Spring skiing: when we wear fewer layers, swap goggles for sunglasses and don’t put on enough sunscreen. Strong storms in February and early March this year buried central and southern Colorado in many feet of snow, leading some resorts to extend their seasons and setting spring up for epic conditions.
And with spring skiing about to be sprung, it’s time to make some decisions, starting with, “Where should I go?” Here are a few ideas — some close, some a half-day’s drive; some big, some offbeat. Take your pick and start planning out that silly ski costume, which seems to be expected and encouraged at pretty much any ski area from mid-March until closing. (“Closing dates vary by resort.”)
Taos Ski Valley, N.M.
An old standby is reborn
This off-the-beaten-path, super-steep ski area located at the end of a box canyon in the southern Rockies was founded 60 years ago. Today, under new ownership, Taos Ski Valley is in the midst of a $300 million investment in the mountain, which, to date, has delivered The Blake Hotel, several high-speed quads, a “gondolita” at the base area, and a new children’s center and ski school facility.
The idea, CEO David Norden told him me at the Bavarian — over a bowl of goulash and monk-brewed beer — is “better, not bigger.” The Bavarian, a classic mid-mountain German restaurant near the bottom of Chair 4, is one of those old, authentic elements that sets Taos apart. His mission, he explained, is to introduce the needed improvements to the resort, while honoring all those elements that make Taos Taos — starting with the mountain itself, the vast surrounding wilderness and national forests, and the unique cultural and historical layers to the region.
Taos Ski Valley is also now the world’s first and only B Corp ski resort, a third-party designation that determines “a company’s role in creating equitable economic development, environmental sustainability, and social justice.” The Taos renaissance is nice for families (especially if they stay at the Blake, with its speedy ski valet a stone’s throw from Chair 1), but the quicker lift flow on the mountain means experts can get even more runs on those famous steeps.
More info: Located in northern New Mexico, about 300 miles south of Denver, Taos Ski Valley requires a longer but vastly more interesting drive than anything on the I-70 corridor. Be sure to watch for the wild horses on Highway 150, just south of San Luis. The Blake Hotel (skitaos.com, rooms start at $189), will be closed from April 7 through Memorial Day.
Deep snow in the southwest
The snow has been dumping down by the feet all winter long in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, where a massive base awaits the few and brave that make it to Purgatory, just north of Durango.
Home to 1,605 skiable acres, eight terrain parks and an adventurous snowcat skiing operation, Purgatory is a gem. After your runs, save time for a visit to the new Nugget Mountain Bar, a D-Log miner’s cabin half a mile south of the entrance to the ski area serving après cocktails paired with a gourmet food truck.
If your timing is right, combine a Purgatory trip with the 25th annual Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, happening April 12-14 in downtown Durango. This year’s lineup includes Junior Sisk & Friends, Larry Keel Experience, Songs From The Road Band, John Reischman & the Jaybirds, Richie and Rosie, and Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. Tickets are on sale now and entry is free for kids 12 years or younger.
More info: Durango-La Plata County Airport has direct daily flights from Denver, Dallas and Phoenix. Book a room at Purgatory Lodge right at the base area (restaurants, shops, pool, spa, fitness center, game room and concierge; rooms from $65) or down in Durango. At Purgatory Resort, look for $39 lift tickets during the month of March; kids ages 10 and under ski for free with the Kids Power Pass. Websites: purgatoryresort.com, thenuggetmountainbar.com and durangomeltdown.com.
Ski with a ski patroller
Located on the western edge of the Grand Mesa, about 45 minutes east of Grand Junction, Powderhorn Ski Resort is offering an “insider” look at the mountain with their “Ski Patrol Ski Along” program. You’ll have an expert local guide to show you what it’s like to manage the safety, transport and care of skiers on the mountain, and receive a completion certificate at the end.
More info: Price is $75 per person for two hours or $95 for four hours, lift tickets not included. Reserve a spot at 970-268-5158 or powderhorn.com.
Cat skiing galore
Ski Cooper is a down-home, no-frills, family-friendly resort located 20 miles outside Minturn. They are reporting more than 25 feet of snow this season — a phenomenal base for spring skiing fun.
The cat skiing tours are full-day excursions to Chicago Ridge in a pair of Bombardier snowcats with plush enclosed cabins. You’ll have trained and certified guides for the skiing, a hot lunch in a backcountry yurt and an après ski beverage.
