Colorado is a winter wonderland – making it one of the top ski destinations in the world. But a family vacation to one the state’s world renowned resorts can be a budget buster.
Fortunately, all across the Colorado resort landscape, there are many smaller, independent ski areas. These areas are thriving as people are seek less crowds, shorter lines, and less of pocket expenses.
Like the big names, Colorado’s smaller, less well-known resorts are offer great terrain, great fun and resorts won’t break the bank.
Learn what the locals already know. This is a short review of five of Colorado’s best-kept and snowy secrets.
With base areas over 10,000 feet above sea level and lifts that max out over 13,000 feet, Loveland is one of Colorado’s highest resorts. The scenery is spectacular even by Colorado standards.
Loveland sits on the Continental Divide, over the Eisenhower Tunnel. It has 1,800 acres of terrain, including long bump runs, high alpine bowls and free snowcat skiing. Much of Loveland’s terrain sits above the treeline.
Loveland is easy to get to – slightly more than 50 miles west of Denver; less than an hour away. You’ll find ample free parking at the base.
Loveland is a ski area and not a resort, so you won’t find a village or hotels at the base. But if you don’t want to make the commute, rooms are reasonably priced in the nearby towns of Georgetown and Idaho Springs.
There is seldom a crowd at Loveland. Lift lines are short, especially so on weekdays. This bare-bones mountain that gets an average of 422 inches (almost 11 meters) of snow every season, the second highest snowfall average in Colorado.
Loveland is close to some of the largest, most popular and best known ski destinations in the nation but the Loveland experience is very different. No surprise that it’s a local’s favorite.
Loveland Ski Resort: www.skiloveland.com
Cooper (formerly known as Ski Cooper) prides itself in offering affordable and family-friendly skiing. Cooper is nestled between nearby neighbors Vail and Copper Mountain – only two hours west of Denver International Airport.
Condos within easy walking distance of a lift will cost you a fraction of what they’d set up back at Cooper’s larger, more well-known neighbors.
Cooper offers a range of challenging terrain. It’s back country ski tours that take riders and skiers to 2,600 acres of open-powder bowls, glades and timber in the San Isabel and White River National Forests.
For history buffs, Cooper is a unique part of Colorado’s rich snow sports history; the 10th Mountain Division’s on-snow reunion is held here every year.
If you’re overwhelmed by the size of the mountain or crowds at Vail or Copper Mountain, check out Cooper to experience some old-time Colorado skiing adventure.
Eldora Mountain Resort
Eldora is 21 miles from Boulder and 45 miles from Denver. It receives (on average) over 300 inches of annual snow annually. If you’re lucky enough to time your visit with an up-slope storm (east-side of the divide storm), Eldora gets pounded with snow. While the big name resorts on the west-side of the divide tend to get a comparative dusting.
Eldora is a great place to teach the kids how to ski. The mountain has amenities designed just for the youngsters — ski school, user-friendly lifts and a surface tow, etc. But they didn’t forget Mom and Dad with their expert terrain.
Family friendly, cheaper than its bigger neighbors, honors your your Ikon pass, close to metro Denver, and more time to enjoy on the slopes and not stuck in I-70 traffic. What’s not to like about this hidden Colorado gem?
Eldora Mountain Resort: www.eldora.com
Monarch Mountain is about a three hour drive from Denver. But it’s such a unique experience, it’s worth the extra drive time to check it out. Monarch is a near-perfect combination of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain.
You’ll find the amenities for the kids — ski school, magic carpet, tubing park, etc. — plus expert terrain for the grown-ups. All of the lifts (five of them in all, including the beginner chair) are slow fixed-grips.
Monarch operates on 100 percent natural snow (about 350 inches annually). Their motto is “Real People, Real Snow”.
And for anyone looking for more than a back country feel, most of the more difficult trails remain un-groomed, yet still have chairlift access. In addition, there are 130 acres of hike-to terrain. (It also has a thousand-acre cat skiing op.)
Lift ticket prices are low – even cheaper online. There is a variety of discount offers to encourage groups and friends of season pass-holders to visit. Parking is free.
Monarch is family-friendly and unpretentious. (The rental shop is a yurt-like tent). Small crowds and lack of long lift lines give this place the feel of a private ski area. People come here to ski and to be with family and friends; it feels like a community.
Monarch Mountain: www.skimonarch.com
Powderhorn Mountain Resort is the only truly Western Slope ski area. If you are looking to get far away from the standard mega resort ski experience, Powderhorn is your spot.
It’s perched on the side of Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain in the world. The unique location (4,000 feet above the valley floor) allows for breathtaking “desert beyond the snow” views extending for more than 20 miles across the desert below.
With an average of 250 inches of powder each winter, Powderhorn boasts the best tree-skiing in the Rockies. Plus a wide variety of terrain with a few long groomed runs, steeper tree runs and boulder fields full of jumps and cliffs.
Powderhorn makes up for a lack of vertical with two quality terrain parks and an “Old West” feel and focus its on families, beginner and intermediate skiers.
Powderhorn is a hidden gem known for friendly staff, minimal lift lines, and proximity to Grand Junction – a short 35 minute drive.