by Eugene Buchanan

As the second largest ski resort in Colorado, Snowmass has everything you could want in a destination ski resort and more, from top-to-bottom groomers flanked by awe-inspiring, 14,092-foot Snowmass Mountain to steep, double-black-diamond couloirs in the Cirque Headwall and Hanging Valley Wall. With a vertical rise of 4,406 feet, it’s known for its massive terrain and long runs, testing the quads of everyone from die-hard locals to regular visitors. The resort also averages more than 300 inches of snow and 300 days of sun a year, ensuring both powder and blue skies on a typical visit.

While its 23 lifts handle 31,080 riders per hour, there’s enough terrain in its 3,128 acres and 90 trails to keep you on new runs every ride and enable you to find fresh tracks well after a storm. If you really want to get the jump on everyone else, take advantage of Snowmass’s free First Tracks program on Wednesday and Fridays, letting you catch an early lift with instructors (call 800-525-6200 X4560 for reservations).

If fresh tracks aren’t an issue (or if it’s not a power day), warm up with a cruiser on 2005’s new Village Express six-pack, or last year’s new eight-person Elk Camp Gondola, which whisks you from the base of Fanny Hill to Elk Camp in just 7.5 minutes. When you have your legs under you, traverse from the top of the Big Burn, Sheer Bliss or High Alpine lifts to one of the headwalls to get your adrenaline flowing. Check the boards at the bottom of each lift to Snowmass’s Daily Noon Groom trails to carve fresh corduroy halfway through the day

Despite everything it offers for dyed-in-the-wool skiers, it’s also one of the country’s best ski destinations for families. New for the 2007/2008 season is the new interactive, 25,000-square-foot Tree House Kid’s Adventure Center in the base village, continuing this tradition. Designed for kids of all ages, the facility offers different themed rooms for different aged kids, from climbing walls in the Alpine Climbing Room to the Bear Den for pre-schoolers and Butterfly Room for infants and toddlers. When it comes time to ski with your kids, you can take them to secret passages lined with Disney characters, or hit one of three massive terrain parks. Also setting Snowmass apart from other resorts is the fact that 95 percent of its lodging is ski-in/ski-out, meaning easy hand-offs for families and accessible lifts and après-skiing for others.

If it’s perfect for families, it’s equally so for beginners, with the new Elk Camp Meadows Beginner Park, a mid-mountain region at the top of the Elk Camp gondola designed specifically for novices with a six-acre Beginner Park, 1,300-foot quad and two surface lifts. The area also offers an on-mountain activity center with snowshoeing, snow biking, and sleigh rides. The resort’s ski school was also named North America’s ski school of the year by The Good Skiing & Snowboarding Guide, and offers a 100 percent guarantee on all lessons.

Beginner or advanced, the entire Village comes alive at night. Choose from countless bars and restaurants in the base village, or head to a free campfire sing-a-longs complete with s’mores with your family. While strolling, keep your eyes peeled for fireworks and weekend big air displays above Fanny Hill. If you’re tired of skiing, try a hot air balloon ride, dogsled tour or snowmobile ride, or take the free shuttle to the water slides at the newly built rec center just down valley. You can also head to the only winter zipline in Colorado (and the only one in the world where you start off skiing).

Dining: For breakfast, grab a quick scone and latte at the Paradise Bakery in Snowmass Village. At lunch, head to Up 4 Pizza at the top of the Big Burn for great pizza, caesar salad and minestrone soup. At the end of the day, try the Cirque Bar & Grill slopeside on the Village mall for après with live music and great beer on an outside deck. Two Creeks Mexican café at the base of Two Creeks lift offers full Mexican fare and great margaritas. If you want to get fancy, try a snowcat ride and dinner at the rustic Lynn Britt Cabin on the mountain (reservations required; 800-525-6200, x 4460). If you’re coming for the partying as much as powder, hit it during the annual WinterSkol celebration in early January, or renowned Mardi Gras festival every Fat Tuesday, where beads fly off balconies and neon blue Hurricanes are poured by bartenders faster than snowflakes fall during any winter storm.

Hint for day-skiers: Start at the Two Creeks base, which offers free parking for cars with four or more people (and you’ll want that many to share the day’s stories).

Eugene Buchanan is Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
of Paddling Life Magazine



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