Good thing the town is a secluded, fun, scenic village that makes you want to stay. Heck, after a good weekend, you may just quit your job and move here.
Killer Deals: As close to public transportation as you can get, the new Bus 2 Ski CB provides transportation from a Front Range location, two nights’ lodging, and two lift tickets, starting at just $209 per person. (Prices vary depending on accommodations and the time of winter.) The bus leaves the Front Range at 5 p.m. on Friday, and departs CB at the same time on Sunday evening. www.bus2skiCB.com.
Local Knowledge: For the past 20 years, Gary Huresky’s followed the same drill on powder days: Start at the Silver Queen, then ride the Highlift T-bar to the Headwall. Veer left and stay high skier’s right. Traverse the bowl to an outcropping that looks like two rabbit ears and drop in for a 35-degree adventure.
Après: If single barrel bourbon’s your thing—along with young and cool hipsters—Tracker’s is the place. For cheap PBRs and dollar-item happy hour, head to Butte 66.
Wolf Creek Ski Area is in a snow globe all its own. Thanks to its host San Juan Mountains, it gets more powder than anywhere else in the state, with an average snowfall of 465 inches (they don’t even have snowmaking). Go there for the powder, plain and simple.
While it’s 300 miles from the Front Range—about a half mile southwest of the town of South Fork—that distance dissolves when you’re heading to the state’s deepest. Bypass the beginner and intermediate runs on the frontside and head to the southeast aspect, from the Waterfall Area over to Knife Ridge Chutes and Horseshoe Bowl. Alberta Peak and Boundary Bowl harbor their share of snow as well, with the best shots found via a short boot hike. In all,
Wolf Creek has 1,600 skiable acres and, remarkably, the same amount of drop, accessed by five chairs and a Poma. “It has a no-frills, laid-back family atmosphere,” says regular Amy Maestas. “It’s about skiing, not socializing.”
Killer Deals: Tickets aren’t expensive—$52 for a full day and $40 for a half—but show up on College or Local Appreciation Days (twice a month on a Wednesday or Sunday) and prices drop to $31. For lodging, the best deal is to book a four-person condo in Pagosa Springs for $75 (www.pagosaaccommodations.com), and then hit the nearby hot springs to soothe those powder-weary bones.
Local Knowledge: Leave the fur boots at home—this ain’t Aspen. Owned by the same family for more than 20 years, it’s ritz-free, with a lodge and lifts as low-key as the employees running them.
Après: Try the green chili and a beer at the base lodge.
If you use your own quads as well as the chairlift kind, you can rack up 4,425 vertical feet per run at Telluride, thanks to the new hike-to terrain off the top of Palmyra Peak. From the top of the Prospect lift, it takes about 45 minutes to climb to the summit of the 13,320-foot, chute-riddled mountain, but you’re rewarded with such gut-wrenchers as Black Iron Bowl, Tram Shot and Electric Shock. For more of the same, hike to Gold Hill Chutes, 6–10 off the Gold Hill lift, or drop into newly opened Revelation Bowl on the backside, which provides powder shots against one of the most scenic backdrops in the country. End it all with laps on Lift 9, tackling such favorites as The Plunge, Can’t Make ‘Em and Spiral Stairs.
Killer Deals: Start with an egg bagel and coffee at Baked in Telluride, and end it with an order of fish tacos at organic Mexican restaurant La Cocina. For tickets and lodging, check the resort’s website for ski-and-stay packages, which offer five nights’ lodging and tickets for two for $119 per day. For a la carte, try the Mountainside Inn, where rooms for three start at $169.
Local Knowledge: Forget a layer or other piece of gear? Check the Free Box across the street from the old post office on Pine Street. (Have something extra? Appease the karma gods and leave it.)
Après: If you end up townside, hit the Last Dollar for a game of foosball and a Budweiser. In Mountain Village, head to $2 Fat Tire happy hour at the Hop Garden, and then ride the gondola back into town.
The “resort’s” official Trail Description says it all: Beginner and Intermediate: 0 percent; Advanced and Expert: 100 percent. That sums up what you’ll find at Silverton Mountain, Colorado’s newest, and most unique, ski area. Founded in 2002, it offers 1,900 of lift-served vertical, plus another 1,000 if you boot-hike to the 13,487-foot summit, which makes it the highest ski area in North America. Its more than 1,800 skiable acres are accessed by one chair, with capacity capped at 475 skiers per day. There are no groomers and no clear-cut runs—only terrain in its natural state. “It’s about as core as resort skiing gets,” says Aspen’s Tim Braun, who frequents Silverton once a year. “You definitely want to have your game on.”
Killer Deals: For lodging, try the Triangle Motel (www.trianglemotel.com), where rooms start at $75 for two people, or Canyon View, where rooms start at $55 for two. In April, the resort offers a $180 package that includes two days’ skiing and two nights’ lodging.
Local Knowledge: Groups of up to eight are formed at the beginning of each day, and that’s who you’re with for the duration. Everyone also has to have a beacon, shovel and probe (available for rent if you don’t have your own). You either can go guided ($99-$129 per day) or unguided ($49), conditions permitting, and if the weather cooperates, hire an optional heli-drop for $150. Book tickets through the resort’s online reservation system, which lists days still available (if a certain day’s sold out, you can get wait-listed for a nonrefundable fee of $25).
Après: For grub and a barstool to rehash your day’s stories, hit the Bent Elbow for a taste of the Old West. Also try the Brown Bear for Mexican food and pizza night.
Eldora often gets lost in the shuffle of Colorado’s big-name resorts, and may seem out of the way for Denverites, but its biggest asset is that it’s not on the I-70 corridor. It may not have the snow of Wolf Creek or the steeps of A-Basin, but it does have its own charm, especially when it comes to athletic runs in tight trees—and its just a 45-minute drive from the coffee shops, trustafarians and crepes of downtown Boulder. It also has one of the most friendly and approachable ski patrols around (ask them for advice on Eldo’s underrated, but sometimes dicey, backcountry).
Killer Deals: Eldora’s Spring Pass sale kicks off on March 1. It’s the best time to buy a pass, before prices go up. One of the best passes for families or companies is the No Limits, an interchangeable pass (meaning that anyone can use it) that costs $579 for this season—but buy four of the passes at once and you get them for the price of three, dropping the price to $434.25, just slightly more than the $399 unlimited season pass that parents can trade off while they watch the kids or hit the mountain. Hotels in Boulder offer lift-and-lodging deals at www.boulderskiescape.com.
Local Knowledge: Stay away from the scraped-out middle of Corona Bowl and hit Muleshoe instead. It’s one of the best lines on the mountain but sees less traffic than Corona. The key to Eldora is embracing the trees. “The lifts could spin faster, but unlike the traffic on I-70, they are always moving,” says Mad River Glen, Vermont, transplant Isaac Stokes. “To love Eldora you have to look for 199-centimeter-wide chutes through the trees in Bryant Glades, head into the backcountry, and take advantage of those wind-loaded ‘left side’ days.”
Après: Head to the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery in Nederland for a cold glass of Redemption Oatmeal Stout and a sloppy platter of pork ribs or smoked tofu. www.wildmountainsb.com.
Locals who wanted to keep Aspen Highlands a secret probably propagated the myth that Aspen skiing is only for the rich. And rightfully so. Highlands Bowl is probably one of the best treasure troves in all of Colorado. Accessing the bowl requires a 30-minute hike from the top of the Loge Peak Lift to the 12,392-foot summit of “the bowl,” but you’re rewarded with a 3.5-mile run to the base of the mountain. Choose from steep, open terrain, or, if you head far right, you’ll end up in Northwoods, where you’ll enjoy steep glades and chutes. Last season brought the Deep Temerity triple chair, which opened up another 230-plus acres of new expert terrain and extended the run-out area of the bowl another 1,000 vertical feet. So now you can keep going down, down, down … pretty much until your legs are calling for mercy. An additional 18 acres opened in the Deep Temerity area this season.
Killer Deals: Forget renting a car when you’re in Aspen. The free shuttle service will deliver you to your mountain of choice, and Highlands is just a 10-minute ride from town. For all of the mountains, multiday tickets are the cheapest way to go. You’ll save more if you buy online at least seven days in advance. Go to www.aspensnowmass.com.
Local Knowledge: Be sure to check out the lower mountain steeps, such as the P-chutes and Audacious, which are largely overlooked by people trekking to the bowl. They’re supersteep, technical and usually have great snow.
Après: At the base, you’ll find ZG Grill and the new Highlands Pizza Company, which serves local Aspen Brewery beer on tap.
It’s not uncommon for people to think that the town of Aspen, which is just 220 miles west of Denver, has only one ski mountain: Aspen Mountain. They don’t realize that “Aspen” actually means four outstanding mountains. But to be fair, Aspen, or “Ajax” as the locals call it, was the first. Now in its 62nd season, aside from a few gondola and chairlift facelifts here and there, not much changes on this mountain. Rising 3,267 feet straight up from town, Ajax is the best place for celebrity spotting—and Bonnie’s at the top of Ruthie’s chairlift is a great place to do just that. But it’s not all glam and greens. When conditions are right, look for the gated terrain to open up at Trainors, at the base of Ruthie’s lift, which leads you into steep, ungroomed backcountry, across some of the area’s old mines, and then drops you back near Summer Road en route to the base.
Killer Deals: The Cantina, at the corner of Main and Mill streets, and New York Pizza on East Hyman Avenue offer some of the most affordable meals in town. Likewise, Mezzaluna’s happy hour is hard to beat, where a wood fire cheese or pepperoni pizza and beer set you back just $10. For cheaper dorm-like Aspen lodging, check out the Tyrolean Lodge or St. Moritz Lodge. The Annabelle Inn offers the next tier up. If you don’t mind spending a bit without breaking the bank, room rates at the newly renovated and family-owned Limelight include breakfast in the lobby and après-ski in the afternoon.
