by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
It may be best known as the highest incorporated municipality in the United States, but there is so much more to this little town. The history is rich. Doc Holliday was a lawman here, and it was the first proposed capital of Colorado—but that’s the past.
Today, Leadville feels like the Wild West, but the town’s offerings are vast and extend beyond saloons with swinging doors, although they exist here, too. Included in Leadville’s repertoire are a top-notch restaurant, an award-winning brewery, and skiing without lift lines. The skiing is some of the best Colorado has to offer and during the winter, it’s a wonderland.
The biggest bonus of coming to Leadville when the snowflakes are flying is that this town looks postcard-perfect in the snow. Colorful Victorian homes flocked in white are quintessentially Rocky Mountain, and there’s a never-ending list of winter activities available here.
SKIING AND SNOWMOBILING
Located just 15 minutes from town, Ski Cooper and Tennessee Pass Nordic Center both provide endless entertainment for families. Many details set Ski Cooper apart from other ski destinations in the Rocky Mountains, the first and foremost being that parking is near the base. Forgot your gloves? Getting back to the car here is easy. It may seem like a small matter, but the rarity of this in Colorado makes it pure luxury when skiing at Ski Cooper.
The size of the base area makes Ski Cooper incredibly manageable. For instance, there is just one building in which to rent skis and buy lift tickets. The accessibility of everything at Ski Cooper makes it popular with visiting families, as does the affordable price. A daily adult lift ticket is about $56, and children ages 6 to 14 are $35. With lift tickets pushing $200 at many Colorado resorts, these savings, especially for a family, are huge.
Finding one’s group at lunchtime, a chore at other ski areas, is a breeze here. There are only a few places to eat at the base, and an on-mountain yurt called the Ridgeview Cafe sells freshly made brats and hamburgers. Katie O’Rourke’s is located near the dining room in the main building. This Irish pub serves up addictive rosemary fries and surprisingly affordable pints of Colorado craft beer.
The ski area, which is nonprofit and dearly loved by locals, also offers backcountry skiing and scenic tours of Chicago Ridge via SnowCat. Make sure to book these outings in advance, as they are tremendously popular.
This season, Ski Cooper has expanded, and the high-speed “Little Horse” T-bar was added to the backside of the mountain, opening a new area to skiers. Called Tennessee Pass Basin, it will provide an element that has been missing from Ski Cooper’s terrain—expert level skiing.
Across the parking lot from Ski Cooper is Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, which always has a pot of soup on the boil and flames crackling in the fireplace. This property offers visitors the opportunity to cross country ski, snowshoe and even go tubing.
Tennessee Pass Nordic Center also has sleeping yurts for rent and, in addition to the menu in the clubhouse, the outfit has a cookhouse experience that’s one-of-a-kind. Guests can either ski or snowshoe to a yurt for an unforgettable lunch or dinner.
Back in town, the 11.6-mile paved Mineral Belt Trail encircles Leadville, and it isn’t just a summertime trail. In the winter, the route is transformed into a path for avid cross-country skiers and snowshoers. The trail gets visitors out into nature without ever having to leave town, and it can be accessed in multiple spots.
Snowmobiling near Leadville is just plain fun, and there’s no better place to truly see the area than from astride a snowmobile at White Mountain Snowmobile Tours. Just nine minutes from town, the views here are truly spectacular, leaving little question as to why White Mountain Snowmobile Tours has seen a fair share of wedding proposals.
Tennessee Pass Nordic Center in Leadville | Photo by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
Cooper Lodge | Photo by Ski Cooper for Leadville Tourism
EATING IN LEADVILLE
Treeline Kitchen is a welcomed addition to Leadville. Located in the heart of downtown, this restaurant serves up stunning cocktails and creative food in a chic mountain environment. The bar is filled with Colorado spirits, and the taps are mostly local craft beer.
While Colorado may be known more for red meat, the fish dishes here are divine, an unexpected find at 10,151 feet above sea level and more than a thousand miles from the ocean. With an ever-changing menu, expect to find items such as pork ribs, Colorado lamb and beef stroganoff on the menu. A rooftop patio welcomes summer visitors, and a firepit on the front patio burns warmly during the cold months. The fried chicken, always on the menu, is a local favorite.
A good bet for nearly two decades, High Mountain Pies is a tiny place, especially during the winter when sitting outside isn’t an option. This pizza joint is often named by Coloradans as their favorite pizza in the state. Try the San Luis Pie with green chilies and pork; it doesn’t get more Colorado than this pizza.
For an early hot breakfast, Cookies with Altitude opens at 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 a.m. on Sundays. The donuts are fresh, and any breakfast served with biscuits is recommended. Later in the day, stop by for a cookie.
Periodic Brewing opened four years ago and is the highest-elevation brewery in North America and the second-highest in the world. It’s a well-loved two-story space featuring live music on some nights and serving as a community gathering place. They serve a small menu of items such as meat and cheese boards and barbecue sandwiches.
STAYING IN LEADVILLE
Over the last several years, lodging options in Leadville have gotten tiny—tiny houses, that is. These wee homes are available to rent by the weekend and, in addition to being a great place to stay, they are an excellent way to try out tiny house living for a few days.
The homes feature items found in any rental home or condo, including fireplaces and full kitchens. There are six tiny homes in Leadville, with two that sleep up to five people. They are conveniently located at the Leadville RV Corral on 2nd Street. Guests can easily pop across the street to the historic Pastime Bar & Cafe for one of their famous burgers.
Located just a block off the main drag and across the street from High Mountain Pies, The Majestic offers guests a cozy stay in an authentic Leadville home. This boutique hotel looks like something out of another century, and it is.
There are five private rooms and a large eat-in kitchen that guests are welcome to use. The front parlor boasts a fireplace, there’s a formal dining area and a hot tub in the backyard that’s perfect after a long day of winter play.
Comfy slippers welcome guests in The Majestic’s entryway, and every little touch has been considered, like snacks and mulled wine during festival weekends such as the Crystal Carnival in March.
Although it seems remote, Leadville is less than two hours from Denver. It’s a town steeped in Colorado history, and yet it embraces the modernity enjoyed in the Centennial State today. It seems to occupy the space between past and present in a balancing act that makes visiting here a fully Colorado experience.
Right: Treeline Kitchen | Photo by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer