The Vermont hills are alive with stunning views from a Trapp Family Lodge sleigh ride. (Trapp Family Lodge)
With all the snow piling up across the country, we may just have to use sleighs to get to the mountains. The classic winter experience is a must-do for a chance to enjoy another side of your favorite resort, many with perks like hot chocolate or dinner as part of the adventure.
Up to 500 skiers and riders can hop on the revitalized Winter Park Express. (Winter Park Resort)
After being sidetracked for seven years, the famed Winter Park Express is back on the main line to ferry skiers and snowboarders to and from Winter Park Resort.
The maiden voyage from Denver’s Union Station to the base area of the resort on Jan. 7 is already sold out, but tickets are available for round trips on Saturdays and Sundays through March 26 – with extra trips on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day.
The strong demand for tickets to ride a train rather than fight traffic on I-70 and over Berthoud Pass prompted railroad officials to add another car. Capacity is about 500 riders.
It takes two diesel-electric locomotives to make the 60-mile trip that gains 3,700 feet in altitude – a trip that has two dozen tunnels including the final 6.2 miles through the venerable Moffat Tunnel.
“When it comes to the service itself, the fact that Amtrak has added more capacity reinforces what we’ve known all along that Colorado loves this train,” Winter Park’s Steve Hurlburt told SnoCounty.com.
The ski train, which first ran in 1944 and ceased in 2009, takes off from downtown Union Station at 7 a.m. and arrives at the slopes at 9 a.m. After a day of skiing and riding on the slopes, the train leaves the Winter Park platform at 4:30 p.m. for the two-hour ride back down to Denver.
Right now, the cheapest ticket is $39, with higher-priced billets for refundable or discounts programs. Upgrades to first class are also available.
Colorado tourism and Winter Park officials see the rebirth of the ski train as another way to set skiing and riding in the Centennial State apart from others.
“What makes it even more exciting is with the new RTD A Line from Denver International Airport to Denver Union Station, visitors from throughout the country and around the globe can now access Colorado skiing without ever worrying about renting a car, sitting in traffic, or navigating sometimes treacherous mountain roads,” Hurlburt told us. “This option of going from plane to ski slopes via rail is completely unique to Winter Park in the United States.”
Often teams have to go deep into the wilderness for backcountry rescues. (Mountain Rescue Aspen/Facebook)
Steamboat is believed to be the first resort to officially say it may impose a fine on skiers or snowboarders who venture beyond the ropes and subsequently need to be rescued by Steamboat ski patrollers.
The proposed fine, which is now delineated on trail maps and on-mountain signs, is aimed at keeping inexperienced skiers and riders out of the backcountry. The fine could be as high as $500, although Steamboat officials say it may not apply to every case – and none has been assessed so far.
“If you don’t know, don’t go” is the mantra issued by the Steamboat Ski Patrol that has already had to pull people out of dangerous situations in the backcountry this season.
“(The situations) vary from ski area by ski area because some have much greater backcountry access than others, but where this is an issue it’s becoming a bigger and bigger one by the year,” Colorado Ski Country USA’s Chris Linsmayer told SnoCountry.com. “It’s an ongoing discussion within the industry and the rescues do really put strain on a ski areas who have to divert important resources and ski patrol staff to conduct them.”
Across the West, the vast majority of ski resorts primarily sit on federal land. Public access can be limited to an access gate or as to mode of travel (i.e., ATVs). But it cannot be denied under normal conditions.
Backcountry numbers have exploded in the West. Steamboat officials say as many as 500 people might go through access gates in a day. Anyone who’s gone to resorts in the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake City knows this, too.
A few resorts have tried to bill rescues, but resort officials have found that the threat of having to pay sometimes makes people reticent to call in an emergency or even to refuse help when it arrives. Colorado state law forbids formal search-and-rescue teams from charging.
More seats on chairs at Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail next season. (Breckenridge/Facebook)
Vail Resorts, which owns all three Colorado resorts, has plans to replace Keystone’s Montezuma Express, Breckenridge’s Falcon SuperChair on Peak 10 and Vail’s Northwoods Chair to increase capacity and streamline flow in key areas of the mountains.
Each project will be subject to U.S. Forest Service review, but resort officials are confident the new lifts will be up and running by the 2017-2018 season.
At Keystone, the Montezuma Express – installed in 1990 – serves the prime novice and intermediate terrain on the upper front side. The new lift will add two seats to become a six-pack to increase uphill capacity by 25 percent, the resort said.
Also at Keystone, Labonte’s Smokehouse BBQ at the base of North Peak will get a facelift over the summer, including more indoor seating to go with the fav “ski beach” outside.
Breckenridge’s Peak 10 has a large portion of the expert terrain on the mountain, and debuted in 1985-86 with the fixed-grip F Lift. A year later, a high-speed quad went in. The newest Falcon SuperChair will be a six-seat high-speed that will bolster uphill capacity and allow snowboarders and skiers more Peak 10 laps each day.
At Vail, the original Northwoods chair went in 1985 to open up intermediate and advanced terrain on Blue Sky Basin on the upper front side. Resort officials noted congestion on the lift, especially for skiers and riders heading over to the back bowls.
“The replacement of Northwoods will impact a key area of the mountain, especially at the end of the day, as guests are leaving Blue Sky Basin and making their way west,” said Vail’s Doug Lovell.
Uphiller nears summit of Sunlight (photo Sunlight Mountain Resort)
Be it to stay fit, save money or get some quiet time in the out-of-doors, ”uphill skiing” has become a staple at many U.S. resorts – requiring mountain managers to adopt rules for the activity.
Furry friends enjoy the snow and fresh air on a snowshoe trail at Stowe. (Stowe Mountain Lodge)
For many of us, our dogs are part of our family, and many resorts across the country welcome our four-legged friends with enthusiasm. Rather than leaving the pup behind, enjoy the company of wagging tails on the trails.
There will be more powder to hit after expansion into The Beavers at Arapahoe Basin (Arapahoe Basin/Facebook)
Anyone who has gazed longingly through the ropes at The Beavers area but couldn’t handle the hike out can celebrate, as the Forest Service has given Arapahoe Basin the go-ahead for a major expansion.
Loveland's snow guns have been blasting in the last couple of weeks. (Loveland/Facebook)
UPDATED Wednesday, Nov. 9: Loveland Ski Area becomes the second ski and snowboard mountain in the Rockies as the resort is all prepped and ready for opening on Thursday (Nov. 10).
The Purgatory Snowcat takes you deep into the San Juan backcountry. (Purgatory)
The owner of Purgatory Mountain Resort has purchased one of the nation’s premier powder cat skiing operations, adding 36,000 acres of powder heaven his burgeoning winter sports portfolio.
Purgatory Snowcat Adventures will debut this winter at the southwest Colorado resort – but it won’t have to move far. Its headquarters has been at the base of “Purg” for several years now.
As a result of the purchase of San Juan Untracked, Durango businessman James Coleman now holds one of the nation’s largest backcountry permits with the U.S. Forest Service. The powder-rich terrain run deep into the San Juan Mountain backcountry – from Rico to the west, the southwest flank of Engineer Mountain to the north and including Grayrock Peak and Graysill Mountain.
And, skiers and riders who purchase the five-resort Purgatory Power Pass ($999 for adults) get 10 percent off the $350 single-seat rate – when reserved in advance -- and sneak peaks at special, last-minute offers on drop-in rates for the backcountry service. Private 12-seat ‘cats can be had for $3,500 a day.
The current fleet includes four snowcats, 10 snowmobiles and a backcountry van – plus the highly valuable backcountry permit that runs through 2020. The powder operation will be managed by previous owners Dennis and Amanda Martin, who bought it in 2013.
“James (Coleman) and I both love skiing and love Durango, so this merger will help both of us accomplish what is important to me, and that’s putting Durango on the map for amazing backcountry skiing,” said Dennis Martin.
The purchase of the powder operation continues Coleman’s spending spree in the Southwest that began in 2014 when he bought Purgatory and Arizona Snowbowl. Since then, Sipapu Resort and Pajarito Mountain in New Mexico, and Ski Hesperus outside Durango have been added to Coleman’s portfolio.
Hundreds of A-Basin regulars line up for chance to make first runs of the season. (Arapahoe Basin/Webcam)
The sun snuck over the ridge at just past 7 a.m. Friday, illuminating the base area at Arapahoe Basin and signaling that the 2016-2017 ski and snowboard season would soon be underway.
A couple of hours later, shouts of joy resounded off the walls of the Continental Divide as several hundred folks queued up into their first lift line of the season, let the first chair of the season bump into their calves, felt that familiar swing of lift-off and, officially, opened up the new season in the United States and Canada.
“Let’s get this party started!” was the mantra tweeted out on Friday morning.
