Colorado has a long ski season - the longest in North America, when you count Arapahoe Basin, which is usually open from October to June (and sometimes July.)
That's a lot of skiing, and I often hear the question, "When's the best time to ski?"
The answer is, of course, "as often as possible," or maybe, "whenever it snows." But not everyone has the luxury of being a Colorado local, so many skiers have to pick a time months in advance to come out to the Rocky Mountains for a ski vacation.
For my money, if you have to pick a window once a winter to ski Colorado, come in February.
Here are ten reasons why.
1. No crowds
The holiday crowds, which sometime linger from New Year's Day into Martin Luther King. Jr. Day weekend, are long gone by February. Spring Break may be just around the corner, with all the t-shirt-skiing, beer-swilling insanity that goes with, but for now there is a sense of quiet on the slopes. The slopes have a "locals" feel.
Lift lines aren't typically a problem in February. The snow gets tracked out later. The groomers don't seem as congested. It's easier to find a table in the lodge. And out-of-town visitors, or just Front Range weekend warriors who don't want to drive, can find great lodging deals.
2. Great snow
For the many out-of-staters who come at Thanksgiving or around Christmas, ski conditions can be a crap shoot. Early-season snow conditions can be marginal, and in some years the amount of terrain open can be limited.
But by February, the rocks, stumps and fallen trees are buried under snow. The back bowls, steep chutes and tree runs are usually phenomenal, the "sharks" that can scrape your ski surfaces nowhere to be seen. Take Crested Butte, where an average of 44 inches of snow falls in January. February's average is slightly less, 37 inches, but the January snows have probably beefed up the base enough that the skiing is even better.
3. Super Bowl Sunday
Few days are less-crowded on the slopes than Super Bowl Sunday. Even though the game doesn't start until after the lifts have closed in the mountain time zone, many skiers stay home. That means no lift lines (not that they tend to be long in Februrary - see above) and the feeling of having the slopes to yourself.
And let's face it, your team probably isn't playing in the Big Game on Feb. 4 anyway (sorry, Broncos fans.)
4. Snowdown, Durango
The biggest party of the year in the Four Corners Region occurs in Durango in early February, five days of events, parades, costume contests and general shenanigans for young and old. And you can ski nearby Purgatory Resort in-between the parties. Just remember, skiing with a hangover is no fun. The party runs Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 this year.
5. President's Day
Only 35 percent of U.S. employers give President's Day as a paid holiday, that's fewer than any other winter holiday. That means a bonus Monday of skiing for the lucky 35-percenters who have off Feb. 19, so get out there!
6. Winter Carnival, Steamboat Springs
The longest-running winter festival west of the Mississippi occurs in Steamboat Springs Feb. 7-11 this year. It was started way back in 1914 to help residents cope with the cabin fever from the long winter. Highlights include racing, ski-jumping, ski-joring, the country’s only skiing high-school band, as well as a parade and fireworks. There are also plenty of strange occurrences, like adults on shovels being pulled down Main Street by horses. And legend has it that the penalty for being caught without a carnival button is to push a peanut down Lincoln Avenue with your nose.
7. Valentine's Day
Love is in the air on the slopes on Feb. 14. Bring your ski bunny to share sweet nothings on the chair lift. Or go solo and hope to meet another single skier or snowboarder looking for love.
For those lucky enough to have found love, why not tie the knot on skis? At Loveland's annual Valentine’s Day Mountaintop Matrimony, couples can get married or renew their vows in a mass wedding, followed by an after-party with music, cake, libations and a best-dressed contest.
The happy couples even get a 2-for-1 lift ticket special. What's not to love?
8. It's a little warmer
January is the coldest month, when skiers are most likely to have to take a break in the lodge for lack of feeling in fingers and toes. Whether it's in the middle of a whiteout snowstorm or one of those crisp sunny days when that orb in the sky gives no warmth, skiing in the dead of winter can sap the energy of even the hardiest skiers.
February can still be cold, but it's a bit warmer on average. At Steamboat, for example, the average high in January is 27 degrees and the average low 3 degrees. In February the average high goes up to 32, the average low to 6.
Think that doesn't make a difference? Ask your frozen toes.
9. You should be in mid-season shape by now
For the non-professional skiers among us, the first few times on the slopes each year can come with a lot of pain. No matter your off-season workout regime (or lack thereof), skiing and snowboarding involve muscle movements you probably haven't tried since last season.
By February, unless you're unlucky enough to not have skied at all, you should be in decent shape to get after the snow again and again.
10. It's the shortest month
If you happen to get paid semi-monthly at your job (two fixed dates, such as the 15th and the last day of the month) then February, as the shortest month, comes with a short paycheck cycle. That means a few days of extra cash. Why not spend it on a lift ticket?