Some ski resorts are so legendary they’re known the world over. They’re bucket list destinations worth visiting just to say you’ve been there. And while they’ve earned their fame for a reason, they’re not your only option for Colorado skiing and riding. If you just want a great powder day without the pretense, there are plenty of places to find freshly groomed tracks if you know where to look.
For shorter lift lines, cheaper lift tickets, and a more intimate mountain feel, here are some of my favorite Colorado Gems ski areas you won’t find in any guidebook (and what to do once you get there).
Arapahoe Basin (Keystone)
A-Basin feels a bit like the redheaded stepchild of Summit County because it’s just so local. Without a town tied to it, the ski area is just that – a ski mountain and “the beach,” which becomes a slamming parking lot party as soon as the weather turns nice. With one of the longest seasons in North America, their spring skiing is legendary. Expect to see everything from crazy costumes and skimpy bikinis to pond skimming.
Best for: Early or late season turns. With one of the latest closing dates in the state, A-Basin has occasionally offered skiing all the way until the Fourth of July.
Don’t Miss: The classic, double-chair Pallavicini lift, which takes you to some of the highest lift-served skiing in North America.
Howelsen Hill (Steamboat Springs)
Owned and operated by the city of Steamboat Springs, Howelsen Hill is the oldest continuously operated ski area in the country. Open since 1915, it has been the training ground for over 90 Olympians and boasts the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America. Despite the presence of greatness, passes are also the most affordable in the state by far with an adult lift ticket setting you back just $25 and $8 for children.
Best for: Skiing amongst Olympians. No town in North America has produced more star athletes.
Don’t Miss: Their robust Nordic ski program.
While most ski mountains are known for their jagged peaks, Powderhorn sits 4,000 feet above the valley on the Grand Mesa. The largest flat-topped mountain in the world, 70% of the runs are beginner or intermediate.
Best for: Practicing your pizza and French fries.
Don’t Miss: Your season pass is valid all summer long for lift-accessed mountain biking and hiking.
Sunlight (Glenwood Springs)
While their standard lift ticket is plenty affordable, Sunlight made headlines by releasing the most expensive lift ticket in the country. The Sunny 700 will set you back a whopping $700 because it actually comes with a pair of custom handcrafted Meier’s skis and a pass to the neighboring Iron Mountain Hot Springs (which is actually a great deal if you think about how much you paid for your gear). And don’t worry snowboarders, there’s a Sunny 600 deal for you, too ($599 for a custom designed, limited edition snowboard). If that’s a bit too much of a splurge, they also have unique combo packs and passes good for unlimited skiing and hot springs visits to “slope and soak.”
Best for: Multi-attraction vacations. Glenwood Springs has so much to offer from the Adventure Park to Hanging Lake.
Don’t Miss: The neighboring hot springs or Vapor Caves – what better way to ease your sore muscles?
Echo Mountain (Idaho Springs)
If the thought of sitting in high country traffic makes you cringe, Echo Mountain is the closest ski resort to Denver. In fact, you can be there in under an hour, which means more time on the mountain. The resort has gone through many revamps in its past life from a terrain park to a private ski race training facility and is now open to the public to enjoy. Because turns > traffic.
Best for: Avoiding I-70 traffic.
Don’t Miss: Affordable night skiing. Being so close to Denver, a half-day is super doable. Who’s down to play hooky?
The best news? Several of these ski areas are featured on Colorado Ski Country’s Gems Card, offering 2-for-1 lift tickets or two 30% off lift tickets at each ski area.
Lauren Monitz is a travel/food writer and social media influencer specializing in offbeat adventures. From becoming a certified viking in Iceland to blackwater rafting in New Zealand and ski biking at home in Colorado, she is on a perpetual mission to seek out the most insane local attractions she can find. She has bylines across the web from Thrillist and the Huffington Post to Eater and the Food Network. You can follow her (mis)adventures on https://thedownlo.com.