Local Knowledge: Start your day by taking the Shadow Mountain lift to Ruthie’s lift to the top, and you’ll be ahead of the pack. Ninety-five percent of skiers take the gondola, which means you’ll have first tracks in the chutes off International, such as Zaugg Dump, all to yourself.
Après: Kick off après on the newly extended outdoor deck at Ajax Tavern, which is part of the glitzy Little Nell at the base. Here you can sample a few of the appies, such as the chicken pâté or mini-fondue, that make Little Nell’s head chef, Ryan Hardy, a rock star of sorts. Word has it the hamburger is to die for (but be careful not to choke on the price tag). Continue your glam watch into the night at the Sky Hotel’s 39 degrees. The indoor-outdoor bar, which extends around the pool, exudes groovy, complete with trippy chairs that make you feel like you’re in Alice in Wonderland.
Sure Cindy Crawford and Seal love to snowboard here, but chances are you’ll be too busy enjoying the 3,132 acres of the second largest ski area in the U.S. to notice them glide by. With 4,406 of vertical drop (the most vertical rise of any ski area in the U.S.), three terrain parks, a SuperPipe and 91 trails accessed by 21 chairlifts, you’ll need more than a weekend to conquer this ski area. To get started, hop aboard the new Sheer Bliss High-Speed Quad, which accesses 700 acres of cruisers and glades in the Big Burn area. To recoup, step into Sam’s Smokehouse, which not only offers a barbecue-style smokehouse menu, but also serves up the type of backcountry mountain views that make people fall in love with Colorado.
Snowmass is also the most family friendly of the four mountains, with the recently opened 25,000-square-foot Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center at the base of the mountain. It houses the kids ski school, along with a climbing wall, nature shack, activities and a children’s museum whose focus is the mountain environment and mining lore of Aspen. The mountain is also kind to beginners. The relatively new Elk Camp Meadows is a self-contained learning area at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola, where two magic carpets and a quad chair serve only beginners.
Killer Deals: Free parking is available at the Town Park Station (formerly the Rodeo Lot), with shuttles running to the base every 10 minutes. If there are four or more of you in the car, you can park for free in lot C. If you’re coming from town, the free Snowmass shuttle runs every 10–15 minutes from Rubey Park in Aspen. Over 100 new lodging units have opened this winter. Check for last minute lodging deals at stayaspensnowmass.com.
Local Knowledge: Take the short hike to the Long Shot trail to get an inbounds backcountry experience. Check the morning grooming reports posted at the base of the mountain or handed out at the ticket booth for the “Noon Groom,” a newly groomed run that opens at noon. Then avoid the crowds and head for lunch at the Lynn Britt Cabin at mid-mountain.
Après: Procede to the deck at the new Sneaky’s Tavern at the base. Snowmass is in the middle of a billion-dollar base renovation. A number of new places opened up this past holiday season. The intent is for visitors to be able to stay, eat and shop at Snowmass and avoid having to go into town. Liquid Sky is the new cool place in town with an indoor-outdoor deck, food and, if your thirst for après fun has no end, Liquid Sky’s three DJ stations will carry you late into the night.
January 2009 marks the eighth consecutive year that Buttermilk has hosted the ESPN Winter X-Games. That means you can watch the likes of local Gretchen Bleiler, three-time Winter X-Games gold medalist and silver medalist at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, launch big air. If you missed the Games this time, no worries, they’re slated to return in 2010. Aside from 44 trails on 470 acres, the smallest of Aspen’s four mountains features five terrain parks and one beginner pipe. And this season, Buttermilk added a new Olympic-size SuperPipe. Five-hundred feet long with 22-foot walls, this is no place for wannabes. While Buttermilk’s up to the task of challenging the best in the world, its long, rolling groomed runs are a beginner’s dream. For you, this means learning to snowboard has never been so forgiving. For steeper fare, venture to the top of Tiehack at 9,900 feet, the more advanced side of the mountain.
Killer Deals: Look for lodging deals at the Inn at Aspen located smack at the base of Buttermilk (www.innataspen.com).
Local Knowledge: On average, there are only four skiers per acre on Buttermilk (which is located just three miles west of downtown Aspen). In other words, head to Buttermilk on a powder day and you’ll have less competition from the expert skiers who will be fighting it out on the other mountains. In fact, head to Tiehack the day after a big dump, and you’ll still find untracked lines. The free parking at the main Buttermilk lot often fills up, but you can park at the base of Tiehack or West Buttermilk for free once you have your lift ticket.
Après: Sit on the deck at Bumps, in the Buttermilk Lodge at the mountain’s base, and watch the kids launch in the terrain park. Hop on the bus and head into town to continue. •