Enticed by the excellent February snow totals, the promise of buy-one-get-one lift tickets, and the glory of checking off all 11 Gems Resorts, our Front Range explorers embarked upon a journey to the Southwest region of Colorado. The goal: Get in three days of great skiing and riding, check out three “hidden gem” ski resorts we might not usually visit, and put our Gems Cards to good use. This is how we made the Southwest Gems Card Weekend happen.
If you’re starting from the Front Range, a Southwest Gems Card trip can be a challenging endeavor. This set of Gems resorts is the furthest away from the Denver area, with Hesperus Ski Area taking the top prize at almost 7 hours from Denver International Airport. But luckily, this ski area offers night skiing until 9 p.m. several nights per week, which gives you most of the day on Friday to get there. And luckily, the drive through the San Juan Mountains is one of the most scenic and beautiful drives in the state, with breathtaking views to keep you company on the journey to Hesperus.
Photos of Hesperus courtesy of Scott DW Smith.
The drive to Durango will be well worth it when you’re strapping into your ski boots for night skiing from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Hesperus Ski Area. Hesperus offers 26 trails on 60 skiable acres, with easy, intermediate and advanced trails available. Terrain variety includes steep black-diamond trails, exhilarating glades and tree runs, groomers and even a terrain park. The ski area relies on all-natural snow, which means soft snow and great conditions for skiing under the lights.
If you follow a different plan and end up at Hesperus on the weekend, the ski area offers skiing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, offering families and vacationers daytime skiing in addition to the night skiing options.
After a few hours of making turns alongside Durango locals and visitors alike, you’ll be ready to stop in the lodge for some hot food and make your way to a hotel room, an Airbnb, or even parking lot car camping for the evening.
When you wake up on Saturday morning, you’ll head for Kendall Mountain in the Town of Silverton. Kendall is just over an hour away from Hesperus and has a similar local vibe and family-friendly atmosphere, with a double chairlift serving groomed runs, tree runs and a small terrain park. Kendall Mountain also offers an ice-skating rink, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during operating hours. Kendall Mountain is just a couple blocks away from downtown Silverton, which offers numerous restaurants, cafes and breweries for lunch or après ski options.
When you’re ready to depart from Silverton, start your journey back northeast toward Monarch Mountain. The journey will take between three and four hours, depending on where you choose to settle down for the night on Saturday – the most popular lodging options is the town of Salida.
On Sunday morning, wake up ready to ski or ride Monarch Mountain, a diamond in the rough and a local favorite among Coloradoans. Monarch’s moniker is “Ski Independent,” and that’s exactly what you’ll find – An authentic Colorado mountain experience with no parking fees, no long lift lines and no $20 cheeseburgers.
Instead, Monarch offers a low-key, laid-back skiing and snowboarding experience. Looking for a challenge? Explore Mirkwood Basin, a secret powder stash of double-black diamonds including bowls, trees, chutes and cliffs. When your legs get tired, make your way to Sidewinder Saloon for Monarch’s famous nachos, burgers and house-made Bloody Mary’s.
When you wave goodbye to Monarch Mountain and get back on the road for the drive back to the Front Range, you’ll have dozens of epic Gems Card stories to tell your friends and co-workers on Monday morning.