Choose your own adventure at these snowy U.S. ski destinations
By Jody Schmal | November 7, 2013
As ski season kicks into high gear this month, powder fanatics will be snapping on their skis and boards and checking their pack lists.
Whether you’re looking for a first-time family vacation, a romantic getaway or a thriving après-ski scene, here are the latest happenings at some of the most Houstonian-savvy spots in the United States this season:
WHAT’S NEW: In family-friendly Snowmass, there are 230-plus new acres of ski-able terrain, along with the recently completed Elk Camp Lodge, a LEED-certified $13 million on-mountain restaurant and coffee shop.
Meanwhile, Aspen’s Highlands Mountain has 20 acres of new gladed terrain, and also is appealing to families with its Perfect Holiday package deal, where kids age 12 and under can ski, stay and eat free (with purchase of an adult lift ticket) over the Christmas holiday, Dec. 20-25. Must be booked by Nov. 15.
For the fancier sort, two of Aspen’s most beloved and iconic high-end hotels – the Little Nell and Hotel Jerome – have fresh upgrades. The ski-in/ski-out Little Nell has new VIP suites designed by Holly Hunt, and the resort’s Element 47 fine-dining restaurant opens this month on the base of Aspen Mountain.
The 93-room Jerome, with its historic J-Bar and rustic-chic décor, is offering several packages, such as the Peak Performance Ski Retreat (available Jan. 5-March 31, from $685 per night). With a three-night minimum stay, it includes ski equipment rental from Gorsuch, daily lift tickets for two and breakfast. Order up the private bath service from the Jerome’s new Auberge spa: a therapist visits your room to draw you a bath (with your choice of salts or argan oil) and leaves behind a fruit plate and wine.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 28; stayaspensnowmass.com.
WHAT’S NEW: It’s an exciting year for Breck. The resort is adding more than 543 acres to its famous landscape with Peak 6, one of the most notable Colorado ski area expansions in years.
Peak 6 includes 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain, representing a 23 percent increase in the resort’s skiable acreage. With that comes two new lifts, three new bowls – including the first above-treeline intermediate bowl – and 10 new cut trails.
To check out the fresh terrain in high style, book a condo at the luxe ski-in/ski-out One Ski Hill Place at the base of Peak 8, steps from the BreckConnect Gondola, which easily transports you to Peak 7, fairly easily to Peak 6, and into the charming town of Breckenridge. Added bonus of staying here: an on-site bowling alley.
DETAILS: Now open; breckenridge.com.
WHAT’S NEW: Families and high-alpine fans will love Copper this season. For starters, Camp Woodward, a nearly 20,000-square-foot ski, snowboard bike and skateboard park recently underwent a $500,000 renovation. All synthetic snow surfaces have been replaced with surfaces designed for wheels, and there’s a new beginner foam pit with 2- and 4-foot jumps, a pump track designed for the development of park skills and new programming to bridge the gap and yield results on snow. Fun for kids and adults, you may even rub elbows with a would-be Olympian in training through mid-December, prior to the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix taking place at Cooper Dec. 16-21.
On the mountain, high-alpine enthusiasts will be happy to know there’s a new direct lift to the stellar skiing and riding in Spaulding Bowl, Upper Enchanted Forest and Copper Bowl.
There’s also a new on-mountain audio intelligence app call Sherpa, which tells you what you’re near, where to go and what to do when you get there. It’s locals-only, insider information, available for the first time to everyone on the mountain. Sherpa taps into the knowledge of lifelong employees, ski patrol and local experts and makes that wisdom available to anyone with a smartphone.
DETAILS: Now open; coppercolorado.com.
WHAT’S NEW: To improve the on-mountain trails for skiers and snowboarders, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has removed trees for tree skiing aficionados, between the current trails of Double Top and Black Eagle.
There also are three new kid-specific trails in the Painter Boy area, along with interactive play and learning activities and areas. During the holidays, families of four can get four nights’ lodging at the Grand Lodge and three nights skiing in Crested Butte for $999 if they book the Grandest Christmas Package.
Another resort option is the Nordic Inn, Gunnison County’s longest operating lodge, which is enjoying a total interior and exterior renovation. Steps from the Mount Crested Butte ski-area base, local owners bought property last year and have updated all 28 guest rooms, common spaces and the on-property mountain chalet in a Colorado-classic-meets-contemporary style. Stay four nights and get the fifth one free if you book before Nov. 20. High-roller with a large crew? Check out Scarp Ridge Lodge, a two-year-old, seven-bedroom property in downtown Crested Butte that comes with a personal chef and expert guides.
After dark, hit the newly redone historic saloon and gaming hall Kochevar’s, or grab a slice and some wings at the relocated but still hip Secret Stash, housed in an old county store building downtown.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 27; skicb.com.
WHAT’S NEW: With new nonstop flights on United Express this winter, it’s never been easier for Houstonians to visit Jackson Hole. Especially since upscale resorts in the area offering so many enticing reasons to stay.
