By Jeffrey V. Smith
Colorado’s deep powder-like snow, wide variety of terrain, abundant sunshine, numerous resorts and unmatched scenery make skiing and snowboarding here unlike anywhere in the world. It is understandable why the state—which offers more area to ski and snowboard than Utah, Vermont and New York—has been America’s top choice for winter recreation for decades. One out of every five winter travelers chooses Colorado as their winter ski destination.
The Front Range is blessed with easy access to world-class destination resorts in Summit and Grand counties while being home to several ski areas providing local flavor and a no-nonsense vibe. The 2015-16 ski season offers area skiers more options with Echo Mountain Resort re-opening to the public for the first time in three years. Other area resorts continue to enhance skier experiences by offering new amenities, lifts, terrain and great deals to enjoy it all.
While Colorado is typically the first state in the country to open ski season, this year Vermont took the honors, Oct. 19, when Killington Resort began operating. Usually nearby Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, which began the season on Oct. 17 in 2014, vie for the title of first to open in the nation. This year, both ski areas kicked off the season for the Western U.S., Oct. 29. Most other ski areas are on track for an opening day by mid-November or early December.
The family-friendly, laid back Arapahoe Basin is known as “The Legend” to locals and has one of the longest ski seasons in North America, open most years from October to June. Enjoy a 360-degree view from the summit or lunch at Black Mountain Lodge while skiing some of the world’s best terrain. The ski area, which is already running its Black Mountain Express lift, offers free slope-side parking, convenient base area and affordable lessons for kids and adults.
This summer, A-Basin spent close to $1 million on improvements, both on infrastructure and “guest-facing.” It remodeled its ticket office into a complete Guest Services Center with a larger season pass office, more point-of-sale stations and a dedicated call center. According to Marketing and Communications Manager Adrienne Saia Isaac, there is also a new stage, which was christened with Brother’s Keeper featuring John Popper this summer during the Stage 2 finish of the USA Pro Challenge. It will allow A-Basin to expand its live music offerings in winter and summer.
These improvements come on the heels of a new $2.3 million Kids Center completed March 2015 and a $1 million renovation of the 6th Alley Bar & Grill completed December 2013.
This year, when guests register online by Nov. 8, their child age 6-12 receives two free days of skiing and snowboarding at Arapahoe Basin, valid any day of the 2015-16 season. Kids new to skiing and snowboarding receive half off a first-timer lesson—which includes another lift ticket.
Santa visits A-Basin, Dec. 19, and the New Belgium Mountain Adventure returns, Feb. 27, 2016. Watch for a concert series in April and May.
Echo Mountain, located on Hwy. 103 between Idaho Springs and Evergreen, is expected to open to the public, Dec. 10, for the first time in three years. Under the continued management of Front Range Ski Club, the new Echo Mountain opens to season pass holders and day visitors with a “renewed focus” on the family and beginner guest.
“We are very excited about this next chapter in Echo Mountain’s evolution,” says Owner Nora Pykkonen. “Our mountain is the ideal location for… non-skiing or snowboarding Front Range residents looking for their first day on snow, but aren’t ready to make the commitment of travel, time and expense the larger destination resorts require. We want to be that first stop on their journey to a lifelong love of snow sliding.”
Echo Mountain is working with Boulder-based SNOW Operating, which pioneered a Terrain Based Learning method of lesson teaching. The new method of teaching first-time ski and snowboard lessons uses snow shaped into features to control speed, eliminating traditional fears.
Echo and the Front Range Ski Club will also continue to offer private access race training during midweek evenings and early morning weekend sessions along with their terrain parks, which are now scaled back.
Eldora Mountain Resort
Eldora Mountain Resort is known as the Peak to Peak region’s backyard ski area and offers something for everyone with steeps, bumps, glades, a terrain park, world-class Nordic center and groomed corduroy. Eldora also offers an acclaimed Children’s Center, free close-in parking and RTD bus service that stops 50 feet from the lift.
The big news at Eldora this season is the U.S. Forest Service’s decision on the resort’s request for expansion. The decision allows the ski area to move forward with proposed improvements inside its existing special use permit boundary—such as replacing lifts, adding gladed terrain and new runs, improving snowmaking and building and renovating restaurant facilities. The decision, however, defers all expansion and improvements outside the existing ski area’s special use permit boundary, providing the opportunity for the ski area to work collaboratively with those concerned about controversial aspects of the project.
“While the Environmental Impact Statement adequately disclosed the effects of these proposed projects, there were still environmental and social effects that could be better resolved,” acting Forest Supervisor Ron Archuleta said. “Deferring the decision on projects outside the current… boundary does not preclude the possibility of approving these projects in the future, based on the existing analysis. But, ideally, any future decision would result from a refined proposal developed collaboratively by the ski area and interested parties.”
Watch for popular events at Eldora like Santa on the Snow on Christmas Eve and Day and Retro Day in March.
Loveland Ski Area
Loveland Ski Area, which opened Oct. 29, has been close to the hearts and homes of local skiers for generations. It offers un-crowded slopes, remarkable terrain, free close-in parking and a season that runs from October through May. Loveland also averages 400 inches of snow each season—more than any Front Range or Summit County resort. There is free snowcat skiing along the Continental Divide and an innovative lesson program, too.
“The warm fall weather delayed the start of snowmaking this year, but Mother Nature finally came through,” Director of Business Operations Rob Goodell said. “A winter storm delivered 17.5 inches of natural snow… and brought the cold temperatures our snowmakers had been waiting for. They have done an incredible job getting the mountain ready for the first skiers and riders of the season… the coverage up top is outstanding.”
This season, Loveland re-aligned Chair 2 at the base of Loveland Basin. The original lift was shortened to drop skiers and snowboarders off at Chair 6. A new fixed grip triple lift, The Ptarmigan Lift, was installed to provide more efficient access to upper terrain previously served by Lift 2. A Poma surface lift was also removed and snowmaking pipes under Chair 6 replaced.
Loveland’s 25th Annual Mountaintop Matrimony Mass Wedding Ceremony at 12,050 feet takes place Feb. 14, 2016 while the 14th annual Corn Harvest benefit ski party for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is scheduled for April 30.
Ski Granby Ranch
Grand County’s Ski Granby Ranch offers great learn-to-ski and ride programs, convenient access and family-friendly prices make it a long-time Colorado favorite. Stunning scenery, sunny skies, consistent trail grooming and superior customer service promise a great guest experience. The Ski School enables beginners to improve skiing faster with a direct-to-parallel approach that utilizes specific body movements in conjunction with shaped skis. Ski Granby Ranch’s Ride School incorporates a gentle beginner hill with seven Progression Terrain Parks as the perfect landscape for connecting turns and learning jumps.
Winter Park Resort
With a 76-year history, Winter Park Resort is Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort with the newest experiences. The resort averages more than 320 inches of annual snowfall and 300 days of sunshine and offers 3,081 acres of award-winning terrain including groomers, terrain parks, deeps, steeps and trees. Winter Park is also a favorite of families, featuring a variety of terrain, the state’s best Ski and Ride School and welcoming staff.
New for the 2015-16 season, Winter Park introduces RFID technology into its lift tickets, multi-day passes and season pass products using the QuickTrax card, which is reusable each season and can be reloaded online or on the phone, allowing guests to bypass the ticket office. There will also be an option to sign up for Resort Charge, which eliminates the need to carry cash or a credit card on the mountain.
Summit County Ski Areas
The nearby ski areas of Summit County are known world-wide, and for good reason. Breckenridge is actually the second most visited ski area in the country and Keystone ranks number four.
While most ski resorts celebrate opening day, no one kicks off the season like Breckenridge Ski Resort. Opening day rivals Christmas and the resort always makes sure to start the season in-style. Breckenridge laid a mile of new snowmaking pipes on Lost Horizon and Barton Breezeway trails to get the popular area open early regardless of snowfall. On Peak 6, the Monte Cristo trail, which connects Peak 6 to Peak 7 and funnels skiers to the base areas, had its width doubled. Haul ropes on a couple of lifts were also upgraded.
Copper Mountain Resort continues to update its geo-targeted mobile application, Sherpa. The app tracks a user’s runs, speed and vertical feet covered during their day on the mountain. New this season, the app offers trail recommendations. It looks at data from a user’s previous skiing patterns and recommends new terrain based on that user’s habits. The resort will also have several new food and beverage options for 2015-16, including a full-service Starbucks Coffee and Mahi Fish Tacos in Center Village and Belgian Bean just below the top of the American Flyer lift.
