With more resorts opening, chilly temperatures, and new snow for the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest, we're officially calling it ski season. Let's dive into the weather outlook in this week's SnoCast.
Putting these two day-trip mountains on the Indy Pass means that three alpine areas and one Nordic area are now available in the nation's most renowned skiing and riding state.
The purchase of an Indy Pass or Indy Base Pass gets a skier or rider two days free at each partner mountain, plus 25% off a third day. Typical blackouts (holidays, midseason weekends) apply only to the Indy Base Pass. To get a free day, passholders need only show ID at the ticket window to confirm, since there is no physical Indy Pass.
In Colorado, Granby and Echo join Sunlight Mountain and Bluebird Backcountry Nordic complex in the fast-growing Indy coalition that has 121 alpine and Nordic destinations worldwide. So far, there are 36 Indy Pass mountains in the West.
Granby Ranch sits about two hour's drive northwest of Denver on the west side of Berthoud Pass. The 400-acre layout splits out between two mountains, with a 30-50-20 split among green, blue and black runs, and 1,000 vertical feet. Five chairlifts run daily, and night skiing opens 4-7 p.m. on seven Fridays and Saturdays during the season.
East Mountain keeps it mellow with all the greens and more than half of the blues. A smattering of expert runs spill off the top of West Mountain, intermingling with intermediate carvers. A modest base area and a wide-open learning area are located between the two mountains, and a tight group of condos and vacation rentals hug the base area.
Echo Mountain is the closest ski and snowboard mountain to the Denver metro area -- a drive of 50 minutes from downtown and 20 minutes western suburbs. After a number of years in limbo, the 80-acre mountain has been rejuvenated by local ownership. It's an upside-down hill; that is, entrance, parking, lodge and children's area are at the top.
One triple chair handles the hill's 660 vertical feet. All of the dozen or so named trails are rated green or blue, except for the Westside glades to skier's lift. Unusual is a terrain park in the glades, while the other park is halfway down. Mountain owners are promoting Echo as a shreddin' hill for the young urbanites on the Front Range.
Rather than a formal ski school, Echo's "mountain ambassadors" roam around the base area to give tips and suggestions for free to anyone who wants them. The lights come on for night skiing 4:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Early-season snowfall, especially along the southern tier of the Rockies, has coupled with snowmaking temperatures to get a quartet of high-country ski and snowboard mountains to start spinning their lifts.
Utah's southernmost resort Brian Head kicked off the Beehive State's winter season the first weekend in November. For its second-earliest opening on record, the resort's upgraded Navajo Express -- more four-seat chairs on the cable -- handles the load for the first couple of weekends before daily operations begin on Nov. 18.
Snowmaking got a production upgrade this summer, as owners Mountain Capital Partners (MCP) continue to put money into its latest acquisition. Kids 12 and under ski and ride for free, all the time and at all eight MCP resorts, with the Kids Power Pass.
In southern Colorado, powder-king Wolf Creek wants its folks to move more easier around its 1,600 acres. To do so, the day-trip resort has installed RFID gates at six of its 10 lifts so that tickets can be read in the skier's parka pocket.
The Alberta chair has long been the best way to get to Wolf Creek's most prolific powder stashes, but it took a couple of lift rides to get to. This season, there's a traverse from the lower parking lot to the Alberta chair base with an RFID printer so that skiers and riders can set up for a powder day without going to the main ticket office or riding another chair.
Northward, Winter Park moved up its opening date to Oct. 31 -- its earliest opening ever. Experts and powderhounds will be happy as mountain managers have opened two areas of steeps. At the far end of the Vasquez Cirque, a section known as "Jelly Roll" for its rolly-polly terrain is now accessible. And, over on Mary Jane far side, more room for steep-and-deep as avalanche-controlled chutes on "Powder Field" will increase access between Trestle and double-diamond The Chutes.
And farther up the Continental Divide, Loveland loyalists began skiing and riding on Nov. 4, and will soon hop on an expanded Chair 6 to get more quickly into the blues, greens and terrain parks on the south flank of the 1,800-acre mountain.
Cooler nighttime temperatures has led to aggressive snowmaking at Arapahoe Basin, so much so that the high-altitude Colorado mountain loaded its first skiers and snowboarders on Sunday, Oct. 23.
Eager skiers and riders get to head up on high-speed chairlift, the Black Mountain Express, and make the first turns of the season on blue-rated High Noon on the lower half of the mountain.
"The time has come," said A-Basin chief Alan Henceroth. "The snowmakers and 'cat drivers have done a tremendous job, and the forecast for the coming week looks outstanding."
Last year's early-opening winner, Wolf Creek, is expected to get a double-digit dump out of this storm. The mountain perched on the Continental Divide is on track to open as scheduled on Oct. 29.
Indeed, warm fall weather is predicted to turn dramatically in the coming weeks all over the West. Forecasting service OpenSnow saying that mountains in Utah should begin to fill up, with Alta and Snowbird with more than a foot. Southern Colorado should get significant snowfalls on the first weekend of the season, but most will wait to open until November.
In the week following, OpenSnow predicts small but steady buildup at most mountains in the West. Expect Loveland and Keystone in Colorado to begin spinning lifts for the 2022-2023 season before the end of October.
However, the ski-focused forecaster indicates that snowfall will cease toward the end of the month, so skiers and 'boarders shouldn't look for many slopes to open before announced dates.
Depending upon location, night temperatures should stay cold enough for snow guns to shoot a base onto their slopes and trails. But mountain managers note that day temperatures can't rise too much without melting some of the overnight coverage.
With aspens shedding their leaves and snow guns blasting, skiers and riders are focused on the Colorado high country for the definitive sign of winter's arrival: the race to be season's first resort to open.
The two traditional Continental Divide contenders -- Arapahoe Basin and Loveland -- will welcome skiers and riders with replacement lifts. The third competitor, Keystone, will show off a mountain-top restaurant expansion.
At A-Basin, the mid-mountain Lewanee chair gets an upgrade from a 21-year-old fixed grip quad to a high-speed six-seater. The new faster, heavier chair is expected to give some relief to a choke point on front-side and reduce wind delays.
The Lewanee lift, known as "Len", serves much of A-Basin's expert, alpine terrain from East Bowl to top of Beavers cliffs. It also gets hungry skiers and riders more quickly to the Steilhang eatery, and the remodeled and enlarged Il Refugio atop the ridge.
Over at Loveland, a replacement lift on the main mountain and a new base lodge at Loveland Valley are set to go. The 45-year-old Chair 6 at Loveland's mid-mountain will add a seat to become a new fixed-grip triple to deliver more skiers and riders to the blues, greens and terrain parks on the south flank of the 1,800-acre mountain.
The brand-new base lodge at beginner-friendly Loveland Valley expands by 14,000 square feet the space for ski school, rentals, ski patrol, and a bar and restaurant. With more parking put in last season, Loveland Valley has upped its services for beginners and novices as they improve their skills before moving up the hill to the main mountain.
And just off the Divide above Dillon, much of the news from Keystone was what didn't happen this summer. The Vail-owned mountain was set to debut intermediate-friendly Bergman with a new chairlift, but boundary issues with the National Forest put the project on hold. However, Epic Pass holders can get on the mountain one hour earlier than others.
Instead, skiers and riders who frequent the 3,149-acre mountain will have more space to sit and relax with a 6,000-square-foot expansion of the Outpost Restaurant atop North Peak.
Taking the whole family to ski and ride in the West can be a pricey undertaking, so a number of states have "kids passport programs" that allow schoolchildren from any state to get free passes.
Each program limits the number of free days and has a one-time processing fee. All have blackout periods. They require a pre-application, and some require kids to show proof of age and school, so check websites listed here for specifics.
The digital Colorado Kids Ski Pass is accepted at 20 of the state's mountains, including all four Aspen mountains, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. For $59 fee and completion of online application, school kids in grades 3-6 get four days at each participating resort.
The five Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts (plus Park City in Utah) aren't including in this program, but they have their own Epic Schoolkids Pass. However, the deadline for application is Oct. 9.
In Utah, SkiUtah issues its passport for those in grades 4 through 6. For $49, youngsters can ski and ride three days at all 15 mountains in Utah, including Woodward Park City (lift ticket only). The passport must be purchased online, including current photo. Then, show it plus proof of name and date of birth at ticket window to get a lift ticket. (Park City has specific locations for redemption.)
Ski Idaho has gone all in for kids' passports. Seventeen of the state's mountains welcome 5th graders for three free days and 6th graders for two during this season. Online applications at $18 processing fee gets a printed or smart phone passport. With parent or guardian present, kids merely show the passport to get a free lift ticket.
And in Washington, the Fifth Grade Passport costs $20 and gets youngsters onto five of the state's mountains for three days free. Apply online and get an e-mail passport to show at the ticket window of Loup Loup, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North.
Most mountains in the West give free tickets for the very young -- six years old or younger -- but a few ramp it up. A Power Kids Pass from Southwest regional Power Pass can be picked up at any of eight resorts in the Southwest (and now, Willamette Pass in Oregon) for free skiing all season.
And California's June Mountain also lets kids 12 and under ski and ride for free. Parents need to show up at the ticket window with the child.
With opening dates on the horizon, crews at many resorts in the West have been testing snow guns -- and looking longingly to the skies -- in hopes of putting down a base of snow in October.
Most ski and snowboard resorts have announced their anticipated opening days, although persistent warm weather in some regions may have something to say about that. A frequent check of resort websites is recommended.
However, hints of winter whiff the air and the high-country leaves are turning, so it's time to haul skis and snowboards out of storage and get them ready for the season.
The informal race to be the first to open in the nation falls upon the highest-elevation mountains along the spine of the Colorado Rockies. Traditionally, it's been Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Loveland that vie for the title, but Wolf Creek surreptitiously snuck in last season by firing up its chairlifts on Oct. 16.
This year -- if official dates are to be believed -- Keystone will lead the pack by opening on Oct. 21, followed by Arapahoe Basin on Oct. 22, and Loveland and Wolf Creek on Oct. 29.
In California, 7,700-foot-high Boreal on Donner Pass is optimistic to begin on Oct. 28, while Mammoth Mountain plans to be in second place with an Nov. 11 opening. Tahoe's Heavenly has penciled in Nov. 18 for its first chairs.
Despite having middle-of-the-pack summit elevation, Lookout Pass (5,650 feet) on the border of Idaho and Montana has pushed its first day all the way up to Nov. 6 -- a full two weeks ahead of its previous earliest opening. Schweitzer, Sun Valley and Tamarack all plan to follow later in the month.
Skiers and riders in Washington will have to wait until December for Stevens Pass (Dec. 2) and 49 Degrees North (Dec. 3), while Oregonians will have to bide their time until Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline (Dec. 11). Mt. Bachelor expects to follow close behind on Dec. 12.
In New Mexico, Sipapu has had a lock on first-to-open in recent seasons. For 2022-2023, the family resort tucked into the Sangre de Cristos has tabbed Nov. 18 to begin spinning its lifts.
The annual leaf-peeping season in Colorado's high country is upon us, as the weather this summer is expected to produce an especially vibrant autumn display.
Aspens turn when nights get longer and the arc of the sun descends closer to the horizon. The prime foliage viewing time in the Rockies is forecast to begin September in the northernmost elevations, and extend well into October as you move southward. Here's are some suggestions for autumn color tours:
Start at Steamboat Resort, Colorado's most northerly ski and snowboard mountain. The lifts are closed now, but aspen groves cover much of the mountain that looms over town. Take a 4x4 ride up the aspen-lined dirt road toward Buffalo Pass and Summit Lake. Hikers get bonus viewing by climbing into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness just north of Steamboat Springs.
Pair Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek together for top-end foliage, especially since both run their gondolas late in the season. Either one gets you up to 10,000 feet and opens up a full vista of yellowing "quakies" in the Vail Valley. Or, drive U.S. 24 between Vail and Beaver Creek to legacy mining town Minturn where the Eagle River rocks the colors.
A fall foliage tour wouldn't be complete without a stop at eponymous Aspen. Splashes of fall yellow dot the Roaring Fork Valley, and a visit to the legendary ski town should include a ride up Maroon Creek to the take the perquisite photo of the aspen-splashed Maroon Bells at the top of the road.
Head to southwest Colorado for a San Juan Range foliage extravaganza. Head over color-drenched Dallas Divide to Telluride, where aspen groves quilt the steep sides of its much-photographed box canyon. Bright canvases of yellows and reds pop out on both side. Hop the free gondola between the town and the resort village for a sky view of the aspen groves. Or take a Jeep tour to go deeper into the forest.
Take the uber-scenic San Juan Skyway to Ouray and over Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes to Purgatory. All along the way, dense stands of aspens spill down onto the road. At Purgatory, the chairlifts runs into October, rising through aspen groves to a 10,000-foot-high perch. Fall colors paint much of the 270-degree view of the southwestern flank of the San Juan Mountains.
At least a dozen ski and snowboard resorts in six states in the West have strung ziplines at or near the mountain to augment their offerings during the summer months.
In New Mexico, Angel Fire put its zipline network at the summit, with broad views of Sangre de Cristo Range. Guide-required for four-zip tour with six people max. Tours run every hour until 1 p.m, Friday-Monday.
Neighbor Red Riverloads two-seat Pioneer Flyer for backwards pull up to 600 feet elevation. A short pause for viewing, and then pairs are released for 35-mph free-ride back down. A shorter zip ride is incorporated into Hidden Treasure Aerial Park.
A couple of Colorado mountain resorts have ziplines at the mountain. Vail's on-mountain Epic Discovery Park incorporates a kids-only zipline -- about 10 feet in the air -- among its adventure package.
Utah is home to one of the world's highest and longest ziplines, at Sundance Mountain Resort. Tucked up above Provo, the Sundance Zip has four spans with side-by-side cables that total two miles in length. And, you drop 2,100 vertical feet with control of speeds up to 65 mph -- with mid-air stops, too.
Above Salt Lake City, zipliners climb a 50-foot tower at the base of Snowbirdand reach 30 mph on side-by-side cables, landing on the deck of the tramway building. The ride is 1,000 feet long on a 15% grade.
Over in Idaho, Zip Tamarackruns four tours a day for a max of eight people, which lasts four hours. Each tour hooks onto eight ziplines with two suspension bridges interspersed -- plus a total of 1.5 miles of downhill hiking between platforms.
In California, Heavenly Mountainhas several ziplines on the hill. The rock-star zip is Blue Streak, one of the longest at 3,300 feet with a 525-foot vertical drop. Speeds reach 50 mph. The nearby Heavenly Flyer also reaches 50 mph as it skims the tree tops on an 80-second ride. And, an introductory ride can be had on the Red Flyer, which goes 100 feet at 15 feet above the ground.
And at Mt. Hood SkiBowl in Oregon, the resort has set up an aerial park the in air above the base area that includes an 800-foot long zipline. It's open Thursday to Sunday.
Many other resorts in the West sit near independent zipline operations, like Ski Cooper, Palisades Tahoe and Big Bear.
The west side of the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies is home to about half of the ski and snowboard mountains in the state, and a half-dozen of them have built up summer activity infrastructures to lure flat-landers into the mountains.
If you're looking for a full-on summer menu, check out Telluride. On and off the mountain, there's plenty to keep young and old busy -- from via ferrata to bike parks to kids camps to rafting and Jeep tours. Highlight on the hill is Canopy Adventure, a tree-top complex of zipline, aerial bridges and rappels that begins with ride up the Village Express chair.
At Purgatory, MTB-focused lift access, trail prep and downhill challenges are the norm. The first U.S. resort to host a MBT world championship (1995), "Purg" sells single-ride, day, and season passes-- the latter includes massive Spider Mountain bike park in Austin, Texas.
Another mountain bike mecca is Crested Butte. Its Mountain Bike Park opened in 2009, and its more than 30 miles of single track downhill and X-C runs have been improved ever since. The bike-friendly Red Lady Express does the heavy-lifting to get riders onto the mountain.
Steamboat hosts a ton of attractions around its under-construction base area. Featured is the Outlaw Mountain Coaster with a descent of more than a mile long. With that length, there's plenty of track for loops, turns and twists.
Aspen Mountain and Snowmass crank up their gondolas for summer visitors. A ride up the Silver Queen gondola reaches the11,212-foot summit of Aspen Mountain. The summit area has been developed as the main magnet for the resort, with hiking trails, wildflowers, live music, good food and 360-degree views of Maroon Bells and Roaring Fork Valley.
