Above, Arapahoe Basin, top of the Lenawee area
Arapahoe Basin, Summit County • 910 skiable acres on 2270′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 13,050′; Base elevation: 10,780′. 7 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 triples, 3 doubles, 1 magic carpet. Uphill capacity: 10,600/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-45-20-20. Longest Run: 7920′. Season: usually October to July. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 367″. Snowmaking: 25%.
The SKInny: A-basin (in the vernacular) is relativelysmall in skiable acreage, as Colorado skiing goes. At least as far as the “official” skiable acreage is concerned. Add in the off-piste, the unofficial, the out-of-bounds and the outrageous, and it’s nearly as big as any. While A-basin may not be the biggest, plenty of skiers consider it the best. It has the highest lift-served terrain in North America, and arguably some of the most stunning views as well. Big on skiing, but not big on amenities, which is fine with most. Because of the “bowl” shape of the entire mountain, A-basin trails all sort of funnel into a much tighter base area than most of the big Colorado ski areas…often feels as if you are skiing “into” something, rather than being “out” on a mountain. That may not make a lot of sense; but we’re trying to say that a lot of the runs have an approach that feels different from the typical Colorado run. The upper mountain, served by the Lenawee lift, is the ultimate open bowl cruise, with terrain for everyone from accomplished novice to full-tilt advanced. The section served by the Palavacini lift is a different story; two routes are offered for very good intermediates, and the rest is just plain nuts. Why anyone would think to make ski trails on Pally face is incomprehensible. Another section, The East Wall, is hike-to terrain that is not as steep as Pally, but between the precipitous traverse required and the rocks you’ll encounter, is equally daunting. These days a lift services the “back side” of A-Basin, a quad officially open for about ten years gives easy access to the “Montezuma Bowl.” This Montezuma Bowl is good news for mere mortals, but bad news for the back country rippers who previously had it all to themselves…prior to the chair, you had to hike out. Anyway, it’s now open, and 17% of it is groomed. And like the front side, whatever they leave ungroomed is either advanced, expert, or psychotic. Skier’s right in Montezuma opens up some fabulous wide open bowls, very steep but much easier than Pally on the front side. Skier’s left in Monte requires a traverse that sends many people into rocks and trees. It looks deceptively easy; it can be very very nasty. The runs down are easier than the actual traverse.
The fact that half the mountain is unskiable for most of us mere mortals is what gives the impression that A-Basin is small. Don’t be turned off; there’s plenty — plenty — to do here for solid intermediates. Experts will like the fact that it’s cheap, deep, and steep. And don’t be surprised if you meet people at completely opposite ends of the skill spectrum who declare that A-Basin is the best ski area in the world.
Update: A-Basin has opened new terrain west of Pallavacini called The Beavers, including a new chairlift. The Beavers adds some new intermediate terrain, as well as some incredibly steep and narrow chutes. All of this was previously hike-in/hike-out terrain for a select group of highly skilled locals — now open to all. One word of warning: The danger signs on the Beavers are to be taken seriously.
Signature Trail: Pallavicini & related runs. If you can handle this stuff, we salute you. For the rest of us, Lenawee Face to Dercum’s Gulch is arguably the all-time greatest above-timberline cruise.
Bumper Sticker: Spacin’ at the Basin
Here’s a look at the Lenawee/Cornice/Dercum’s area, arguably one of the best lift served, above-timberline intermediate areas in the USA:
Aspen/Aspen Mountain (Ajax), Aspen • 673 skiable acres on 3267′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,212′; Base elevation: 7945′. 8 Lifts: 1 gondola, 3 quads, 4 doubles. Uphill capacity: 10,755/hr. Terrain Mix: 0-48-26-26. Trail mileage: 64. Longest Run: 15,700′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 30%.
The SKInny: The grandaddy of Colorado ski resorts, rising above the town of Aspen on Ajax Mt. Not recommended for pure beginners. But for even casual intermediates to world-class experts, however, Aspen is one of those “must-ski” experiences. Perhaps it’s the moguls, the Silver Queen gondola, the powder, the legendary groomers…or just the fact that it is, well, Aspen. Pricey and high-toned, you will not be king of the mountain here. You’re sure to see someone prettier than you are, and plenty who ski better than you do. Expect your ego and your wallet to suffer. The skiing is fantastic; an odd thing about Aspen is that the most notable, legendary trail is probably one of the least inspiring — Ruthie’s Run. Tell a casual skier you went to Aspen and they’ll ask if you skied Ruthie’s. At one time it was universally listed as one of the top ten all around trails in the country, but nobody knows why. A lot of that sort of thing goes on at Aspen.
Signature Trail: Ruthie’s Run (yeah, we know)
Aspen/Buttermilk, Aspen • 429 skiable acres on 2030′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9900′; Base elevation: 7870′. 7 Lifts: 1 quad, 5 doubles, 1 handle tow. Uphill capacity: 7500/hr. Terrain Mix: 35-39-26-0. Trail mileage: 21. Longest Run: 15,700′. Season: usually mid-December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 200″. Snowmaking: 25%.
The SKInny: This is the Aspen that most skiers should head for…easier runs, cruising terrain. Started as a “beginner’s hill” in the late 1950s to compensate for a complete lack of novice terrain at Ajax. Today, Buttermilk is arguably the best beginner/developing intermediate mountains in the country. Lately, however, it has become a haven for snowboarders, so it’s lost some of its luster as far as we’re concerned. The advanced intermediate can head to the Tiehack area to mix it up a bit. Lifts (other than the quad) are clunky slow; a couple of detachable sixpacks would help Buttermilk a lot. But hey, we’re picking the fly poop out of the pepper here…put this mountain almost anywhere else in the country and you’ve got one dynamite ski area. Even the hotshot can enjoy the scenery and groomed terrain at Buttermilk.
Signature Trail: Tiehack Trail
Aspen/Highlands, Aspen • 790 skiable acres on 3635′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,675′; Base elevation: 8040′. 4 Lifts: 3 quads, 1 triple. Uphill capacity: 5,400/hr. Terrain Mix: 18-30-16-36. Trail mileage: 65. Longest Run: 18,500′. Season: usually mid December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 14%.
The SKInny: Highlands is the latecomer to the Aspen Skiing Company fold. Known for years as “that place the locals go with the slow lifts.” Purchased by SkiCo (Aspen Ski Company) in 1993 after a storied past, new lifts went up, as did prices. As SkiCo is the first to admit, Highlands’ reputation for having the steepest and the nastiest overshadows the fact that it actually has more novice and intermediate trails than double blacks. But it is the bowls that have brought fame to this hill; Olympic and Highlands in particular. Intermediates can work the Cloud Nine chair all day long, and stay well out of the way of the experts working the bowls. Both will agree that Highlands is the best skiing they’ve ever experienced. Even the developing skiers can get in on some of the “bowl” action, working Thunderbowl on the lower mountain.
Signature Trail: Moment of Truth
Aspen/Snowmass, Aspen • 3,010 skiable acres on 4406′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,510′; Base elevation: 8104′. 21 Lifts: 7 quads, 2 triples, 6 doubles, 4 pomas, 2 magic carpets. Uphill capacity: 27,978/hr. Terrain Mix: 7-55-18-20. Trail mileage: 65. Longest Run: 26,700′. Season: usually mid December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 6%.
The SKInny: It isn’t the biggest or baddest on the planet, but it’s certainly neck-and-neck with Vail for “Best in Colorado” and possibly the USA. Snowmass has more skiable acreage than most mountains have vertical…and it’s something for everyone. With 5 mile, hour long descents, some skiers do as few as two or three runs — and call it a day. Interestingly enough, Aspen Skiing Company added a poma lift at the summit in the 1990s to serve The Cirque, a bowl previously served by snowcats and hiking (this is the lift that made it king of U.S. ski areas). The primary chair right out of the base village can get crowded; move up and work the new campground chair for the shortest liftlines. Pricey and trendy, this is the big time.
Signature Trail: The Cirque, Big Burn, Campground.
Beaver Creek, Avon • 1625 skiable acres on 4040′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,440′; Base elevation: 7400′. 14 Lifts: 6 quads, 3 triples, 4 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 24,739/hr. Terrain Mix: 34-39-27. Longest Run: 14,520′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 310″. Snowmaking: 37%.
The SKInny: Excellent resort for families with buckets of money. If you enjoy a ski/winter shopping mall/resort/development with lots of shoppes, people movers, elevators, escalators, clock towers and resorty shnizzle-shnazzle, you will love Beaver Creek. And you will pay for it. The skiing doesn’t command the same respect as an Aspen or Arapahoe, but it is extremely nice. Resort connects (circuitously) to Vail, which owns and operates Beaver Creek, in what they call a “European” village-to-village style connection. It isn’t quite, but still represents one of the true adventures for the full-fledged wanderer. (Even without it, Wanderers can spend a month here and not be bored.) Hotshots will yawn a bit at Beaver Creek — compared to what they can find elsewhere in the Rockies — but will have plenty to do just the same. Some of the chairs get long lines, and some trails get crowded, but nothing compared to Vail. Move past the village and you’ve got a big, beautiful, world-class ski area. Bring money.
Signature Trail: Birds of Prey.
Breckenridge, Summit County • 2208 skiable acres on 3398′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,998′; Base elevation: 9600′. 27 Lifts: 2 sixpacks, 6 quads, 1 triple, 6 doubles, 7 magic carpets, 5 surface. Uphill capacity: 36,680/hr. Terrain Mix: 13-32-55. Longest Run: 18,480′. Season: usually mid November to late April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 23%.
