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Do the words "family-friendly" spell "b-o-r-i-n-g" to you? If so, head for the Colorado Rockies, where you'll find expert ski slopes and "champagne powder" alongside bunny hills, daycare, and free skiing for tots 5 and under.
Just a snowball's throw from downtown Denver, there are several ski areas guaranteed to satisfy hotdoggers and snowplowers alike. Besides some of the best downhill and snowboarding trails in the country, these areas also offer such trendy new sports as snow biking, alpine telemarking, and snow blading (on short, fat skis that let you slice down the mountain).
Ready to have fun? Check out the following Rockies resorts.
No need to lament the arrival of warm weather. A-basin, as it's locally known, is the closest thing to year-round skiing in Colorado -- or anywhere else for that matter. It stays open into July, thanks to a summit elevation of 13,050 feet -- the highest lift-served terrain in North America.
Don't let the high altitude scare you. Sixty percent of the A-Basin is geared for beginners and intermediates. It's also kind on the budget.
Stretch your dollars even further by brown bagging lunch, then heating it up in the lodge's guest microwave. In the off season, you'll save a lot on the price of lift tickets. The Basin has ski lessons for ages 4 to 14 and snowboard lessons for youngsters 9 to 14.
One of Colorado's oldest ski areas boasts the highest base of any in North America. At 11,315 feet, Berthoud literally straddles the Continental Divide, with two separate mountains divided by U.S. Hwy 40. (Geography trivia: The Continental Divide actually cuts through its parking lot).
You'll find 1,000 skiable acres, perfect for the more advanced ski family. Half of the runs shoot past the base lodge to a shuttle bus station, offering an extended glide down the hill. From there, you can take an eight-minute shuttle back to the lift. Thrill seekers will love the Hike-to-Ski program, during which a ski patrol member personally guides you to hidden, backcountry spots.
This ski area's claim to fame? The earliest opening date in the Rockies. Loveland's snowmaking, coupled with its location atop the Continental Divide, make it a first stop each season. About 17 percent of the area's 1,365 skiable acres are devoted to beginners, 42 percent to intermediate, and 41 percent to advanced.
Once on the mountain, take a ride on chair lift #9. This is the highest four-passenger chair in the world, carrying riders to 12,700 feet. Take along a camera and oxygen mask -- you might need them!
For a break from downhill, try alpine telemarking, one of the fastest growing backcountry sports. It's like cross-country on wider skis, which can be used for downhill and backcountry.
Whether you're going downhill or sideways, Loveland's prices are kind on the wallet. The half-day lift ticket is a good deal; at most areas, they're tied to specific times. Not so here; pick the four consecutive hours that work best for you.
This intimate family resort is the smallest of the four, with only 287 acres. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in non-skiing activities. Silver Creek is the only one among our selected resorts with on-site lodging, including a ski-in/ski-out condo.
What's more, Silver Creek introduced snow biking to North America in 1995. Be sure to hop on one of these low-to-the-ground bikes that cruise down the slopes on snowmobile-like runners, not wheels. Snow bikers use mini skis attached to their boots as rudders to keep them balanced.
For an aerobic workout, test your cardiovascular mettle on nearly 25 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. The resort also boasts the second-largest night skiing operation in Colorado.
About 80 percent of Silver Creek is dedicated to beginners and intermediates. And parents will appreciate its layout: All the runs radiate from one central base, making it easy to keep track of the kids. For families new to the slopes, try the guaranteed "Start to Ski or Snowboard" five-hour lesson.
Denver itself is a great place to hang with the kids. You'll want to spend at least a day checking out these favorite kid-friendly haunts:
Type of trip: Skiing, outdoor sports
Best ages: 6 and up
Ideal trip length: Long weekend to one week
Distance: Boulder (28 miles); Colorado Springs (69 miles); Santa Fe, NM (391 miles)
Best time to go: November to April. Go early in the season (opening day to mid-December) for fewer crowds and cheaper lift tickets.
Weather: 43/16 degrees in January, 88/59 in July. On the slopes, temperatures range from below zero to the 60s. Dress in layers.
Lodging: Rates vary based on conventions in town. Lower cost lodging can be found at motels outside the city.
Squirm factor: None
Arapahoe Basin. 68 miles southwest of Denver off U.S. Hwy 6, 888-ARAPAHOE. Prices are lower in off season. Lodging: Call Key to the Rockies for off-site accommodations, 800-248-1942.
Berthoud Pass. 50 miles west of Denver off Hwy 40, 800-SKIBERT. Lodging: At Winter Park, 12 miles north.
Loveland. 56 miles west of Denver on I-70, 800-736-3754. Lodging: At Silverthorne, 12 miles east.
SolVista Golf & Ski Ranch. 78 miles northwest of Denver on Hwy 40, 888-283-7458. Ask about the "Ultimate Family Package" deal. SolVista Reservation and Travel, 800-757-7669.
Children's Museum of Denver. 2121 Children's Museum Drive, 303-433-7444.
Denver Zoo. 2300 Steele St., 303-376-4800.
Contact: Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-233-6837; Colorado Travel & Tourism Authority, 800-COLORADO; Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, 303-297-8335, Colorado Ski Country USA.
Favorite local spot: Nickel-a-Play Family Fun Center, Mission Trace Mall at 3991 East 120th Ave., Denver, 303-453-1622. This video arcade is easy on the pocketbook. Arm children with nickels and let them loose for hours. Kids can win tickets, redeemable for prizes.
Best souvenir: A bag of crunchy BBQ and nacho cheese-flavored insect larvae from the Butterfly Pavilion Gift shop. The gross-out factor, we're told, is worth every bite.Annual Events:
Traffic alert: Highway 70, the major thoroughfare from Denver to the mountains, is a 4- to 6-lane highway that's well-maintained throughout winter.
It's the first stand-alone, non-profit insect zoo in the US. And it's home to thousands of beautiful butterflies and bugs.
First, the glam: You'll see more than 80 exotic species of butterflies, including the Blue Glassy Tiger, Green Banded Peacock, and popular Blue Morpho, which flashes neon blue when opening its wings. At the glass-enclosed emergence center, you can watch these delicate creatures come out of their cocoons.
Now, for the gross outs: At the Crawlaseeum, you can get close to huge tarantulas with inch-long fangs called Bird Eaters. Or you can hold Rosie, the Rose Hair Tarantula (who doesn't bite), and feel her light tickle as she crawls up your arm. Kids will get a sticker for their bravery, proclaiming, "I held Rosie."
They can also cuddle a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. It really hisses, too -- definitely not for the faint of heart. At the Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center, 6252 W. 104th Ave., Westminster, about 15 miles north of downtown Denver, 303-469-5441.
Reviewed April 2004.