The Edge: Westword's winter activities guide helps you sort out the 2011-2012 season
And Collins, who grew up skiing at Winter Park and Mary Jane with her family and started ducking into the terrain parks as soon as freestyle features first started popping up around the mountain, is precisely the kind of skier Winter Park has in mind: She worked her way up through bigger and more challenging features as a teenager, building up to a Women's Ski Slopestyle win at the 2010 Alt Games Collegiate National Championships.
"Progression is the name of the game," says Collins. "You'll see it in everything, from the toddler-sized rails and jumps by the new private lesson center to the massive jumps in the Dark Territory terrain park, which require a special pass and safety class to ride." There's even a new website, www.rlyrd.com, devoted entirely to Winter Park's Rail Yard terrain-park system. Check in for info on freeride camps and amateur competitions like the King of the Grommets (kids fifteen and under) and USASA Slopestyle events that are stepping stones to the Olympic team.
"If you're new to Winter Park and new to the terrain parks, I'd recommend starting on Jack Kendrick, which is a great green run for families and also has the Ash Cat beginner's terrain park in case you want to get a taste," says Collins. "Beginner kids love to hop on the little rails in the Starter and Bouncer parks, and from there you can work your way up to the intermediate features in the Gangway and Re-Railer parks. Even our biggest, most advanced features and jumps in the Rail Yard and Dark Territory jump line are designed for safe progression so that you're working your way up to the big stuff."
Terrain parks not your thing? Collins is with you there, too: "As much fun as I could have playing in the terrain park all day, when there's a big snow, I'll be the first one chasing powder over at Mary Jane."
General Information: www.WinterParkResort.com; 970-726-1564.
Location: 67 miles northwest of Denver via I-70 west to U.S. Hwy. 40 (exit 232) over Berthoud Pass.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays.
Snow Report: 303-572-SNOW.
Lift Rates: Early-season adult day pass (November 16-23): $63. Pre-holiday (November 24-December 16): $79. Holiday (December 17-January 1): $94. Regular season (January 2-February 17; April 2-8): $85. Early spring (February 18-March 9): $87. Spring break (March 10-April 1): $92. Late season (April 9-22): $79.
Terrain: 3,060 skiable acres with 143 trails; 8 percent beginner, 17 percent intermediate, 19 percent advanced, 53 percent most difficult, 3 percent expert. Base is 9,000', with a 3,060' vertical rise; summit: 12,060'.
Wolf Creek Ski Area
Wolf Creek averages 465 inches annually, and this could very well turn out to be its snowiest season on record. In fact, before it even opened, Wolf Creek got an astounding 68 inches of snow in October, including the 36-inch dump that helped the area open for weekends way back on October 8.
"We're certainly off to an impressive start," says Elesha Goad, Wolf Creek's ticket-office supervisor. "I can't recall ever seeing this much early-season snow or early-season business from our powder-chasers."
Wolf Creek actually gets so much snow that it can sometimes be problematic, so the ski area invested in a Formatic snowcat this season. Heavier than other snowcats in the fleet, it helps pack down some of that powder and decrease avalanche risk as the season continues.
All that snow, combined with a treasure trove of hike-to terrain, makes Wolf Creek a favorite among snowboarders, telemark skiers and big-mountain freeskiers. The rental shop upgraded its rental offerings for the season, adding a line of Nordic skate skis and classic touring skis as well as new alpine skis, snowboards, boots and poles. To brush up on your technique, check out the Telemark Clinics starting on November 13, the Ladies' Ski/Board Clinics starting on December 3, and the Men's Ski/Board Clinics starting on December 10.
Wolf Creek caters to students with regularly scheduled College Days and Local Appreciation Days, when the adult lift-ticket price drops to $33. Other popular events include the Super Bowl Sunday Race, Valentine's Day Race, President's Day Race, St. Patrick's Day Race, and an Easter Egg Hunt on closing day, April 8. Fun Race series participants will appreciate the new race hut under the Raven Lift.
Sign up online to get daily snow reports e-mailed to you, and make sure you have good snow tires or chains at the ready to get over Wolf Creek Pass when the situation calls for it.
Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver in the Rio Grande National Forest, U.S. Hwy. 160 between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Snow Report: 800-SKI-WOLF.
Lift Rates: Adult day pass: $54.
Terrain: 1,600 skiable acres; 20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate, 25 percent advanced, 20 percent expert. Base is 10,300' with a 1,604' vertical rise; summit: 11,904'.