The SKInny: Depending on who you ask, Breck is either the most overrated or most underrated ski area in Colorado. As one of the flagship resorts in Summit County, Breck attracts a lot of people. A lot. And although the uplift is massive and the vertical is technically long, Breckenridge seems to get a lot more crowded than the specifications would indicate. This is probably a result of the layout, which is more horizontal than vertical, and requires a lot of chair use and traverses to move about. Thus the majority of skiers are found on “Peak 9,” which is the main base and can be quite crowded. Overall, Breck targets the developing novice through plateaued-out intermediate skier…easterners can identify Breckenridge with Okemo…but there is plenty of challenge for the hotshot. Really, there’s no shortage of anything for anyone…this is a damn big resort…find an uncrowded lift, work it till the crowds arrive, then move on. You want glades, steeps, bowls, powder, groomed cruisers, terrain parks — soup to nuts — Breck has it all. Quite crowded during holidays and early in the season. Ski off peak weekends in January and February, and move into the outlying areas…use the Peak 7 chair, the t-bar or Peak 10 chair for best skiing and to avoid the crush, and you will agree that Breck is worth every penny of the ticket price. For trivia buffs, Breck is the only U.S. resort we know of with two lifts that make left-handed turns mid-ride: The Peak 8 Superconnect, and the T-Bar.
Signature Trails: Psychopath, Pika, Ptarmigan and White Crown.
Ski Cooper, Leadville • 400 skiable acres on 1200′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,700′; Base elevation: 10,500′. 5 Lifts: 1 triple, 1 doubles, 2 surface, snowcat. Uphill capacity: 3300/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-40-30. Longest Run: 7400′. Season: usually Christmas week to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″.
The SKInny: Some people call this their favorite ski area on the planet. It’s certainly one of mine. The Coop is a bit hickish for most vacationers…no cutesy clocktower village or fireworks shows. It’s also a mid-sized area — small by Colorado standards — so the crowds pooh-pooh it. That leaves Cooper to the locals, a few Texans, and a handful of Easterners who get lost and stumble upon it. The terrain at Cooper isn’t tough, the lifts aren’t fast, but the conditions and uncrowded slopes are fabulous. Excellent for occasional skiers who like to swoop and glide, camp in no-frills motels and throw down a few drafts at a fraction of the cost of Aspen/Vail/Summit etc. The trails are meticulously groomed and largely gentle; a few are left ungroomed but are not overly steep. No snowmaking here, so the snow underfoot is usually incredible. On some days you could easily ski the Coop and leave your metal edges at home. Think about that. Snowcat skiing is a special treat, and opens up some wild bowl skiing for the well-heeled skier. Most of us can’t afford the snowcat, but with so many options in-bounds, we really don’t need it. 4-5 minute lift lines sometimes form on weekends, only because the equipment is a bit dated. If you’re into skiing, being real, and don’t need a mint on your pillow, think Cooper. Probably the least touristy ski destination in the state. Hotshots will find a few challenges, but no audience to stroke the ego. Wanderers will be positively thrilled; despite Cooper’s (relatively) modest size there are plenty of hidden glades, countless crossovers, and endless meadows. Families or any skiers seeking a quiet, unstressed experience will find Cooper hard to beat. This is one of those places where, when they close the lifts down at 4:00 pm, you wonder where the time went. If I don’t make it back to Breckenridge…eh. If I don’t make it back to Cooper…now THAT would suck.
Signature Trail: Molly Malone, Trail’s End.
Copper Mountain, Summit County • 2433 skiable acres on 2601′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,313′; Base elevation: 9712′. 22 Lifts: 1 sixpack, 4 quads, 5 triples, 5 doubles, 3 magic carpets, 4 surface. Uphill capacity: 30,630/hr. Terrain Mix: 21-25-36-18. Longest Run: 14,784′. Season: usually early November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 280″. Snowmaking: 16%.
The SKInny: Copper is part of the Intrawest skiing conglomerate, known for Whistler, Stratton, Solitude, and others. Intrawest takes a lot of knocks from the ski community, but you have to step back a moment and look at the big picture…Intrawest replaces clunky, junky lifts with safe, high capacity detachables. Once Intrawest takes over, lines become shorter, rides up the mountain take less time, and grooming (where appropriate) is improved immensely. Trails at Intrawest resorts tend to be open, which is a novel concept at some ski areas. Now, with all this good, you’ve got to take some bad. Intrawest raises prices, and builds cookie-cutter Potemkin Villages at the base areas…call them Intrawestvilles…and they take some grief for lacking architectural ambiance and design character. Remember that Intrawest is a Canadian company, and Canada is not widely known for its cutting edge design community, eh? They don’t care if the architecture works, they only care if you reach for your wallet as you meander through the village. Anyway, the key to skiing at Intrawest resorts is to buy a multi-use card or voucher…three visits for $295, that sort of thing. For locals unable to swing a season’s pass, these are great deals. For the rest of the world, you’re traveling a bunch of miles and laying out some serious dough to get there…why quibble about a price hike? Anyway, as far as the skiing is concerned, Intrawest is known for taming some trails, cutting down a few potentially hazardous trees, erecting fences where they aren’t necessarily needed, etc., so some Copper fans may notice a favorite tree or two missing on a few classic trails. Copper has always been about two things: Great terrain for intermediates, great bowls for the experts, even a nice open bowl for the novice (Rendezvous chair), and great snow for everybody. These things haven’t changed; Copper is still one of the finest ski areas in the country, only now the infrastructure is better than ever. Two separate back bowl areas offer some of the most enjoyable skiing and scenery you could hope for. It is also well known for separating various levels of skiers…novice, intermediate, and expert terrain all have their distinct areas, so skiing styles don’t clash, and a lot of misunderstandings and problems are avoided. Families, beginners, experts, hotshots, intermediates and wanderers will all love this place. The only people who won’t are the old-line Copper skiers, who need to realize that change is inevitable…otherwise we’d still be grabbing ropes powered by 1936 Hudsons.
