Which Ski Area is Best?
Ask 10 locals which ski are is their favorite, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. It all depends on what kind of experience you prefer, how you ski or board, what kind of snow and/or terrain you like, and what you’ve experienced in the past.
Hands down, the single-best piece of advice I can give is this: if at all possible, don’t ski on the weekend. Traffic on I70 over the weekend has become nearly unbearable. A one-and-a-half hour drive can often take four or even six hours, and if there is an accident, you might be spending the night in your car. If you are driving from Denver and have the luxury of skiing during the week, you will certainly have a much better experience than going on the weekend.
The best small and close place to Dot House is a toss up between Eldora and Loveland, but I lean toward Loveland. Both have an “old school” charm you won’t find at the bigger resorts, and both are significantly less expensive than the big Summit County resorts. If there has been good snowfall recently, I almost always choose one of these smaller places over the bigger resorts.
If you’re willing to drive a little farther for some crazy, “I’ve never seen anything like this” snow, then Monarch or Wolf Creek are my go to places. Both mountains also have a really cool old-school Colorado vibe.
Summit County (Keystone, A-Basin, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Copper, Cooper, etc.) is the what most people who don’t live in Colorado associate with Colorado Skiing. My favorite “big” place is Keystone with Copper Mountain being a close second. Keystone has got a lot of variety (including six terrain parks) but is also the most family friendly and easiest to access if you’re coming from Denver. Copper is pretty similar in size and natural terrain (though the terrain park is significantly less impressive), and I love the edge-of-the-woods and into-the-trees skiing they offer. Breckenridge is also good for family skiing (and also has great terrain parks), but for whatever reason, I just like Keystone and Copper better. If you’ve got money to burn Vail is great, though it’s not as good for snowboarding, because if you want to see the whole mountain (which I highly recommend –Blue Sky rules), there are some flats that are easy with skis but no fun on a board).
Passes and Lift Tickets
Figuring out passes and how to get the best deal on lift tickets is an art mastered by few (if anyone). Things are constantly changing, so there is no easy way to figure it all out unless you constantly monitor the prices and passes of all the resorts. Also, you must almost always plan ahead. I don’t think there are any significant discounts or passes that you can obtain immediately (if you are making a last-minute ski trip).
The “big five” resorts in Summit County (Keystone, Breck, A-Basin, Vail, Beaver Creek) can be accessed with a single pass, but there are quite a few different passes and combinations under that umbrella that can make things confusing (especially when you start factoring in all the black-out dates; read the fine print!!!). The company that owns most of the Summit County resorts has been buying up resorts across the planet, so there are passes that will also get you access to ski areas in Utah, California, and even Canada. The conglomeration also includes Crested Butte and they have reciprocity with Telluride as well, so it’s certainly something to consider if you want to ski the big resorts all over Colorado.
There is a great option called the Colorado Gem Card that can get you discounts at mostly smaller, locally owned places. For $35 you get a two for one deal, so it’s best if you’re skiing with a buddy, but the card will also get you 30% of a single lift ticket if you’re by yourself. The card can be used twice (two separate days) at each ski area. This is a great way to see a lot of different places and support the local skiing community (though you will definitely need to do some driving). This year (2020-2021) the Colorado Gem Card will get you discounts at 11 resorts including A-Basin, Cooper, Echo Mountain, Eldora, Granby Ranch, Hespurus, Kendall Mountain, Loveland, Monarch, Powerderhorn, and Sunlight. Be aware: you need to order this card well ahead of time. It can take two weeks or more to receive your card. It is also non-transferable and requires you show a photo ID. The card also has blackout dates from Dec. 19 through January 2.