By Janna Graber
You’ve heard about the great skiing in Aspen and
Vail, but are these really the best places to head on your next ski holiday?
A Colorado native lets you in on a few state secrets.
There are, in my mind, two sides to my native state of
Colorado. There is the Colorado I was born in, which is friendly,
down-to-earth, in love with the outdoors, filled with the gorgeous scenery
of the Rocky Mountains, and most of all, bargain-conscious.
And there is the Colorado that the rest of the world
This “other” Colorado, found in chic ski towns like
Vail, Aspen and Telluride, is filled with world-class resorts, Hollywood
stars, expensive restaurants and, of course, gorgeous scenery.
This highly-advertised version of my home state is
lovely and well worth the visit. However, it can be expensive for those
looking for a good bargain. There is a lot to see and experience in places
like Aspen and Vail, but if that’s all you saw on your visit to Colorado’s
ski slopes then you would be missing out -- and your wallet would feel a
whole lot lighter.
There is a whole other Colorado to be discovered.
First, though, there are some things you should know
about your skiing holiday.
You’ll be flying into Denver International Airport,
which is a beautiful building, if I do say so myself. But don’t just rush
out of the terminal, grab the first 4WD rental car you can find, and head to
the mountains. Instead, keep our elevation in mind. Denver is at a high
altitude (the town is nicknamed the Mile-High City), but it’s a lot lower than
the 10,000 feet elevations you’ll be skiing at.
Every year, Colorado mountain clinics see hundreds of
cases of altitude sickness. This malady is characterized by headache,
fatigue and dizziness, and frankly, it is not a fun way to spend your
Doctors recommend that you take a day or two to
acclimate to our thin air before heading up into the high county, so why not
take a day or two to explore Denver?
As the capital of Colorado, Denver is the state’s
biggest city. Our lifestyle is a curious blend of the state’s western roots,
easy-going-manner, and love of the mountains.
The metro-area has over 2.5 million residents, so
you’re likely anything to suit your fancy. The population is young and
sporty, and the streets are wide and clean. You’ll have no problem getting
around in that 4WD you’ve rented.
Although the region is known for its great skiing, few
know that Denver receives over 300 days of sunshine each year. So chances
are, the sun will be shining in a deep blue Colorado sky during your visit.
Although you’ll find every type of food in Denver,
Mexican food is the local favorite, so make sure you try some. Hint: Some of
the best authentic Mexican food can be found in small, family-run
establishments. You should be able to get a whole dinner for around $7. You
don’t have to spend a lot to dine well in Denver.
The hottest spot in town is LoDo (lower downtown).
You’ll find the place hopping with micro-breweries, cafés, restaurants and
pubs. My favorite all-time place for people-watching is “The Market” on
Larimer Street. All types of folks come in here for coffee and dessert.
If you’d like to see remnants of the Old West that you
saw in movies as a kid, take a 15-minute drive west of Denver into Golden.
Once the territorial capital of Colorado, this little town, which is
sandwiched between two mesas and the foothills of the Rockies, is “old” by
The Old West has been lovingly preserved in Golden. A
big sign in the middle of town welcomes visitors with, “Howdy folks! Welcome
to Golden – Where the West Lives.” It sounds a little silly, but Golden
really is a nice place to visit.
Stop into Golden’s Foss Drug, which is not a drug
store, but a “general store” leftover from yesteryear. It’s known as the
best place to get affordable souvenirs and clothing. For lunch or dinner,
the Old Capital Grill is a must. This building was the actual territorial
capital building. It serves huge portions for around $8.
After a day or two in Denver, your body is ready now to
head to the slopes.
Before you head up, keep this in mind: A true Colorado
skier does not care what you wear to ski. So don’t worry if your ski outfit
doesn’t perfectly match or your skis are a few years old. If the snow is
good then head out! The joy is in the skiing and being outdoors in the
We have over twenty words to describe our snow, and we
take the snow conditions quite seriously. (FYI: Champagne powder is the
crème de crème of snow conditions.) You can check out daily snow conditions
So now, where do you ski? There are dozens of resorts
to choose from.