Across the way, Snowmass turns on a gondola of its own -- the Elk Camp Gondola -- to get folks to the trails, vistas and food in and around mid-mountain Elk Camp. New this summer is the Lost Forest Adventure Center at Elk Camp, with ziplines, bike trails, climbing wall and mountain coaster.
Winter Park is playing off on the popularity of e-bikes this summer with 90-minute tours for pedal-assist mountain bicycles. Three tours run daily from the top of the Explorer Express chair at Sunsport Lodge (also headquarters for renowned Trestle Bike Park). E-bikers head up another 600 feet of vertical to Lunch Rock. No charge for views of Continental Divide.
Summer has arrived in Colorado's high country, and a quartet of high-altitude resorts in Summit County are cranking up for a bustling summer at four of the Rocky Mountain's busiest mountains.
Typically opening mid-June, standard warm-weather attractions include scenic chairlift or gondola rides, coasters and slides, hiking and mountain biking, disc golf, climbing walls, and music, food and drink. Expect that some labor-intensive activities like ziplining may have hours curtailed or, in the case of Breckenridge and Vail, be shut down.
At Arapahoe Basin, Summit County's only via ferreta has half- and full-day guided tours on the "iron way" -- a series of iron rungs fixed in the rock face -- that begin at 12,000 feet of elevation, and top out at the 13,000-foot summit on West Ridge. Near the base, the Aerial Adventure Park runs ziplines, swings, and balancing acts through old-growth forest.
Down the road at Keystone, tubing lives on into the summer, as crews pile up leftover snow atop Dercum Mountain (11,640). Lanes typically stay open into July, 10 a.m to 2 p.m. You must buy a ride up the gondola to the summit, and pre-pay by the run for tubing. Plenty of other activities at mountain-top Adventure Point.
On the other side of Dillon Reservoir, the force of gravity prevails at Breckenridge in the summertime. The Gold Runner Alpine Coaster pitches down 2,500 feet on elevated tracks, with two 360-degree loops and a top speed of 27 mph. The resort also has three alpine slides that run 2,600 feet down concave tracks -- with manual braking.
And to the west, Copper Mountain's summer starts in the base area. Check out bumper boats on West Lake, and a challenging go-kart track. The Woodward Wrecktangle presents a dozen obstacles to overcome in the Woodward Copper extreme sport complex. All-day summer pass includes Wrecktangle, unlimited rides up the chairlift, and limited shots at other activities.
The cheapest activities at any of the resorts are hiking and mountain biking. Check Forest Service regulations for e-bikes. Most have designated trails.
In the shadow of battling behemoths, smaller, independent ski areas are thriving. Arapahoe Basin, Echo Mountain, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Granby, Silverton Mountain and Wolf Creek all report record visits, and revenues in the last two seasons.
It was a contentious winter in the effort to return lift-served skiing to a southern Colorado mountain. But proponents are moving forward with their plans to put passengers on a chairlift at the base of what was decades ago Panadero Ski Area, now publicly owned Cuchara Mountain Park.
The usual suspects will extend the 2021-2022 ski and snowboard season through May and beyond, as a flurry of late-season storms has reinforced the snowpack throughout the West.
Summer visitors to Colorado ski and snowboard mountains will see plenty of construction going on, as seven resorts across the state string new lifts for the upcoming season.
March is typically the snowiest month in the state of Colorado, and this year, Summit County ski areas are recording over 200 inches combined.
“Welcome to a ski area without chairlifts,” said Jeff Woodward as he showed me around the snow-covered private ranch that is home to Bluebird Backcountry, about 30 minutes southeast of Steamboat Springs in Northwest Colorado.
With prices for 2022-23 comparable to recent seasons, the two-days-each Mountain Collective ski and snowboard pass returns with a shuffled resort lineup that includes two big mountains in the West coming back to the fold.
The Southwest Rockies' multi-mountain ski and snowboard season pass is on sale, as the Power Pass focuses on its seven winter resorts -- and a year-round mountain biking destination in Texas.
A modest price increase, more choice for multi-day passes, and a monthly no-interest payment plan are among the changes as the Epic Pass for the 2022-2023 winter season comes on the early-season market.