Signature Trails: Drainpipe, Fremont Glades
Cranor Hill, Gunnison • ±12 skiable acres on 329′ lift-served vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8189′; Base elevation: 7860′. 1 poma surface lift. Uphill capacity: 600/hr. Terrain Mix: Yes. Longest Run: 2000-2500′. Season: usually late December to March; open weekends and holidays. Rentals; warming hut. Annual Snowfall: 46″. No snowmaking.
The SKInny: Here’s a little town tow that skis plenty big. When conditions are on, it’s a wide-open bowl and an absolute hoot. When conditions aren’t on, it’s still an absolute hoot. If you’re headed to Crested Butte you owe it to yourself as a skier to get here, buy a ticket, and make some turns with the kids. You’ll be keeping it real, and you’ll be glad you did. Click here for a little more information, photos and whatnot on the Colorado Ski History website.
Crested Butte, Crested Butte • 1058 skiable acres on 2775′ lift-served vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,162′; Base elevation: 9100′. Vertical with short hike is 3,062. 14 Lifts: 3 quads, 3 triples, 3 doubles, 2 magic carpets, 3 surface. Uphill capacity: 17,640/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-44-10-31. Longest Run: 13,750′. Season: usually mid-December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 240″. Snowmaking: 30%.
The SKInny: If your idea of skiing is an Aspen/Vail/Copper/Beaver Creek condo/village/golf/mall megaplex, you’d be advised to stay away from Crested Butte. Gunnison ain’t Denver…heck, it ain’t even Durango. And Crested Butte ain’t Aspen. This is skiing for skiers…not golfers, poseurs, glitterati or schedule-heavy SUV families that require toney condos and leave the slopes early to get a table at Outback Steakhouse before heading to the multiplex cinema. If you’re concerned that Crested Butte doesn’t offer a lot of alternative entertainment, don’t go…you don’t ski hard enough. If you do it right, you’re too tired to do anything afterward. It’s uncrowded. It’s big, it’s steep, it’s skiing. But hey, the bulk of the mountain is intermediate groomers; the back terrain “Extreme Limits” is the realm of double-black, pedal-to-the-metal hotshots. Read again: This is Colorado for real skiers who require minimal fluff and glitz, and don’t mind leaving the bright lights and the big crowds.
Update: Crested Butte recently acquired by Vail Resorts Inc., which will undoubtedly have some effect on the local scene. We’ll see. Vail seldom buys namesake ski resorts without ruffling some feathers in the namesake community. Refer to Park City Utah as an example.
Signature Trails: Rachel’s, Glades, Banana Chute
Durango Mountain Resort see Purgatory Resort, below.
Echo Mountain Resort, Idaho Springs • 80 skiable acres on 660′ vertical — Scheduled to Re-open 2017-18 season
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,500′; Base elevation: 10,500′. Lifts: 1 triple, 2 surface. Terrain Mix: varies; emphasis on park features. 15 stated trails. Longest Run: 3,000′. Season: usually early December to late April or early May. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 220″. Snowmaking. Closed Tuesdays; open for night skiing Monday & Weds-Sat. Open til 5:00 pm Sundays.
The SKInny: Here’s a ski area that has been resurrected from the dead — [EDIT: Operational status is unconfirmed; Website is again active and Echo has been added to the GEMS Card this year]. It’s an “upside down” hill (base lodge at the top) that has been re-introduced as a park’n’pipe haven close to Denver. Originally it was heavily targeted to boarding when it reopened a couple years ago; the emergence of twin tips and stagnation of snowboarding has led it to become a regular place that just has a lot of youth and park stuff. They also have regular old trails for novices, as well as tree terrain for the experts. It’s also just 40 miles from Denver, so how can it go wrong? Unfortunately the road to reach it can be an adventure in inclement weather, and it is so windy and circuitous that you can often reach Loveland or Eldora in the same drive time. But we like Echo for it’s smaller, funkier attitude; and it blows away the bigger areas in terms of catering to youth. Good stuff here. Signature Route: Westside Glades.
Eldora Mountain , Cuchara • 680 skiable acres on 1400′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,800′; Base elevation: 9300′. 12 Lifts: 2 quads, 2 triples, 4 doubles, 4 surface. Uphill capacity: 11,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-50-30. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually October/November to April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 85%.
The SKInny: “Eldo” is known for having a fantastic “back bowl,” being close to Denver, and having deathly slow lifts. Liftlines are short, terrain is good with something for all abilities. Yes, it is only a “mid-sized” mountain, but it’s now operated by Powdr Corp and they’ve upgraded the key lifts. Fact is now you’d be hard pressed to find a better ski area so very close to so many people. “Small” as it is, even the wanderer can go a long way before being bored at Eldora. Hotshots can stick to the West Ridge area and have a full plate. It ain’t Aspen…and sometimes that ain’t bad.
Signature Trails: West Ridge Trail, Moose Glades.
