The resort: Less glitzy than the megaresorts along the I-70 corridor, Steamboat promotes its down-home, old-West image from its roots as a ranching town, as well as the light, dry snow it has trademarked as Champagne Powder.
Highlight: Steamboat is sometimes knocked as lacking in interesting and challenging terrain. We found plenty of both in the cozy backside bowl known as Morningside Park, skiing through deep powder down the steep rim and then following skier's tracks through a delightful pine forest.
Tip: It was a 74-mile drive up two-lane Highway 131 from I-70, which can be prohibitive in stormy weather. There are direct flights to the nearby regional airport from six major cities, including Atlanta. Go for the ribs and a frosty mug of beer at the Steamboat Smokehouse.
The resort: Situated 98 miles from Denver International Airport, Breck offers 155 trails off four major peaks. A new base lodge opens this season at Peak 7. Five terrain parks and four half-pipes provide plenty of intrigue for boarders and trick skiers.
Highlight: Crowds are the biggest drawback, so it is advisable to avoid the weekends. We worked the mountain from right to left and finally found the best skiing after 2 p.m. on Peak 10. The long black and blue-black runs are challenging without being overwhelming for the intermediate skier. Be sure to stop and take in the spectacular view.
Tip: Park in the Miner's lot ($5 last season) adjacent to the gondola and plan to end the day with the long, meandering Four O'Clock trail from the top of Peak 8. It's 3.5 miles, Breck's longest run, and it will take you right to your car.
The resort: This is really two very different resorts in one. The Winter Park side is ideal for beginners and kids with numerous long, groomed runs. The spunkier Mary Jane side is an expert's playground renowned for its steeps and teeth-jarring moguls.
Highlight: The high-speed, six-passenger Panoramic Express opened last year, creating an eight-minute ride to the 12,060-foot peak of the Parsenn Bowl. That gives quick access to the bowl's massive face and a dozen challenging trails through the pines.
Tip: Avoid the 90-mile drive from Denver by taking the Ski Train. It departs at 7:15 a.m. and emerges from the Moffat Tunnel next to the ski resort at 9:30, and heads back to Denver at 4:15 p.m. Check skitrain.com for this winter's fares and reservations.
The resort: Situated about 30 miles east of Eagle/Vail Regional Airport off I-70 at Avon. Fly into Eagle and ski free the rest of the day. Varied terrain with 148 trails and readily accessible from 17 lifts, including 10 high-speed quads.
Highlight: This and Snowmass at Aspen are my favorite of the 27 resorts I've skied. From the fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookie they hand out as you enter, to the escalator ride to the lifts and free parking at the base lots, Beaver Creek is a class act. The diversity of the terrain makes it feel like skiing four or five distinct resorts.
Tip: When the middle of the mountain gets busy, head to the far right side and ski the long, fast runs off the Arrow Bahn Express Lift. There are some moguls and trees to add a challenge, and Broken Arrow Restaurant at Arrowhead Village is one of the premier lunch stops at any resort anywhere.
The resort: This is a massive area with 195 trails and 5,300 skiable acres. The front side has plenty of blue and green runs to entertain intermediate and beginning skiers. What distinguishes Vail are the seven bowls on the backside.
Highlight: We put in early at Lionshead and headed directly to the Game Creek Bowl. If you're not quite expert level, this is the least intimidating of the Vail bowls. We warmed up on the short, quick blues of Baccarat and Dealer's Choice, then tackled the knee-deep powder on the steeper faces of Deuces Wild and Faro. By 11 a.m. the crowd caught up to us and it was time to take a break for hot chocolate.
Tip: The major drawback is the parking fee that will be $25 this season in the main lots at Vail Village and Lionshead, the primary access points. If staying locally, book accommodations accessible to the free shuttle bus.
A number of other prominent ski resorts are accessible along the I-75 corridor between Denver and Eagle/Vail, such as Keystone, Copper and Arapahoe Basin. An often-overlooked gem is Loveland, just 57 miles from Denver airport. On a previous trip, I caught an early flight to Denver and was on the slopes at Loveland by noon. It's a smaller area but uncrowded, and the $54 lift ticket is about $30 cheaper than the primo resorts. For an overview of all the Colorado ski resorts, go to coloradoski country.com.
Lift tickets: The same pass provides access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. You can save money by purchasing online for multiple days.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun