|Courtney's Skiing Page|
(Last update: 9/02)
"Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn."
(from the classic movie "Better Off Dead")
My first time skiing was while I was a college student in southern California. I went with a group of students to a tiny little place called Mountain High, in the San Gabriel mountains near Pasadena. They had a great group rate for night skiing, probably because ordinarily in southern California, "night skiing" is a euphemism for "flailing around on solid ice". But that night we were lucky - the temperature during the day had been cold, and it was snowing. For those of us who had never skied before, one of the other students on the trip gave us a 5-minute lecture on how to ski. After that, we were on our own. Fortunately for me, my experience with figure skating translated pretty well, and it didn't take long before we were speeding down the beginner's slopes. I was covered in snow from wipe-outs, squinting my eyes against the falling snow (no goggles!), and laughing for the sheer joy of it. I was hooked - I knew right away this was a sport for me!
Now, years later, after hundreds more days of skiing, I love it even more than I did then. The rhythm and challenge of the moguls, the adrenaline rush of the steep slopes, the fun and adventure of tree skiing, the amazing, incomparable feel of floating through deep powder...all this and more is why every year I look forward with anxious anticipation to the start of ski season. And lucky me, I live in Colorado now, so there's plenty of good skiing to be had!
Alta is my absolute all-time favorite place to ski. You know those Utah license plates that say "The Greatest Snow on Earth"? They're not kidding. And Alta gets the most - over 500" of dry, fluffy, incredible powder in an average year. It's the only place I've skied so far where I have had honest-to-goodness waist and even chest deep powder, like you see in the ski magazines. And not only that, but the terrain is excellent. Alta may be small compared to places like Vail, but what they've got is quality. The black terrain is far steeper than anything at the front range Colorado resorts, and there's tons of adventurous stuff to do if you're up for some hiking. And lest you think it's all for the experts, Alta has great beginner and intermediate terrain as well. The lifts are slow, and there's no nightlife to speak of - but that's not what Alta is about. If you go to Alta, you're there to ski. And the harder you ski, the better Alta gets. But remember, Alta is for skiers - they don't allow snowboards.
Snowbird is right next to Alta. These days you can even get a combined lift ticket and ski both! Although I enjoy skiing Snowbird, in my mind it doesn't quite measure up to it's next door neighbor. It's bigger, and it gets almost as much nice snow, and it too has excellent black terrain - but somehow the snow quality doesn't stay good for nearly as long after a storm. I don't know if there's more people skiing it off, or what, but it always seems like if it's more than 3 days after a storm, the snow quality sucks compared to Alta. The snow base never seems as good, either, even when Snowbird is claiming the same base depth as Alta. I usually ski Snowbird in the relatively early season (Christmas time), and if it's more than a couple days after a storm, I end up scraping over countless rocks. (Whereas, at Alta, I may hardly see any.) Still, with fresh snow, Snowbird is awesome, with tons of fun areas to ski. Unlike Alta, though, it's really only for good skiers. They have a few runs marked as green on their trail maps, but most of those would be rated blue at another resort.
Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park is my favorite resort close to Denver. Winter Park actually consists of two areas - Winter Park, and Mary Jane. Mary Jane is the home of most of the steeper terrain, and it's terrific if you love moguls like I do. There's also some great tree skiing to be had off the Timberline lift, where you can often find really nice snow for days after the last storm. The snow oftens seems better in general at Winter Park than the other front range resorts - perhaps they are in a slightly better geographic location, right next to Berthoud Pass.
Telluride is my favorite resort in Colorado. It's a long drive from Denver (6.5 hours with good roads), but Robert and I think the skiing is worth at least one trip per winter. Telluride has much steeper terrain than the front range resorts, and the runs seem longer. There's almost never any lift lines, and the views are terrific. The mogul runs are truly awesome - long, unrelenting, and steep, with nicely shaped bumps. We've been lucky so far and have happened to get snow while we're in town, so we've also had some great powder days there. Aside from the steep stuff, they also have a really excellent set of beginner runs over on the Mountain Village side.
