Ski Magic!

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Plan now for a Colorado getaway with the kids!

If your family’s just starting to ski, don’t end up peering over a cliff looking in vain for easy terrain! As a native who has been skiing Colorado’s slopes for four decades, let me take you on a tour of my backyard and help you find just the right winter wonderland for your vacation.

Great for Families

It’s not just the hot chocolate chip cookies served in the lift line every afternoon and the mini-gondola that make Beaver Creek a favorite among the shorter set. The resort has beginner terrain high up on the mountain and a ski school consistently ranked one of the best in the nation. That’s not to say skiing and boarding at the resort is child’s play. The Birds of Prey Men’s Downhill Course challenges the world’s strongest skiers and the bumps and chutes to be found on the mountain are an expert skier’s paradise. Those who like to cruise will be happy to know that the resort grooms 20 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

At Sol Vista Basin, all runs lead to the base lodge at this 5,400-acre family resort, so there’s no chance of anyone getting lost — at least not for long. The vast majority of skiers and riders at this mountain enroll in ski school, so kids will have a whole pack of friends to share their vacation with.

Something for Everyone

At Copper Mountain, the terrain is naturally divided from easiest to most difficult, helping you avoid ending up on a run beyond your ability level. There are several wide-open bowls and one of the best terrain parks and pipes in Colorado. Copper also recently installed Woodward at Copper, the first indoor/outdoor ski and snowboard camp on the planet. Off slope, three recently completed base villages have redefined the Copper experience with lodging, restaurants, bars, shops and a kids-only lodge.

Like the quietest sister in a big family, Keystone is often overlooked for the other Vail-owned resorts in the state. This oversight is difficult to believe considering the resort is made up of three mountains boasting 3,148 acres of snowriding and is home to Colorado’s largest night skiing and boarding operation. Off the slopes discover a new 10,000-square-foot eco-friendly spa and a 5-acre ice skating lake.

Always voted “Colorado’s Favorite,” Winter Park/Mary Jane has a special place in the heart of locals, perhaps because it’s the annual snowfall leader among the major resorts in the state, with an average of 30 feet falling every season. The opening of “The Village” has brought ski-in/ski-out lodging; the Village features a pedestrian-only brick and cobblestone main street leading visitors to shops, restaurants and a skating pond.

Ski magazine rates Vail as the number two overall resort in North America, and with 5,289 acres even locals are still discovering all it has to offer. To put Vail’s size in perspective, consider that it has more terrain in its back bowls (2,600 acres) than most mountains have within their permit areas. Add to that the European feel of the Alpine Village and it becomes clear why the resort finds itself at the top of nearly every list.

From its wide boulevard runs to the highest chairlift in North America, Breckenridge serves up terrain for every taste. Reaching 12,840 feet above sea level on the Imperial Express, skiers and riders can then indulge in a 3,398 vertical feet descent. The resort features four interconnected peaks, five terrain parks and four half pipes. When your ski day is done, indulge in some of Breck’s legendary nightlife along the main street of the150-year-old mining town.

Destination Resorts

Far from the interstate and with not a single street light, Crested Butte touts itself as the “last holdout” as a true ski town. The town still holds tight to its heritage and was once called “the town that wouldn’t die” because of its ability to survive the booms and busts of the Colorado’s mining days. Although the mountain is known for its extreme steeps, the resort has shuffled around its terrain to open up 15 more acres of intermediate skiing this season.

With an annual snowfall of 465 inches, Wolf Creek Ski Area gets the most snow in Colorado. The bounty of snow falls on 1,600 acres of pristine terrain. After working up an appetite out on the slopes, indulge in some of the resort’s famous southwestern food and bakery offerings.

In the past three years Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort has added a new $50 million base facility and 125 acres of new terrain on the back of the mountain, but the reason so many people come here hasn’t changed. With more than 85 runs and 1,325 skiable acres, Purgatory is known for both its consistent powder and sunny skies.

You’ll know you’re out West when you arrive at Steamboat. It’s a real town, which ranchers and cowboys have been calling home even longer than skiers have. The mountain is the real deal, too, more accurately a complete mountain range. Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Pioneer Ridge and Christie Peak collectively offer 2,965 acres of terrain that caters to every ability level. If you haven’t been to Steamboat lately expect some changes. Since 2007, they’ve made nearly $30 million in on-mountain improvements; including enhanced terrain, faster chairlifts and increased snowmaking. Located in downtown Steamboat, the 30-acre Howelson Hill is home to the largest and most complete natural ski-jumping complex in North America.

No one can argue with Telluride’s claim that it’s “the most beautiful place you’ll ever ski.” With craggy red bluffs set against pine forests, all covered with lots and lots of the white fluffy stuff, it’s not just the altitude that will take your breath away. You can take in the view from a free scenic gondola that connects the historic Town of Telluride with the modern luxury of Mountain Village. Telluride’s vertical drop is now one of the largest in North America at 4,425 feet, with 3,845 vertical feet lift-served. Part of that terrain above the lifts is accessed via a new bridge and staircase to the left shoulder of the spectacular Palmyra Peak.

Aspen is four mountains and one star-studded town. Rising above the poshest of towns is the area’s gnarliest resort: Aspen Mountain. There is no beginner terrain on this mountain, which inbounds feature a variety of glades, bumps and steeps. For an out-of-bounds experience, Aspen Mountain Powder Tours will take you to fresh tracks on the backside.

With breathtaking 360-degree views of the Maroon Bells and an abundance of expert terrain as well as groomed cruisers, it’s no wonder Aspen Highlands has been the locals’ favorite for more than 50 years. Hike the 12,392 feet to the summit of Highland Bowl for the ultimate inbounds backcountry rush. New this season are free guided tours of the bowl which boasts 2,000 vertical feet of backcountry-style skiing.

With 4,406 vertical feet to descend, Snowmass has one of the largest vertical drops in the country. The massive mountain has 3,132 acres of terrain, 91 trails and 21 chairlifts. A new 12-foot halfpipe in the resort’s terrain park gives Aspen/Snowmass the distinction of being the only resort in the world with three halfpipes. The Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center includes an indoor mining camp, climbing wall and stage.

Buttermilk built its 50-year legacy on wide-open and gently rolling trails that cater to beginners and families. Today it’s famous for hosting the ESPN Winter X Games through 2012 and being voted #1 by Transworld Snowboarding Magazine Reader’s Poll for best park and pipe.

 

So there you have the basics. Now you just have to decide which resort to visit when you come to Colorado this winter or spring … and next winter and the winter after that …

Chryss Cada is a mother and freelance writer.

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