Most first-time visitors to Colorado are disappointed to learn that there aren’t ski resorts right in Denver or even close to the airport like Utah. In fact, the bigger mountains like Vail, Breck, and Aspen are really more suited for a weekend getaway than a quickie day trips unless you’re ambitious. It’s possible, but not overly enjoyable in my opinion.
Not to burst your powder daydreams, but the majority of the close resorts are still over an hour away, which is why I generally don’t plan a ski day unless I have a place to stay overnight or someone to drive me – two-plus hours of commuting with burning thighs isn’t my idea of fun. Still, if you’re craving mountain time there are plenty of options within a few hours of the Denver.
Echo Mountain – 35 Minutes (30 Miles) – Idaho Springs, Colorado
Technically Denver’s closest and most affordable ski resort, as a local I will tell you I’ve never been to Echo Mountain and don’t know anyone that has. They’re not on either of the major passes (Epic or IKON) and only have 600 feet of vertical. But if you’re desperate for some turns, it might be a quick, easy option if you can sneak out of work early considering they have both half-day lift tickets and night skiing.
It’s important to note they don’t offer lessons, but do have a free ambassador program with staff stationed around the beginner’s area. Since it is less personalized than complete instruction, if you’re new to the sport you may not want to risk it unless you have some idea of what you’re doing already.
Start Planning Your Trip: Where to Stay in Idaho Springs
Loveland Ski Area – 1 Hour (50 Miles) – Loveland, Colorado
I think Loveland is one of the most underrated ski resorts in Colorado and often forgotten because it’s not on any of the passes. They actually get more snow than any other Front Range or Summit County ski resort and have one of the longest seasons in the state. Much less crowded than a huge name resort, you don’t have to sit in I-70 traffic all the way to the tunnel and it’s regularly regarded as a “best value” resort by Ski magazine. For experts, there’s also free snowcat skiing, which will take you to the more difficult, non-lift served terrain. While there is no public transportation directly to the mountain, they recommend using MountainRideShare.com or SkiCarpool.com if you need a ride.
Start Planning Your Trip: Where to Stay in Loveland
Eldora Mountain Resort – 1 Hour 15 Minutes (50 Miles) – Nederland, Colorado
Boulder’s local resort, Eldora is family-friendly and a great place to ease yourself into the Rocky Mountain ski scene without too much treacherous steep vertical. Home to one of the most robust Nordic ski programs in the country, if you decide you want to ski, but don’t love the idea of speeding downhill you can still enjoy lift served, groomed runs for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. One of the most accessible ski resorts near Denver, they have preferred parking for carpoolers or you can take the RTD bus right from downtown Boulder.
Start Planning Your Trip: Where to Stay in Nederland
Arapahoe Basin Ski & Snowboard Area – 1 Hour 15 Minutes (65 Miles) Dillon, Colorado
One of the closest ski resorts that’s officially in high country(pun intended), A-basin is a great introduction to Summit County. It’s the most accessible resort on the Epic Pass and they just added a ton of new intermediate and expert terrain and upgraded the lifts. With one of the longest running ski seasons in Colorado, many attend opening day at A-bay and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better time than their epic “beach parties,” spring skiing and pond skimming where people hit the slopes in everything from bikinis, t-rex costumes and onesies down to skivvies.
Start Planning Your Trip: Where to Stay in Dillon
Winter Park 1 Hour 20 Minutes (65 Miles) – Winter Park, Colorado
Personally, I’ve never been to Winter Park but people love it – especially snowboarders. As Colorado’s longest continually operating ski resort, there’s a lot of history there and a robust village full of restaurants and bars for a true mountain town feel without too much of a commute. Advanced skiers love Mary Jane’s moguls, tree skiing, and back bowls. It’s also one of the most accessible ski resorts from Denver as there is a train directly from Union Station and one of the few you don’t need a car to get to.
Start Planning Your Trip: Where to Stay in Winter Park
Copper Mountain Resort – 1 Hour 20 Minutes (77 Miles) – Frisco, Colorado
As a moderately decent local who could do groomer blue runs all day interspersed with bloody and après breaks, Copper is my go-to ski resort in Colorado because the mountain is naturally organized by terrain difficulty. Do you know how rare it is for all the same color runs to be grouped together so you don’t accidentally get stuck on something too hard for your skill level?
There’s a whole kiddie area and for experts, they also have free cat skiing. Their village is bustling with everything from fun winter activities like ice-skating and a year-round alpine coaster to a full day spa. And they have a mac and cheese bar. Not saying, just saying. You can take the Summit Express shuttle from DIA directly to Copper and forgo the rental car.
Start Planning Your Trip: Where to Stay in Frisco
New to Skiing in Colorado? Read this first.
As a Chicagoan who grew up skiing on the landfills of Wisconsin, I was shocked to learn that ski runs aren’t consistently rated across the country or even state. Those blacks you’ve been killing on the flatlands of the Midwest or East Coast? It’s not even close to a double black diamond in Colorado. Be cautious and start slowly to get acclimated to the altitude and terrain or you may end up like me – with your ego more bruised than your backside. It’s also a better bet to rent gear first before investing a ton of money into a sport you’re not completely sold on yet.
Make sure to pack appropriately – bring lots of water, sunscreen (yes, even in winter), chapstick, and lotion (Denver’s technically a desert so it is dry and you’re much closer to the sun). Dress in layers, as you never know what type of weather you may get. The mountains have been known to swing 50+ degrees in a single day and it’s much chillier on the summit and riding the lift than when you’re moving. And most of all don’t be afraid to take a lesson. You’ll get the basics of pizza and French Frying much faster with some instruction.
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