Heavy March Storms Prompt Resorts To Stay Open Longer


It's been a schizophrenic ski and snowboard season in the West, starting with a scratchy Christmas and meager January, but finishing up with mega-dumps into late March.

While storms arrived off the Pacific Ocean as usual this winter, above-freezing temps produced more rain than snow at many resorts that typically get inundated in December and January.

However, temperatures dipped in mid-winter, the storm cycle settled in, and some remarkably intense winter weather dropped near-record amounts. As a result, a number of resorts in the West have announced extensions to their seasons as the snow just keeps on coming in the Sierra, Cascades and Rockies.

Mt. Hood Meadows' 2,100 acres got lots late this season. The Oregon resort is approaching its average of 430 inches per season and has decided to run daily to April 28, then weekends until May 18. All terrain is expected to stay open until May 5; thereafter, fewer trails will be open, and lifts will run to 2:30 p.m.

Also in the Pacific Northwest, Washington's Crystal Mountain will run daily until April 14 -- as planned -- but add two weekends April 19-21 and 26-28 to finish off the season. Only intermediate and advanced terrain will be open, with limited lift operations and no lessons.

North of Lake Tahoe in California, Sugar Bowl now has nearly 15 feet at its summit following the latest storm cycle. That was plenty for mountain management to add three weeks to the season through April 28. And, both China Peak and Kirkwood have extended to April 28.

In Utah, Brian Head was the first to announce a season extensions. Once storms started sagging to the south, Utah's southernmost ski and snowboard mountain got hammered. Consequently, all lifts will keep spinning at Brian Head until May 5 -- with a hint from management that they might go beyond that.

Utah's Wasatch Range always seems to get lots of snow, be it El Nińo or La Nińa. On the eastern front, Deer Valley has added another week of skiing and riding to its calendar, ending on April 21. The skiing-only resort totaled 320 inches of snowfall so far, just a bit above average.

And Park City Mountain had decided that they have enough snow to keep spinning lifts. Mountain management announced that one of the nation's largest resorts will stay open another eight days to April 22.

Over in Colorado, Steamboat seemed to be immune to the lethargy of early-season storms, and then catching plenty in the later months. Some 340 inches fell this season, enough to add a week to the resort's operations calendar to April. 21.

And farther south, despite no snowmaking, Monarch Mountain was the beneficiary of multiple March storms to build up enough base to stay open an extra week to March 14.

-- This article will be updated if more extensions are announced.




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Colorado Resorts Respond To Surge In Uphillers On Their Mountains


More than two-thirds of all U.S. resorts allow folks to climb up their hill rather than ride the lifts, and Colorado is no exception with all but one of its resorts allowing uphiller access on their mountains.

Industry experts say high day and season ticket prices, crowded lift lines, and an explosion in backcountry popularity have prompted mountains to find a way to make it safe to climb up -- even during operating hours. Most stats are anecdotal but Copper Mountain officials told SnoCountry.com that uphilling has doubled in the last two years.  

Most designated climbing routes run up the sides of slopes to give everyone space to maneuver. Copper Mountain goes further, slotting uphillers through off-piste forested sections.

The majority of ski and snowboard areas allow uphill access with the use of skins for alpine skis, splitboarding, snowshoeing or hiking. Most require a specific pass day or season, and sometimes a season-long armband. Day ticket prices vary from free at all Vail-owned resorts, Telluride and Granby Ranch, to $79 plus $5 armband at Copper Mountain. And, it's always free with a full-priced lift ticket or season pass.

A number of resorts permit uphillers to mingle with the daily crowd, a few go 24 hours, and most split uphill time between pre- and post-operating hours.

For instance, Ski Cooper lets uphillers on the hill 24 hours a day. During operating hours, you need a day or season pass and stay on three uphill routes. After hours, you can wander all over the mountain for free.

It's similar at Monarch, where different uphill tracks are designated for pre-opening, operating hours, and after hours. Western Slope day-mountains Sunlight and Powderhorn keep one trail open while lifts are spinning, then open all when they shut down.

Granby Ranch splits morning and evening hours -- 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., then 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Copper Mountain opens two dawn routes until 8 a.m., six routes during operating hours, then two evening routes until 10 p.m.

Aspen-area resorts differ a bit. Aspen Mountain prefers uphillers after hours and overnight, while Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk all drop the ropes for uphillers at 5 a.m., and let them climb until late into the evening.

Front Range Loveland holds uphillers back until the lifts are closed, as do Crested Butte and Steamboat, which requires viewing a safety video. And Eldora lets them on only on weekdays.

These days, uphillers like to bring their dogs along, so resorts have had to develop guidelines for canine participation. Most dog-friendly are Loveland and Granby Ranch where dogs are OK anytime uphillers are permitted. Some, like Telluride and Buttermilk, keep them off until after hours. A few require leashes.

Because hours, prices, routes and restrictions vary among Colorado ski and snowboard resorts, it's best to check a resort's website or call ahead to confirm policies for that day.

The exception all of these is southwest Colorado's Purgatory, where mountain officials have kept to a no-uphilling policy.


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Colorado's Gems Card Adds Purgatory, Expands Programs For Kids


Before Epic or Ikon, before Mountain Collective or Indy Pass, there was the Colorado Gems Card that has been good for a couple of days at Colorado's off-the-beaten track ski and snowboard "gems" since 2006.

A Gems Card gets 2-for-1 deal on a day ticket or 30% off a single ticket. And, that deal holds for two visits to any of the mountains except during holiday blackout periods (Dec. 25-Jan. 1; Jan. 13-14; Feb. 17-18).

Available to anyone skiing or riding in Colorado, the Gems Card also gives adult cardholder a $79 midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) ticket at Arapahoe Basin, or a $99 weekend ticket good for two times.

After purchasing a Gems Card online, register on the CSCUSA pass portal, validate each visit on the portal, and head to the ticket window when you arrive.

This season, purveyor Colorado Ski Country USA has added a couple of new twists. Purgatory Mountain has been added as the 11th member of the Gems network. There is now a Gems Teen Card, good for two visits to any of the 11 mountains for cardholders ages 12 to 17. And, in 2023-2024, the new Parents Gem Card gets any who buys either a Teen or Kids Passport two days at participating resorts.

In recent years, the program linked up with the trade group's Kids Passport -- one of the cheapest ways to get kids on the hill. For $65, youngsters in grades 3-6 get four days at each of 20 Colorado resorts -- all 11 Gems mountains, plus Steamboat, Howelson Hill, Winter Park, four Aspen-area mountains, and Silverton. The passport includes two free junior rental packages from its sponsor.

Participating mountains are Front Range regulars Arapahoe Basin, Echo Mountain, Eldora,Loveland, and Granby Ranch.

Then there are Continental Divide straddlers Ski Cooperand Monarch, Western Slope stalwarts Powderhorn and Sunlight, and Southwest partners Ski Hesperusand now Purgatory.

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Monarch Hopes To Double Its Acreage On Other Side Of The Divide


Independently owned Monarch Mountain has submitted plans to the U.S. Forest Service that would expand the southern Colorado mountain's onto the western slope of the Continental Divide.

The addition of 377 acres in the No Name Creek basin would include a new chairlift -- undetermined yet as to what type -- and some 67 acres of trails and glades. It would be the first enlargement of Monarch's lift-accessed acres since the fixed-grip quad Pioneer opened up Curecanti Bowl to non-hikers in 1999. One of the oldest ski mountains in Colorado, Monarch put up its first lift, a rope tow, in 1939.

Proposal maps show the new lift dropping skiers and riders off on the 11,700-foot-high Continental Divide, near the top of the Breezeway chairlift on Monarch's northern front flank. From there, they can drop down 960 vertical feet in the No Name bowl area on a half-dozen cleared trails and four thinned glades. Access will also be possible from the mid-mountain Panorama chair farther down the divide. Trail ratings will be intermediate to advanced.

