Lured by blue skies and fresh powder, I headed up one beautiful autumn morning to break the seal on the ski season and hit resorts on either side of the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass in Colorado: Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin Ski and Snowboard Area. Every winter, the two vie to open first (Loveland beat A-Basin by a day this year) and to close last (A-Basin stayed open until August 10 in 1995).
Loveland Ski Area (tel. 303/571-5580; www.skiloveland.com)
Nuts and Bolts: Loveland is the local favorite for Denverites: It's easy to reach the resort in an hour on I-70. Between snowmaking and a few nice dollops of the real stuff, the resort currently has great early-season conditions. The terrain here offers something for everyone, but the three lifts currently open at the Loveland Basin side of the resort are best for intermediates. Loveland Valley, home to the beginner's hill and a few blue runs, is expected to open Nov. 19. Expert terrain will open when conditions permit.
Ski Deals: "4-Paks" of fully transferable full-day lift tickets run $119 until Nov. 21 -- that averages out to less than $30 per day. Combined with lodging in charming Georgetown (where most double rooms run $75 to $150 a night), this makes for some of the best bang for the buck at any Colorado resorts.
What's New: Most of the off-season improvements involved infrastructure and point-of-sale systems, so the return visitor won't see too many changes. But the resort has expanded its terrain over the last 20 years, so those who haven't been here in a long time will be surprised by what the resort has to offer.
Quotable: "All I do is work." -- a bearded twenty-something snowboarder on Lift 1 at 10:49 a.m. on a Wednesday
Arapahoe Basin Ski and Snowboard Area (tel. 888/272-7246; www.arapahoebasin.com)
Nuts and Bolts: A-Basin is home to the highest skiable terrain in North America -- topping out at 13,050 feet above sea level. Two lifts are open, and the much-lauded Montezuma Bowl (which expanded the resort from 500 acres to 900 acres three seasons back) will open when conditions permit. The resort, known as one of the industry's greenest resorts, has offset all of its electricity use with wind credits since 2008.
Ski Deals: Until Dec. 12, you can order the Legend's 4 Pass (good for four non-transferable full-day adult lift tickets) for $139. It's hard to find a better deal for beginners than A-Basin, with $15 full-day lift tickets for the bunny hill all season long. All-resort lift tickets for kids ages 6 to 14 are also $15 with a full-price adult ticket.
What's New: Replacing the old Exhibition triple chair, A-Basin's new high speed quad, the Black Mountain Express debuted this season. The 52-chair lift ferries skiers and riders 719 feet up from the base area in just under three minutes, about half the time the Exhibition ride required in seasons past.
Quotable: "This one is much faster than the old one." -- a skier on A-Basin's new high-speed quad, Black Mountain Express
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