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The Front Ranger
Thoughts on Colorado Skiing from the Front Ranger's point of view
Playing the snow report lottery
The Front Ranger performing his morning ritual: checking the snow report totals for Colorado ski resorts.
Photo by Jason Sumner 

Playing the snow report lottery

By Jason Sumner

December 15, 2008 —  My mornings are filled with routine. Most of it is standard stuff: get up, brush teeth, shower, make breakfast and coffee, get to work. But on ski days, which usually fall on the weekends save for the occasional hooky day, the first order of business (sometimes before ‘get up’ thanks to the iPhone) is the snow report check.

I liken it to playing the lottery. I’ve got my numbers — or in this case potential places to ski that day. The snow report is the newspaper, informing me whether or not I’m holding a winning ticket.

This information is collected via a quick Internet surf session that typically includes visits to the Colorado Ski County USA website (for all Colorado areas except Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge), (report locale for the Vail Resorts quartet ever since it split from CSCUSA), and of course, which posts reports from both sites and boasts critical local knowledge 411.

And unlike the real lottery, where winning is a pipedream, these snow reports often deliver good news. That was certainly the case this past weekend, when in 48 hours every resort in the state scored at least seven inches of white fluffy fun.

The bad news was that, in continuing with my lottery analogy, I only managed to match a few numbers. Reason being is that my initial foray into the 2008-2009 season happened to be in Breckenridge where I spent the weekend at a buddy’s condo. And unlike the lucky folks at Vail, Beaver Creek and almost everywhere else in the Centennial State, Breck didn’t get the big dump.

On Sunday, while all my RealVail friends were boot deep in a foot of fresh, Summit County was claiming only 5 inches of new. Funny thing is, I found myself bemoaning our “bad” luck, telling my friend Ryan how we would have been better off driving to Vail.

But Ryan, being the positive thinking guy he is, looked at it the other way. Sure, a 12-inch day at Vail is about as good as it gets, but it’s not like we were having a bad time at Breck. The skier’s right runs off Chair 6 were in great shape, and we even caught a rope drop on the south side of Horseshoe Bowl where the only tracks ahead of us were ski patrol zig zags. And by staying put, we saved ourselves $25 in parking fees and at least an extra two hours in the car, which for better or worse is always a crucial consideration for the Front Range skier.

The point of all this, you ask? Well, call it an early New Year’s resolution. My goal for the ’08-09 ski season — besides 40 days — is to start looking at snow report lotto tickets just as I would the real thing. Sure, you always want to match all the numbers, but there’s certainly no reason to bum out when you hit two or three.

commnet icon  1 Comment on "Playing the snow report lottery"


Rick — December 16, 2008

I think the Denver Post has the best snow online snow report for Colorado. But I do enjoy the reconnaissance info.


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Backcountry 'light' opportunities abound
Skiers make their way to Breckenridge's Peak 8 terrain.
Photo by Jason Sumner 

Backcountry 'light' opportunities abound

In-bounds, hike-to terrain is available at many resorts throughout the state
By Jason Sumner

March 24, 2008 —  If youíre looking for a backcountry experience, but donít want to deal with the equipment and risk requirements, inbounds hike-to terrain may be the answer. Nearly all of Coloradoís 26 ski areas have at least a handful of trails that are only accessible by foot, and that includes most of the resorts near the Front Range.†

At Breckenridge itís a brisk 10-minute hike from the top of the Imperial Express chairlift to the Peak 8 Summit, with the final dozen steps up a precipitous 50-degree pitch. The payoff is a spectacular 360-degree view from the top of the 12,998-foot mountain. The Peak 8 summit also affords access to a plethora of otherwise-unreachable expert terrain, including the ultra-steep Lake Chutes and the recently added Snow White bowl. You can also traverse north across the saddle between Peaks 8 and 7, either dropping into Whaleís Tail or continuing to the 7 summit where a half dozen wide-open expert trails await.

Backcountry 'light' opportunities abound
A-Basin's new hike-to terrain is among the best in the state - but be sure to pay close attention to signage.
Photo By Jason Sumner 

Breckenridgeís Peak 9 also has hike-to terrain. After 15 minutes on a mild catwalk through the woods, skiers and riders can choose from the Windows, Broadway or far-off Twin Chutes.†††

Over at Loveland, the ďbackcountry-lightĒ experience is better known as The Ridge, which runs along the Continental Divide, yielding its own 360-degree views. Loveland regulars like to traverse south, and then make the short hike up and over the 13,010-foot Summit Ridge before dropping into expert-rated Wild Child. Thereís almost always a launch-able cornice there, and its distant location means untracked snow can last for days after a storm.

Itís a similar story at Arapahoe Basin, which recently opened the four expert hike-to runs that jut upwards from the East Wall traverse. Willieís Wide is a local favorite, serving up steep but open terrain that stays soft long after the rest of the mountain has been skied off.

Access to the Basinís sketchy North Pole runs is either though a gate at the top of Lenawee Mountain Lift, or via a straight-up hike from the East Wall traverse. As the crow flies, the hike through the gate is slightly longer, but itís less steep and offers great views all the way up.

A-Basin also has hike-back terrain at the bottom of the new Montezuma Bowl. Just make sure you donít miss the trail, as I did my first time there (read more about that lovely experience by clicking here.

