The Edge: Westword's winter activities guide helps you sort out the 2011-2012 season
Welcome to the online version of The Edge 2011-2012, Westword's annual insider's guide to winter activities. This season has already seen plenty of snow, and that's just the beginning, as the 25 resorts profiled below have added new terrain, lifts, features, events and restaurants. To sort it all out, we tracked down the people who know these mountains the best. Enjoy their take, and stay tuned to the Show and Tell blog all season long for daily updates on openings, closings, top-ten lists from the mountain, contests, coverage of the hottest events on the slopes and fresh-powder photography.
Page 2: Beaver Creek Resort
Page 3: Breckenridge
Page 4: Buttermilk Mountain
Copper Mountain Resort
Crested Butte Mountain Resort
Page 5: Echo Mountain
Eldora Mountain Resort
Page 6: Keystone Resort
Loveland Ski Area
Page 7: Monarch Mountain
Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort
Page 8: Silverton Mountain
Page 9: Ski Cooper
Page 10: SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch
Sunlight Mountain Resort
Page 11: Telluride Ski Resort
Page 12: Winter Park Resort
Page 13: Wolf Creek Ski Area
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
This mountain, known as "The Legend," won the race to open this year -- daily operations began on October 13 -- and will almost certainly be the last to close, as it was last summer, when patriotic skiers and snowboarders were still celebrating on the slopes on July 4.
A-Basin is best known for its extreme terrain on runs like Pallavicini, the East Wall chutes, the lift-served back bowls and easily hikeable "sidecountry" (don't miss the annual Beacon Bowl and Avalanche Awareness Day on February 11), but it's also an increasingly family-friendly ski area.
"We have three new kids' trails this season -- Moose Hollow, Lynx Lane and Weasel Way -- to get kids skiing and help them learn about the mountain environment they're playing in," says spokeswoman Kimberly Trembearth. "Beginners can find their legs on the Magic Carpet surface lift and the Molly Hogan bunny slope, then work their way up to the rest of the mountain and even into our progressive terrain parks."
The Black Mountain Express, new last season, cuts the trip to mid-mountain in half and decimates lift lines at the base area. And the formerly no-frills ski area has added other nice touches, such as the world-class Black Mountain Lodge restaurant at mid-mountain. Chef Christopher Rybak's Moonlight Dinner series is so popular that last year, the entire thing sold out months in advance. The series has been expanded for 2011-2012, with themed dinners including A Night in the Swiss Alps (December 10), New Year's Eve in the Mountains (December 31), A Night in France (February 4), A Night in Italy (March 3), A Night in Spain (April 7) and A Night in Asia (May 5). Ski, snowshoe or hike up -- or take that posh new chairlift ride -- then gorge yourself on the multi-course meal and burn off excess calories on the way down. The dinners start at $79 per person and are worth every penny; discounts are available for splurging on multiple events or booking the entire series via www.ArapahoeBasin.com.
The website's Hot Deals section features the best prices on everything from season passes and advance lift tickets to bargains on wax/edge tunes and rides on the Colorado Mountain Express Shuttle (the perfect designated driver for revelers planning to party on the legendary base-area "Beach"). Check out the Basin 411 for A-Basin's social-media feeds, webcams and mountain snapshots, and don't miss Al's Blog, where CEO Alan Henceroth likes to post chatty wish-you-were-here videos of himself getting dumped on and boast about A-Basin's numerous powder days.
Pick one of those days this season to pay your respects to A-Basin co-founders and Colorado Ski Hall of Famers Max Dercum and Marjorie "Marnie" Jump. Dercum -- one of seven ski pioneers who installed the first rope tow and opened A-Basin in 1946 -- died in September, a few days before what would have been his 99th birthday. Jump, 92, died in June; she came to Colorado in 1947 after serving in World War II, and is credited with financing the ski area's early operations as well as founding its ski school and the amputee ski program. (That program later moved to Winter Park and became the National Sports Center for the Disabled.)
General Information: www.ArapahoeBasin.com; 888-ARAPAHOE.
Location: 68 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 205, then twelve miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekends.
Snow Report: 888-ARAPAHOE.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $59 through December 16; regular-season rates TBA.
Terrain: 900 acres with 105 trails; 10 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 37 percent advanced, 23 percent expert. Base is 10,780', with a 2,270' vertical rise; summit: 13,050'.
Make your way to the Merry-Go-Round restaurant at Aspen Highlands to see what a $6 million remodel looks like at a mountain aiming for "grassroots style" and "duct-tape chic." The building is much more energy-efficient, and if you look up, you'll notice the LED lights, part of the Aspen Skiing Company's resort-wide green initiative to ban incandescent lightbulbs. The restaurant's official reopen coincides with Aspen's opening day (December 10), and the menu's been overhauled at this locals' favorite, too, with a new "home-style" BBQ station and pizza, pasta, soup and dessert options.
"Aspen invested more than $26 million in on-mountain improvements across all our resorts this summer, and you're going to notice it," says Snowmass spokeswoman Meredith McKee. "The gut renovation of the Merry-Go-Round is going to be the one the locals like best, because we've made some much-needed improvements but managed to keep all its beloved character intact."
Keeping the locals happy is key at Aspen Highlands; t's quieter and more challenging than the other Aspen resorts, which is precisely why it's worth exploring. "Aspen Highlands is a true skier's mountain, and Highland Bowl is where it's at," says McKee. "This is where you'll find some of the most extreme terrain in Aspen, but you can also get on some nice groomed cruisers and let loose."