And indeed it did, amid the whoosh of chairs accelerating out of the base terminal, the roar of snowmaking guns on the hill, and the shouts and cheers of the adoring crowd.
Arapahoe Basin “won” the annual race to be the first to start this season, after “tying” with Loveland Ski Area in the West last year with an Oct. 29 opening. Resort operations head Alan Henceroth said consistently sub-freezing temps – especially at night – kept snowmaking guns roaring, and Mother Nature blessed the slopes with another 4-5 inches in the last couple of days.
"The stoke level is definitely high here, it’s absolutely electric, you can really feel the passion people have for this mountain," Arapahoe Basin's Adrienne Saia Isaac told SnoCountry.com."
The high-speed Black Mountain Express and intermediate High Noon trail welcomed eager skiers and riders another season at the iconic Summit County resort – seemingly plenty for the first-day crowd.
All three base areas at Copper are never far from the lifts (Copper/Facebook)
If there ever was a mountain created for downhill skiing and riding, it’s Copper Mountain. Nestled among 13,000-plus foot peaks just off the Continental Divide, Copper sits in a snow alley right along I-70 about 1-1/2 hour drive from Denver.
Denver Convention will be crowded for Colorado Ski & Snowboard Expo. (Joan Christenson Communications)
A sure sign that the winter season looms in the Rocky Mountains is the annual Colorado Ski and Snowboard Expo.
Set for Nov. 4-6 at the downtown Denver Convention Center, the annual retail show celebrates its 25th year in the Colorado capital city. The three-day event features the usual deep discounts on equipment, apparel and accessories from last season, and tickets and packages for this season.
However, there’s now a bit of the new and unusual with activities, showcases and skills challenges.
“The anchor is, of course, the retail sales,” organizer Bernie Weichsel told SnoCountry.com. “But, entertainment has become more and more of a staple at the show.”
The Denver extravaganza will have freestyle exhibitions, a teaching slope, training center, ropes course, climbing wall – and more.
Youngsters have gotten the attention of the industry, in hopes of growing the number of participants in an industry that has often struggled to find – and keep – newcomers. For the first time, kids 12 and younger get in free for all three days.
“The show is particularly family-friendly,” Weichsel told us. “We want to keep the kids active and happy, and then the parent will buy more product. There is a family attitude and feeling for the show.”
Weichsel sees the continuation of the shaped-ski revolution at the show, with the all-mountain ski now taking center stage: “Shorter, lighter skis get people to stick with the sport, because we are getting better even as we get older,” Weichsel said.
Backcountry equipment and apparel also will highlight the retail section. A new Nordic Interactive Zone will introduce folks to snowshoeing and cross-country – right in the convention center.
And, the inner cowboy and cowgirl can get his or her jones satisfied with a mechanical bull sponsored by Crested Butte.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, 10-8 on Saturday and 10-6 on Sunday. Tickets cost $15 ($12 with Denver Post coupon) for those 13 years and older.
Go online to purchase tickets and get more information.
Snowmaking at Killington begins at the top. (Killington/Facebook)
Opening day is on the minds of skiers and snowboarders already, and brace of resorts have turned on snow guns – and turned eyes to the skies -- in hopes of being the first to open in 2016-2017.
More steep and deep with new trails at Eldora Mountain this season (Eldora/Facebook)
Work is underway to clear three black-diamond runs at Eldora Mountain Resort that are slated to be open when the Colorado mountain opens in December.
The day-trip Front Range ski and snowboard area is undergoing its first major upgrades in several decades, thanks to infusion of capital by new owners Powdr Corp. after the U.S. Forest Service gave its OK to a master plan.
The trio of trails will run between Corona and Indians Peaks chairlifts, in what is called Brian’s Glades and Placer Glade areas in the Corona Bowl section of the mountain.
The longest run at 2,600 feet is named Alpen Horn. The steepest will be Wolf Tongue, while the third called Red Trail has an intermediate section at the top before plunging into black-diamond steeps.
Snowmaking will cover the entire 15 acres that the runs encompass, the resort says, to supplement what is often 300 inches of natural snowfall a years.
Now that Eldora has been cleared to build the new trails, ownership is setting sights on a new high-speed quad to replace the dual fixed-grip chairs Cannonball and Challenge on the front side. Completion is scheduled for the 2017-2018 season.
“Colorado’s Front Range is one of the best ski markets in the world,” said John Cumming, CEO and owner of Utah-based Powdr at the time of the purchase last June. “Expanding our footprint here with now two of the most accessible resorts to serve those passionate skiers is an enormous honor. Eldora is admired as a leading entry point and training ground for children and beginners."
