FRASER, Colo. — The trees are bare, the snow is falling somewhere, it’s time to ski. But where?
Colorado, naturally, world famous for sunny days and intermittent dumps of deep dry powder.
Which one of the following Eight Great Colorado ski areas works for you? Read on:
1 Steamboat Resort, Steamboat Springs; www.steamboat.com. 877-237-2628,
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 multiday 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. So a family of four can ski for the price of two 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.
2 Winter Park Resort, Winter Park; www.ski winterpark.com. 800-979-0322.
In a hurry? If you ski just once a year or mostly on long weekends, make the most of every hour at Winter Park Resort, 67 miles west of Denver. You’ll be on Winter Park’s 3,060 skiable acres by noon and hucking Parsenn Bowl’s fresh powder by 2 p.m. 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.
3 Snowmass Resort, near Aspen; www.aspensnow mass.com. 877-682-7736.
Does ski-in ski-out lodging make your day? 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’ll be livin’ large when you stay in one of the resort’s 2,400 rental units 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 larger luxury homes.
Stay on the snow and be there to carve “first tracks” on Snowmass’ four big mountains.
4 Arapahoe Basin, near Dillon. www.arapahoe basin.com. 888-272-7246.
Looking for wild and woolly slopes, those deep powder glades and 55-degree steeps? Go for it at Arapahoe Basin six 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. 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. Lunch on this mountain is just an intermission between downhill runs.
As the website boasts, “there’s no lodges, no condos and no hotels” at this ski area’s base. Most people stay at Keystone Resort; most, in fact, ski both resorts on the same trip.
5 Aspen, at Aspen. www.aspensnowmass.com. 800-525-6200.
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.
The West’s most iconic ski area, 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 mecca with art galleries, fashion salons, antiques shops, music venues and hotels.
Hoping to spot a famous face? Dine at Montagna in the Little Nell, where chef Ryan Hardy makes magic with organic, home-grown ingredients. Or order Japanese fusion entrees at Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant.
6 Keystone Resort, near Dillon; www.keystone resort.com. 800-468-5004.
What’s a family to do when not everybody skis? Keystone Resort is geared for guests of all ages. Treat yourself to a winter vacation at this 3,148-acre resort, and you can do it all. 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 sign up for a snow cat ride into the high back country, take fly-fishing lessons (trout bite in winter, too) or go for a sleigh ride.
For indoor activities, spend an afternoon at the solar-powered spa at Keystone Lodge. 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.
7 Crested Butte, in Crested Butte; www.skicb.com. 800-841-2481.
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 crowded on weekends and wide open on weekdays. It has big views, uncrowded trails and Colorado’s funkiest old-time ranch town at the base.
Crested Butte had a recent multimillion-dollar upgrade to trails, chair lifts, terrain parks, restaurants and base area hotels. One caveat: 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.
8 Vail, at Vail; www.vail.snow.com. 800-404-3535. (970) 845-5745.
Do you shrink from crowded ski slopes and long lift lines? Cut loose and fly at Vail, the largest of Colorado’s ski areas. Spread over seven miles of mountains, Vail’s 5,289 skiable acres encompass three 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 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. In these secluded back-country valleys, most trails are rated more or most difficult, with an occasional intermediate trail.
Private lessons help beginners get a head start, Steamboat Ski Resort. (MCT)×
Deep powder drifts in a forest glade after a snowstorm in Aspen’s ski area.×
At the top of the Alice-in-Wonderland trails, Winter Park Resort. (MCT)×
Groomed blue runs and sunny skies make great skiing, Keystone Resort. (MCT)×
Deep powder drifts in a forest glade after a snowstorm, Aspen Ski Area. (MCT)×