Granby Ranch (Silver Creek), Granby • 406 skiable acres on 1000′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9200′; Base elevation: 8200′. 5 Lifts: 2 quads, 1 triple, 1 double, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 5400/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-50-20. Longest Run: 7920′. Season: usually mid December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 220″. Snowmaking: 60%.
The SKInny: This is a familycondogolfski resort, ideal for beginners, kids, families, novices, families with kids, golfers attempting to ski, golfers with kids…you get the idea. One entire mountain for novice types. Great for what it is; hotshots and seasoned skiers ought to avoid Granby Ranch. Nice layout — East Mountain for developing skiers, West Mountain for advanced skiers, but lots of slow skiing zones and other claptrap will frustrate the true skier. Wanderers will last a day, but that’s about it. Now, for the family, or young couple where, let’s say she skis but he’s a beginner, Granby is simply fantastic. Conditions are awesome, lines move right along…probably Colorado’s best for young family ski groups.
Signature Trail: Widowmaker.
Ski Hesperus , Durango • 80 skiable acres on 700′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8,800′; Base elevation: 8,100′. 2 Lifts: 1 double, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 1,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-20-30-20. Longest Run: 5,500′. Season: usually late November to mid April. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150″. Snowmaking: 85%.
The SKInny: This is “Durango’s Other Ski Area,” and it’s really a locals’ domain. Small even by East-coast standards, it makes up for in quality skiing what it lacks in size. Frequently outstanding conditions, excellent, incredible views of the Four Corners region. No lift lines — not many lifts, for that matter. True southwest skiing. Mountain is well divied up for various skill levels. Popular for night skiing.
Signature Trail: East of East.
Howelsen Hill, Steamboat Springs • 150 skiable acres on 440′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7136′; Base elevation: 6696′. 3 Lifts: 1 double, 1 poma, 1 pony tow. Uphill capacity: 2,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-30-50. Longest Run: 5,500′. Season: usually late November to March. Night skiing. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: 30%.
The SKInny: The oldest continuously operating ski area in the state, it is a throwback to a bygone era. Probably more famous for its nordic jumping facility and nordie training than downhill skiing. A fun alternative in Steamboat that deserves a visit.
Kendall Mountain Recreation Area, Silverton • 35 skiable acres on 500′ vertical
Specs: 1 double chairlift. 11:00 AM thru 4:00 PM Fri/Sat/Sun. Annual Snowfall: 200″+.
The SKInny: Town-operated ski area; new lift and new base lodge make this one of the best Recreation Dept. ski areas in the country. Cheap tickets, great scenery. If you consider Kendall Mountain for beginners and low-end intermediates, and now nearby Silverton Mountain for experts, the community of Silverton is quite possibly your last best chance for a legitimate western mountain town ski experience without a phony clocktower village. Rooms at the Triangle Motel start at $50.
Keystone, Summit County • 1861 skiable acres on 2900′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,200′; Base elevation: 9300′. 21 Lifts: 2 gondies, 1 sixpack, 6 quads, 1 triple, 4 doubles, 5 magic carpets, 2 surface. Uphill capacity: 35,175/hr. Terrain Mix: 12-29-5-54. Longest Run: 15,840′. Season: usually mid November to late April. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 230″. Snowmaking: 49%.
The SKInny: Unique layout here, wanderers will love this place…three mountains, one stacked right behind the other, getting tougher as you progress, uh, backward. The skiers who will like Keystone the most are 2nd and 3rd year intermediate types, and pedal-to-the-metal experts…but we’re really being picky here…everybody loves Keystone. Has some of the best, longest green & blue terrain in Colorado. Keystone Mountain lifts (up front) tend to be the most crowded, but if you work this place right it’s certainly big enough to keep moving. Hotshots can work the bump runs — Ambush, Powder Cap, Geronimo, etc. on North Peak (Outpost gondola) and stay busy for awhile. Also, it’s one of the few major western resorts to offer night skiing. What little we’ve seen of this, it is not at all crowded. One might wonder, what with so much fabulous day skiing, why anyone would bother with night skiing. This is a big resort, something for everyone in the Breck/Copper class.
Signature Trails: Black Forest area.
Loveland Ski Resort, Georgetown • 1365 skiable acres on 2410′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 13,010′; Base elevation: 10,600′. 11 Lifts: 3 quads, 2 triples, 4 doubles, 1 mitey-mite, 1 poma. Uphill capacity: 14,293/hr. Terrain Mix: 17-42-41. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually late October to early May. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400″. Snowmaking: 12%.
The SKInny: Ask the regulars, the locals, the skiers, and they’ll universally agree: Loveland is probably the best all-around ski value in Colorado. If you’re the type who prefers resort complexes that happen to offer skiing, avoid Loveland. If you’re a skier who enjoys skiing, and you don’t require jacuzzis, touristy restaurants, microbrews and trendy shoppes, Loveland should be your first choice. Actually two ski areas in one; Loveland Valley is a small novice/intermediate area, and Loveland Basin is the big boy, with bump runs, groomed cruisers, glades, bowls, novice runs, cliff hucks, you name it. Clearly one of the most underrated ski areas in the country. Watch the weather; Loveland tends to have more hardpack/ice than other Summit County areas; it can also be windblown. If you pick an extremely windy, icy day, you’ll find chairs on wind hold, and arctic conditions everywhere else. But when the sun is shining and all is good, Loveland is a fabulous ski area. Our only gripe is that there is no place to leave your boot bag, unless you want to rent a ridiculously-priced locker. It’s gotten to the point where they sweep the lodge and pick up unattended bags. We hate that stuff. This is a policy Loveland needs to change; they have enough negatives to overcome in terms of wind and hardpack that they shouldn’t be turning people off with an absurd no-bag policy. Back to the hill…A quad chair (the #9 chair, highest chairlift on the planet) services the previously hiker-only “Ridge,” and is legendary bowl country. Intermediates are king at Loveland, but the hotshot will have plenty to keep busy. As Loveland is in the top ten in size in Colorado, the wanderer can spend a few days or a lifetime here before getting bored. Tickets are reasonable, parking is free, condos are nonexistent. Go for it.
Signature Trails: Avalanche Bowl, Patrol Bowl, Splashdown, Our Bowl.
Monarch Ski & Snowboard Area, Monarch • 670 skiable acres on 1170′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,961′; Base elevation: 10,790′. 5 Lifts: 1 quad, 4 doubles. Uphill capacity: 6100/hr. Terrain Mix: 21-37-42. Longest Run: 5288′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350″.
The SKInny: Another of the “smaller is better” ski areas. Regulars swear by Monarch; great scenery, laid back atmosphere, minimal (read: none) resortish/golfish/condo nonsense. Not really the best Colorado has for hotshots or wanderers, but the average skier, family, etc. will love it here. Liftlines range from short to nonexistent. Also interesting is the layout, which offers some bowl type stuff, some traditional Rocky Mt runs, and some ridge/canyon routes that provide some great diversity. Known for powder and affordable, no-frills skiing…but the fact that the word “snowboard” has been added to the name is troubling.
Signature Trail: Slo-Motion.
Powderhorn Resort, Mesa • 510 skiable acres on 1650′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9850′; Base elevation: 8200′. 4 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 4370/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-50-15-15. Longest Run: 11,600′. Season: usually early December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: 15%.
The SKInny: Don’t be put off by “resort” in the name. This is a small, personable ski with great terrain and generally good conditions. The sort of place where everybody seems to know everybody else, you don’t have to wait on liftlines, and the lifties chat things up if you get them started. Closest town is Grand Junction, beyond that is nothing but desert, so don’t expect Powderhorn to be Vail or ever become Vail. Not really a destination type place, just a good, all-around ski area. Lifts crawl a bit, but be warned that a day at Powderhorn will make the high-speed commercial resorts seem less appealling to the true skier. Not for hotshots, but wanderers will enjoy the range and variety.
Signature Trail: Snow Cloud.
Purgatory Resort, Durango • 1200 skiable acres on 2029′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,822′; Base elevation: 8793′. 11 Lifts: 1 sixpack, 1 quad, 4 triples, 3 doubles, 1 magic carpet, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 15,050/hr. Terrain Mix: 23-51-26. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 260″. Snowmaking: 21%.
The SKInny: A lot of southern Colorado fans were upset when their beloved Purgatory was renamed “Durango Mountain Resort.” Gotta admit, Purgatory sounds like a wild sort of place, and the toned down moniker sounded more like a golf course. Fortunately a Durango local took over a couple years ago and set things straight again, Purgatory it is. As for the skiing and riding, although the majority of runs are nicely groomed blues, the hotshot can find plenty to do here. At the other extreme, absolute beginners will love the Columbine area with its reduced (but limited) ticket price. Young families will do well here, starting on the ample green terrain and moving up to the meticulously groomed blues. Wanderers may not like Purgatory as much as the monster Colorado resorts, but should be satisfied by the variety of “sub areas” and the work-around lift arrangement. And everybody will like the short liftlines.
Signature Trails: Dead Spike, Bull Run.
Silver Creek see Granby Ranch, above.
Ruby Hill Rail Yard, Denver • 1 acre urban terrain park
The SKInny: Each January the city of Denver Parks and Rec Dept., Winter Park Resort and a bunch of volunteers lay down a few feet of snow and install a number of features to create a one-acre square, hike-up terrain park for local youth. The park is free and open to the public daily until 9:00 pm, conditions permitting. It’s an outstanding outlet for the youth, and hopefully creating a new crop of skiers and riders as well.
Silverton Mountain, Silverton • 1900′ lift served vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,300′; Base elevation: 10,400′. 1 double. Uphill capacity: 8 skiers/guide; guided skiers only. Private guided descents available. Most groups average 4-5 runs per day. Terrain Mix: 100% expert. Reservations & Avalanche gear required. Ski area offers powder ski rentals and avalanche gear rentals. Longest Run: 3,000′ vertical descent with hike. Season: usually late November to mid April. Annual Snowfall: 400″.
The SKInny: This is the cutting edge ski “area” in the lower 48 right now. It’s also the newest large sized ski area in the country. Lots of Colorado ski areas claim to be environmentally friendly, but the elk herd and the native trout would disagree if they could. Silverton really is enviro-friendly; it has no snowmaking, no clocktower village, no golf course, no condos, and no new roads were built to service the lift. Opened January 2002 on BLM land, Silverton Mountain, with a single lift, recycled from Mammoth in California. Skiing is limited to a specific number of skiers/day; you can generally expect to have no more than 80 skiers on the mountain at any one time. Runs range from 30° to 55°, from expert powder runs to extreme chutes. Not for the average skier — BUT if you are an advanced or expert skier, this is a must-ski. Ski a full day at Silverton, and while you are lying in an exhausted heap afterward, you will realize that this is what a ski area should be, and that sometime during the day you moved beyond the need for the absurd trappings of the Vails and Aspens.
Sol Vista see Granby Ranch, above.
Steamboat Ski Resort, Steamboat Springs • 2,939 skiable acres on 3,668′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,568′; Base elevation: 6900′. 25 Lifts: 1 gondie, 5 quads, 6 triples, 6 doubles, 7 surface. Uphill capacity: 36,195/hr. Terrain Mix: 13-56-31. Longest Run: 15,840′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 335″. Snowmaking: 15%.
The SKInny: SkiTown USA…Steamboat is one of those classic places you have to ski at — partly for the skiing, partly for the ambiance. Pure, contemporary Colorado, complete with working cattle ranches. A sleepy little ski resort until US ski team member Bill Kidd donned a cowboy hat and the image was remade in the early 70s. Not all the locals appreciate this, but a secret as good as Steamboat was bound to get out sooner or later. Not much needs to be said about the skiing. Six mountains, 3,000 acres, bowls, glades, groomers, moguls, you name it. If you can’t find it here, you can’t find it, period. Wanderers, hotshots, extreme skiers, families, beginners — even condogolfthemerestaurant types — Steamboat has something for everyone. Novices and intermediates should check the grooming/trail report prior to hitting the slopes, as Steamboat is known for moguls. Probably the most reasonably priced of the big Colorado resorts (if there is such a thing). Operated by Intrawest, who have a history of improving infrastructure but — for some strange reason — liftlines seem to get long at Intrawest properties.
Signature Trail: Christmas Tree Bowl.
Sunlight Mountain Resort, Glenwood Springs • 470 skiable acres on 2,010′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9895′; Base elevation: 7885′. 4 Lifts: 1 triple, 2 doubles, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 4600/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-55-20-5. Longest Run: 13,200′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: 12%.
The SKInny: One of the “smaller” big mountains, but certainly no slouch. The knock on Sunlight is the older lift system, and that you have to combine lifts to reach the summit. But the stepped lift setup somehow keeps things moving, keeps lines short, and gives the place a sense of having more runs than it actually does. Other than the lifts, Sunlight is terrific. No pretense here — this is no Aspen or Vail. Plenty of good terrain…novice and intermediates are king at Sunlight, but there is some nasty, nasty stuff for the hotshot. The wanderer can spend a day here and not be bored at all. Beginners have a separate area. Excellent all-around.
Signature Trail: Ute. (outstanding green trail)
Telluride, Telluride • 1700 skiable acres on 3,530′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,260′; Base elevation: 8725′. 16 Lifts: 1 gondie, 7 quads, 2 triples, 2 doubles, 1 platter, 1 magic carpet. Uphill capacity: 21,186/hr. Terrain Mix: 24-38-38. Longest Run: 24,288′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 15%.
The SKInny: Although just as trendy, Telluride is a world away from Aspen/Vail/Summit County, etc. more of a “southwestern” resort with a markedly different atmosphere. One distressing similarity, however, is the relatively high price tag that seems to come with being trendy. Bring your wallet, and make sure it’s stuffed full before you arrive, because it will empty rapidly. In fact, many skiers spend their nights in Montrose, Ouray, etc. when skiing Telluride, to ease the depletion of their bank accounts. Oprah, Brad, and a few others hang here. As for the skiing, you positively can’t beat it. Better layout than its bigtime neighbors in central and northern Colorado, and much shorter liftlines. Telluride is a serious mountain, with awesome scenery and skiing, no question. Skiing for all types…hotshot, wanderer, families, beginners…some will argue that it is best all-around in CO., we’ll say top five…Sort of like half a dozen ski areas in one, terrific blend of forests, bowls, steeps and cruisers.
Signature Trail: Andy’s Gold.
Vail, Vail • 5289 skiable acres on 3,450′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,570′; Base elevation: 8120′. 34 Lifts: 1 gondie, 15 quads, 3 triples, 5 doubles, 9 surface. Uphill capacity: 51,781/hr. Terrain Mix: 28-32-40. Longest Run: 24,288′. Season: usually late November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 346″. Snowmaking: 7%.
