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Colorado: Where to Ski?

Ryan P.

It feels funny to even be writing these travel notes for Slow Travel since cruising a steep slope full of ice is nothing close to slow. But we must always push the boundaries and Slow Travel can include some fast skiing. I hope to give you some ideas about which of the many ski resorts in Colorado will suit you best.

Note: I will not give lift ticket prices as most are in the same range and they vary in price by date.

Arapahoe Basin (A-Basin)

arapahoebasin.com

This is widely considered a Colorado locals resort due mainly to the fact that it is pretty bare bones from a tourist perspective. There are no hotels at the base (you have to travel about 10 miles to Keystone for that) and no town to speak of (again, 10 + miles to Keystone/Dillon). The base lodge is not full of fancy woodwork nor is it catered to people who want privacy (the food area is full of rows of tables that everyone sits at, kind of like a family-style restaurant). But these are precisely some of the reasons locals love it - and the fact that there is some really fun skiing to be had here.

You can get to the top of the mountain in two chair lifts, so you don't spend your time going up and down trying to get to the area of the mountain you want to ski. Much of the resort is above the tree-line so the runs are often pretty open. While the resort isn't geared towards beginners, there are runs that are long and fun for those starting out. And since there aren't a lot of beginners on the mountain clogging up the run, it is actually nicer to be at a place like A-Basin. Intermediates have more options and can have a route down from almost all lifts. Advanced/Experts are the ones that can really enjoy the fruits of A-Basin. The Palaviccini lift services some great terrain for expert skiers and it goes up right from the parking lot.

Speaking of the parking lot, many people get up to A-Basin really early to get parking spots that are virtually at the end of the ski runs and like to have tailgate parties. They call this area the Beach.

Go to A-Basin if you are looking for a no-frills place with some quickly accessible and fun terrain. It is located off of highway 6 about 1.5 hours from Denver. It is also part of the Vail Resorts 5 mountain season pass that allows locals to ski at 5 resorts for the season for $369 (Unlimited skiing at A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and 10 days at Vail/Beaver Creek).

Aspen Snowmass

www.aspensnowmass.com

Aspen is well known to many for its star attraction and high-profile guests. The town is full of high-brow eateries and the finest hotels and the skiing is great too! Aspen Snowmass is actually four resorts in one - Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. Each has its own strengths - Buttermilk is more geared towards beginner and intermediate skiers with wide-open trails while Aspen Highlands is the extreme skiers dream. Aspen Mountain contains some great tree skiing and bump runs while Snowmass is a mix of everything.

The new base village is beginning to be built to take Aspen to the next level in ski resorts (not that there was a whole lot of room to the top). The village will connect the upper village with a zipping two minute gondola ride.

Beaver Creek

beavercreek.snow.com

Beaver Creek is like the Beverly Hills of skiing. Driving in past the gated entrance, past the line of world flags, past the multi-million dollar mansions, you finally arrive at the finely decorated and designed ski village. Escalators move people up to the lifts from the village that boasts an ice rink, great shops and fine dining. Greeters welcome skiers with warm chocolate chip cookies and high-end hotel chains have on-mountain outlets (Ritz, Park Hyatt).

Beaver Creek also hosts a World Cup ski race every year on the Birds of Prey course so if you are interested in following in the footsteps of Bodie Miller, you can ski the course (and see how insane those guys must really be!).

Beaver Creek has fun terrain split over a couple of areas. From the main village much of the beginner and intermediate terrain is easily accessible and for a change, beginners and intermediates can go up to mid mountain as a base and go to the top for fun runs (no more only being relegated to the slush on the bottom!). Off the western side are terrain parks and expert terrain with some great tree and bump runs. Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead are farther west and offer less crowded, beginner and intermediate close-in skiing for people who are staying in those areas of the mountain.

Beaver Creek will pamper you and offers some great terrain for all abilities. It is also part of the Vail Resorts 5 mountain season pass that allows locals to ski at 5 resorts for the season for $369 (Unlimited skiing at A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and 10 days at Vail/Beaver Creek).

Breckenridge

breckenridge.snow.com

Breckenridge has a lot going for it. It has a great town at its base that has festivals year round, has great food and bars and has plenty of places to stay to enjoy the mountain. It doesn't have the little compact village that some of the other resorts have which are convenient, but it does have a fun town right on its doorstep.

"Breck" has a lot of terrain - the lower parts of the mountains are geared towards beginners while it also has some great expert terrain up high. There is an old-fashioned t-bar that takes willing skiers to the top of Peak 8 and in 2005 they just opened a new lift that is the highest lift in North America at 12,840 ft. It will open up terrain that had previously been only available to those willing to hike 45 minutes. Breckenridge offers a bit of everything and should make most happy. The only complaints about Breck are that it can get very windy there and if you want to get from one side to another, there are a fair number of catwalks to deal with.

It is also part of the Vail Resorts 5 mountain season pass that allows locals to ski at 5 resorts for the season for $369 (Unlimited skiing at A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and 10 days at Vail/Beaver Creek).

Copper Mountain

www.coppercolorado.com

Copper operated by Intrawest and has a nice base village to enjoy. It is a popular destination for riders especially with its terrain parks but also has great skiing available. The terrain is fairly naturally divided giving each skill level its own room to breathe.

There isn't a real ski town to speak of there so you'll have to rely on the resort itself but you are fairly close to Frisco and other areas. Copper gets great snowfall and is a popular destination resort. It is also popular for locals as it shares a season ski pass with Winter Park ($329). Apres ski is nice here with a deck overlooking the main face so you can sit back and enjoy a beer as you watch other skiers make their last run of the day.

Crested Butte

www.skicb.com

Located a ways away from most of Colorado's other resorts, Crested Butte prides itself on it rugged terrain and un-crowded slopes. It isn't the place to go if you like fine dining experiences and high-end hotels but for the avid skier, who likes a down-home feel, choose Crested Butte. Since CB is off the beaten path, it lures people out with great lodging and ski deals that really make the trip easier on the wallet. There are huge amounts of acreage and bowl skiing that put a smile on everyone's face.

Bottom line is if you are looking for something away from the crowds and want some real great extreme terrain, check out Crested Butte.

Keystone

keystone.snow.com

Keystone is a great resort fairly close to Denver. It is less than a two hour drive from Denver and is tucked back behind the town of Dillon. It is a Vail resort and has a compact village that offers fun food and shops along with a big fire pit to keep those not skiing warm.

The terrain at Keystone is ever expanding. It has three mountains that each funnel to main lifts. The first two are mellower with mainly beginner and intermediate runs while the third, the Outback has great open, tree and bump skiing for experts. They also offer snowcat rides that give you access to some high alpine bowls for $5 a ride.

Keystone's lodges are nice but not overly impressive.

Keystone is one of the few resorts to also offer night skiing for those who can't get enough. It is also part of the Vail Resorts 5 mountain season pass that allows locals to ski at 5 resorts for the season for $369 (Unlimited skiing at A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and 10 days at Vail/Beaver Creek).

Loveland Ski Area

www.skiloveland.com

I will preface this by saying I've never actually skied at Loveland but I know others who do and will explain their reasoning. It is one of the closest resort to Denver and always competes with A-Basin at being the first resort to open in the US and the last to close. Lifts service a good amount of acreage, much of it above the tree-line as A-Basin is.

It is also a no-frills resort with few (if any) touristy stores near its base. Loveland is a resort that is not on the 5 mountain pass so it stays less crowded with its hard-core fan base. Loveland is located just off I-70 and Highway 6 just before the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Steamboat

www.steamboat.com

Steamboat is the picturesque winter cowboy home. With a town that still holds onto its idyllic old west charm yet still boasts great food, bars and shopping, Steamboat is hard to beat. With some of the best snow in Colorado (can anyone say "champagne powder"?) and less crowds than the Summit county resorts, Steamboat is a nice getaway.

It is about three hours from Denver so it is largely a destination resort. With a fair number of on-mountain lodging and a great family program, it is hard to go wrong at Steamboat. Steamboat has the longest pipe in the US and has tons of stashes of great powder for those willing to venture into the trees a bit.

Definitely go, but remember your cowboy hat!

Telluride

www.tellurideskiresort.com

Telluride is an all-in one experience. With a great western town full of all the amenities, a ski village for those who want to live the on-mountain life and the ski resort with its wonderful varied terrain and un-crowded slopes, Telluride is THE destination resort. The resort is connected to town with a gondola running from the morning till late at night, getting around is easy.

Telluride is either a very long drive from Denver or a short flight away and is happy to call itself remote. It is truly a world class destination that has it all.

Telluride is more geared toward family skiing (beginner and intermediate) but it does boast some really nice expert terrain as well. All in all, if you are looking for a place a little out of the way that has it all in one package, try Telluride.

Vail

vail.snow.com

Vail is the grand daddy of Colorado ski resorts. Consistently named one of the top resorts in the US, it doesn't disappoint. It has it all, a nice town, and great ski villages with fun bars, fine dining and shopping. The lodges are sometimes downright beautiful (such as Two Elks) and there is more terrain than you know what to do with. The famed back bowls are famous after a fresh snow (and other times are not so worthwhile if they are chunked and frozen). Any time of the season you can find great snow there and any type of terrain. Families, hard core skiers, terrain park riders, you name it and Vail has an answer.

The only down side to Vail is planning your day. It can sometimes take a very long time to get to where you want to ski since the resort is so big. You should try to plan your attack and not try to do everything in one day. Blue Sky Basin is Vail's most recent area opened and it has tree and great expert access.

It is also part of the Vail Resorts 5 mountain season pass that allows locals to ski at 5 resorts for the season for $369 (Unlimited skiing at A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and 10 days at Vail/Beaver Creek).

Winter Park

www.skiwinterpark.com

Winter Park has really been pushing to compete with the other ski resorts as of late. They have added a new Intrawest-designed village at the base and have made huge strides in catering to the family-oriented destination traveler. Winter Park has a small town to support the resort but much of the action can be found at the mountain base. While Winter Park is family friendly with plenty of nice beginner and intermediate runs, it's sister ski area, Mary Jane, which is actually part of the Winter Park resort is full of classic mogul skiing for the experts. You really can find any type of terrain you are looking for here and it oftentimes gets more snow than the Summit County resorts.

If you are looking for a fun train trip, there is the Ski Train that departs out of lower downtown Denver and makes a daily trip on the weekends that drops you off right outside Winter Park. Check it out at www.skitrain.com.

For locals, Winter Park and Copper Mountain team up to offer a season pass to rival Vail Resorts one. For about the same price ($329), you can ski all season at either Winter Park or Copper if you buy the pass at a local outlet in the Front Range (Boulder/Denver area).

© Ryan P, 2005

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