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Southwest ski guide

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has spoken, and the outlook for winter 2015-16 has powder written all over it. In fact, many forecasters believe this winter could bring the strongest El Niño in 50 years.

To get you psyched, we picked some out the best places to ride in the Southwest, so get those boards waxed and grab your snorkel. This winter is going to be good.

Purgatory

This mountain north of Durango, Colorado, is ranked among the best of the Southwest for experience and setting. Ample sunshine and big storms keep locals happy, and visitors are amazed at the variety of terrain. A new mile-long high-speed quad on the infamous backside of the mountain will zip skiers up to freshly gladed runs.

Base elevation: 8,793 feet

Summit elevation: 10,822 feet

Vertical drop: 2,029 feet

Skiable acres: 1,360

Lifts: 10, capable of moving 15,050 skiers per hour

Average snowfall: 260 inches

20 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced/expert

Five terrain parks and numerous features throughout the mountain

Wolf Creek

Known for the most snow in the state, this family-owned ski area outside Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is legendary for one thing: powder. It’s sitting smack dab in the middle of a swath of the Rockies that gets all the snow. With a base elevation at 10,300 feet, it’s also easy to find powder long after the storms clear.

Base elevation: 10,300 feet

Summit elevation: 11,904 feet

Vertical drop: 1,604 feet

Skiable acres: 1,600

Lifts: Five, capable of moving 11,000 skiers an hour

Average snowfall: 430 inches

20 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate, 25 percent advanced, 20 percent expert

Telluride

There’s a reason Telluride is voted the No. 1 ski resort in the country. With 2,000-plus skiable acres and 41 percent of that expert terrain, you can hike to some of the best inbound skiing in the world and eat chef-prepared cuisine for lunch at this giant posh Colorado resort. Two gondolas and seven high-speed quads are just half of its 18 chairlifts.

Base elevation: 8,725 feet

Maximum: 13,150 feet

Vertical drop: 4,425 feet

Lift-served vertical drop: 3,845 feet

Skiable acres: 2,000-plus

Lifts: 18, capable of moving 22,386-plus skiers per hour

Average snowfall: 309 inches

23 percent beginner, 36 percent intermediate, 41 percent advanced/expert

Three terrain parks

Silverton Mountain

North America’s only expert-only lift-served extreme skiing, just to get on the chair you need avalanche gear, available to rent with a day pass. With an average of less than 80 skiers on the mountain, a team of patrollers on the ground and in the air manage avalanche mitigation. Peak season is guided skiing only.

Base elevation: 10,400 feet

Summit elevation: 13,487 feet

Summit of chair: 12,300 feet

Lift-served vertical drop: 1,900 feet

Hike-to & helicopter-accessible vertical drop: 3,087 feet

Skiable acres: 1,819, and 22,000-plus acres – heli and hike to

Average snowfall: 400 inches

Lifts: One

100 percent expert

Arizona Snowbowl

This mountain just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, is the western slope of Mount Humphreys, the tallest point in the state. With a good vertical drop, this mountain can dish out some amazing skiing, and the Upper Bowl has surprising and challenging terrain.

Base elevation: 9200 feet

Peak elevation: 11,500 feet

Vertical drop: 2,300 feet

Skiable acres: 777

Lifts: Seven

37 percent beginner, 42 percent intermediate, 21 percent advanced

Three terrain parks

Taos Ski Valley

An iconic and unique skiing experience, this mountain blends world class terrain and southwestern culture. A new game changing Kachina Peak lift accesses previous hike-to terrain at 12,480 feet with a five minute chair ride. Always hammered by storms, at Taos you can log some serious vertical while knee deep in powder.

Base elevation: 9,200 feet

Summit elevation: 12,481 feet

Vertical drop: 3,281 feet

Skiable acres: 1,294 acres

Average snowfall: 305 inches

Lifts: 15, capable of moving 15,000 skiers per hour

24 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, 51 percent expert

Two terrain parks

Angle Fire

Stunning Rocky Mountain views abound at this southwestern gem. With 560 acres of rolling terrain, fantastic glade skiing and a nice vertical drop, Angle Fire provides worthy skiing close to Albuquerque, and some of New Mexico’s best skiing and snowboarding and nice gladed terrain.

Base elevation: 8,600 feet

Summit elevation: 10,677 feet

Vertical drop: 2,077 feet

Average snowfall: 210 inches

Lifts: Five

Trails: 18 percent beginner, 46 precent intermediate, 36 percent advanced

Two terrain parks

Ski Santa Fe

Part of what makes Ski Santa Fe so fantastic is how good it skis just 16 miles from all the culture, shopping, dinning and nightlife you could want in New Mexico’s capital city. With a base area at 10,300 feet and rising, it gets enough of Mother Nature’s winter loving, plus there is snowmaking on more than half the mountain.

Base elevation: 10,350 feet

Summit elevation: 12,075 feet

Vertical drop: 1,725 feet

Skiable acres: 660

Average snowfall: 225 inches

20 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 40 percent expert

One terrain park

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