Cut into the powder at Sunlight with discounts from Gems Card (Sunlight/Facebook)
For many years, a regular in the wallet of Colorado skiers and snowboarders has been the Colorado Gems Card – providing discount lift tickets at the state’s less glamorous mountains.
Before Epic, before Mountain Collective, before the M.A.X. Pass, there was the $25 Gems Card that gave skiers and riders deals on day tickets at eight off-the-beaten-track resorts – what some may call “smaller” areas but many see as more nostalgic and authentic. Among Gems resorts, only Loveland Ski Area sits on busy I-70, and it’s always been known as a locals’ mountain.
In hopes of attracting more folks to these hidden “gems” this season, Colorado Ski Country USA has increased the discounts on the card.
To wit: Previously, the Gems Card got its holder two-for-one tickets at Arapahoe Basin, Ski Cooper, Eldora Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Monarch Mountain, Powderhorn Resort, Ski Granby Ranch and Sunlight Mountain Resort. In 2016-2017, the card holder can get the same deal twice at these resorts, plus 30 percent off day ticket twice during the season. Or, the holder can get one of each deal at all resorts.
The card costs $25 and can only be purchased online. There is a limit to the number sold, and photo ID is required when presented at a ticket window. Blackout dates are Dec. 18 to Jan. 3.
“The Gems card has been instrumental for savvy skiers looking for the best value, increased flexibility and access to more of our resorts all over Colorado,” said Colorado Ski Country USA President and CEO Melanie Mills.
Waiter at The Farm in Park City serves up plates from fresh, local produce (The Farm/Facebook)
The idea that local restaurants can hook up with nearby farms, ranches and food producers to create truly sustainable, “local” cuisine has caught fire not only in towns around the country, but also at ski and snowboard resorts.
Nowadays, it’s a common sight to see a chef checking out the veggies or baked bread at a local farmers market -- or on the organic produce aisle at the neighborhood grocery store – to stock up for the day’s menu.
More and more, they come from the fine dining rooms at mountain resorts. Here’s SnoCountry’s sampling of where to eat fresh at ski and snowboard resorts this season:
Canyons. Located right on the Ski Beach at the base of the Park City, Utah, resort, The Farm Restaurant lives up to its name by sourcing ingredients from local farms, cattle ranches and vineyards. A regularly revolving menu coincides with seasonally available foods. Taste treat: Utah corn soup.
Mount Snow. Harriman’s sits just up from the main base of the southern Vermont area. It combines classicly trained chefs with fresh food grown, raised and produced at 20 farms in the Green Mountain state. Taste treat: Aged cheddar from Jasper Hill Farms.
Stowe. In the heart of the base area, Solstice serves artisan-inspired plates inside Stowe Mountain Lodge, relying upon a partnership with farmers, cheesemakers and producers from the northern Vermont region for the freshest ingredients. Taste treat: Angus braised short ribs with Cabot Creamery grits.
Steamboat. Unbuckle your boots and stride into the Truffle Pig for apres-ski snacks, dinners and to-die-for desserts. Ingredients from pastures and gardens of northern Colorado valley inspire truly local menu. Taste treat: Truffle pig fries.
Free rides all the time at Bretton Woods (Bretton Woods/Facebook)
A ride up a ski lift in the offseason both gives a different perspective on a favorite mountain and gets the juices flowing for the upcoming skiing and snowboarding season.
Browns Canyon along Arkansas River is not for the faint of heart (AVA Rafting/Facebook)
Every spring, the high country sends cascades of frigid cold, roaring water down mountain rivers. While the runoff signals the end of the ski and snowboard season, it also means that it’s time to hop into a raft and keep the thrills coming.
Although the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival is only three days and nights, once you get to Telluride, you won't want to go home. (Telluride Brews & Blues Festival)
What’s on tap for this summer of fun? Along with sampling some of the finest craft beers around, a trip to a beer festival this summer also means live music, tempting food, and another perfect reason to get outside and enjoy the mountains.
Timberline’s Palmer Express lift usually operates June 1st through Labor Day for summer turns on Oregon’s highest peak. (Timberline/Facebook)
Some skiers and riders just can’t get enough, and they aren’t satisfied with wind surfing, whitewater rafting or plain ol’ hiking in the summer. For them, there are options out there that require some travel, a bit of hiking and plenty of sunscreen.