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Playing in the Snow

By EVELYN KANTER
New terrain, new lifts and new flights at North America’s top ski and snowboard resorts are making this season bigger and better for enthusiasts of all ability levels.  Here’s what awaits you at an old favorite to return to, or a new favorite you haven’t sampled yet.

Midwest
Granite Peak – The Dasher high speed lift added last season has been an enormous success, and this season the resort is enhancing both tree skiing and the beginner area.  There are also more than 20 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, including lighted trails for night skiing.  Book a Family Festival package that includes free rentals for the entire family, along with free horse-drawn wagon rides and Saturday night skiing.


Colorado
Crested Butte — Gunnison County, Colorado, is an old coal mining town-turned fabulous ski destination. This year there will be direct flights from O’Hare to Crested Butte on 10 Saturdays in peak skiing season.

Breckenridge —Peak 6 opens this year, greatly expanding Breck’s terrain, with 400 acres of lift-served runs and bowls rated for intermediate skiers and another 150 acres of hike-to terrain, for experts and powderhounds.  Also new this season is a winter zipline at Peak 8 that essentially follows the path of Breck’s huge Freeway Terrain Park, at speeds up to 50mph.

Vail – The heavily-used Mountaintop Express quad from mid-Vail to the back bowls has been replaced by a six-passenger high speed lift that will reduce lift lines significantly.   Also, the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships return to Vail in March for the second year.

Steamboat - Intrawest has pumped around $40 million into Steamboat since buying the resort a few years ago, including this season’s opening of a new day lodge in the Storm Peak/Four Points area.  This is the place to ski with Olympic legend Billy Kidd, who somehow manages to keep his trademark cowboy hat firmly on his head as he zips down the slopes making perfect turns.  Take a day off turning your skis to learn how to turn your car on snow and ice at the Briddestone Winter Driving School, just outside town.  I did this last season, and learned valuable accident avoidance techniques.

Winter Park – A new 48-passenger snowcat provides new access to the Cirque, where 1,332 acres of spectacular off-piste terrain awaits. A pass for the 48-passenger Cirque Sled is just $10 and is good for unlimited rides all season long. And this is the first full season for the Coca-Cola Tubing Hill for family fun.

Silverton – The only Colorado resort that offers heli-skiing, Silverton is adding overnight heli-touring trips this season. This is for extreme adventurers only, since you’ll be sleeping in a tent in the snow and eating by campfire before a day of S-turns in glorious untracked powder, with an additional heli drop.

Estes Park – Experts can take guided back country excursions with local outfitter Climbing Life on Longs Peak, generally regarded as the best back country skiing along the Continental Divide.  Excursions with AMGA Certified Ski Guides range from mellow to heart-pounding at elevations between 9,500’and the sumit at
14,255’

Vail Resorts – The latest version of the Epic Pass provides access to 18 mountains in five states plus five free days at Verbier, France and Arlberg, Austria.  It’s an epic deal, with unlimited and unrestricted skiing and riding at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Eldora in Colorado; Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan.

Utah
Deer Valley —  Season pass holders at Alta, Deer Valley, Park City and Snowbird can now enjoy three days of free skiing or snowboarding at each of the other resorts. Best known for its impeccable grooming, with long cruisers that invite impeccable turns, Deer Valley  continues to be one of the few remaining resorts that does not allow snowboarding.  Kids ski free and save 20% on lodging, lift tickets and equipment rentals with the Family Value Package, with accommodations at the Lodges at Deer Valley and Silver Baron Lodge. Deer Valley is consistently top-rated for its amenities, including a free overnight ski-check.  There is ample terrain for beginners and intermediates, plus sections for seriously advanced skiers, and the resort prints a separate trail map for experts only.

Wyoming
Jackson Hole – There are additional flights from Chicago to Jackson Hole, where the airport has just completed a $30 million renovation and expansion.  Then, it’s just 30 minutes to its legendary slopes.  New this winter is an advanced RFID lift ticket, called the J Card, that open lift gates automatically and can be reloaded online so you don’t have to wait on ticket lines.

Canada

Whistler Blackcomb – A new high-speed six-pack has replaced the Harmony quad on Whistler, and there’s a new high-speed quad going into a new area in the Crystal Zone at Blackcomb.  Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler has two new dining programs. Skip the cafeteria lines with a slope-side delivery of a picnic lunch at one of four mountain locations, or hop aboard a helicopter and land for a picnic lunch or après on top of a breathtaking glacier.  Whistler Blackcomb also has joined the Mountain, a multi-resort pass that offers several days of skiing at each member mountain, including Mammoth, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, and Aspen/Snowmass.

Published: October 12, 2013
Issue: November 2013 Issue