Sure, Colorado’s world-class winter sports destinations like Aspen and Vail may reign in categories such as the ritziest, most the expensive or the resort with the most celebrity sightings. But the smaller gems boast superlatives all of their own. If showiness is not your thing and you prefer to rub elbows with the locals rather than the rich and famous, give the ski areas of Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Loveland a try.
This trio of smaller Rocky Mountain resorts is located only a short drive west of Denver, along the I-70 corridor. Skiing at each of the three resorts is an easy day trip from the city. For an even more relaxing experience, of course, you can stay overnight in the mountain towns of Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne for a few days and ski all three resorts.
Arapahoe Basin: Small but superlative
Arapahoe Basin — or A-Basin, as the locals call it — is usually one of the first resorts in North America to open and the last to close. Ski season typically lasts from mid-October to early June here.
The ski area is located only a little more than 100 kilometers west of Denver, in Summit County, Colorado. “I think our international guests will be impressed not only with the terrain, but how easy it is to get to A-Basin from other locations in the county,” says Alan Henceroth, Arapahoe Basin Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Skiers can hop on a free bus from Breckenridge or Keystone and get dropped off right outside the base area, for example. A-Basin is included on all Vail Resorts season passes and Breckenridge or Keystone day passes.
Its high altitude is another one of the small resort’s superlatives: A-Basin has some of the highest skiable terrain in North America, topping at out just under 4000 meters. Half of the mountain is above the timberline. The vertical rise is almost 700 meters. Because of the high altitude, the snow quality at A-Basin is typically very good and the season extends into early summer. This means visitors coming to Colorado in May or June for hiking or mountain biking can also get in some powder days on the slopes of A-Basin.
The varied big mountain terrain high on the Continental Divide offers something for everyone — from wide open bowls and long groomers to challenging hike-to chutes and tricky moguls. Then there is the unparalleled Pallavicini, one of Colorado’s longest and steepest runs. “Pallavicini’s Spine holds buffed, deep snow and has an incredible double-fall line. You can end up in a mogul field or duck right or left for some tree runs once you’re off the top of the run,” says Adrienne Saia Isaac, Communications Manager for Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. “The expert terrain accessed via the Pallavicini lift is some of the most iconic in the state.”
In the winter season of 2007–08, Arapahoe Basin opened Montezuma Bowl. The 162-hectare expansion increased the ski area’s terrain by 80 percent to 388 skiable hectares, which does not count in the legendary East Wall, a backcountry area only accessible via a hike. “Many of our international guests love the terrain here – I’ve heard that the profile of the East Wall and the open, above-treeline layout of our mountain reminds them of the skiing abroad,” Isaac says.
There is one more reason why out-of-state winter sports enthusiasts and even international visitors who may not previously have heard of Arapahoe Basin should give the resort a try — the atmosphere: “This is just a very cool place that feels like home,” Isaac reveals. “The vibe of our ski area is authentic, local, laid-back and fun. This is the place for people who want the real deal, big mountain Colorado ski experience without breaking the bank or feeling overwhelmed.”
Keystone: For kids and adventurers
Nearby Keystone Resort features more than 1200 skiable hectares on three mountains that provide a natural progression of terrain — from Dercum Mountain’s perfectly groomed green and blue runs to North Peak’s bumps to The Outback’s tree runs.
“The family trail Schoolyard is the first of its kind, designed to engage skiers and riders of all ages while promoting on-snow progression with specialty features,” says Russell Carlton, Senior Communications Coordinator at Keystone Resort. “For those powder hounds, guided cat skiing and riding tours are available with Keystone Adventure Tours and provide access to three incredible bowls complete with a catered gourmet lunch in a backcountry yurt. Keystone’s A51 is a park skier and riders dream, with five sections for every ability level.”
With a dedication to families, Keystone offers a variety of additional activities that allow everyone to enjoy the mountains, including daily free Kidtopia events featuring a mountaintop snow fort, daily Cookie Hour, parades and fireworks, mountaintop tubing and ice skating.
“The vibe at Keystone is one of convenience, comfort, value and family. It’s a mountain where entire families can enjoy the slopes and activities together,” Carlton says.
Loveland: Authentic and uncrowded
“Loveland Ski Area offers an authentic Colorado skiing experience that you can’t find anywhere else,” says John Sellers, Marketing & Communications Director, Loveland Ski Area. “This is a ski area and not a resort, so you won’t find a village or hotels at the base, but you will find a friendly staff and a diverse mountain that gets covered with an average of 422 inches (almost 11 meters) of snow every season, the second highest snowfall average in Colorado.”
While Loveland is close to some of the most popular ski destinations in the nation, Sellers says the experience here is very different: “This is a local mountain that offers a friendly, laid-back vibe and a variety of unique terrain at an affordable price. Our lift tickets cost about half as much as the larger resorts, and you won’t have to make any sacrifices in terms of terrain or snow.”
If you want to escape the crowds, this ski area, which straddles Interstate 70, is a good option. “Loveland’s 1,800 acres (728 hectares) of terrain are packed with snow, not people so you can avoid crowded slopes and long lift lines,” Sellers says.
Loveland is made up of two separate base areas connected via free shuttle service: Loveland Valley and Loveland Basin. Loveland Valley is the beginners area. “With its own lifts and gentle terrain, it is the perfect place for newcomers to work on their technique,” Sellers says. “Loveland Basin is the main area where the majority of terrain lives and offers wide open cruisers, trees, bumps, chutes and bowls.”
Much of Loveland’s terrain sits above the tree line. Chair 9 takes skiers and riders up to 3871 meters, high atop the Continental Divide, where they find open bowls and powder-choked chutes. “The Ridge offers 480 acres (194 hectares) to choose from right off the lift and 100 (40) more hikeable acres for the true adventurer,” Sellers says. “Loveland’s Ridge Cat also offers free snowcat skiing to some of Loveland’s most exhilarating terrain that tops out at 13,010 feet (3966 m). The skiing and the views from The Ridge are spectacular.”
“Loveland is often overlooked by destination travelers focused on some of the larger neighboring resorts, but if you want to get the complete Colorado experience, put Loveland on your list,” Sellers encourages visitors. “It is more of a classic Colorado experience reminiscent of the glory days of skiing. Skiing and snowboarding the way it used to be, the way it should be.”