The Four Seasons Resort and Residences has a new Michael Mina restaurant called the Handle Bar, beckoning with pub grub – think Wagyu burgers – and a selection of local beers, artisan cocktails and whiskey. There’s also the resort’s Haute Route Ski Experience deal ($1,399 per night for double occupancy, valid Jan. 30-Feb. 4): a five-night, four-day package that includes ski instruction – from experts who have inside knowledge on the best tracks and hidden stashes for novice to advanced skiers at Jackson Hole Mountain resort – along with plenty of other perks such as breakfast, a special wild game cooking session and cocktails at Handle Bar.
In Teton Village, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is known for its slope-side location and 12,000-square-foot, three-story Solitude Spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and an oversize rooftop hot tub. Well, the resort has a new restaurant, Spur Restaurant & Bar, with locavore-savvy executive chef Kevin Humphreys serving up home-style cuisine such as Snake River Farms pork tenderloin. Plus, ladies might be interested in taking advantage of the fit-for-all-levels Elevate Women’s Ski Camp Jan. 13-17, which includes four days of instruction from professional skiers Crystal Wright (Freeski World Tour Champion) and Jess McMillan, après ski meals and Pilates classes to stretch and strengthen worn ski legs.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 28; jacksonhole.com.
WHAT’S NEW: In addition to updating its snow-making capabilities and working on a $1 million night skiing project, December marks the debut of the multimillion-dollar Four Points Lodge, arguably Steamboat’s most significant on-mountain improvement in a decade.
Located in the Storm Peak/Four Points area of the mountain, the 13,000-square-foot, two-level structure includes a 200-seat dining room, a casual lunchroom with healthy options downstairs, a 35-seat bar, an outdoor barbecue grill, flat screen televisions and retail space. At 9,700 feet up, expect stunning panoramic views of the Yampa Valley, too. Go on a Friday or Saturday night and take a climate-controlled Snowcat Taxi up the mountain for a Northern Italian dinner.
Meanwhile, the ski-in/ski-out Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Villas unveils its roughly $9 million remodel this month, including the completion of 56 new luxury suites. Another nice lodging option is Vista Verde Ranch, which is offering its Winter Carnival package ($2,755 for two) Feb. 5-8. It includes three nights at ranch in a fancy cabin plus one night at the Sheraton, along with meals, booze, guides, equipment, activities and transfers.
And mark your calendars for the ever-popular 40th annual cowboy downhill event in Steamboat Jan. 20, during which – you guessed it – rodeo cowboys race down the mountain.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 27; steamboat.com.
WHAT’S NEW: In addition to United nonstop flights from Houston to Eagle Airport, accessing Vail’s 5,289 acres of skiable terrain is even easier now with the introduction of two new chairlifts. There’s the new six-passenger lift replacing Vail’s highly-utilized and recognizable Mountaintop Express Lift (No. 4), thus increasing capacity and reducing lines. There also is the high-speed Gondola One with heated cabins and free WiFi for a comfortable and quick seven-and-a-half-minute trek up the mountain.
High-end properties also are debuting new looks and amenities. The Ritz-Carlton Residences (both ownership and rentals) is rolling out its new Lionshead Collection of designer abodes by Colorado designers such as Eddy Doumas. In nearby Beaver Creek, the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch recently completed a $15 million remodel. Book a room for four nights in the posh Club Level through Dec. 31 and receive the fifth night free.
Also in Beaver Creek, the 17,000-square-foot, on-mountain restaurant named Talons has joined the scene. An upscale cafeteria setting with a barn-recalling facade, it has 500 indoor seats on two levels and 250 outdoor seats, with dishes such as a Colorado lamb burger, homemade soups, carved meats and thin pizza. Anticipate an indoor/ outdoor bar and an outdoor smokehouse, as well.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 22; vail.com.
WHAT’S NEW: Winter Park’s talked-about, 48-passenger “Cirque Sled” is a snowcat ride that will provide adventurous skiers and snowboarders easier access to the Vasquez Cirque, where 1,332 acres of off-piste terrain awaits. Passes cost just $10 and are valid for unlimited rides all season long. Open last year, the Coca-Cola Tubing Hill is also getting buzz, with its four banked lanes, as is the hot-chocolate-serving Hill House cafe nearby.
Though many opt to simply commute from Denver (67 miles away) or from another resort, the Zephyr Mountain Lodge comprises 230 one- to three-bedroom condos a mere 110 feet from the Zephyr Express Lift. In addition to hot tubs and fireplaces, it’s close to a number of dining options. Deals through April 20 include 15-percent off one-night stays, and 3rd night free packages.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 13; winterparkresort.com.
EIGHT MORE, OFF THE BEATEN PATH:
The Colorado Gems card costs only $20, and it allows skiers and boarders to get two-for-one full-day lift tickets at eight participating under-the-radar resorts across the state.
The Western-authentic Gem resorts are: Arapahoe Basin, Eldora Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Monarch Mountain, Powderhorn Resort, Ski Cooper, Ski Granby Ranch and Sunlight Mountain Resort.
Each Gems Card – only 5,000 are available – is good for one use per resort, per season, and they expire at the end of April. Card holders also have access to special flash deals, or promotions offered by each spot throughout the season.
For more information and to purchase, visit coloradoski.com/gems.