Colorado Skiing: The Big Mountains
Why Ski There: It's the ultimate western ski town, with Victorian architecture rooted in its mining days, a dining scene to rival the coasts', and an international clientele that mixes Milan shopping with mogul-hopping.
Don't Miss: When Aspen Mountain, known affectionately as Ajax, is a little too busy, head a couple of miles down the road to Aspen Highlands, which is where the hard-core locals go. And take lunch at the tiny Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, an Austrian-style mid-mountain hut.
Where to Stay: The Little Nell offers sublime slopeside luxury for visiting celebrities and those who need to be coddled. Far less pricey is the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Hearthstone House, a 17-room inn two blocks from the center of town (970/925-7632; www.hearthstonehouse.com).
Where to Eat: D19 is where chef Dena Marino offers up inventive takes on Italian cooking, from zeppole made with prosciutto to charred octopus atop bruschetta. Hipsters head for Lulu Wilson, where chef Shane Coffey serves yellowtail crudo and Colorado lamb with house-made lamb sausages (970/920-1893).
Why Ski There: Arguably America's best family mountain, Snowmass has a vast expanse of terrain that can keep experts and rank beginners equally happy. If your kids snowboard, three terrain parks will keep them focused.
Don't Miss: The new Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center (www.aspensnowmass.com) is a $17 million, 25,000-square-foot children's center with seven interactive rooms designed for specific age groups.
Where to Stay: Snowmass Club (970/923-5600; www.snowmassclub.com) is luxury writ large a couple of minutes from the slopes, offering town homes with full kitchens and fireplaces, as well as a 19,000-square-foot athletic club. Or stay closer to the slopes at Chamonix at Wood Run, which has two- and three-bedroom units slopeside on Assay Hill (970/923-3232; www.snowmasslodging.com).
Where to Eat: The Colorado lamb served by chef David Von Holton is reason enough to reserve a table at the Artisan in the Stonebridge Inn (970/923-2427; www.stonebridgeinn.com). Or don cross-country skis or snowshoes, or ride a horse-drawn sleigh to get to the Pine Creek Cookhouse for wild Alaskan salmon or grilled buffalo (970-925-1044; www.pinecreekcookhouse.com).
Why Ski There: Beaver Creek offers remarkably varied terrain, impeccable grooming, a compact Euro-inspired village with an ice rink at its heart, and a high level of service for its well-heeled visitors. No other resort would build a children's gondola, The Buckaroo Express, which lays claim to being the shortest and smallest gondola in the world.
Don't Miss: Beaver Creek has a new Ski with a Ranger program, a one-hour tour every Saturday at 1:30 p.m. You'll ski with a Forest Service volunteer and learn about the National Forest and local ecology.
Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch looks like a National Park lodge as done by the Ritz—a visual feast of stone and timber set at the mountain's base. The centrally located Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is also slopeside and boasts the new 30,000-square-foot Allegria Spa as an après-ski diversion.
Where to Eat: The big buzz in December 2007 was the opening of Wolfgang Puck's fourth Spago (970/343-1555), this one in the Ritz-Carlton, which combines the famed restaurant's classic dishes as well as locally inspired creations. Still, a sleigh ride up to Beano's Cabin on the mountainside, where elk, trout, and buffalo are highlights in a cabin that is both elegant and rustic, is the quintessential Beaver Creek experience. In the village, casual Italian classics like pasta and pizza at Toscanini, which overlooks the ice-skating rink, are the way to go (970/845-5590).
Why Ski There: You'll find 3,000 skiable acres across two mountains, arguably more bumps than anywhere else, and it's all just 67 miles from Denver. The resort is as casual, family-friendly, and laid back as you'll find in the state.
Don't Miss: Fresh Tracks Breakfast gets you first crack at the powder as well as breakfast at The Lodge at Sunspot.
Where to Stay: Iron Horse offers condo-style lodging conveniently located at the base of Winter Park (800/621-8190; www.ironhorse-resort.com). Just 15 minutes from the mountain, Devil's Thumb Ranch is a rustic 5,000-acre ranch with cross-country trails and a spa.
Where to Eat: The chaletlike Gasthaus Eichler (970/726-5133; www.gasthauseichler.com) offers hearty German fare, while Doc's Roadhouse in the Zephyr Mountain Lodge is where to head for ribs and steak.
Why Ski There: At 5,289 acres, its size alone makes Vail worth the trip. The terrain is not only vast but varied, with tree skiing galore, miles and miles of groomers, four terrain parks, and six miles of legendary back bowls. The ersatz Tyrolean village is undergoing a $2 billion-plus makeover.
Don't Miss: The mountain-top Adventure Ridge center offers tubing lanes as well as ski bikes.
Where to Stay: Arrabelle is the new luxury haven in Vail Square Village, complete with ski butler and ski nannies. The Sonnenalp is a bit of Bavaria luxury and service, and the most European ski hotel in the U.S.
Where to Eat: Centre V Bistro (866/662-7625) is the signature restaurant at the new Arrabelle; local star chef Thomas Salamunovich serves French bistro fare. And the elk carpaccio, the Colorado short ribs, and the buzz at Kelly Liken (970/479-0175; www.kellyliken.com) are always great.