Keystone Resort spent nearly $2 million on repairs and upgrades to the resort’s snowmaking system for this season. The Keystone Lodge and Spa was also renovated in October.
Clear Creek Ski/Ride Group
Get outside and meet people during the 2015-16 ski season with the Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District’s weekly trips to Loveland over a long lunch. On Thursdays, beginning Dec. 3 through the end of April, catch a free van to Loveland from the Clear Creek Recreation Center in Idaho Springs at 11 a.m. or Georgetown Visitors Center at 11:15 a.m. The van leaves Loveland at 2 p.m. Space is limited and reservations are necessary.
Storage and Avalanche Control
A new amenity offered off the slopes this season are ski storage lockers for $1 a day at the family-owned Mountain Ministorage in Dumont. The location is just off I-70 and the lockers are climate controlled and accessible around the clock via key pad entry.
Also new this season, Colorado Department of Transportation has installed remotely controlled avalanche mitigation systems on Berthod Pass and near Loveland Ski Area to reduce road closures on the way Summit and Grand county ski areas.
Whether planning a complete ski vacation or simply hitting the slopes for part of the day, Colorado has alpine skiing and snowboarding options to satisfy anyone. Call or visit the websites of our regional ski areas to learn about current promotions.
REGIONAL ALPINE SKI AREAS
28194 U.S. Highway 6, Dillon, CO
888-ARAPAHOE • ArapahoeBasin.com
Annual Snowfall: 350 inches
Area: 960 acres • Runs: 109 • Lifts: 8
Base Elevation: 10,780 feet
Summit Elevation: 13,050 feet
Season Dates: Oct. 2015-June 2016
Breckenridge Ski Resort
1599 County Road 3, Breckenridge, CO
970-453-5000 • www.breckenridge.com
Annual Snowfall: 353 inches
Area: 2908 acres • Runs: 155 • Lifts: 30
Base Elevation: 9,600 feet
Summit Elevation: 2,998 feet
Season Dates: Nov. 13, 2015-April 24, 2016.
209 Ten Mile Circle, Copper Mountain, CO
800-458-8386 • coppercolorado.com
Annual Snowfall: 306 inches
Area: 2465 acres • Runs: 125 • Lifts: 22
Base Elevation: 9,703 feet
Summit Elevation: 12,313 feet
Season Dates: Nov. 6 2015-April 17, 2016
19285 Colorado 103, Idaho Springs, CO
303-378-3447 • www.echomountainresort.com
Annual Snowfall: 215 inches
Area: 28 acres • Runs: 13 • Lifts: 3
Base Elevation: 10,050
Summit Elevation: 10,650
Season Dates: Dec. 10-April 2016
Eldora Mountain Resort
2861 Eldora Ski Road 140, Nederland, CO
303-440-8700 • Eldora.com
Annual Snowfall: 300 inches
Area: 680 acres • Runs: 53 • Lifts: 11
Base Elevation: 9,200 feet
Summit Elevation: 10,800 feet
Season Dates: Nov. 20, 2015-April 2016
100 Dercum Square, Keystone, CO
970- 496-4386 • www.keystoneresort.com
Annual Snowfall: 235 in
Area: 3,148 acres • Runs: 135 • Lifts: 20
Base Elevation: 9,280 ft
Summit Elevation: 12,408 ft
Season Dates: Nov. 6, 2015-April 10, 2016
Loveland Ski Area
I-70 west exit 216, Georgetown, CO
303-571-5580 • skiloveland.com
Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
Area: 1670 acres • Runs: 93 •Lifts: 10
Base Elevation: 10,800 feet
Summit Elevation: 13,010 feet
Season Dates: October 2015-May 2016
Ski Granby Ranch
1000 Village Road, Granby, CO
888-850-4615 • granbyranch.com
Annual Snowfall: 220 inches
Area: 406 acres • Runs: 35 • Lifts: 6
Base Elevation: 8,202 feet
Summit Elevation: 9,202 feet
Season Dates: December 2015-April 2016
Winter Park Resort
85 Parsenn Road, Winter Park, CO
970-726-5514 • winterparkresort.com
Annual Snowfall: 327 inches
Area: 3081 acres • Runs: 143 • Lifts: 26
Base Elevation: 9,000 feet
Summit Elevation: 12,060 feet
Season Dates: November 2015-April 2016
Originally published in the November 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly.