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Elevation: 9,800 feet
Vertical: 2,000 feet
Snowfall: 500 inches
Acres: 2,300
Info: 209-258-6000; kirkwood.com

Beta: Thirty miles from the lake and 2,000 feet above Squaw, Kirkwood is the best hill you've probably never skied. Two and a half miles of steep, rocky ridgeline funnel into inbounds lines as scary as you'll see anywhere.

First Tracks: The patrol tries to get Chairs 6 and 10 open simultaneously. Either one is good, but the chair line on 6 is better: It's the closest and most direct fall line, with 1,800 vertical feet of perfect 35-degree powder pitch, with just a four-and-a-half-minute ride.

Must-Hit: When the east wind kicks up, jam a hard right off Chair 4, and make your way into Thunder Saddle, a 40-degree face that makes up the side of Kirkwood's Cirque, where loading can pile the snow waist-deep. It's short (1,000 vertical) and steep.

Après: With pinball, Pac-Man, and iceberg lettuce for salads, the wooden deck at Bub's is as retro as ski-retro gets. Later, wander downvalley to the Wall Bar & Grill, which straddles the county line—and, as rural legend has it, was home to a Prohibition-era bar on wheels that was rolled from county to county, depending on whose sheriff was away.

The Tip: When Kirkwood ceased fighting the rope wars, it stopped buying "Ski Area Boundary Closed signs. Unless there's a huge avalanche cycle and the patrol locks the place down, it's all yours: a thousand acres of easy-access terrain, with miles and miles of Wilderness beyond that.

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