Colorado is home to a handful of Bucket List resorts. You probably know them by name: Aspen. Snowmass. Steamboat. Telluride. They’ve earned their fame for a reason, and those reasons are sound and borne out by the experience you’ll undoubtedly have should you visit these storied ski areas (and we recommend that you do!).
But here in the great, glorious state of Colorado, in this state where snow falls so light and dry it’s been compared to champagne, where you can see it rainin’ fire in the sky, the Bucket List resorts are not your only option. If you want powder without the pretense, lifts without liftlines, and ticket prices that leave you with plenty of Hatch-chili-and-fries money, look no further than our Gems.
You might not find them in your typical guidebook, but you will find them to be as typically, as iconically, as epically Colorado as, well… a bowl of Hatch chili and a side of fries.
And you can ski or ride all of them with our Gems passes and cards.
With the addition of our newest jewel Purgatory, the CSCUSA Gems now total eleven. And your Gems Discount Card (or your Gems Teen or Parent Passes) will get you on the slopes (quite affordably, if we do say so ourselves) of the most laid-back, most bona fide, most legit local ski areas in the state.
Let’s take a tour, shall we?
Arapahoe Basin is a crowd favorite for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it boasts one of the longest ski seasons of any mountain in Colorado and, in really good years, in all of North America. Tucked away just over Loveland Pass and perched on the Continental Divide, Arapahoe Basin gets snow, snow, and more snow—hence, a storied history as the Opening Day headliner season after season. There’s terrain aplenty for everyone, no matter your skill level, but A-Basin is especially known for an abundance of moguls, steep and deeps, chutes, and tree runs.
Ski Cooper is the very definition of authentic Colorado skiing. It’s fun, friendly, and perfect for families. With the softest snow surface in the state and terrain for all abilities, from learning-to-ski on up to pushing-personal-limits, Cooper has a little something for everyone. What doesn’t Cooper have? Lift lines, high prices, and hordes of tourists, just to name a few. Plus, their outstanding ski and ride school will get you going or tweak your skills, if you’re looking to jump to the next level.
If live in Denver and you want to sneak in a weekday of skiing (Go on! We won’t tell your boss.), Echo is your mountain. Located less than an hour from the city and off the beaten-down-by-traffic path of I-70, Echo’s claims to fame include proximity, affordability, and hospitality, plus beautiful views of the Continental Divide. Want to ski after dark? You can do that five nights a week at Echo. Feeling the need for speed? Echo’s quick tubes are about as close as you can get to bobsledding, if you prefer to go downhill on your derrière. Want to try something new, make mistakes, and have some fun? We recommend [cups hand to ear] Echooooo–Echooooo-Echooooo!
Just 45 minutes west of Boulder in Nederland, Eldora is CU Boulder’s backyard mountain. Spanish majors will know that “Eldora” means gilded one, and if there’s not gold in them thar hills, there’s certainly lots of snow. Little Hawk Mountainside is the perfect place for beginners to get started, and Challenge Mountain is, well… a challenge, even for expert skiers and riders. Eldora is the only ski resort served by RTD, Colorado’s largest public transportation system, and that, combined with the ski area’s commitment to doing all they can to both protect the environment and support the surrounding community, make Eldora a real treasure.
Granby Ranch is a family-owned ski resort designed and operated with families in mind. Laid out across two mountains, East and West, this Gem of a ski area offers terrain of all types and tiers. Granby’s East side is designed for beginner and intermediate skiers, while the West side’s vibe is a little more wild, wild, er… West. Whichever direction you go—West, young man, or East-bound and down—all trails lead back to the base. (And if you’re anything like this directionally-challenged reporter, you know that means you can’t get lost.)
Named for the exceedingly handsome Greek god of the evening star, Hesperus ski area is, like its namesake, a gorgeous chunk of rock in the southwest corner of Colorado, from which are carved a total of two baker’s dozens, crowd-free runs. Hesperus (the god, not the mountain) would be pleased to note that a good part of Hesperus (the mountain, not the god) is lighted for night skiing, and there’s a tubing hill for kids. With a full fleet of rental equipment and a sweet ski school, you couldn’t find a more fitting place to visit if you’re learning to carve turns. Bonus points if you already knew that Hesperus is home to the only all-volunteer ski patrol in the state of Colorado.
Family owned and operated for nearly 60 years and a locals’ favorite for as long as anyone can remember, Loveland, located just before the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70, wraps around the interstate and is proof that somebody up there loves Coloradans. How else to explain the winter wonderland that is Loveland. Just starting out? Look to Loveland Valley, a stand-alone area designed for beginners, complete with its own lifts and gentle slopes. Looking for thrills and chills? Look no further than Loveland Basin, which offers bowl skiing, a terrain park, and acres and acres of pristine snow that’ll have you head over heels—metaphorically speaking, that is. You don’t fall, my friend.
Situated 20 miles west of Salida on U.S. Highway 50, Monarch sits majestically atop the Continental Divide and offers a king’s ransom of terrain. [Editor’s note: watch for falling puns.] There’s 130 acres of extreme, double-black-diamond skiing in Mirkwood Canyon; Tilt and Steel City, two terrain parks for beginners and advanced riders respectively; uphill access; and cat skiing with access to wide open bowls, steep chutes, beautiful glades, and tree skiing galore. In short, we recommend that you give yourself the royal treatment with a visit to Monarch Mountain.
Looking for a family-friendly ski area in the western part of the state? Allow this reporter to toot Powderhorn‘s, um… horn. [Editor’s note #2: we can’t make her stop; we’ve tried.] Sitting alongside the northern edge of Colorado’s Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flattop mountain, Powderhorn offers breathtaking 360-degree views and over 1,600 acres of mountain terrain. Powderhorn is justifiably proud of its groomed runs, but if your tastes run to the more wild and wooly, there are bumps and trees for the ambitious skier or rider.
This reporter is thrilled to report that she’s found a copywriter punnier than herself: our newest Gem Purgatory is, by their own reckoning, Closer to Heaven and Fun as Hell, and honestly, said reporter is a little miffed she can’t claim authorship for that doozy. Lexical lyricism aside, there’s nothing infernal about the hella great resort in Colorado’s southwest corner. With a blend of steep tree-skiing trails, wide-open cruisers with stunning views, and an average of 260 inches of snow annually, Purgatory is a family-friendly, winter wonderland. Need more reasons to go? They’ve expanded their free parking lots and added new equipment—including Burton snowboards—to their rental shop inventory.
Our last-but-not-least Gem is Sunlight Mountain, located above Glenwood Springs, with views of the Elk Mountain Range and Mt. Sopris. Let your little light shine on Sunlight Mountain’s 2,010 vertical-feet and 680 acres of groomers, steeps, and aspen groves. You’ll park for free, walk to the lifts, and never stand in line at Sunlight, making it a delightful destination for you and your ski tribe to experience an exceptional day on the slopes. In light of all that, we hereby give you the green light to ski Sunlight. [Editor’s note #3: sigh]