photo by Larry Pierce/Steamboat Ski Resort

Enjoy a fantasy ride on the slopes in Colorado

By Julie Kailus

Many years ago I had the pleasure of working on a project called Lost Resorts. Whenever I see one of these vintage posters hanging on a wall somewhere obscure it takes me back to the meaning of skiing in Colorado.

All makes and kinds of die-hard outdoor enthusiasts who were born here or moved here tried to open rope tows on anything with a chilly north face and enough steeps to make for a downhill thrill. Not all of them were successful.

But based on their rich, endearing history, the snowsports resorts of today really are the stuff of legend. Not only are 25 still alive in Colorado, most are thriving: Last year’s snow season was the state’s best on record.

Staring at that poster, I made up my mind to go remind myself—and maybe you, too—why the epically diverse mix of mountains in Colorado makes it like no other place on earth.

Yes, it was going to be the road trip of a lifetime—a crazy, cross-state bender to visit as many of these small and large ski areas as I could stuff in and still capture the essence of each. There must be a reason these particular ski hills were still standing, and I had to go find out.

Starting In Our Backyard

The natural place to start was a quick 21-mile drive up the canyon from Boulder to Eldora. If ever there was a little mountain that could, it’s Boulder’s backyard ski resort, which has not only taught and trained most of this town’s kids and adults since 1962, but recently got approval to cut several new runs on the backside served by the Corona lift and upgrade lifts on the front side of the mountain. And that’s where I stayed my first day, weaving in and out of glades, exploring all the secret stashes that, well, maybe locals would prefer to keep for themselves.

photo by Everett Collection

After a bluebird day on the slopes, the snow set in just as I set off to Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, tying two more smaller, local favorites together for an epic day atop the Continental Divide. It was straight to the top of Loveland to huck myself off The Ridge, an iconic windswept piste akin to something in outer space, before catching the ski area’s meandering 2-mile-long run back to the base.

Thanks to my favorite Loveland feature—free slopeside parking—my car was in the second row, so I jumped in my snow-tire-studded Subaru and headed over Loveland Pass (the back way) to hit A-Basin, as everyone who lives here calls historic Arapahoe Basin. It was dumping, so after a cheap and tasty burrito at the base’s 6th Alley Bar & Grill, where I knew I’d return for a bloody Mary, I went to tackle the state’s steepest run.

Oh, Pallavicini, you tried to take me down, and you did, but thanks to a fresh foot of powder it was a dreamy plummet off that hidden mogul. After I went down, I soared back above treeline, around through glades and around Montezuma Bowl, where I felt so far away from the big city, which ironically was less than 70 miles to the east.

I stayed in Keystone, just around the bend, but opted to make a day of it at Breckenridge, which I accessed via the shortcut behind the reservoir. I knew it would be a fun day of exploring terrain tossed across the resort’s five different peaks. I got lost but didn’t care, because around each new face was more terrain than I thought possible at one resort—2,908 acres, 34 lifts, 187 trails. Whew, I would have to come back.

Steeps, Deeps, and Pillows of Powder

It was on to Copper, which I consider “my” resort. For some reason, I adopted it when I first started to snowboard in Colorado and haven’t let it go. I know it like the back of my hand, and quickly headed to the back bowls to sample my favorite steeps and deeps, which never disappoint. No crowds. Just endless pillows of powder.

Breckenridge on a perfect day. (Photo courtesy Liam Doran, Vail Resorts)

It was just a morning here visiting my darlings and watching some pros launch themselves in the terrain parks, before I headed over Vail Pass to explore Vail, part of the Vail Resorts conglomerate, which also includes Keystone, Breckenridge and nearby Beaver Creek. While I met some friends for forays into the legendary back bowls and a quick toast in the European village, I didn’t have time to squeeze in a run at Beaver Creek. Darn, I was really pining for all those luxuries (free Champagne toasts, anyone?) they throw at you when you throw down at Beaver Creek. Another paycheck, another day.

I had to get to Aspen. I waved a quick “catch you next time” as I passed near Sunlight Mountain Resort, where I knew I’d return for some family runs and soak in Glenwood Hot Springs’ famous waters, but motored on to regal Aspen, where I tried my hand at steeps on the face of Aspen Mountain, deliciously diverse terrain at Snowmass Mountain, a backcountry-like adventure at Aspen Highlands and some mellow cruisers at Buttermilk to bring my blood pressure down.

Was this crazy? No. I’d never had so much fun in my life. I needed more. It was like floating on a snow buzz that didn’t end. But then, suddenly, it did end. I woke up. It was just a ski country dream.

One I can’t stop chasing.

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