On the chairlift and around town, I often hear local skiers and snowboarders wonder aloud why they’d leave Aspen to ski elsewhere in Colorado. It’s not that they don’t travel to ski. The lucky few jet off to heli-ski or cat-ski in British Columbia or Alaska, others save up for their bucket-list trip to Japan and many make their annual pilgrimages to Jackson Hole, Alta and Big Sky. But rarely do I see Aspenites driving east on 1-70 in search of skiing.
There are, of course, valid reasons why. Most of us recognize that we have it good here. Accustomed to only pausing at the scanner for a millisecond before walking through an empty maze, Aspen Snowmass skiers shudder at images of mile-long lift lines elsewhere in Colorado. Our snowpack is fairly dependable, conditions are usually above average and the terrain spread across four areas is large and varied enough to keep even lifers entertained each season. And Aspen’s après, dining and nightlife scene? No brag needed.
But, depending on the season, Colorado is home to 31 other ski areas. 31! From north to south, 325 miles separate hilly Steamboat and craggy Purgatory; west to east, along Colorado’s Grand Mesa, Powderhorn lies 234 miles from front-range Eldora apart. Colorado resorts span the Rockies and offer more variety of terrain, landscape and character than entire mountainous countries. In Switzerland, skiers can’t ski among red-rock cliffs and into a box canyon, then make turns on a ski area surrounded by rolling prairie and oxbow rivers. The state was made for road-trip skiing.
Admittingly, in a decade of living in Aspen, I’ve driven to ski in Colorado less than a dozen times, and mostly it’s been to Telluride and Silverton. Prior to the Ikon Pass and Epic Pass era, who could afford to ski-area hop around the state, especially after buying a season pass at Aspen Snowmass? It’s not the time or place to discuss the pros and cons of consolidating the ski industry (now the two passes, in some form, cover every major ski resort in North America), but one thing’s certain: Multi-resort passes promote front yard ski travel.
This month, armed with an Ikon Pass, I loaded up my Subaru twice in two weeks to visit two places I hadn’t skied: Arapahoe Basin and Winter Park. I’d always heard about A-Basin’s locals’ friendly atmosphere and independent spirit, and when I arrived to an almost empty free parking lot and scoped a double chair lift next to a no-frills base area, I exhaled a sigh of relief. I met a childhood friend to skin up the resort (thanks to the resort’s generous uphill policy) before skiing with Whitney Henceroth. Whitney is the daughter of popular A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth, a ripping skier and content manager who grew up at the ski area (literally, she lived upstairs the ticket office for a couple of years when she was young). The terrain impressed me on the very first run. Lapping the beloved Pallavicini (or “Pali”) chair, I found steep, fall-line, treed terrain reminiscent of Highland’s Deep Temerity—only longer. And that was just one zone. We skied soft, steep chutes that I couldn’t believe were inbounds, untracked tree stashes, soft bumps and complex terrain that demanded some focus. I loved having no idea where I was going or what was coming next. It all felt completely foreign, and I was only two-and-a-half hours from home. And while I can’t speak to the weekend experience, the mid-week vibes were as mellow as ours.
Another mid-week rally brought my 6-year-old son and me to Winter Park, Colorado's longest continually operated ski resort (who knew?). We came for the family-friendly skiing, which we found in surplus, but one morning on my own, I experienced the steep chutes at Mary Jane. And, following a mega-storm that brought 28 inches to Winter Park during our stay (they’ve accumulated seven feet this month), I skied the deepest mogul run of my life down famed “Outhouse.” My son and I explored the entire mountain (it’s almost as big as Snowmass), including every terrain park and tree trail we could find. The views were spectacular, the people friendly, the lodges beautiful and the kid-friendly amenities spot-on. We experienced practically no lift lines (even on those powder days) until the weekends. With runs like “Dilly Dally Alley,” pools with waterslides, s’mores snowcat tours and gondola rides in the dark to mountaintop music and grilled cheese, my son was as excited as an amusement park visitor.
I came home from each trip grateful for seeing and skiing a little more of Colorado. My ski travel bug was satiated, without having to leave the state—or venture too far from 1-70. There’s good skiing out there, close to home and uncrowded, and it’s only a quick mid-week strike mission away.
Tess Weaver Strokes is a freelance writer, editor, mom and lover of all things outdoors in the Elks. You can follow her adventures @tesswstrokes.