Winter in Colorado offers something for everyone, but it is for the skiing and snowboarding that people visit in droves every year. We’ve broken up ski country into a few different categories depending on who you’re with and your skill level.
FOR ADVANCED TERRAIN
1. ASPEN HIGHLANDS
Aspen Snowmass may be one of the most famous ski resorts in the county and one that is synonymous with luxury, but this four-mountain destination has some seriously tough runs. Of the four mountains, Aspen Highlands comes in at second in terms of size with just over 1,000 acres of skiable terrain and 84 miles of trails, but it is the fact that 65 percent of those 84 miles are rated as expert - aka double black diamond - while the other mountains - Snowmass, Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk come in at 30, 26 and 5 percent respectively for expert runs. Highland Bowl offers 2,500-vertical-foot descents down pitches as steep as 45 degrees if you’re looking for a real test.
2. CRESTED BUTTE
The big news this season at Crested Butte Mountain Resort is a new lift courtesy of the resort’s acquisition by Vail Resorts. Whether you like the idea or not, there is no doubt that more investment will follow the new Teocalli Lift. However, for the adventurous (and brave) skiers and snowboarders, it is an old feature that will appeal. Rambo, the steepest run in the entire country and according to many the scariest, too, is just 300 yards long. But while it might not sound that intimidating, it offers no respite thanks to it maintaining a pitch of 55 degrees from top to bottom.
3. SILVERTON MOUNTAIN
The highest and steepest ski area in North America, Silverton Mountain has 1,819 acres and offers descents in every direction including bowls, chutes and cliffs. From the top of the single lift, a short hike rewards skiers with 3,000 feet in vertical drop in a single run. Then there is heli skiing and snowboarding that opens up another 30,000 acres. Silverton Mountain is also the only operator in the continental United States that offers single drops. If you’re in town on Feb. 8, consider watching (or signing up for) Silverton Whiteout, an annual 10-hour fat tire bike race. Read more about Silverton on page 38.
4. MONARCH MOUNTAIN
One of the smaller resorts in Colorado with 800 acres, six lifts and 66 trails, Monarch celebrates its 80th anniversary this season with more tree skiing and a new kid-friendly, interpretive ski run. Independently owned, Monarch is rarely crowded and powder can last for days instead of hours. Sitting atop the Continental Divide, Monarch also has a guided snowcat operation that offers access to an additional 1,635 acres of steep, technical terrain. Every Friday in December, January and February visitors can ski with a naturalist who will talk about the ecology of the area.
5. VAIL SKI RESORT
With 5,317 acres of skiable terrain, Vail is one of the best-known ski resorts in the world and the largest ski area in Colorado, and as such has lots of runs for all skill levels. This year, Vail has unveiled the first phase of an ambitious snow-making expansion that will create more reliable early- and late-season conditions with higher-quality snow. The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum, which was renovated just last year, is worth checking out, too. It has six exhibit bays, a theater and three state-of-the-art interactive touch screen exhibits which should keep kids occupied for half an hour. Free for all, the museum is located in the Vail Village parking structure.
6. BEAVER CREEK
Known as the state’s luxury family ski resort, Beaver Creek has plenty of terrain for learners and some kid-friendly amenities like free cookies every afternoon. Totaling 1,832 acres with 23 lifts and 150 trails, Beaver Creek debuted Haymeadow Park, a second dedicated learning area, last winter (and Red Buffalo Park the year before). This season, the resort will expand its snow-making system at Red Buffalo Park and unveil a newly renovated Children’s Ski School and a remodeled Village. Beaver Creek is also on the Epic Pass.
7. COPPER MOUNTAIN
Just off I-70, Copper is great for beginners thanks to the way the terrain is naturally divided with the right side of the resort being almost entirely green runs meaning you won’t have expert skiers whizzing by you as you slide slowly down the mountain. Copper also has high alpine terrain options for beginners including green runs Wheeler Creek and Union Park. Beginners can also take Rendezvous and unload in the saddle between Copper Mountain and the Union Peak lift, which offers one of the best views at Copper. There’s even a deck there where you can hang out. There is also the “learn to ski” zone between the East Village and Center Village. For the more advanced, Copper’s new Three Bears lift will unlock an additional 273 acres of expert terrain previously serviced by the Tucker Mountain snow cat and hiking.
8. PURGATORY RESORT
Just over half an hour from Durango, this season Purgatory will offer free ski and snowboard lessons to all first-time snowboarders and skiers of all ages. With the purchase of a full-day, full-price lift ticket, beginners can join a four-hour group lesson. Once you’ve mastered your pizza and French fries, you can explore Purg’s 101 trails across 1,605 acres that are accessed by a dozen lifts. Purgatory is a reliable bet for skiing and boarding thanks to an average of 260 inches of snow a year. For something away from the slopes, there is the Inferno Mountain Coaster. Kids under 10 get a free season pass.
9. ECHO MOUNTAIN
Just west of Evergreen and less than an hour from Denver, Echo Mountain has a different take on teaching people to ski and snowboard. Echo Mountain Ambassadors are basically a team of skiing and snowboarding coaches that roam the beginner area (which doubled in size last year from the previous year) offering pointers, tips, and suggestions. Of course, Echo Mountain is also good for those who already know how to ski and snowboard. With 60 acres of terrain, one lift and a handful of trails, along with Night Skiing until 9 pm Wednesday through Saturday, Echo isn’t the largest resort - far from it - but it has faithfully served (primarily) the Denver area on and off since 1960. There is also a tubing hill that opened last year.
FOR SOLITUDE SEEKERS
A 15-minute drive from Leadville, Cooper is a great spot to avoid long lift lines. The mountain has a variety of terrain that will suit just about everybody, including some great learning and beginner terrain, but it is the lift lines - or lack thereof - that makes Cooper a great place for those who want to get as many runs in as possible. With 60 trails served by five lifts and spanning 470 acres, Cooper also offers snowcat skiing tours on Chicago Ridge that open up 2,600 acres of wide-open powder bowls and glades. There is also a ski and ride school. Cooper’s origins go back to the legendary soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division who cut the first trails on Cooper Hill for training exercises.
11. SUNLIGHT MOUNTAIN RESORT
Much like Powderhorn, Sunlight doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the state’s larger resorts, but what it lacks in notoriety it also lacks in queues which in turn means the powder lasts for days rather than hours. This season, Sunlight will unveil a $4 million expansion that will expand tree skiing, add five new hike back runs and an additional 500 vertical feet of skiing in the expert-only area. The expansion will take Sunlight to just under 800 acres, four lifts and 72 trails. The SnowShoe Shuffle, a five-mile snowshoe race that benefits Colorado Animal Rescue, takes place in February.
12. POWDERHORN MOUNTAIN RESORT
With 1,600 acres, four lifts and 50 trails, Powderhorn has been quietly getting on with offering great and affordable skiing without the lines you can experience at other resorts for over 50 years. At the heart of Grand Mesa, Powderhorn also lays claim to some of the best tree skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Just 45 minutes from Grand Junction, this ski season Powderhorn is offering what it is calling Mission: Four’dable quad packs - four fully transferable lift tickets for the season with no restrictions or blackout dates. Powderhorn has an annual Torchlight Parade and Fireworks Show on New Year’s Eve and at the end of the season it holds the annual Pond Skim.
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