Why Ski There: It gets a ton of the lightest snow in Colorado, which means day after day of powder skiing on its 3,000 acres, with some of the best tree skiing in the U.S. And the town is changing fast, with new Intrawest projects underway.
Don't Miss: You haven't done Steamboat unless you've skied with Billy Kidd, former Olympian and resident mascot. You can't miss his white cowboy hat.
Where to Stay: ResortQuest Bronze Tree Condominiums (800/GO-RELAX; www.resortquest.com) are a short walk to the lifts, with views onto the slopes. Just outside of town, Moving Mountains Chalet (877/624-2538; www.movingmountains.com) offers the catered chalet experience commonly found in the Alps.
Where to Eat: The Cottonwood Grill (970/879-2229; www.cottonwoodgrill.com) has been doing Pan-Asian fare for years; two of its stars are the sesame hoisin ribs and Cambodian hot pot. Café Diva (970/871-0508; www.cafediva.com) is an elegant wine bar at the base of the mountain where seasonal dishes like Harris Ranch natural filet mignon are a highlight.
Why Ski There: Think of 2,870-acre Keystone, with its three mountains and five bowls, as comfort skiing; there's just enough variety and other diversions (night skiing, tubing, and ice-skating) to offer a classic family-style ski vacation. It's close to Denver, and the A51 terrain park is not only Colorado's biggest night park but the reason your 10-year-old will stay up late.
Don't Miss: Keystone's new gourmet lunch snowcat ski tours roll off to a "backcountry-type" yurt (800/354-4386).
Where to Stay: The Keystone Lodge & Spa (970/496-3000; www.keystonelodge.rockresorts.com) offers elegant rooms in the heart of the village. The Inn at Keystone (877/753-9786; www.keystone.snow.com) is within walking distance to the lifts.
Where to Eat: The Alpenglow Stube (800/354-4386; www.keystone.snow.com) is reached via a gondola ride up North Peak, a formal setting at more than 11,000 feet, where elk and beef tenderloin rule. And the 1880's-era Ski Tip Lodge is a former stagecoach stop serving hearty American fare (800/354-4386; www.keystone.snow.com).
Why Ski There: Breck averages 300 inches of the white stuff every year on its four peaks; the recently added Imperial Express chair whisks you to the 12,998-foot summit; and you'll stay in a town with real Victorian charm (not to mention a sometimes raucous nightlife).
Don't Miss: The new Mountains of Discovery kids' school (www.breckenridge.snow.com), which combines ski lessons with an on-ski hunt.
Where to Stay: The Valdoro Mountain Lodge (800/673-8082; www.valdoro.com), midway between town and the mountain, offers luxury condos, while the Hyatt Main Street Station (970/547-5200; www.hyattmainstreetstation.hyatt.com) has deluxe slopeside condo accommodations.
Where to Eat: The essence of Breck casual are the burgers and brew at the Breckenridge Brewery (970/453-1550; www.breckbrew.com). For more formal fare, try the New York strip steak, Rocky Mountain trout, and killer wine list at the Hearthstone Restaurant (970/453-1148; www.hearthstonerestaurant.biz), set in a restored Victorian house.
Why Ski There: It's the West's most picturesque ski town, with well-preserved Victorian architecture flanking Main Street, a lively local populace of trustafarians, and a mountain that can humble even the brave. Take the tram from town, and 15 minutes later you're in Mountain Village, the on-mountain hub.
Don't Miss: The new backcountry terrain in Black Iron Bowl, accessible via a half-hour hike.
Where to Stay: The award-winning Hotel Telluride personifies a luxurious western lodge in its 59 rooms. In Mountain Village, The Inn at Lost Creek (888/601-5678; www.innatlostcreek.com) is a European-style inn that's high on charm, service, and romance.
Where to Eat: Every town should have a place as good as Honga's Lotus Petal (970/728-5134; www.hongaslotuspetal.com), where local powder hounds mingle with visitors over Pan-Asian food like the Caterpillar roll or avocado and eel topped with crunchy flying-fish roe. Take the tram up to Allred's (970/728-7474; www.allredsrestaurant.com) on the mountain for New Zealand venison, braised short ribs, and views of the San Juan Mountains from your 10,551-foot perch.
Why Ski There: Steep slopes, an Old West main street, and a lack of crowds make Crested Butte one of the state's best sleeper mountains. Getting here takes work, but for those who like to ski hard and relax without pretense, it's perfect. If that's the vibe you like, go quickly: the area is fast becoming glitzier, with a $200 million resort renovation underway.
Don't Miss: An aprés-ski drink at the Ice Bar (970/349-2275), which is made from ice blocks.
Where to Stay: The new Lodge at Mountaineer Square brings the first round of luxury condos to Crested Butte (800/810-7669; www.lodgeatmountaineersquare.com). The newly redone Elevation Hotel, a former Club Med, now offers a spa and luxe rooms, and is steps from the slopes (800/810-7669; www.elevationhotelandspa.com).
Where to Eat: Take the snowcat sleigh ride up to 10,000 feet and dine on Italian fare at Rustica Ristorante in the Paradise Warming Hut (970/349-2274). Or check out the Lobar for sushi while swapping derring-do tales with locals (970/349-0480; www.thelobar.com).