This area has been a popular backcountry area for snowcat tours off the top of Monarch. It's one of several 'cat routes that extend northward along the divide and hit up Milkwood Basin and the cirques around Bald Mountain.

Mountain officials said the new terrain is a response to skiers and riders seeking more advanced trails beyond the ones on the 670 acres and 1,162-vertical drop of the front side. The mountain attracts local from the town of Salida, day-trippers southern Colorado, and vacationers from Kansas and Texas.

The proposal must get approval from two national forests, as the expansion affects operations on either side of the divide. Final environmental assessments are estimated to be completed by April 2024.



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Colorado Ski Areas Provide Routes For Hiking Along the Divide


The Continental Divide runs right through the middle of Colorado and, as snow melts, a number of mountain resorts provide ready access for hiking along the nation's long spine.

The Continental Divide Trail that runs from the Montana-Canada border to the New Mexico-Mexico border weaves off and on the trail through Colorado's high country. While not always tracing the actual Continental Divide, it does venture close to several Colorado mountain resorts where hikers can hop on for as long as they like. Mountain bikers often share these trails.

Five ski and snowboard resorts share top ridgelines with the Divide. Only one of them reopens lifts for the summer, but all of them sit on U.S. Forest Service land so hiking is permitted to some of the nation's highest ground. Off-trail hiking is OK unless marked otherwise.

On old Rt. 6, Arapahoe Basin opens its Black Mountain Express chairlift to haul summer visitors to mid-mountain at 11,500 feet. From there, a marked hiking and MTB route called Summer Road winds up the upper bowl to the 12,456-foot Continental Divide ridgeline. Added benefit is via ferrata.

To the north, Loveland Ski Area is ringed by the Divide. The ski area distributes hiking maps at the base. Popular one is to the Ptarmigan Roost (top of Lift 2). From there, its a contour climb to the Divide at 12,700 feet -- and trails that cross above Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70.

Off to the west, the Divide traverses above Summit County to Tennessee Pass (10,424), where Ski Cooper sits under the Divide. Across U.S. 24 from the ski area parking lots are trailheads for dozens of routes up to and around the Divide -- including the Colorado Trail. Take time to visit he newest National Monument in the country, Camp Hale, where 10th Mountain Division troops trained before heading the Alps in Europe.

Next ski area down the Divide is Monarch. Situated just below Monarch Pass (11,312) on U.S. 50, the area is home to an intersection of the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Best access is up from the ski area entrance on the pass. However, a turnoff to Old Monarch Pass leads off the beaten track and trails around the top of the ski area.

A Collegiate Loop MTB trail starts at the top of the pass and runs 153 to the north into the Collegiate Mountain Range -- home to more than a dozen 14,000-foot peaks. And, scenic gondola lifts hikers to start on the high ground.

And lastly, powder haven Wolf Creek Ski Area dives off the east side of the Divide. Pullover parking during the summer at the ski area provides access to easy strolls around the base. Park up U.S. 160 on the 10,847-foot-high pass and hikers can catch the Continental Divide Trail that winds southward. along the ridge above the ski mountain. Or head north into the density of the Weminuche Wilderness.


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Big Snow Year Now Has Colorado Rivers Cookin'


Last winter was one for the ages in the Colorado Rockies and, now, with the spring snowmelt season, those winter's high-speed, raucous runs on the slopes can be replicated on the swollen rivers of Colorado.

Dozens of rivers feed off the Continental Divide, many of them passing close by some of Colorado's ski and snowboard resorts. This spring's runoff couldn't be better. Record snowfall stored in the hills, then a cool and rainy spring have combined to bring on a long  rafting season.

The variety of flows runs from the Class I easy float to the roaring Class IV rapids. Flotations devices range from the raft, kayak, inner tubes and the latest craze, the standup paddle board -- depending upon the severity of flow. Focusing on the thrill-a-minute raft trip, here's what some of Colorado rivers have to offer.

