By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
As Colorado grows, the number of people on the roads and the slopes grows as well, which means that “going skiing” has become more of an ordeal than it used to be. For those who yearn for the “olden days” of skiing, these three ski areas, all under a two-hour drive from NOCO, are a welcome relief and may even evoke a little nostalgia.
Simplicity Is King at Snowy Range
Snowy Range Ski & Recreation Area’s remote Wyoming location is its main draw. The mere idea of skiing without having to drive on Interstate 70 is the main reason a lot of Northern Coloradans are flocking to Snowy Range.
However, avoiding ski traffic isn’t the only reason Snowy Range is appealing.
Jennifer Richards, a mother of three from Fort Collins, says their family originally went to Snowy Range for three reasons: to teach their children to ski, they could skip I-70 traffic and it was significantly less expensive.
“We continue to ski at Snowy Range for some of the same reasons,” she says. “As well as the friendly and low-key atmosphere there. Also, because of the smaller size, the kids are allowed more freedom than they would have at a larger resort.”
Snowy Range Ski & Recreation Area, located in the Medicine Bow National Forest, has 250 skiable acres. There are seven beginner trails, 12 intermediate trails and eight expert trails. The four chairlifts at Snowy Range rarely, if ever, have a line.
This is an ideal place to learn to ski for a variety of reasons. Ski area owner, Aaron Maddox, points out that a small resort like Snowy Range isn’t nearly as daunting as a big resort.
“We feel that you are much more likely to return to the sport again and again if you don’t come away bewildered and hopelessly intimidated by crowds, and steep and complex rental systems. Simplicity is king,” says Maddox, who bought the resort with his wife, Becky, in 2010.
Maddox, who has children ages 5 and 8, also highlighted the importance of making things simple for families who come to Snowy Range.
“Kids don’t care if you spent $190 or $49 on a lift ticket, they just want to ski,” he says. “The terrain here is great for them to really get out and explore the mountain, and simple things, like parking or that we allow coolers in the lodge, make all the difference.”
Lift tickets at Snowy Range Ski & Recreation Area are $49 for adults, $42 for teens and $30 for youth. Children age 5 and under and seniors over 70 ski free. Season passes run from $249 to $399. Find information on lessons, rentals and more at www.SnowyRangeSki.com.
Renovations at Eldora Mountain Won’t Change Local Vibe
Skiers who are familiar with Eldora Mountain are in for a surprise this season. The ski area has undergone some major modernizations, from the food offerings to facilities and lift improvements. Despite the updates, Eldora is still the same family-friendly ski area that it’s always been, just better.
Eldora, located near Nederland, opened in 1962. The mountain tops out at 10,600 feet above sea level and today there are 680 acres of skiable terrain.
“I enjoy the secluded mountain setting and lack of commercialism,” says Chad Chisholm, a Denver photographer who has been skiing at Eldora for years. “It feels like an authentic Colorado getaway that has stayed true to its roots.”
Sam Bass, marketing director at Eldora, believes that while there have been changes, Eldora still retains the same ambiance that skiers like Chisholm have grown to love over the years.
Bass also feels that these improvements give people more compelling reasons to ski here rather than the fact that it’s convenient. One of those improvements is an overhaul of menus at the mountain’s various dining facilities.
In a nod to Boulder County’s foodie culture, Eldora brought in Chef Daniel Asher to create food menus that feature local and organic offerings. Asher’s resume includes restaurants such as Denver’s Root Down and Boulder’s River & Woods.
“We are trying to bring Eldora in line with the tastes and lifestyles of greater Boulder County,” says Bass.
Eldora has a big focus on teaching people to ski and offers a much mellower version of the learn-to-ski experience than large resorts, especially on weekdays. Learning to ski here doesn’t take as much time or commitment as driving to one of the large resorts, and Eldora’s friendly atmosphere is comforting for new skiers.
Jackson “Jax” McCarthy, a 12-year-old snowboarder from Loveland, likes the short lift lines at Eldora.
“I can get up and down a lot quicker than at other places,” he says. “I also like the ‘shortcuts’ that are off the main trails at Eldora. They are little trails that go off into the trees. I like them because they offer more of a challenge, especially for a beginner snowboarder like me.”
As the Front Range has grown, so has the popularity of skiing at Eldora and Bass has some tips for anyone planning to ski there this winter. He says to get parking, show up early on weekends or arrive between 12:30 and 1 p.m.
He highly recommends weekday skiing, as the new Eldora Express is going to make midweek skiing a real treat. Of course, Eldora Express, a six-seater lift, will improve weekend skiing as well. The new lift glides to the top of the mountain in 4.5 minutes as opposed to the 11 minutes it took the two old lifts that it replaced.
A half-day adult lift ticket at Eldora is $79. For more information on lift ticket prices and season passes, visit www.Eldora.com.
An Exciting Renewal Underway at Echo Mountain
Founded in 1960 as Squaw Pass Ski Area, it’s been a bumpy ride for the closest ski area to Denver. Squaw Pass closed in 1975 and reopened as Echo Mountain Park just 13 years ago.
Since then, the ski area, located about 25 minutes from both Idaho Springs and Evergreen, has undergone several more transformations. For a few years it operated as a private race training facility and then in 2015 it reopened to the public.
The current owners, who purchased the ski area in October 2016, immediately began making improvements to the property, starting with the sprinkler system and plumbing upgrades, and a complete refurbishment of the lodge and restaurant, called The Garage, which now includes a fully operational bar.
On-mountain improvements have been made too, including the installation of a magic carpet in the beginner area.
“The restaurant is gorgeous,” says Paula Vogel, guest services manager at Echo Mountain. “We have the most beautiful views of the Continental Divide and I think the food is phenomenal.”
Julie Toto, a Denver mother of two young boys, takes her children to ski at Echo Mountain.
“Echo Mountain feels like an old-timey ski resort,” she says. “The mountain isn’t crowded and it is small, so it’s a wonderful place for kids to get comfortable with skiing. I also like that the parking lot is small, so you never have to schlep your gear very far.”
While about 75 percent of the terrain at Echo is intermediate, it’s still attractive to newbies and stats shows beginners from Florida and Texas were on theses slopes last year. Affordability is a big attraction to this ski area; a one-day adult lift ticket is $54 and a three-day pass is just $119.
Echo Mountain also rents everything from ski clothing to skis and snowboards, so a newbie can show up without any gear and get outfitted at the ski area.
“We have all brand new equipment and some of it hasn’t even been on the mountain yet,” says Vogel.
Echo Mountain is the only ski area in this article that offers night skiing. Go to www.EchoMountainResort.com to learn more about this ski area.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is the founder of HeidiTown.com and author of Mountain Living’s The Heidi Guide. She specializes in writing about festivals and travel.
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