Colorado has long-been the playground of glamorous ski bunnies who love the state’s endless supply of see-and-be-seen resorts found in the likes of Aspen and Vail. But if you want your winter holiday to be less about Instagram photoshoots and more about great skiing, you’ll want to go where most of the locals go: off-the-beaten-path, no-fuss destinations that might not be able to wow with fancy aprés-ski bars, celebrity chef restaurants, and stylish boutiques, but will instead give you what you really, really want—incredible snow and picture-perfect mountain surroundings. The warm thoughtful hospitality, however, means these mom-and-pop ski areas still boast unforgettable winter-time activities and seductive local experiences (one of them is located near hot springs, for example).
Here, five hidden-treasure ski spots that are so under-the-radar, there are rarely ever lift lines, which might just be the best reason to grab your skis and go.
An hour west of Denver, Loveland is the perfect ski destination to pair with a city break exploring Colorado’s booming capital. And despite its proximity to urban sprawl, Loveland offers a lot of skiable real estate—1,800 acres, to be exact, so don’t think that a mom-and-pop ski area automatically means you’re getting less space. In fact, one of the major perks here is the free CAT skiing (taking a snow tractor to the backside of the hills) along the Continental Divide. Advanced skiers will be whisked up to open and steep trails (with names like Velvet Hammer and 13,010) that can’t be accessed by lifts. Keep an eye out for (and take a selfie with) Parker, a friendly Bernese Mountain Dog and a bonafide Loveland celebrity.
No waiting for lifts, powder than can last for days after snow falls, and a double diamond run called The Heathen (that was once a Jeopardy answer) await at this intimate resort just an hour from Aspen. Yes, the skiable area isn’t that big (there are only three lifts), but that basically means there’s more time to explore other activities like snowmobiling and snowshoeing. The big bonus here is that Sunlight is located in Glenwood Springs, which is known for the world’s largest natural hot springs pool and a newer spot called Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which comes with sixteen different type of pools. Wouldn’t you rather have that kind of muscle-relaxing aprés-ski?
Right in the center of the state, this resort, which opened in 1937 with a single rope tow, is blessed with incredible snow spread across 54 trails and various terrain parks. But this doesn’t mean that Monarch rests on its laurels. In fact, clever programing is the norm. For skiers who want to expand their horizons, you can join a naturalist, who will teach you about spruce beetles or water systems while gliding through the resort’s beginner runs. If you’re a hardcore skier, the CAT program here is fantastic, with 1,650 acres of backcountry bowls, chutes, and glades.
As one of the smaller ski destinations in Colorado, Kendall Mountain, located just outside Telluride, definitely thrives on being an affordable family-friendly operation—lift tickets are just $25. There is a ton of social programing on offer, like disco skating parties, and on three Saturdays in 2019, night skiing. But admittedly this would be more suited for those who want a picturesque setting for a fun winter-time vacation (you can add snowmobile or fat bike adventures to the itinerary). Plus, it’s in Silverton, a historic mining town that still features some of the original architecture of the Gold Rush. But if you are looking for death-defying ski trails, Silverton Mountain, home to some of the steepest runs in the state, is nearby.
Tucked away in southwest Colorado’s San Juan mountains, this family-owned ski area is noteworthy for its deep-snow trails that die-hard powderchasers can’t get enough of. One of the snowiest places in the state (it receives around 400 inches of snow annually), 80-year-old Wolf Creek, which, like Monarch, was started with just a single rope tow, is typically one of the very first places the ski season begins. (In 2018, that was October 13th.) It just added a tenth lift in its network, opening up another 55 acres of beginner-friendly terrain. Environmentalists will also appreciate its commitment to sustainability: Last year, it became the US’s first ski area to run on solar energy thanks to the completion of a 25-acre solar farm.