HIDDEN GEMS: COLORADO
So, you’re thinking about taking a ski trip this winter to Colorado but don’t want to be joining 2 million of your best friends in the river of taillights up I-70?
Believe it or not, there are some places that are still off the beaten path. Places where you can still find soulfulness, untracked pow, and a beer and a burger for less than $60. They are all independent—which means you won’t find them on the Epic or Ikon pass—but that keeps the crowds away and the local charm untouched.
Here’s a roundup of our favorite little gems.
Wolf Creek is lauded as the snowiest place in the state, which would make it far more crowded if it weren’t so damn hard to get to. Located in southern Colorado’s scenic San Juans, it snags the storm clouds all winter long, with accumulations averaging 430 inches annually. It has 10 lifts that serve 1,600 acres, which is enough to spread out the powder hounds on even the busiest of days. There’s varied terrain for all abilities, but for experts, the terrain off the snowcat or bootpack (whichever you choose) off the ridge is truly what make this place so phenomenal. We recommend bunking at the historic Windsor Hotel in Del Norte (you’ll be on the right side of the pass if it closes down for avalanche mitigation) or at the Springs Resort in Pagosa on the other side (you can soak out your sore muscles after a full day of pow-shredding).
Hiking to the top of the mountain at Wolf Creek. Photo: wolfcreekski.com
Just up the road from Copper Mountain Resort (yes, off I-70, but once you get there you will have zero crowds), Ski Cooper is one of the oldest ski resorts in the state. Founded in 1942, it was the training ground for soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division during WWII. It only has five lifts, but the newly opened terrain off Tennessee Basin is all double-diamond tree shots that will get your heart pumping. (The T-bar back up to the top is an adventure in and of itself.) For après, saddle up at the Irish bar at the base, and soak in the historic photos on the walls.
Just 21 miles from downtown Boulder, Eldora is a 45-minute drive up the windy Boulder Canyon. (It’s not the easiest drive, but it’s still a blissful experience compared to that on I-70.) It’s long been the place to ski for families in the Boulder area, which means it can get crowded on the weekend—but still worth the trip to get out of the I-70 corridor. Its 680 acres offer plenty of variety—including the double-diamond steeps off of the Corona lift. It’s a soulful throwback with a lot of character, and it’s also the No. 1 spot for racer kids to train. Don’t be surprised if you see some future stars smashing gates from the main Alpenglow lift.
No hassles, no hype, no parking fees—and certainly no lift lines. This mom-and-pop place in Glenwood Canyon may be just 47 miles from Aspen, but it’s a world away in terms of the experience. Sunlight has 730 skiable acres, with some nice, steep tree shots peppered throughout—especially off the East Ridge. The people watching at après may not be as rich as its glitzy cousin’s, but a soak in the Glenwood Hot Springs ain’t half bad. We recommend staying at the iconic Hotel Denver, which is walking distance to all the restaurants and bars, or at an Airbnb, as many of the homes in this town are full of historic charm.
Many skiers who have ever driven to Crested Butte are familiar with Monarch, because you have to drive over Monarch Pass from Denver to get there. This little powder powerhouse boasts 350 annual inches of light, dry fluff. It only has 670 lift-accessed acres, but with 130 more for those willing to bootpack and 1,635 more for guided backcountry, you can find powder stashes for days. (The pass itself is also a great backcountry skiing spot; we liken it to a less-crowded Teton Pass.) We recommend staying in Salida, about a half hour east, which has plenty of cute Airbnbs and hotels.
This throwback resort is unique for so many reasons, namely its location on the Grand Mesa—the world’s largest flattop mountain—outside of Palisade and Grand Junction. Powderhorn's four lifts serve up 1,600 acres of mostly intermediate terrain, but on a powder day, there’s enough to keep even the diehards happy. The bar at the base is a blast, too, with a big deck, loud music, and cheap drinks (they make a mean bloody Mary). And, if you stay down in Palisade, a 35-minute drive away, you can wrap up your day with winery tours and dinner in an adorable town that’s blossomed in recent years.
Silverton Mountain is the real deal. With the steepest terrain in Colorado and more than 400 inches of annual snowfall, it’s as close as this state gets to Alaska. It’s wild—no clear-cut terrain or groomers—so it’s best for experts only. It’s also more of a backcountry than resort experience, and those who aren’t getting a guide are required to bring avalanche safety equipment. The best terrain is hike-to from the lift, but the resort also boasts heli drops, which are available for only $59. Silverton is riddled with steep, rocky couloirs, so be prepared to have the time of your life—and maybe get a little scared, too.
There is one lift at Silverton. But it means there is almost always fresh snow to be had. Photo: silvertonmountain.com
Colorado still has some secrets in its powdery pockets—so come on out and stay for a while. And when you’re having a beer and scrolling through your social media feed of miles-long lift lines at the mega-resorts, well, let’s just say you’re welcome.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.