Starting up north, the Yampa River flows right past Steamboat Resort and through the middle of Steamboat Springs. One of the few major waterways in the West without a dam, the Yampa dives into Dinosaur National Monument, with its soaring gorge walls and Class II and III rapids. A sense of wildness settles in for a multi-day, 46-mile run to the confluence with the Green River in Utah.

Within range of Summit County's four ski mountains, including Arapahoe Basin and Copper, flows the Blue River. Sourcing off Hoosier Pass, it pauses in Dillon Reservoir before heading north to join the Colorado River. Half-day raft trips begin below the dam and paddles through Class II and III rapids before takeout -- about a five-mile trip that is ideal for families.

To the south, Monarch Mountain stands above Salida and the Upper Arkansas River basin. A plethora of rafting companies await -- from the headwaters near Leadville and Ski Cooper down the valley to Salida and beyond. Gnarly Browns Canyon, with Class IV rapids, beckons the most adventurous, while there's a full menu of half- and full-day beginner, family, and even "happy hour" floats along the way.

Southwest Colorado mountains captured record-breaking snowfall this winter. Thus, its river system is bloated full. Flowing off Lizard Head Pass above Telluride, the Dolores River is bankful after a decade of low flow. Its stunning route through canyons of soaring sandstone multi-colored cliffs will not disappoint. Multi-day trips run from three days to a 10-day journey for put-in near Dolores to take-out in remote Unaweep Canyon.

Nearby, the Animas River has held its high water since early May. Sourcing above Silverton Mountain and Purgatory Mountain Resort, the Animas runs dam-free for several hundred miles into the Colorado River. Rafting centers around Durango. If conditions moderate, the Class IV and V rapids in the Upper Animas gorge and near Rockwood rival any. Then the river flattens out for half- and full-day trips right through the city of Durango.



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The Roster Of Season-Pass Partnerships In West Expands For Next Season


The Powder Allianceand dozens of mid-sized ski and snowboard mountains in the West have essentially created mega-passes through reciprocal lift ticket arrangements that mean anywhere from one to three free days at dozens of similar resorts.

The idea of tacking on free days at other mountains onto season passes has been building for more than a decade -- especially in response to mega-passes like Ikon and Epic -- and now stands firmly as an alternative to second-tier, multi-mountain independents like Indy Pass and Mountain Collective.

The first king of reciprocals was Monarch. About five years ago, the Colorado day-mountain burst out with some 40 partners in the U.S. and overseas who gave Monarch passholders three free days on their hills. For the 2023-2024 season, Monarch has signed up some 20 U.S. partners -- so far -- including a new bunch from the Power Pass network.

Not to be outdone, Ski Cooper dove headfirst into the reciprocal fray and now has 60 resorts on its benefit page. The Colorado mountain's season pass means three days at a dozen mountains in both the Northeast and Midwest, and more than 20 in the West.

Other resorts in the West with extensive partner lists include Loup Loup in Washington with diverse arrangements with a half-dozen partners, and Idaho's Lookout Pass that includes a half-day, early-season ticket at Jackson Hole. Buy a season pass at Nevada's Lee Canyon and get not only Power Pass resort access but two dozen others around the country.

With six resorts, the Powder Alliance debuted in 2013 as part of the first wave of season passes including reciprocal days at an array of partner-mountains.

Fifteen of the Alliance's 22 resorts reside in the West, making the reciprocal arrangement attractive to those who catch the wanderlust for the Rockies and Sierra. California is home to the most (5), while plenty spread around the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, even New Mexico.



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After A Snowy Winter, Many Colorado Resorts Set To Extend Their Seasons


With all the snow that fell on the Rockies this season, it's time to scrub the springtime calendar and head back up to more than a half-dozen Colorado mountains that have extended their seasons.

Adding days beyond announced closings can be a slippery slope, as mountain managers have to balance the cost of firing up the lifts against the unpredictable late-season demand for more turns. But, for some, this season's record-breaking snowfall made the decision easier.

Copper Mountain has gone late into April three of the last four seasons, and the 2022-2023 season will be no different. Mountain officials that May 7 will be the final day at Copper -- a two-week extension and its latest closing date in nearly three decades.

In Aspen, officials will keep Aspen Highlands open an extra week to April 16, while Aspen Mountain will spin its lifts to April 23. Officials pointed to above-average snowfall every month since October and persistent cold weather as reasons for staying open longer than expected.

Three Colorado ski and snowboard mountains got at least 50% more than their historic average: Purgatory, Sunlight and Powderhorn. Despite Nature's largesse, the latter two will close as scheduled after the first weekend in April -- about when they do normally. At Purgatory, however, management pushed daily ops back to April 9, and plans to stay open on weekends until April 23 -- about a week later than usual.

Steamboat received tons of snow this season -- nearly 300 inches -- so the northern Colorado resort will keep things on the go for an extra week, to April. It's the first seasone extension for The 'Boat in 30 years.

Monarch will continue a recent tradition of putting skiers and riders on the hill deep into April, will do so again by targeting April 23 as its final day on the operations.

Winter Park, which is known to push the limits of a skiing and riding season, announced it will stick to its announced April 23 closing date. However, companion mountain Mary Jane is expected to keep going into May as long as conditions permit.

The usual "TBA" suspects remain so this season, with Breckenridge, Loveland and Arapaho Basin setting temporary dates but planning to hang on as long as possible.


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In Colorado, Snowcats Take To The Highest Ground


Three Colorado ski and snowboard mountains tuck right beneath the Continental Divide, so they can send snowcats full of skiers and riders for freshies off the highest ridge in the West.

The Rockies have been dumped on this season, bringing the deep-deep stuff into the bowls, gullies, chutes and glades all over the high country -- especially onto the top o' the world of the Continental Divide. As a result, snowcat tour reservations have upticked, so anyone planning such an adventure should lock down a date as soon as possible.

Starting on the southern wing of the Divide, Monarch has expanded its snowcat operations in recent years, moving farther and farther up Waterdog Ridge over Bald Mountain and into NoName Basin. Its 1,000 acres ski bigger than its stats, with dozens off steep routes plunging off the Divide to choose from.

All-day tours can handle up to 12 with minimum age of 14, all of whom must be adept at skiing or riding in varieties of untracked snow down steep pitches. After orientation at the base, tours begin at 9 a.m. Lunch is provided. Expect about 10 runs per day, totalling about 10,000 vertical feet.

An hour-and-half drive north is Ski Cooper/Chicago Ridge, perched just east of Tennessee Pass (10,423 feet). Chicago Ridge on the Continental Divide -- where the 10th Mountain Division troops trained for WWII -- looms just above in-bounds trails, its 12,850-foot elevation among the highest with snowcat tours. More than 2,600 acres of bowls and glades await.

Ski Cooper has gone primarily to half-day tours on Friday-Sunday at 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m., although selected dates have full-day tours. Skiers and riders have to get over to the backside base of Piney Basin chair to get picked up by 12-seat 'cat. A half-day tour typically means a half-dozen runs. Tickets online or at will-call window, but seats fill up quickly.

Take another hour drive and hit up Loveland, where a new idea in snowcat skiing has taken hold. Like Monarch, snowcat rides begin right on the Divide but, unlike any others, they don't cost anything extra.

For the past decade, the Ridgecat has set up shop on the Divide, a short traverse from the top of Lift 9. When 18 seats are filled, it takes off for a short ride up the Divide, dropping off skiers and riders at designated spots for deep-and-steep above treeline routes. The 'cat returns to reload. All runs hook into the in-bounds trail system to get back to Lift 9 or the rest of the mountain.

Beginning Feb. 3, the Ridgecat runs Friday-Sunday, starting at 10 a.m. each day with the last ride at 3 p.m. Loveland season passholders can go right to the pickup spot, while daily ticket skiers and rider must pick up a free Ridgecat pass at the base before heading up.


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Behind-The-Scenes Upgrades Highlight Taos, Purgatory, Monarch Openings


A trio of southern tier resorts that often line up to catch La Nińa storms opened this season focusing on making skier-experience improvements rather than splashing headline projects.

At Taos Ski Valley, the main work over the last couple of seasons has been to reduce the resort's carbon footprint. This season, a new all-electric snowcat will patrol the slopes, and daytime operations of chairlifts and snowmaking will be powered exclusively by solar energy. Add in high-efficient snow guns and thermal wells heating and cooling the Blake Hotel, and the northern New Mexico resort has jumped into the lead among environmentally friendly operations.

Due to a rash of forest fires in the area, crews have worked to create a fire break and to removed diseased trees on 320 acres within the mountain's boundaries.

After installation of high-speed chairs in recent seasons, Purgatory ownership has shifted its financial focus to snowmaking. This summer's upgrades in pumps, compressors and snow guns got the front side of the mountain open on time in November.

Mechanics delved into the workings of Lifts 1 and 3 to make them more reliable during the season, and the grooming fleet continues to modernize.

Down below, 50 more parking spots went in in the lower parking lot, with hopes of expanding the resort's remote parking in coming years. On-the-hill eateries got a fresh menu, and WiFi access has expanded onto the back side of the mountain.

At Monarch, season pass holders get more space to store their equipment at the mountain with 65 more lockers in a new room with direct outside access. Scan RFID season pass to get in.

Forest crews have taken out about as many beetle-infested spruce trees as they can within the existing trail map. Next summer -- if National Forest is willing -- they hope to open up space in backcountry areas, such as No Name Basin.






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Colorado’s Independent Ski Areas Thriving In Shadow Of dueling, Consolidating Resort Giants


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.

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Snowcat Tours Expand Terrain At Smaller Colorado Resorts


At a trio of Colorado mountains, snowcat tours take skiers and snowboarders beyond the ropes to track up the untouched Alpine terrain -- instantly enlarging and enhancing their day in the high country.

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A Pair Of Old-Time Storm-Catchers Beckon From Continental Divide


It's no coincidence that the Continental Divide is home to a collection of some of the oldest ski areas in the nation as it winds its way through the middle of Colorado.

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Bring The Kids And Save Some Bucks This Season


A burgeoning trend in the ski and snowboard industry is for resorts and states all across the country to expand ski-free programs for youngsters and teens in hopes they stick with the sport -- and also save families a bit on ski vacations.

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Western Season Passes For 2021-2022 Loaded With Extras


The options keep on coming, as single-mountain season passes for next season have more add-ons than ever before to compete with the multi-resort mega-passes.

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  1508 Hits

Headin' Uphill Rapidly Rising In Popularity In Colorado


Whether it be Covid-distance crowds, the high price of lift tickets, or simply a need to breathe the Great Outdoors, the participation in uphill skiing has exploded in Colorado this season.

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Snowcat Skiing, Riding Limited In Colorado This Season


Hoppin' a ride on a snowcat to get off the piste and into the powder stashes of the backcountry is a popular pastime at Colorado resorts. But this season, there are fewer options than normal.

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Covid-Related Innovation Reigns As Colorado Resorts Roll Out Plans


Colorado resort officials acknowledge that brainstorming for the 2020-21 season has stretched their minds more than ever. With Epic and Ikon pass protocols in place, the more independent mountains are rolling out their plans.

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Ikon, Western Resorts Extend Preseason Pass Deals


The effect of the coronavirus has rippled across the U.S., and the domestic ski and snowboard industry is no exception.

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Closed For Downhill, Some U.S. Resorts Open Uphill Access


As all but a handful of U.S. resorts either suspend operations or shut down for the season, a number of them still permit skiers and riders to climb their slopes and get a few turns.

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