If you’d like to stay in Denver, but ski during the
day, you can take the Winter Park Ski Train for $45 round-trip. The train
takes you on a two-hour ride through postcard-perfect country to the ski
resort of Winter Park, where you’re dropped right at the base of the ski
At the end of the day, simply hop back on for the ride
back to Denver. Amtrak also has daily runs from Denver to Frasier and Granby
(near Winter Park) on the California-Zephyr.
Winter Park is one of the most popular resorts with
locals. Owned by the City and County of Denver, it has dozens of excellent
runs at an affordable lift ticket price (averages around $45, depending on
time of year).
If Winter Park is crowded, ski over to Mary Jane, which
is included in the price of your Winter Park lift ticket. This mountain,
named for a popular “lady of the evening” a century ago, is almost never
crowded and has excellent intermediate and expert runs.
Accommodations are easy to find in Winter Park and in
the nearby towns of Granby and Frasier, where the rates are even better. If
you tire of skiing, there is a lot to do in this area. Try snow tubing at
the Frasier Tubing Hill, or go to Grand Adventures, which offers
dog-sledding, snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
King Mountain Ranch, a dude ranch in nearby Granby,
offers sleigh rides, winter horseback riding, tubing, cross-country skiing
and excellent dinners, as well as a great place to stay.
Here is perhaps the biggest insider secret: You don’t
have to pay the listed retail price for ski lift tickets. Instead, buy
discount lift tickets for many resorts in Denver at stores like grocery King
Soopers or Christy’s Sports.
If you forget to buy them before you head into the high
country, stop at Breeze Ski rental in the miniscule town of Dumont, off of
Interstate I-70. (Another secret: The Conoco gas station next door sells
coffee for $0.25, if you’d like to stop for a break.)
The discounted lift tickets will cost anywhere from $25
to $45 a lift ticket, depending on the time of year. Children are less
expensive, of course. And during the spring months of March and April, they
sometimes ski free. Check the website of each resort for details.
Several other popular resorts with the locals are
Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. All four
world-class resorts are within two hours of Denver and charge roughly the
same for a lift ticket. Loveland Ski Resort, the nearest resort to Denver,
is less expensive than the others, but on stormy days, the wind can be quite
If you’re willing to drive further, and would like to
save a few dollars, try Ski Cooper or Sunlight Valley.
Ski Cooper bills itself as the “friendliest” and the
most “affordable family ski resort”. Located 100 miles from Denver in the
San Isabel National Forest, Ski Cooper is a good option for those who want
to escape the crowds. You can stay in the nearby former mining town of
Leadville, which is a fun experience all its own.
Sunlight Mountain Resort may not be huge, but it’s very
affordable (between $20-$30). Best of all, it’s near the town of Glenwood
Springs. Coloradans flock to this mountain town year-round to sit in the
large natural hot springs. The accommodation options in Glenwood are not on
the high-end, but the springs make up for the lack of luxury. There is
something wonderful about sitting in a steaming spring in the quiet night,
watching the snow flakes fall. What better way to relax after a hard day of
Now that you know a few things that some “better-known”
ski resorts have tried to keep a secret, go enjoy the real Colorado – my
compliments. Just remember, if any Coloradan looks at you suspiciously, and
asks how you learned all these things, please don’t mention my name. And
remember, you never read this article.
Helpful websites in planning your holiday:
Colorado Ski Resort Guide
Information on Colorado
Information on Denver
Information on Winter Park
Grand Adventures in Winter Park
(800) 726- 9247
Frasier Tubing Hill
King Mountain Ranch
Avoid high-altitude sickness
Take time to acclimate at lower elevations before heading to the high
Drink lots of water (dehydration occurs quickly at high elevations).
Eat foods high in carbohydrates.
Take it easy the first few days.
If you have symptoms of high altitude sickness, go down to lower elevation
for several days to acclimate.
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