It’s no secret that Colorado has some of the best ski resorts in the world. The words Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge have become synonyms for world class skiing. What may be less apparent to tourists planning their dream ski vacations are the consequences of Colorado’s popularity, mainly traffic on I-70, absurd lift tickets, and long lift lines. Coloradoans know when and where to go to avoid those hassles. Do as the locals do and have a stress free ski trip in the Rocky Mountains.
- Beat the Traffic
The only way to access the ski resorts from Denver is on I-70. The very acronym sends shivers up the spines of the most seasoned winter drivers. If it’s snowing, the winding interstate can become an ice skating rink of semi-trucks and sedans inching forward in white out conditions. With the exception of a new tunnel, the road has not been updated to match the increasing volume of skiers that trek to the mountains every weekend. Without traffic, the drive from Denver to Summit County takes just over an hour. On a Friday evening, the commute can increase threefold. To avoid being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic plan your arrival for a weekday morning. According to the stats on the Colorado Department of Transportation website (http://www.cotrip.org/) , traffic spikes at 2pm through 7pm for both eastbound and westbound. A common mistake is to jump on I70 at 4pm right after the lifts stop running, which basically guarantees being stuck in a traffic jam. Delay your departure for a few hours by hanging out at the resort base and grabbing a bite to eat .
- Lose the Crowds
While Colorado boasts over 20 ski resorts, it always seems that everyone chooses to go to the same resort as you. While there’s no secret to bypassing long lift lines (unless you’re confident in your ability to pass as a ski instructor) , don’t let the crowded lifts at the base discourage you. Beginner skiers tend to congregate on the easy runs at the bottom, which clogs the base lifts. Locals know to get as high up on the mountain as possible as soon as they get there. This may mean hopping from lift to lift for a half hour or so, but once your away from the base crowds thin out. So study the trail map to see how to get as far away from the base as you can. Always bring snacks (and maybe a pocket beer or two) to make long lines more bearable.
Another common mistake is to stop at a lodge to eat lunch. Between 12-2, tourists rush to buy $15 sandwiches and $8 coffees, leaving many parts of the mountain deserted. Lunchtime is the best time to get a run to yourself. Take advantage of the mass migration inside by eating outside of those hours, or better yet bring a sandwich to eat on the lift. Bringing your own food saves a lot of money, especially if you’re skiing for multiple days. Maximize skiing time by minimizing stops and save the Irish coffee break for après ski.
- Buy A Pass
Buying a season pass is a winter rite of passage for Coloradoans. While buying a ski pass may seem like an unnecessary expense for a tourist, it pays for itself if you ski for more than four days. The most popular passes in Colorado are the Epic Local Pass and the Rocky Mountain Super Pass. The Epic pass covers Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado as well as resorts in Utah and California. If you want to try multiple resorts it is a great value at $589. That figure may seem steep, but keep in mind that a single day lift ticket for Vail is now an absurd $159. Four and 7 day passes are also available if you miss the December deadline for the season passes.
If you’ve grown tired of the Vail resorts and seek more challenging terrain, the Rocky Mountain Superpass is for you. This option accesses Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Eldora, Steamboat, and Crested Butte. An adult pass is comparable to the Epic Pass, at $579, but offers a greater diversity of terrain. Steamboat is farther away than the other resorts but the quintessential ski town and epic powder make the journey well worth it.
The crowds and cost of skiing Colorado are easily avoidable by planning ahead. Plan your drive outside of rush hour, avoid the base area and buy a pass. Then relax, drink a PBR and have fun out there!