Elevation: 12,200 feet Vertical: 2,200 feet acres: 1,700 Snowfall: 322 inches (at 11,315'; through April) cost: $225 per person, per day; $2,400 for the 12-seat cat Getting There: Take I-70 to Exit 232; zigzag up Highway 40 to the pass (50 miles west of Denver) Info: 800-754-2378, berthoudpowderguides.com
Beta: Between financial woes and freak accidents-avalanches, trucks sliding off the road, boulders rolling over buses-Berthoud Pass ski area has gone in and out of business more often than your average celebrity-run restaurant. The latest reincarnation: a cat operation called Berthoud Powder Guides (BPG). While the lifts remain silent on the spine of the Continental Divide, BPG's Bombardier rumbles to five distinct powder neighborhoods that cover 360 degrees and 65-odd runs. Because Highway 40 snakes through BPG's kingdom, most runs end on a paved switchback-where a bus shuttles you back to the idling cat. Veteran guide Sean Daniels calls Berthoud "savage side-country," not backcountry-the terrain rolls from above-tree line bowls to dense glades, all tilted enough for vertigo, all without the hiking.
Don't get your base layers tied in a knot-while you ride seven minutes to the top, it'll take the riff-raff three hours to hike high enough to poach your line. Your guides will find the best snow anyway. They'll likely start you with a few warm-up laps on Lift Gully and Plunge under the old Continental Divide lift, then branch out. If you crave deep, tight turns, ask for Hightrail Trees or Hanging Meadow; if you want room to breathe, request the S-curved Skull Bite.
3 Days Later
Never mind three days. Berthoud holds untracked for weeks-and you can put your feet up while the guides play Sherlock.
Even with constant bombing, wide-open, south-facing Russell Basin is skied only 20 times a year. Spring is your window-when the snowpack stabilizes and the sun softens the bowl into corn.
With big rock drops and bigger snowdrifts, Current Creek is Berthoud's sandlot for boarders. Try the 80's or the 90's for the best trees and hits. Don't let the cat drop you off in Pumphouse Basin-it dumps onto painfully flat terrain.
Marquee Route: With two grand of sustained fall lines, Mines 1 and Mines 2 are the longest, deepest chutes on the map.
Off-Broadway: The Choke and The Knuckle, tight 48-degree chutes in north-facing Hell's Half Acre, taper into mandatory straightlines through cliff bands.
Now that Berthoud isn't technically a ski area, it's all OB, complete with OB hazards. Obey the guide.
Drinking & Dancing
Belly up to the base-lodge bar, open only to you, your cat buddies, and your guides, for a free Tommyknocker Pick Axe Ale.
Fold a white linen napkin over your bibs and dig in. BPG serves up Frisbee-sized pancakes and all-you-can-swig coffee for breakfast. For lunch, ski back to the lodge for a "light" lunch like chicken Pad Thai and fresh-baked cookies.
Guide Daniels has lived with the famous ghosts of erstwhile skiers in Berthoud's lodge for years, but everyone else has to crash in nearby Winter Park. Save dough at the pine-paneled Viking ($45 and up; skiwp.com/vikinglodge.html). At the high end, Zephyr Mountain Lodge (villageatwinterpark.com; $180-$800) at the base of Winter Park has four outdoor hot tubs.
The best time to go is late February or early March. Earlier, and the conditions are variable; later, warmer temps rot the snow.
Berthoud's cushy kitty is equipped with a stereo system. If you'd rather not get cooped up with Iron Maiden in a cab the size of an office cubicle, bring your favorite CDs and volunteer to play DJ.