First Turns: Loveland, CO

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October

Beta: Following in the footsteps of the late Elmer Mulkins, a retired United pilot who used to camp in Loveland's parking lot to get first chair of the season in the Front Range, a cadre of young skiers and riders pitches tents at the base every year, waiting for kickoff. Saner folks log on to Loveland's website for daily updates on opening day. When the lifts start running, 500 to 1,000 Summit County locals and Front Range skiers hit the three trails that combine for one 1,000-foot, top-to-bottom run off Chair 1.

Opening Dates: The earliest opening ever was September 30, 1961-before snowmaking and global warming. Generally, the area opens mid October.

Early-Season Snow: Loveland's lifts reach 12,700 feet on the Continental Divide, so the area snags the stuffing out of easterly and westerly storms. The snowfall average for October and November is 64 inches total, and the snowmakers cover 160 acres.

Terrain: Before Halloween, green-circle trails Cat Walk, Homerun, and Mambo open with a two- to three-foot base. On average, two-thirds of the mountain is open by Thanksgiving. (Last year, the whole enchilada was fair game by November 23.) Biggest Early Season: In October andNovember 2002, a record 125 inches fell, including nearly five feet in four days.

Deals: With the frequent-skier Loveland Pass ($31 last year), you pay about $4 less per ticket than the pre-Christmas price ($29 last season), and your first day and every fifth day are free.

Plan B: Hike along Clear Creek on the BLT (Bakerville to Loveland trail), starting at the Loveland Valley lot. It's nine miles roundtrip, with an elevation change of 800 feet. Or simmer in a mineral bath in Idaho Springs (indianspringsresort.com).

Nightlife: Head 12 miles to Georgetown for baby back ribs and microbrews at The Red Ram, an 1800s miner joint with an antique bar, ghosts, and an underground passageway that once led to a brothel.

Info: skiloveland.com, 800-736-3SKI

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