Yellow and gold aspen leaves, caramel apples… and skis and snowboards? It’s true! This is Colorado, where the skiing and riding season kicks off well before the winter solstice.
Look no farther than Arapahoe Basin, also known as A-Basin, and Loveland. These two ski areas, which lie near each other on either side of the Continental Divide, are known throughout the Centennial State for being the first to open and the last to close. A-Basin and Loveland both fired up their lifts in October.
Clearly, it’s time to start thinking about digging out that roof rack, scheduling an equipment tune-up and hitting the slopes!
While Colorado has umpteen winter resorts from which to choose, there are a few hotspots with two critical features. First, they are an easy day trip for the 2.8 million people who live in the Denver metro area. And next, they don’t require you to brave the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, which is ground zero for some legendary backups, especially when there’s weather along the Divide (which, unsurprisingly, is quite common).
Breckenridge Ski Resort Opening Day: November 8
Yes, this sprawling resort is on the other side of the Continental Divide. But for the many people who live in the western and southern Denver suburbs — and especially in foothills communities like Morrison, Conifer, Pine and Bailey — Breckenridge is just a couple hours away via U.S. 285. You’ll have two passes to cross (Kenosha and Hoosier), so be mindful of weather conditions; however, traffic should be light compared to I-70, and there’s no tunnel.
Tip: This also is a good “back door” for reaching A-Basin, Keystone and Copper Mountain. Depending on where you live and I-70 traffic conditions, 285 might be the faster (or at least less stressful) way to go.
Eldora Mountain Resort Opening Day: November 22
The slogan on the website for this Front Range resort reads, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive I-70.” Indeed, Eldora Mountain Resort is located 21 miles west of Boulder and a 45-minute drive from Denver. In fact, the metro area’s Ski-n-Ride bus service can drop you off just 50 feet from the lifts!
Tip: For those of you following ongoing coverage of Colorado’s historic September floods, Boulder Canyon is now open.
Granby Ranch Opening Day: December 11
Just 80 miles from downtown Denver via I-70 and U.S. Highway 40, Granby Ranch is a small, family-friendly vacation community that is known for reasonable prices, plenty of parking and a distinct lack of crowds. The views across Middle Park are stellar, and you’re not far from Lake Granby, Estes Park and the rear entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park. Keep an eye on the weather, as the trip over Berthoud Pass can be difficult.
Tip: Pay a visit to Estes Park, if you can. After the challenges presented by the September floods and the federal government shutdown, these resilient folks may need to feel some tourist love!
Loveland Ski Area Opening Day: October 17
You’ll have to take I-70 west to reach this venerable 75-year-old ski area, but fortunately you get to skip out just prior to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Nestled against the Continental Divide, this ski area is beloved among locals for its big-mountain terrain without the trappings and expense of an attached resort community. Driving around Denver, you likely see a lot of Loveland bumper stickers — and for good reason.
Tip: By all means, enjoy the great food at the ski area! But if you’re looking for a great spot for some apres-ski eats before you head back to Denver, consider a stop in historic Georgetown. It’s just 12 miles east on I-70.
Winter Park Resort Opening Day: November 13
Also on the other side of Berthoud Pass via U.S. 40, just 66 miles from downtown Denver, is Winter Park Resort. A popular destination among locals, the resort comprises three interconnected mountain peaks — Winter Park, Mary Jane and Vasquez Ridge. Winter Park is known for family-friendly terrain; Vasquez Ridge has intermediate terrain and mogul runs; and Mary Jane … well, its motto is, “No Pain, No Jane” with many expert and extreme trails.
Tip: Many locals stay overnight at Winter Park to take advantage of the variety of ski-in, ski-out lodging options. Not a bad idea, especially if inclement weather is forecast.
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