The tour description reads, “After an average of 8-12 runs in untracked snow, we return to the base lodge tired and happy at approximately 4 p.m.” Also consider reserving a gourmet lunch or dinner — which you’ll have to ski or snowshoe to get to — at Ski Cooper’s Tennessee Pass Cookhouse. There’s also a Nordic Center and Sleep Yurts for cross-country or snowshoe overnight backcountry experiences.
More info: At Ski Cooper look for $25 tickets from April 1-7; there’s also a “Play and Stay Ski Special” with Silver King Inn and Suites in Leadville. Cat skiing is $399 per person or $3,999 for a full snowcat seating up to 12 people (call 800-707-6114).
There are many reasons to come to Copper Mountain — it’s only 81 miles from Denver, has a huge variety of slopes for all levels and the ski school program is fantastic. But this spring, here’s one more reason: Copper Mountain’s Easter Egg Hunt is the largest in America, both by acreage and number of eggs.
On April 20-21, the Sunsation and Red Bull SlopeSoakers event will close out the season with live music and a traditional pond skim, but with ﬂoating rails. On Easter Sunday — April 21 — guests will search for 65,000 candy-filled eggs and turn them in for prizes. The eggs come from a family-owned company in Georgia and are filled by veterans and people with disabilities (and after the hunt, the eggs are sent to a nonprofit that re-uses them for another egg hunt). Prizes include Copper season passes and gear from a number of top brands. The day’s hunts are split up by age group and conclude with a massive hunt for everyone at the top of the American Eagle lift.
More info: Book a room, buy your lift tickets and check out the events calendar at coppercolorado.com.
The ultimate pairing of spring skiing and culinary festival
If you think skiing in spring sunshine is even better when followed by the perfect après wine pairing, then you may want to plan your turns with the 29th annual Taste of Vail food and wine festival on April 3-6. The event will showcase 30 guest chefs, restaurateurs and sommeliers, plus 55 top wineries from around the world.
If you only make one part of the four-day feast, make it to the Mountain Top Tasting on April 5; begin by skiing all morning to work up an appetite (and thirst), then slide into the top of Eagle Bahn for lunch and wine at 10,350 feet above sea level in a hand-built snow arena. Vail’s top chefs will serve up small plates and pairings (just be careful skiing down — or ride the gondola if you need to).
The rest of the four days are filled with tastings, talks with chefs and sommeliers (such as Rajat Parr, Lyle Railsback and Will Costello), seminars, intimate wine pop-ups, a massive Debut of Rosé and an American Lamb Cook-Off. The Grand Tasting will be April 6.
In mid-April, look for the Spring Back to Vail 2019, featuring the 17th annual World Pond Skimming Championship, spring lodging deals and a concert lineup at Ford Park that includes Steel Pulse, Xavier Rudd and Gov’t Mule. The concerts are free to the picnicking public, or you can “enhance” your experience by buying private reserve tickets for access to an area next to the stage, drinks and appetizers included.
Puttin’ on the Ritz
Glamp it up in your room at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Avon. This four-star/four-diamond, ski-in/ski-out hotel has a “Ritz Kids” package which includes in-room camping in a tepee and s’mores. The kids will also enjoy the heated outdoor pool, visits from Bachelor — the roaming hotel “canine ambassador” — and a fun game room.
Parents can hire a ski nanny to get the kids to and from ski school, or use the “camp” program of daily supervised children activities. The adults, meanwhile, can sneak away to the on-site, 21,000-square-foot spa and fitness center — or the après champagne and raw bar on the mountain terrace.
Not indulgent enough? Try out the West Wing penthouse, a four-bedroom suite, two-story, luxury penthouse located in the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, and curated by Cuvée, a Denver-based international luxury travel company. The suite comes with a fully-stocked wine cave, Steinway baby grand piano, private chefs, in-chalet spa services and personal concierge to help arrange any number of outdoor activities.
More info: Starting in April, rooms at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, go from $352 a night, and spa services will be 50 percent off starting April 14 (ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/colorado/bachelor-gulch). The West Wing penthouse starts at a cool $4,500 a night and comes with a personal concierge, although a private chef is extra (cuvee.com/villas/colorado-beaver-creek-the-west-wing/).
Updated March 15 at 8:30 a.m. The following corrected information has been added to this article: Because of a reporter’s error, the services included in Beaver Creek’s West Wing penthouse was misreported. It includes a personal concierge. A private chef is extra.
Updated March 18 at 9:00 a.m. The following corrected information has been added to this article: Because of a reporter’s error, this article suggested Spring activities at Ski Cooper that are no longer available. Those have been removed. The rating of Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, was also incorrect. It is a four-star hotel.