Colorado’s Front Range skiers, like two-plankers anywhere, are tribal. There are the Colorado Springsians who call Monarch home. The Boulderites who spend entire winters at diminutive Eldora simply to avoid driving I-70. The bump sluts of Mary Jane. And the Vail and Summit county pragmatists who brave traffic weekend after weekend simply because they bought Epic passes early and want to push their per-run cost into sub-ten-cent territory. If you’re one of them—or even if you’re passing through Denver from out of state—you should know that another truly sublime ski experience exists just 45 minutes from that city’s downtown. Just off I-70 at the base of Berthoud Pass, there’s a catskiing operation called Powder Addiction. PA’s savvy guides—like Eric Tolland, pictured above—led by snow-safety maven and catskiing-ops veteran Jamie Wolter know exactly how to read wind and weather to find you soft, safe slopes. And if you’re already in the big city, you won’t have to drive five hours to get to them.
If the Front Range or greater Denver metroplex is how you know Colorado, you’ve been deprived. The coolest part of the state—arguably, of course—is Durango. A six hour drive southwest from Denver, it feels remote and special. Piñon smoke scents the air, red rock bands stripe the valley walls, and the massive San Juans scrape an often cloudless blue sky. About 30 minutes north of town, you’ll find Durango Mountain Resort at Purgatory, home base for the rootsy San Juan Ski Company snowcat operation. SJSC territory equals nearly 60 square miles—more terrain than all of Colorado’s resorts combined—and hides countless tree lines, bowls, and chutes. Bring a family, or any group of varying skill levels, and the timid can cruise Purg’s groomers while the shredders hit SJSC and nearby Silverton Mountain.
There’s a fuzzy line between luxury and babysitting, and some high-end outfitters trend to the hand-holding end of the spectrum. Crested Butte’s Irwin, despite it’s propensity for the finer things in skiing—gourmet lunches, Wagner ski demos, a big screen playing Matchstick movies in the cat—definitely does not. Could be Director of Operations and former CB mayor Alan Bernholtz’s low-bullshit attitude (his second term as mayor he ran on the slogan “just shut up), or Irwin’s mysterious ability to get more snow than anywhere else around it, but even with all of the operation’s amenities the skiing still feels like the best part. Which is a good thing.