The SKInny: Here’s one of the biggest the USA has to offer…terrain, reputation, and cost, Vail is arguably #1. It also has big liftlines, big flats, big crowds. At the same time, the size of the place enables anybody and everybody to find some peaceful, outstanding skiing with no lines…assuming you have figured out a quick way to get there. Vail has so many lifts and trails on the front side, you can find yourself on a wide, hopelessly crowded trail one moment, and the next moment be on a nearly identical but empty trail…without the slightest clue how you arrived there. The seven back bowls are often touted as one of the draws at Vail, and that’s true, they are. Blue Sky Basin is supposedly a backcountry experience, if you consider a mountain with lifts and crowds to be backcountry. We’ll call it “civilized” backcountry, and it’s wonderful — but you will find other skiers where you least expect them. This is a fantastic, unbelievable ski area…HOWEVER, do know that while Vail has lots and lots of everything, it isn’t the ultimate ski destination for any one type of skier…wanderers will like it, but the lift layout is frustrating. Wandering takes a lot of time here. Hotshots will say it’s great, but not the most challenging. Full-blown beginnners will be knocked over by the sheer size of this place. Families will have a great time, but will have trouble finding one another if they split up. In a way it’s like a giant theme park…you know you gotta go there, even though you realize everyone in the group will be exhausted and everyone under age ten will be bawling by noon. Other Colorado resorts have better snow, better scenery, better lift layout…but few have all of it to the degree Vail has. It’s Vail, and it’s number one for a reason: big, incomprehensible, fantastic, expensive, fabulous. Be advised that this has come at a steep price to the region, both environmentally and socially. Buy in advance — the price of a single day adult lift ticket at the window will empty your wallet.
Signature Trail: Many people have their favorites, however, Riva Ridge is still the quintessential Vail run. For many years now, Riva is groomed every 4th day.
Winter Park Ski Resort, Winter Park • 3,060 skiable acres on 2,610′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 12,060′; Base elevation: 9000′. 25 Lifts: 2 sixpacks, 7 quads, 4 triples, 6 doubles, 1 t-bar, 1 platter pull, 1 rope tow, 3 magic carpets. Uphill capacity: 38,370/hr. Terrain Mix: 8-17-19-56. Longest Run: 5.5 miles. Season: usually early November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 354″. Snowmaking: 10%.
The SKInny: Compared to Vail, Winter Park is “a festivus for the restofus.” Not as big, but certainly not as pricey. With what is essentially five or six ski areas in one, Winter Park is plenty big enough for everybody, but short on glitz and glamour. This is the resort area the everyday American visits…free shuttles, tubing, horse-drawn sleigh rides…and skiing, skiing, skiing without the distraction of pretense and celebrity. Hotshots have their own mountain, the relatively “new” (1975) Mary Jane ski area. Parsenn Bowl, Vazquez Cirque and Winter Park’s main mountain have something for everyone, and plenty of it. Liftlines can get long on weekends, but if you fan out you can keep moving nicely. Some have the impression that Winter Park is bump-city, experts-only, but that is due to the big reputation of the Mary Jane section. This is truly an all-around ski area, beloved by beginner and expert alike, with plenty of roaming for the wanderer. Excellent glades.
Signature Trails: Mary Jane (which is to say, the section called Mary Jane), Powder Express, Outhouse.
Bumper Sticker: No Pain, No Jane
Wolf Creek, Pagosa Springs • 1600 skiable acres on 1604′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,904′; Base elevation: 10,300′. 6 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 triples, 2 doubles, 1 magic carpet. Uphill capacity: 8280/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-35-25-20. Longest Run: 10,560′. 500 additional acres served by snowcat. Season: usually early November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 465″.
The SKInny: Snowmaking? If they really, really tried, you could probably ski 10 months a year in this Central Colorado dumping ground, which averages 39′ per. Although “small” by Colorado standards, this is a mid-sized vertical that really delivers. Reasonably priced, plenty of terrain, zero liftlines (usually). With all this, Wolf Creek has managed to avoid being gobbled up by a mega-resort operator, remaining a family-run gem…probably due to its hard-to-get-to location. Take our advice: Make the effort. Wolf Creek is a sleeper. Wanderers will love this place, a number of trails have a “getting lost” feel, and you can zip between most of the gladed stuff and, in a sense, almost make your own trails. All-around wonderful, even if you don’t venture off the main area.
Signature Trails: Knife Ridge, Tranquility.
Some more Colorado ski links…
Guide to a Reasonable Family Ski Vacation in Colorado
A workable plan for intermediate and novice easterners, midwesterners, and Texans who want to ski Colorado without breaking their legs or their wallets.
OK it’s Saturday in Summit County, and everybody is headed somewhere. Where you gonna go?
Colorado Ski History
General website with lost ski areas, lift history, trivia, news, you name it. A must-click.
Colorado Skier Safety Statute
Transcript of the law enacted in 1979. This isn’t required reading, but it is interesting to know what ski area operators are required to do, and what skiers are not permitted to do.
If you’re into throwback ski areas — the ones Colorado so cleverly calls the “gems,” there is an outstanding book we recommend for discovering the state’s “Lost” ski areas. There are dozens of ski areas that now lie dormant, some impossible to identify without this guide…others are so well preserved that you could swear you’d see ghost skiers. The book is called Powder Ghost Towns: Epic Backcountry Runs in Colorado’s Lost Ski Resorts by Peter Bronski. A nice advantage to this book is that it not only tells you how to find these places, but how to ski and board them as well.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.