Best of the West
DENVER (AP) – What do you like best about your favorite place to ski? It’s not always the trail from the top of the mountain to the bottom that makes a ski destination special. Sometimes it’s the terrain, but sometimes it’s the view, the food, the price or even the hot springs. Here is an unscientific list, drawing on reputation, recommendations, personal experiences and best-of lists from a variety of sources, of what some ski areas around the West are best-known for.
BEST DEAL: The Colorado Pass, which gets you unlimited lift access to Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin, plus 10 days at Vail or Beaver Creek (restricted). If adults bought early this year, it could be had for just under $400. With single-day lift tickets to Vail Resort going for $81 last season, the pass can pay for itself after five visits to Vail. The pass also qualifies you for half-price lift tickets at Heavenly Lake Tahoe.BEST EXTREME TERRAIN: Silverton Mountain. But hey, most of the resorts have double-black diamond runs for the experts.BEST OUT-OF-THE-WAY RESORT: Telluride. It’s nestled in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains 330 miles from Denver, and flying here often requires a stop somewhere else first. Jaw-dropping views of 13,000-foot peaks.BEST POWDER: Steamboat Springs.
BEST VIEWS: Aspen Highlands or Aspen; Telluride – view the old mining town from atop the Plunge or turn your head and you can see all the way to Utah; Loveland – not too many areas where you can slide a few feet from a lift to the Continental Divide.BEST TERRAIN PARK: Years ago, hucksters loved heading for the big kickers at Breckenridge, but resorts like Keystone, Copper Mountain and others have been luring them with more features and parks closer to lifts. This winter, Echo Mountain Park could sneak away with the title. The whole place is a terrain park, and one of its proudest features is Knuckles, a 17-foot feature lit up from inside at night so you can approach from nearly any direction.BEST FAMILY AREA: Winter Park. Every ski area makes this claim, but here, it’s second-nature to let the teens hit the bumps or the terrain park while you take a cruiser before you all meet at the bottom. Bonus: Take the Ski Train home to Denver and avoid the commute.BEST MOGULS: Mary Jane at Winter Park for years has styled itself as the place for the best bumps in Colorado. But everyone has ’em: Aspen and Vail have killer bumps, and so does Copper Mountain.BEST ON-THE-MOUNTAIN MEAL: Sage at Snowmass. Beano’s at Beaver Breek.BEST LURE (this season): 36 Days of Chocolate at Keystone’s various restaurants. Every resort has a festival or event of some kind; sue us for having a sweet tooth.BEST SLEEPER AREA: Arapahoe Basin. Wolf Creek a close No. 2.LONGEST RUN: Snowmass claims it has a run 5.3 miles long.BEST TREE SKIING: Steamboat Springs.BEST HOT SPRINGS: Steamboat Springs. Duh. But visitors to Telluride who save a few dollars by staying in tiny Ouray can enjoy that town’s natural hot springs pool for next to nothing. And if you ski Sunlight, the famous Glenwood Springs hot pool is nearby.BETTER MAKE YOUR TURNS: Zulu Queen at Telluride or Busy Gully at Loveland.BEST PLACE TO LOOK BETWEEN YOUR SKIS AT THE STEEP RUN BELOW: Devil’s Crotch at Breckenridge, Spiral Stairs at Telluride, Pallavicini at Arapahoe Basin.BEST OPEN TERRAIN: Vail’s Back Bowls. But others are catching up: Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Winter Park and others all have acres of open space for powder hounds.SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW: A full 38 percent of the terrain is expert at Beaver Creek. Plus, if you’ve got the money, you can make reservations to eat at Beano’s, the on-mountain gourmet restaurant.BEST APRES SKI, DOWN HOME: Bart & Yetis in Vail. Eric’s in Aspen. The Rathskeller at Loveland.BEST APRES SKI, UPSCALE: Aspen or Vail.BEST CROSS-COUNTRY LOCALE: Western Colorado’s Grand Mesa.BEST STOP ON THE DRIVE BACK TO DENVER: Pull off I-70 in Idaho Springs for a dip in pool or steam caves at Indian Springs Resort (warning: this is not an upscale spa), followed by a “mountain pie” at nearby Beau Jo’s pizza.
BEST SKIING: Alta. It’s a place evoking the 1930s where skiers make pilgrimages, not visits. This is skiing at its most essential – very little development mars Alta and no snowboarding is allowed. More than 500 inches of snow blanket Utah’s northern mountains annually, but Alta often leads other Wasatch resorts in snowfall.