Horrifically expensive, and a bit of a drive from Denver (2 hours each way), but enormously big with some really nice runs. I usually only ski there once or twice a season due to cost, but I always enjoy it. Snow quality in the back bowls can be a toss-up (I've skied some truly awful crunchy stuff there), but when it's good, there's an immense variety of places to ski. The new Blue Sky Basin area is particularly nice, with a lot of fun tree skiing.
Keystone has some fun areas - the Outback and North Peak are where I usually like to ski. The Outback area has a whole host of fun little gullies and slots through the trees. However, it's often crowded, and the front side of the mountain often gets very icy by the end of the day. There's only one way to ski back to the parking lots, and that run turns into an nasty, hardpacked death zone full of people who are just barely in control, all weaving and dodging in unexpected ways.
Breckenridge is okay. For some reason, in recent years when I've gone the snow coverage hasn't been very good, but I do remember times a while back when they had nice snow and I had a good time. These days it also often seems very very crowded. The t-bar lift up to the bowls is often good for a laugh - it's supposed to be an "experts only" lift, but since there aren't many t-bar lifts in Colorado, many people have no clue how to use one. This leads to some pretty spectacular wipe-outs in the loading zone!
Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
I really like Arapahoe Basin. It's small, but like Alta in Utah, it's got quality. Most of the resort is above timberline, so there's a free and open quality to the skiing that is rare in Colorado resorts. They also have some good adventurous hike-to terrain. However, you have to pick your ski day carefully, if you're prone to getting cold - the wind can be fierce! And if the clouds are low, you can get white-out conditions in all that wide open terrain.
I've skied Loveland a couple times, and don't have strong feelings about it one way or the other. It has the advantage of being closer than the other resorts, but it's a lot smaller, and I think A-Basin has better terrain.
Steamboat can be a really great place to ski. They have some of the best tree skiing in Colorado, in the Christmas Tree Bowl area. I've also had some really nice powder there. It's really beautiful after a storm, the trees on the upper mountain get almost totally encrusted with snow due to the high winds that often occur. However, stay away from Steamboat in the spring! The altitude is low, and the resort faces into the sun, so during the day everything melts into sloppy slush, and then at night it freezes into a crunchy, icy, mess.
Eldora is a small resort close to Boulder. It's nice not having to drive up I-70, but on the other hand, it hardly seems worth it since the advanced terrain is pretty meager. It might be a good place to learn to ski, though.
Crested Butte, Colorado
I spent one weekend skiing at Crested Butte the first year I was in Colorado, and really enjoyed it. At that point I was just beginning to feel comfortable on black runs and so I didn't try any of their "extreme" terrain, but I'm told they have the best and steepest terrain in Colorado. I definitely plan to go back and ski there again, now that I'm a much better skier!
Aspen Mountain, Colorado
Aspen definitely lives up to its reputation as super expensive - the lift ticket prices are outrageous! Robert and I ski there by going on Colorado Mountain Club trips, where we get group deals on tickets and stay in Glenwood Springs to save money. That said, the mountain is actually quite fun to ski. They have some very nice mogul runs, and the lift lines are usually nonexistent.
Snowmass is owned by the same company as owns Aspen Mountain, which means it too has outrageously priced lift tickets. Nevertheless, I really enjoy skiing Snowmass. It's not that steep, but there's a nice variety of terrain, and the Headwall and Hanging Valley areas have some fun trees. Every time I've gone the snow conditions have been very good, better than Aspen Mountain, and it's been pretty uncrowded.
I spent a 3-day weekend skiing at Mammoth with the JPL ski club, back when I was a student at Caltech. At the time, I wasn't experienced enough to do more than "survival skiing" down a black run, so there were a lot of runs I didn't ski! But what I did ski, I had a lot of fun on. I would love to go back and ski there again now that I'm a better skier. I remember the mountain as being huge, and the terrain as being quite varied. The only negative thing I recall was that the wind was truly fierce on one of the days - I had trouble getting off the chairlift at times, and I had my only experience ever with a badly windburned face afterwards. (It was awful. Much worse than sunburn.)
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