If youíre not interested in earning turns, but still want to go beyond lift-accessed areas, Keystone and Copper Mountain offer affordable options. At Keystone, $5 buys a one-mile sno-cat ride from the top of the Outback Express lift up toward the summit of Wapiti Peak. From there you can drop into the gentle slopes of either North or South bowl. If youíd rather save your five bucks for aprŤs-ski, you can cover the same distance by foot in about 15 minutes.

Keystone also runs a $199-a-day sno-cat operation, which hauls skiers and snowboarders to top of the more-difficult Independence Bowl. Again, those on a budget can forsake tank-tracked transportation, but getting to the top by foot will take at least a half hour.

At Copper Mountain a pair of sno-cats offer free rides to the ridge between Copper Bowl and Tucker Mountain. From there you can either strap on the boards and head back down, or continue hiking up Tucker Mountain, gaining access to runs such as Taco and Nacho. Copper Mountain ski patrollers joke that if you do that twice, you get an Enchilada Plate. An even better option is hiking to the end of the ridgeline, and then dropping into Freemont Glade. Itís one of the mountainís best-kept secrets and is often loaded with soft snow.

Access to Winter Parkís expert-only Vasquez Cirque is more skate than hike. Once there, the precipitous South Headwall and Alphabet Chutes are your best bets. No matter which you choose, youíll end up in steep, gladed trees before arriving at the base of the Eagle Wind Lift.

As for Vail, thereís not much in the way of inbounds hiking, but thatís okay when you have 5,289 skiable acres to choose from.

(Editorís note: A modified version of this story originally appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper.)

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Breckenridge film fest back for another year


Breckenridge film fest back for another year

By Jason Sumner

February 28, 2008 —  Unless you’re a Breckenridge local or serious movie buff, it’s likely you’ve never heard of the Breckenridge Festival or Film. But don’t let the lack of mainstream publicity fool you. This four-day event has pulled in plenty of top-notch premiers during its 27-year run, and organizers are promising more of the same when the 28th edition gets underway on June 5.

Right now the call for entries is ongoing. The deadline is March 30.

Past notable film showings include La Vie en Rose (featuring 2008 Best Actress Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard), Babel (2006 Best Picture Golden Globe winner), plus a host of other Hollywood hits such as Shawshank Redemption, L.A. Confidential, American Beauty and Lost in Translation.

Festival attendees can also expect to spot at least a few stars milling about this old mining town turned vacation destination that sits beneath the majestic Ten Mile Range. In past years Donald Sutherland, Jon Voight and Michael York have been seen on the streets of Breck.

“The appearances -- and the premieres -- are always a surprise as these films are announced at the very last minute,” explained Dawna Foxx, the festival’s executive director. “Anticipation becomes a huge part of the excitement.”

TV personalities and father-and-son duo Jeffrey Lyons (WNBC) and Ben Lyons (E!) will MC the event. Ticket prices range from $10 for individual shows, to $199 for an all-access pass. For more information check out

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Wolf Creek: is it really the snow king?
Wolf Creek, above, has collected more snow than any other ski area in Colorado.
Courtesey Wolf Creek Ski Area 

Wolf Creek: is it really the snow king?

Plus some helpful holiday driving tips
By Jason Sumner

February 15, 2008 —  For years now, southwestern Coloradoís Wolf Creek ski area has branded itself with the brash slogan, ďMost Snow in Colorado.Ē On the surface this might seem like a bold and unsustainable claim, but this year at least, itís right on the money.

As of February 13, the 1,600-acre resort thatís sits a mile east of the Wolf Creek Pass summit on Colorado Highway 160, is running away with the most-snow title. Its current mid-mountain depth is 134 inches, 18 more than second-placed Silverton Mountain and 41 more than the closest traditional ski resort, Monarch Mountain, which has 93. By comparison Vail sits at a modest 59.

Even more remarkable is the number claimed by a recent e-mail from the Wolf Creek PR team, which had the jaw-dropping subject line of, ďWolf Creek Ski Area - 36 Feet Year-to-Date.Ē Thatís 432 inches of goodness for those who donít have a calculator handy. Maybe itís time to buy property in Del Norte.

Wolf Creek: is it really the snow king? helps Front Rangers - and others - carpool in an effort to reduce skier traffic along I-70.

Make friends, not traffic?

For those of you lucky enough to work for the federal government or a bank, thereís a three-day weekend on the horizon. The rest of us will probably have to call in sick Monday if we want to spend Presidentís Day on the slopes.

Either way itís a safe bet that I-70 between the Front Range and the slopes is going to be crowded this weekend. With that in mind, RealVail offers these travel tips, which can help reduce your drive time.

Look before you drive: You will soon be able to check weather and traffic conditions at Until then, navigate to the Colorado Department of Transportation website, or the I-70 Coalition's website, It might mean the difference between spending an hour crawling up to the tunnel or relaxing at a coffee shop waiting until traffic clears.

Go green: If youíve got some space in your car or want to ride with someone else, check out The easy to navigate website has a ride board where potential carpoolers can post profile detailing everything from when they want to go to the slopes, to what kind of terrain they prefer. More people per car means splitting gas costs, reduced environmental impact, less wear on your vehicle and fewer cars on the road. Plus you might make a new friend.

Telecommute: Convince your boss to create a flexible work schedule for the holiday weekend. Maybe you can put in extra hours before or after the weekend, so you can get out early on Friday and get a jump on other travelers.

Be an overnighter: Spend the night in the mountains and extend your fun into the next day. Share the cost of a condo or rental unit with a group of friends. Many of the resorts are offering great lodging deals this weekend.

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