Northern Colorado Resorts Open Up With New Lifts, Terrain


The Continental Divide brings deep snowfall to northern Colorado's mountains where three ski and snowboard operations are constantly upping their games.

Up north, Steamboat  (3,741 a., 3,668 vert.) wraps up a multi-year overhaul up with the extension of the new Wild Blue Gondola to the 10,384-foot-high summit of Sunshine Peak, and a high-speed chair for more expert terrain.

The 10-seat gondola cabins load at the base, head to a mid-station at the revamped Greenhorn Ranch learning center, and then take a sharp right to complete a 13-minute run to the top. The Wild Blue base-to-summit gondola will nearly double the ability to get people out of the totally remodeled base area and help loosen morning and late-day choke points.

Also added to the trail map is a detachable quad on the far east boundary off Mahogany Ridge into the Fish Creek area -- long a locals' powder stash. The new quad serves 655 acres of gullies and glades, and eliminates a hike out.

About 80 miles down U.S. 40, Winter Park's (3,081 a., 3,060 vert.) skiers and riders who want more out of the Denver-owned hill will get a glimpse of the future with a new six-pack in the mountain's midsection.

Named Wild Spur Express, the new detachable six-seater runs along the same route as the 36-year-old Pioneer Express four-pack, one of the oldest high-speed chairs in Colorado. The new detachable chair increases uphill capacity by 30% in the popular Vasquez Ridge section. To further ease congestion, officials added a mid-station to keep more folks on the hill.

The new high-speed is the first move of a proposed multi-year project to expand the Vasquez Ridge and Cirque sections, which top out at 12,060 feet elevation. Also planned is a three-mile gondola from the downtown Winter Park.

About 30 miles north, Granby Ranch Ski Resort (406 a., 1,000 vert.) continues to dig its way out of a tumultuous 40-year history. Being the only Colorado ski and snowboard mountain on private land has attracted, over the years, all manner of developers with schemes of varying success. New ownership in 2021 promised stability

New this season is a 400-foot-long conveyor at the base to further promote Granby as a learner's hill.

Granby's on the Indy Pass, while both Steamboat and Winter Park accept Ikon Pass.


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Big And Small, Winter Park And Granby Ranch Terrain Challenges All Mountain Bikers


Mountain bike parks in the West come in all shapes and sizes, exemplified by two close neighbors in northern Colorado that offer up extremes of acreage, vertical drop and lift capacity while both providing MTB experiences for all abilities.

At Winter Park, the bike park is called Trestle Park. It's one of the largest mountain bike parks in the West. It covers most of Winter Park's 3,000 acres inside the ropes, and it's one of only a few resorts that fires up multiple lifts for the MTB season.

Open daily at 10 a.m. through September, The Gondola carries up to 10,700 feet of elevation to upper mountain. From there, the high-speed Explorer Express serves the lower mountain, while the detachable Olympia quad delivers riders to the highest point on Winter Park.

The MTB trail map lays out more than 40 miles of gravity single-track trails, with top-to-bottom vertical drop of 2,680 feet. It divides out into freeride and technical trails, with a sprinkling of X-C pedal routes all over the hill.

Freeriders plunge down 13 blacks, 16 blue and blue-blacks, and three greens -- each with machine-cut routes enhanced by man-made features both natural and constructed. Technical bikers get five greens, four blue/blacks and nine purely black trails to choose from. Special to Trestle Park is that blues and blacks co-mingle all over the mountain; the most demanding Pro Line requires a special pass.

Blessed with solid soils and plenty of rock, the park is also open Friday and Saturday evenings until 6:30 p.m. for those who have to have just one more run.

A half-hour's drive north on U.S. 40 sits Granby Ranch -- the Colorado David to Winter Park's Goliath. Nestled in a mountain valley near the town of Granby, this hill contains about 20 miles of single-track and one chairlift -- all tightly intertwined on 400 acres of terrain with 800 vertical feet of drop.

Fourteen named downhill trails divide evenly among greens, blues, black diamonds and double-black diamonds. The double-diamond 4,200-foot long Drifter is the steepest on the hill, while but the ambling green Strawberry Jam wanders about for two miles from top to bottom.

The high-speed quad Quick Draw chairlift provides the uphill muscle to get riders to the 9,200-foot summit in four minutes. It fires up at 9 a.m. and runs until 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays.

Reviewers note that the compact layout lends itself to allowing groups with differing abilities to take different tracks while riding the lift together. A variety of soils under-wheel keeps riders' attention. A plethora of another 40 miles of X-C trails spider off the mountain into the surrounding terrain.




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Winter's Largesse Means More Choices For Late-Spring Skiing, Riding In The West


With record snowfalls in the West this winter, we are now going to see just how late into the year the Jones for skiing and riding can last.

Skiers and riders should expect limited terrain, fewer lifts and variable conditions if they head into the hills this spring. "Playing the mountain" is a well-established spring tradition, meaning following the sun as it runs across the trails to find the soft -- but not too soft -- snow.

Springtime brings out the quirky in managers of skiing and riding mountains. For instance, Brighton plans to go until May 29 but because it will only spin the Milly chair, crews will move the rails and boxes over there for a top-to-bottom terrain park. Willamette Pass will be open for weekends until May 14 and has a $19 ticket for sale.

But some things don't change. Timberline Lodge will once again have no closing date for its alpine slopes on the shoulder of Mt. Hood, as snow typically stays year-round on the highest Palmer Snowfield terrain. The mountain usually closes late summer or early fall to take a breath before reopening for the next winter.

Another old favorite resurfaces this summer. Beartooth Basin, America’s only summer-only ski area (on account of its location on the Beartooth Highway connecting Wyoming and Montana, which closes in winter), will open this summer after sitting out 2022 for lack of snow. The season is expected to go from Memorial Day into July.

The king of summer skiing is once again Mammoth Mountain. Some 800 inches of snow fell this winter, and the California resort plans to stay open to July 31 -- with a teaser for days beyond that. Compadre Palisades Tahoe says Memorial Day is the earliest they'll close.

Colorado's perennial champion, Arapahoe Basin, has targets June 4 as a temporary closing date. But up there on the Continental Divide, nothing is certain. Keep track via Al's Blog.

Breckenridge has declined to be specific, saying "TBA May." Winter Park plans to stay open until May 14, or until "ALAP" -- a new acronym created by the resort's PR staff.

Elsewhere, tentative closings dates have been set for Mt. Bachelor (May 28) and Crystal Mountain (May 21) in the Northwest. In Utah Snowbird will run daily to May 14 and on weekends until Memorial Day ("at least"), and Solitude says it will stay open until May 21.

Bringing up the rear are Copper (May 7), Loveland (May 7), and Bogus Basin (May 6).

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Colorado Resorts Gear Up For Summer Lift Construction


When outdoors enthusiasts head to the Colorado Rockies this summer, they will be a sneak peak at a half-dozen new and replacement lifts that are expected to be ready to go for the 2023-2024 ski and snowboard season.

Beginning in the north, the multi-year makeover at Steamboat culminates this summer with the second-leg of Wild Blue gondola and a new high-speed quad to open up Mahogany Ridge.

The first leg of the 10-seat gondola began spinning this season, topping out at a regraded "terrain-based learning" terrain now named Greenhorn Ranch. Ski school headquarters moved up there, served by four moving carpets and a new high-speed quad to make Greenhorn Ranch an encapsulated learning center.

This summer, the Wild Blue gondola will be extended to the 10,384-foot ridgetop Sunshine Peak. The new quad will serve new terrain on the east boundary in Fish Creek Canyon.

At Winter Park, the out-of-the-way Vasquez Ridge trail network will get a faster ride as the 37-year-old four-person Pioneer Express will be replaced by a six-seat detachable chair. A mid-station will improve access of the lower moderate terrain and the more gnarly upper bump runs.

In Summit County, Keystone is scheduled to finally put up the high-speed Bergman Express six-pack to open up heretofore hike-to upper mountain terrain. Postponed last summer, installing of the new chair gives intermediate skiers and riders a taste of alpine bowl skiing, while provide lift access to steeper Erickson Bowl next door.

At Breckenridge, an upgrade at Peak 8 base will replace fixed-grip Lift 5 -- put up in 1970 as one of the resort's first lifts. The new high-speed quad Lift 5 will swish novices higher onto the mountain, as well as give prime access to the long Park Lane terrain park.

Up on Aspen Mountain, the long-awaited Pandora expansion will get its new chairlift this summer. As Aspen's first boundary expansion since it opened in 1946, adding the Pandora snowfields off the summit means 153 acres and a new high-speed quad to skier's right off the summit.

Finally, at Silverton Mountain, crews will install a second fixed-grip chair for its guided powder-stash terrain. Located east of the existing double chair, the new chair will let skiers and riders lap the steeps off Velocity Basin without having to return to the base.

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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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Skiers, Snowboarders Can Ride The Rails To Winter Park


Alternate kinds of transportation are all the rave these days, and Colorado visitors and locals can count the Winter Park "ski train" as their own special contribution -- for much of the last eight decades. 

Running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 26, the Winter Park Express takes skiers and riders over the Amtrak tracks from downtown Denver's Union Station to within walking distance of the chairlifts at Winter Park. Ski-train railcars hitch a ride on the transcontinental Amtrak California Zephyr on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

In the morning, the ski train departs Denver's Union Station at 7 a.m. Seating is limited to about 500, so online reservations are highly recommended.

For $34 one-way adult, $17 preteens -- skiers and riders jump take a two-hour ride of 56 miles, 49 tunnels and 4,000 feet of vertical rise in order to get to Winter Park --- just in time for first chair at 9 a.m. Skis and 'boards get to stow away for free. Ski train ticket-holders sit in coach class.

To return to Denver, skiers and riders head to the Winter Park platform to catch the eastbound Zephyr. It departs at 4:30 p.m. to wind back down from the Continental Divide to the Denver basin and arrive at Union Station 6:30 p.m.

Skiers and 'boarders can customize their train trip over any number of days. For instance, they can ride up on a Friday, book a week's stay at Winter Park, and take the return trip any day the train returns to Denver. During the week -- when the train doesn't stop at Winter Park -- skiers and riders can stay on to the next top in Frasier, and hop a shuttle to the slopes.

The history of "ski trains" runs back into the 1930s. One of the earliest hauled skiers from Seattle-Tacoma up to what is now Snoqualmie. Back east, weekend ski trains provided transport from Boston and New York City to the New England ski areas into the 1970s.

When Winter Park opened in 1940, the first iteration of the ski train steamed up from Denver. It has remain viable until 2009 when it shut down. In 2015, Amtrak and partners agreed to re-christen the Winter Park Express.

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What's New As Brian Head, Winter Park, Wolf Creek, Loveland Open


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.






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Western Slope: Colorado's Summertime Playground In The Mountains


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.

Several resorts don't run their lifts in the summer -- Powderhorn, Sunlight, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk -- but remain open for hiking and mountain biking, and general summertime leisure time.

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.



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No Surprises Among Western Resorts Staying Open Late


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.

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No Limits For Ikon Road Trip To Winter Park, Steamboat


Of the mountains that the Ikon Pass covers in Colorado, Steamboat and Winter Park encompass some 6,000 acres and have something for everyone: Scads of intermediate runs, cruisers and groomers galore, and fields of moguls.

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Winter Park Ski Train Returns As Convenient Alternative To Driving


Traffic and parking have been hot topics this busy ski and snowboard season, but one way to avoid all that is to hop aboard the Winter Park Express train.

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USA Today Readers Name Winter Park Resort As Best Ski Resort in North America…Again


You could say Winter Park Resort’s excitement level is off the charts because for the third time USA Today readers named the ski resort the best in North America. Winter Park beat out 19 other nominated North American resorts for the coveted title.

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The Ikon Pass Showcases Six Colorado Resorts


With snowmaking temps more favorable, more and more Colorado ski and snowboard resorts are opening, and Ikon Pass holders can try out as much variety in Colorado as in any other state in the Union.

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Waiting For The Snow: Weather Expected To Turn Favorable For Resort Openings


The 2021-22 ski and snowboard season has gotten off to a rocky start, with only the highest-elevation slopes open and all others waiting impatiently for more snowfall and colder temps.

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Winter Park Resort To Host Upslope Brewing’s Signature Backcountry Tap Room This Fall


Winter Park Resort is sending off summer with one last hurrah high up on the mountain. On Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, Winter Park Resort, along with Upslope Brewing Company, will host a signature Backcountry Tap Room event – fresh mountain air, views for miles and refreshing craft beer all included.

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Wonder Of Gold: Relish The Color Of Autumn At Colorado Mountain Resorts


In Colorado, the most definitive way to know that summer is over and winter is not long off comes when the high-country aspen groves put on their brilliant yellow coats.

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Eager Travelers Are Already Looking Ahead to Winter Vacations


Summer is still in full swing, but early indication shows that there is already high demand for winter mountain vacations. And, planning ahead certainly pays off.

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Colorado Opens Its Taps For August Brewfests


The month of August puts Colorado's mountains on display -- their high meadows flowing with chilly creek waters. What better to celebrate the high country with than a few mugs of craft beer. 

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Ride A Lift Up, Mountain Bike Back Down At 7 Colorado Resorts


When the snow melts and all that’s left of Colorado’s ski resorts are the seemingly endless trails, rushing mountain water, bright green aspen glades and wildflower-covered meadows, what is there to possibly do?

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The Colorado Mountains Are Alive With Summer Music Festivals


Despite Covid restrictions, the ski and snowboard resorts of Colorado had a hot summer season last year with hiking, biking, scenic lift rides, and other social-distanced activities. But one key attraction was missing: Music.

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