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Colorado’s most wanted: 8 great ski resorts

By Anne Z. Cooke and Steve Haggerty
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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  • Book ’em

    Most Colorado ski resorts start to make snow as soon as nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. The resorts open by mid- to late November. Prices for single-day tickets are set when the resort opens. Multi-day lift ticket prices are already listed.

    Lodging packages and discounts are priced lower if purchased before the resort opens. It pays to call early.



FRASER, Colo. It’s time to ski. But where?

Colorado, naturally, world famous for sunny days and intermittent dumps of deep dry powder. Which one of these eight great ski areas works for you? Read on:

1. Steamboat Resort, Steamboat Springs

Family-friendly. How about a ski-free family vacation at Steamboat Resort, in Steamboat Springs? You’re not eligible, but your kids might be. For every adult who buys a multi-day lift pass, one child under 13 gets the same pass free. And they can stay free, too, as long as they’re bunking with you. Steamboat’s offer is a tremendous deal, the best in the West, one that means a family of four can ski for the price of two.

Invite another adult – Dad or your brother – and three kids can ski for free. It’s a one-to-one offer good for every run on Steamboat’s 2,965 acres. Then spend the money you’ve saved on lessons at the resort’s top-rated Kids’ Ski School. While the kids learn to carve turns, you can be skiing that trademarked “champagne powder” snow yourself. Details: www.steamboat.com.

2. Winter Park Resort, Winter Park.

Fast access. If you ski just once a year, or mostly on long weekends, make the most of every precious hour at Winter Park Resort, only 67 miles west of Denver. You’ll be on Winter Park’s 3,060 skiable acres by noon and Parsenn Bowl’s fresh powder by 2 o’clock. Here’s how: Reserve your rental skis in advance, book a dawn flight to Denver International Airport, board the shuttle bus at baggage claim (departing every hour), and you’ll be there in 90 minutes. Details: www.winterparkresort.com.

3. Snowmass Resort, near Aspen

Ski-in, ski-out. It’s oh-so-luxe to step out your door, click into your bindings and glide away to the nearest lift line.

At Snowmass Resort, you can stay in one of the resort’s 2,400 rental units (with beds for 8,750 skiers) clustered around the two main base villages.

Hotels, inns, condominiums, town homes… Snowmass has them all. Two on a budget can find a double room in a hotel; families and friends should check the two-, three- or four-bedroom condos and the four- to five-bedroom luxury homes. Details: www.aspensnowmass.com.

4. Keystone Resort, near Dillon

Diverse activities. What’s a family to do, when not everybody skis? Keystone Resort, geared for all ages, is the place to make it happen. Treat yourself to an all-around winter vacation at this 3,148-acre resort, and you can do it all. If you’re athletic, cross-country ski (or snow shoe) on groomed trails through the national forest, ice skate, ride a snow bike on the slopes or join the kids at the tubing hill. Or take fly fishing lessons (trout bite in winter, too) or go for a sleigh ride.

If you’d rather stick to indoor activities, spend an afternoon at the solar-powered spa at Keystone Lodge, where treatments include massages, mud-wraps, aromatherapy, facials and long soaks in the sauna or hot tub. Or ride up the River Run Gondola for lunch and a beer at the top. Another option is shopping and lunch in River Run Village, where a dozen shops carry winter fashions, souvenirs, gifts and sportswear. Details: www.keystoneresort.com.

5. Aspen, at Aspen

Chic. Tempted by bright lights and good eats? How about jazz clubs, celebrity bars and inspired cuisine? If apres-ski nightlife puts the wax on your skis, chill out at Aspen, where ski vacations are multi-dimensional.

Aspen is more than a 673-acre mountain where half the trails are rated for experts and half for intermediates. Aspen is where on-mountain dining caters to the rich and famous, and the top-of-the-gondola concierge serves hot cider.

The town, too, is a cultural draw with art galleries, one-off fashion salons, antique shops, classical music venues and hotels like the five-star Little Nell, at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola. Details: www.aspensnowmass.com.

6. Arapahoe Basin, near Dillon

Roughing it. Looking for wild and woolly slopes, those deep powder glades and 55-degree steeps? Go for it at Arapahoe Basin, 6 miles from Keystone Resort. Sporting North America’s highest marked ski trails (the summit is at 13,050 feet) 63-year-old A-Basin belongs to the locals, powder hounds who’ll tell you that skiing isn’t a sport; it’s all about being out there and pushing your limits.

A-Basin is surprisingly small – 900 skiable acres straddling the Continental Divide – but size doesn’t matter to real ski mavericks. Neither does the fact that there are only two places to eat and no lodgings at this ski area’s base (most people stay at Keystone Resort). Details: www.arapahoebasin.com.

7. Crested Butte, in Crested Butte

Altitude, attitude. If you’re looking for a natural-born high, ski at Crested Butte, 9,375 feet elevation at the base and 12,162 feet at the summit. Historically, this 1,167-acre ski area has been a weekend destination, crowded on Saturdays and Sundays and wide open on weekdays. With big views, uncrowded trails and Colorado’s funkiest old-time ranch town at the base, die-hard skiers feel like pigs in clover.

Happily, Crested Butte still feels that way despite a new resort owner and a recent multi-million-dollar upgrade to trails, chair lifts, terrain parks, restaurants and base area hotels. The mission is to keep the resort and the town afloat by providing up-to-date ski services and lodging, and filling those empty weekdays with a new kind of recreational skier.

Note: This resort is very high. Even the town, where most lodging is located, is at or above 8,800 feet. If you don’t do well in high places, Crested Butte may not be your best choice.

Details: www.skicb.com.

8. Vail, at Vail

Size, variety: Do you shrink from crowded ski slopes and long lift lines? Cut loose and fly at Vail, the behemoth, the big daddy, the largest of Colorado’s ski areas. Spread over 7 miles of mountains, Vail’s 5,289 skiable acres actually encompass three distinct areas – the Front Side, the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin.

Most recreational skiers stay on the Front Side, where beginner and intermediate trails predominate and skier services and on-mountain restaurants are located at regular intervals. Even here, the lift lines and many trails are rarely crowded.

Even so, good skiers – and some confident but not so skilled skiers – make a bee-line for the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin, where on a busy day, each acre averages only four skiers. In these secluded back-country valleys, most trails are rated more or most difficult, with an occasional intermediate trail offered as a sort of lifeline.

Skiing here reminds you that the best skiing isn’t really a social activity but the meeting of elemental forces: you and your skis in the mountains in winter. Details: www.vail.snow.com.

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