By Karen Rubin

Colorado Mountain resorts are getting in shape for the season they were made for: snow season-as in downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country, snowblading, snowshoeing (get the drift).

One of the most exciting new developments among the 27 resort areas that comprise Colorado Ski Country USA is that Club Med will be opening at Crested Butte. The famed resort company acquired the Crested Butte Marriott Resort and after a $6 million renovation, will reopen it as a family "village," offer supervised activities and learn-to-ski/snowboard programs for children 4 to 12 (Crested Butte will become Club Med's only family ski village in North America; its other Club Med, at Copper Mountain, is also being redone, and in the process is being converted from a family village to an Adult village). Club Med will also have charter flights directly from New York into Gunnison vastly improving the accessibility (it is otherwise a two-flight trip). At Club Med, famous for introducing people to new sports and activities, the skiing, lessons, meals, accommodations and air fare are all included in the price (see also Discovery, 11/3, 800-CLUBMED, www.clubmed.com).

Crested Butte has always been one of the most delightful ski areas in Colorado, with a real Victorian mining town that wonderfully preserves the Old West heritage and the ski resort about one mile up the road at the base of the mountain. The entire ski resort is slated for a $100 million improvement including a renovation of the Town Center and new residential community. An unusual feature at Crested Butte: Adventures to the Edge utilizes an extensive network of huts for single- or multi-day trips in the backcountry surrounding Crested Butte; trips are geared for novices to experts. No Limits Center books a range of adventurous activities, from moonlight snowshoe tours, snowmobile rides and fondue dinners, and other special activities. New this year: kids 5-16 pay their age for the daily lift ticket (4 and under ski free) with no blackout dates all season, and no limit on the number of kids who get the discount, no minimum stay and no minimum number of ski days. Kids can also enjoy after-ski activities and snack at Kid's World, and Saturday and Wednesdays, there is Kids Night Out activities. Families can also enjoy daily guided snowshoe tours along a special trail atop the Goldlink and Painter Boy lifts. Also, local Green Team guides lead ecological tours of the mountain (Crested Butte Vacations, 888-463-6714, www.CrestedButteResort.com).

Copper Mountain resort, now owned by Intrawest, is also seeing a renaissance. This November, the new Center Village will be "turned on." The high alpine base village is designed as an auto-free pedestrian plaza. The new Schoolhouse at Union Creek is designed to be extremely relaxed and welcoming for youngsters. A wonderfully family-friendly resort, a new program this year entitles parents who spend $30 in the Village to participate in the Kids Night Out program for free (800-263-5302, www.ski-copper.com).

Durango Mountain Resort (formerly known as Purgatory), will have the Southwest's first high-speed six-person chairlift, opening this season: 6,553 feet long and run at 1,000 feet per minute (cutting the ride in half); it will serve the resort's most popular beginner, intermediate and expert terrain, as well as the Powderhouse on-mountain restaurant and snowboard halfpipe and terrain park and is the first of many base-area and mountain improvements planned by the new owners. Another on-mountain feature is the Animas City Adventure Park, a terrain park designed for kids, and an adjacent Nature Trail where kids can learn about wildlife and the local history. What makes Durango distinct among the Colorado resorts is the Southwestern scenery and special attractions in the area which are cleverly combined in Durango's "Total Ticket," a marvelous program of non-ski activities that can be bundled into the stay. One of the new ones is "Star Safari," which takes place after the last lift of the day; you ski down and meet with an astronomer with a high-powered telescope as a guide to the heavens. Other Total Ticket options include a scenic ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, guided snowmobiling, a dinner sleigh ride, a soak-and-massage at the hot springs spa, gaming at the Sky Ute Casino, a visit to Mesa Verde National Park, or a day of cross country skiing (800-525-0892, www.ski-purg.com).

Steamboat (one of the American Skiing Company resorts) has cultivated a reputation for its kids program. This year, it unveils the Kids Vacation Center, a new one-stop check-in center where you can purchase lessons, rentals and lift tickets all in one place. Other innovations this year include a dinner theatre at Buddy's Run and live-stand-up comedy at The Stoker Comedy Club. There is direct air service from Newark on Continental into Hayden Airport. (800-922-2722, www.steamboat-ski.com).

Keystone is another undergoing a major renaissance--$1 billion worth, in fact. KRED, a partnership between Vail Resorts and Intrawest continues to expand River run, the resort's newest village. There is also a new high-speed six-person chairlift, twice as fast as the Ruby lift it replaced, which can carry 3,600 riders per hour. Keystone has Mountain Passport program so families can enjoy night skiing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or try a hockey clinic or yoga for free. Every guest who books a room at Keystone receives two free Mountain Passports, providing free access to more than a dozen activities and programs-providing an all-inclusive vacation. There are also free star-gazing programs, storytelling around the fire, mountain craft night. This year, there is a new Kids' Adventure Night (so parents can enjoy fine dining at the historic Ski Tip Lodge or full moon snowshoe tours). On the mountain, the whole family can enjoy Colorado's steepest and longest tubing hill. Direct flights into Vail/Eagle County Airport from LaGuardia on American and United and from Newark on Continental also serve Keystone. (800-427-8216, www.keystoneresort.com).

Breckenridge, which is owned by Vail Resorts, will have another $11 million in improvements this season. The company has already invested $100 million in improvements in the country's "most visited ski area." Breckenridge is continuing to offer its innovative "Ske-cology" classes for kids, an environment-learning program with interpretive signage on the mountain at such places as Enchanted Forest, Dragon Trail and Ute La Bonte Trail (800-427-8216, www.breckenridge.com).

Beaver Creek is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this season and will offer special events and improvements in the village and on the mountain throughout the winter. Early season conditions will benefit from 30 additional acres of snowmaking, for a total of 580 acres. There are also additional development projects at Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead. Beaver Creek makes families welcome with complimentary (or small fee) family activity nearly every night of the week. On Mondays, enjoy a Figure Skating Performance Series on the Black Family Ice Rink; each Tuesday, there is a movie; Wednesday is Kids Night Out Goes Western, a dinner theater for kids 5-12; Thursdays, families can join a glow stick ski-down, followed by fireworks on the mountain and Astronomy Night with a local astronomer. Special feature: Gourmet Lunch Snowshoe Tours, with private guide and catered lunch and breathtaking views of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges. Direct flights from LaGuardia and Newark into nearby Vail/Eagle County Airport (800-427-8216, www.beavercreek.com).

Vail, which saw the opening last season of the Blue Sky Basin with 520 skiable acres served by three high-speed quads, offers an adventure experience unlike anything in country. Blue Sky Basin's Pete and Earl's Bowls offer powder stashes, tree skiing and open glades. It seems to capture a piece of Colorado's history with lift houses, structures and trail signage designed to emulate an old mining settlement. This year, 125 acres of intermediate terrain, accessed by a new high-speed quad, will open in Pete's Bowl. Vail became an industry leader when it opened Adventure Ridge, an on-mountain adventure center accessed by the Eagle Bahn Gondola where there is the Thrill Sled, tubing, ski-biking, laser tag, snowmobile rides, a kids snomobile track plus restaurants (the gondola is free after 2 p.m.). During the kids-only Night Owl program, they are taken up to Adventure Ridge for dinner and tubing, laser tag or ice skating. To help guests select from a plethora of lodging, a new Lodging Quality Assurance Program provides detailed information on each lodging property in Vail/Beaver Creek and the Vail Valley Tourism central reservations systems. Direct flights into Vail/Eagle County Airport from LaGuardia are offered by American and United Airlines and Continental and American airlines offer direct flights from Newark (800-427-8216, www.snow.com/vail).

Telluride boasts $11 million in capital improvements this season to enhance the overall guest experience on and off the mountain. Telluride is increasing its snowmaking capabilities by 25 percent, improving early and late season snow conditions. Kids and families will enjoy new evening activities on the mountain and in the Mountain Village. Children's ski programs incorporate special focus days to educate children on various topics as they learn the basics of skiing or snowboarding, such as "Race Day," "history/Heritage Day," "Safety Day," and "Environment Day." On "Environment Day," children may meet Lissa Margetts from the Rocky Mountain Ark (a wildlife rehabilitation center) and her live animal friends, Otto (a river otter) or Liberty (a bad eagle). There are also teen activities such as tubing, pizza parties, ice skating and torchlight parades. The website, www.telluride-ski.com has been redesigned to be a one-stop shop for booking air, ground transportation, lodging, lift tickets, lessons and rentals. The first phase of the Telluride Mountain's 733-acre Gold Hill and Prospect Basin expansion is slated to open for the 2001-2002 winter season; when fully opened, will nearly double the size of the ski resort with 1,855 acres that will provide greater variety of predominantly intermediate runs, bowls and tree skiing and snowboarding (800-854-3062, www.telluride-ski.com) .

Winter Park is spending $6.1 million on capital improvements this season, including $4 million to acquire 13.58 acres at the base of the slopes. After two years of construction, the Zephyr Mountain Lodge is complete with 11 new shops and restaurants and condominium units. Also, the Ridge Ride will debut this season, providing a rope tow "ride" from the top of the Timberline Lift (Parsenn Bowl), to the entrance to Vasquez Cirque ($5), which cuts out a 20-minute hike; a snowmobile will have a rope attached to it that can pull several riders at a time. Among the family-oriented activities: Groswold's Discovery Park is a large learning area with four main runs, a hidden log cabin, warming hut, and variety of lifts to practice on, adventure trails through the woods like Moose Wallow and Ski Papa, and a trail of "whoop-dee-doos," Rendezvous Flats, that leads to a hidden teepee village in the woods (800-729-5813, www.winterparkresort.com)

As part of a company-wide effort to make the Aspen/Snowmass ski and snowboard experience as memorable as possible, there will be a wide variety of activities, from impromptu lift-line polkas to ski-jumping competitions to nighttime dining at rustic on-mountain cabins. Snowmass is featuring free weekly family events like Camp Fire activities, races with Burnie the Bear, Snowcat rides and family fairs. Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk (which are all part of Aspen/Snowmass) have a marvelous kids trail system and a kids trail map which points out unique attractions like the Fort Frog at Buttermilk. Concierge centers offer free use of phones for parents and kids (the on-mountain concierge can also supply a hat, gloves or goggles if needed). Lift tickets this year are as low as $39 per day (based on a six-day ticket, when purchased online at www.aspensnowmass.com by Dec. 1; you also can get a 60 percent off ski or snowboard lesson). Snowmass, always popular for its family programs, has created a new kid's training arena, which includes a picnic shelter, training gates, sculpted moguls, expanded kids' trails and video center, and is accessed by a new platter pull lift. The popular Elk Camp area will be accessed by a new high-speed quad. Direct flights into Vail/Eagle County from LaGuardia on American and United and from Newark on Continental also serve Aspen's resorts (888-452-2409, www.aspensnowmass.com).

In addition to these major resorts, Colorado has a group called Gems of Colorado Ski Country, eight distinctive, classic ski resorts, offering affordable pricing, world-class skiing and snowboarding, and champagne powder. These include Arapahoe Basin, Berthoud Pass, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Silver Creek, Ski Cooper and Sunlight.

For further information, contact Colorado Ski Country USA, www.coloradoski.com).

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