Thanks to the combined effects of the desert and Great Salt Lake, winter storms dispersing dry, powdery snow often linger for days over Wasatch Mountain resorts. Northwesterly storms funnel up Little Cottonwood Canyon, slamming into Alta and dumping most of their powder there.BEST SKIING, RUNNER UP: Family-owned Powder Mountain, which rivals Alta for pure, retro skiing. Located 19 miles northeast of Ogden. The joke goes that the dude running the chair lift in the morning is the same kid flipping burgers at lunch. Powder is owned by a doctor in his 80s who used to fix broken bones at the ski lodge. It’s been known for its lack of crowds, low lift rates and 5,500 acres of skiing – that’s more than Vail.You can still find untrammeled snow at Powder a week after a storm, while Alta and other resorts get skied out in a matter of hours. Powder may be Utah’s most underrated ski area, but it won’t last. The owners are taking on investors with ambitious development plans, and they just installed their first high-speed chair lift. That cheap lift ticket just went up to $50.BEST EXPERT AREA: Snowbird. Utah’s most challenging resort with the biggest vertical drop, 3,240 feet, is for skiers who want to ski hard. Snowbird combines stunning terrain with reliable snowfall. And it just got a little easier to ski here. Snowbird installed a new, high-speed lift, the Peruvian Express, that will deposit skiers at a 595-foot-long tunnel. A rubber conveyor belt inside the tunnel will take skiers to the resort’s back side at Mineral Basin, trading steeper slopes for moderate terrain.
BEST NIGHTLIFE/ALTERNATIVES: Park City Mountain Resort. The place to go if you don’t ski, or don’t want to ski every day, Park City offers dozens of restaurants, bars and shops within walking distance of the slopes. In a state where it can seem hard to find a drink, that’s no problem in Park City.MOST OPULENT: Deer Valley. Utah’s most exclusive resort is known for pampering guests with ski porters and gourmet food. Skiers love the drop-off curb in morning. No ‘boarders allowed.BEST LIFTS: Snowbasin. Its gondolas let skiers avoid the cold and wind on the ride up. A high-speed lift serves expert terrain. A short-haul tram climbs even higher. Billionaire Earl Holding spared no expense when he transformed a small ski area into a larger resort worthy of the 2002 Winter Olympics, which held downhill races here. Holding, owner of Sun Valley Resort, reportedly spent $200 million on new lifts, more snowmaking and luxurious mountain lodges. The restrooms alone can make you feel like a million bucks. The view from the top of Strawberry looking down on Ogden and the Great Basin is the best in the Wasatch.
BEST SKIING-NORTH: Squaw Valley gets the nod here among some strong contenders. It has the obligatory village, ski-in, ski-out lodging and, for fanatics, 30 percent of the runs are advanced. For sightseers, Mountain Run is 3.2 miles long. Lifts are ample and fast; the mountain is 2,840 feet from top to bottom. The cable car views are spectacular. High Camp, at the 8,200-foot level on the cable ride, has the ice pavilion from the 1960 Olympics. Located a long hour from Reno or two hours from Sacramento in good weather.BEST SKIING-SOUTH: Mammoth Mountain is it, not counting nearby – and much less crowded – June Mountain. The Reno-Tahoe area is three hours north; Southern California, five or so hours south. Mammoth soars just over 11,000 feet to greet you and drops 3,100 feet to thrill you, including a 3-mile run. Lifts are ample and fast. Its village and lodging are fun, if pricey.
BEST NIGHTLIFE: Heavenly Mountain Resort is hardly alone in offering a village packed with tony boutiques, ski shops, apres-ski fire pits and upscale restaurants. But it’s the only place that’s a 5-minute walk from Nevada’s casino strip on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Slots, shows, gourmet restaurants. ‘Nuf said.BEST VIEW: Heavenly by a landslide. Its gondola, the center of its village, soars 2.4 miles up the mountain, stopping at a 9,123-foot observation platform nearly 3,000 feet above the lake. California is on the left, Nevada is on the right and the entire expanse of Tahoe is in front of you.BEST FOOD ALTERNATIVES: Skiing does not have to mean gut-wrenching chili, cheeseburgers and fries seething under a heat lamp. Johnathan L. Wright, the Hawaiian-born food and drink writer for the Reno Gazette-Journal, suggests Kalani’s, in Heavenly’s Village, with Hawaiian and Pacific Rim cuisine and a great bar scene; and Mamasake in the Village at Squaw, with Asian fusion – like sushi with Latin flavors – and party platters served on snowboards.BEST PIZZA: Every ski area has pizza. But Fireside Pizza at Squaw shuns the marshmallow-thick, soggy bread of the guys-who-deliver for a thin crust and thoughtful toppings. The chicken with fresh cilantro is delightful. The pear with gorgonzola is just over the top. BEST CHUTES: Mount Rose/Ski Tahoe.BEST MOUNTAIN RESTAURANT VIEW: Snowflake Lodge at Diamond Peak, overlooking Incline Village and Tahoe from the Nevada-side north shore.Associated Press Writers Catherine Tsai, Robert Weller, Jon Sarche and Dave Zelio in Denver; Paul Foy in Salt Lake City; and Tom Gardner in Reno all contributed to this story.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO