Skiing feels like flying. I can’t think of anything more thrilling than the seconds between shooting off a jump and landing on soft powder with my Atomic, twin-tipped rockers. Whether ripping down some challenging double black moguls, practicing turns with a cruiser, or even just starting out on the bunny hill, there’s something for everyone in the world of skiing.
There’s a notion that skiing isn’t affordable for college students, but this isn’t the case. An intersession or spring break vacation to the slopes can cost around the same price as that typical Florida beach trip. Skiing is also more rewarding than almost any other vacation. The intense exercise, heart pumping thrills, and stunning views of snow capped peaks can top palm trees and clubs, and the foremost place to enjoy all this is undoubtedly Colorado. I am a Colorado native, and I have also enlisted the help of some other Princeton Colorado students to compile a list of the best ski resorts the state has to offer.
Variety is why Aspen/Snowmass deserves the title “Colorado’s best ski destination.” Aspen/Snowmass is actually not just one mountain, but a series of four resorts all connected by a free bus system, where one pass buys you all four mountains and the largest range of skiing in Colorado. The four resorts that compose Aspen/Snowmass are Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, and Snowmass, and each mountain has its own ‘claim to fame’. Buttermilk is optimal for the freestyle park riders who want to practice their tricks at the Buttermilk Terrain Park. Ever heard of the Winter X Games? Free to public viewing, the games are hosted by Buttermilk Mountain every year at the end of January. The mountain is also the best for beginners due to its breadth of green and blue trails and its relatively small crowds. If you are seeking the best family skiing, head to Snowmass. It’s the largest of the four and offers the most cruiser blue slopes and mountain eateries. Intermediate skiers would appreciate it here the most, and the experts can enjoy Snowmass’s Hanging Valley Headwall by catching a ride on the High Alpine lift. Aspen Mountain retains the most double black chutes and is easy to navigate. Instead of taking an irritating amount of lifts to reach your final destination, which can be the case with Snowmass and Highlands, simply take the Silver Queen Gondola, and you’re at the very top and ready to shred down one of Aspen Mountain’s many steeps. Last, and certainly not least, there is Aspen Highlands. On a powder day, it would be a sin not to ski Highlands. To take advantage of its incredibly cushioned snow, head on over to Highlands’s famous expert bowls, many of which are only accessible by foot. When asked about Highlands, Max Greenwald (’17) says that he “enjoy[s] the challenge of hiking the Highlands bowl in which, after strapping your skis to your back, you hike about a 1/2 mile in 30 [minutes]—you gain about 250ft of elevation—and then you get access to expansive and plush powder that barely any other skier has touched that day.”
When I think of Steamboat, two things automatically come to mind: powder and tree skiing. The resort’s located in a particularly arid part of northern Colorado, and due to its dry climate, the mountain frequently receives huge deposits of light and fluffy snow that provide the best powder skiing in Colorado and possibly the United States. To maximally enjoy this “champagne powder”, as the resort and locals call it, try Morningside Park or the Pony Express area to rip down some satisfying blacks. If you are feeling adventurous, hike Mt. Werner to ski down the Christmas Tree Bowl, eastern chutes, and the eastern side of Morningside Park. When you have finished with the chutes, and you’re still not content, try the out of bounds territory located to the left when you disembark from the Pony Express lift. This area is not only ideal for powder seekers but tree enthusiasts as well. Steamboat retains the best tree skiing in Colorado. Along with the eastern out of bounds territory, hitch a right off the Storm Peak Express or a left off the Sundown Express to ski some exciting tree runs like Shadows, Closets, and Dawn.
When you think of American skiing, the resort that normally comes to mind first is Vail. This destination undeniably leaves a grand legacy in the world of skiing, but we should examine why this mountain is so memorable. One reason is Vail’s size. The resort is the largest in the state (however, if all Aspen/Snowmass mountains were considered one resort, it would be larger than Vail) and third largest in the country, and due to such expansiveness, Vail holds a huge variety of terrain. According to its website, the resort encompasses 5,289 square skiable acres, 195 runs, and 31 express lifts. The front side and seven back bowls divide Vail. On the front side, expert skiers would enjoy the trails on the eastern side, where the highest concentration of Vail’s double blacks is located. The western portion is geared more towards beginner and intermediate skiers. If you seek advanced terrain, head to the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin, especially on a powder day. When asked about Vail and his favorite runs, Austin Shaw (’19) expresses that “there's a ton of terrain, and when there's fresh snow, the Back Bowls are amazing. Blue Sky Basin and China Bowl are my favorite areas, and most of the tourists don't usually make it back there.”
Okay, let’s review: Aspen/Snowmass has the variety, Steamboat’s stardom is tree skiing and powder madness, and Vail boasts the slope diversity as well. What about extreme skiing? If you’re seeking exhilarating thrills and the ultimate ski challenge, Telluride is the place.
This southwestern Colorado ski area secludes itself far from its I-70 jam-packed brothers such as Vail and Breckenridge. Therefore, the lift lines become less crowded due to the resort’s more remote location. Once you hop off the lifts, take advantage of Telluride’s double black EX terrain, and Telluride’s ski patrol is serious when they classify a run as ‘EX’. At this resort, caution means caution. By taking a left off the Prospect Express lift and hiking for approximately twenty minutes, you gain access to the Black Iron Bowl, one of Telluride’s many expert areas. If you are up for the challenge, hitch a lift off the Revelation lift, traverse through the gate, and hike the Gold Hill staircase to shred down the Gold Hill Chutes, some of the most difficult chutes in North America. From the Gold Hill staircase, you can also witness some spectacular views of the Colorado Rockies. Along with extreme skiing, Telluride’s claim to fame is its incredibly Swiss Alp-like mountain vistas that no other resort in Colorado can top.
Everyone adores an underdog, and Loveland Ski Area is this list’s answer to a Colorado ski underdog. Despite being lesser known than its Summit County neighbors, Loveland still provides everything you yearn for from a Colorado ski resort. Lauren Santi (’17) explains Loveland perfectly when she states that “as one of Colorado's smaller resorts, Loveland is always less crowded than areas like Vail, but still has enough runs for a full day of skiing. The area is a combination of Loveland Valley and Loveland Basin, which are connected by a short bus ride. Loveland Valley is geared towards younger[,] [more] [beginner] skiers and snowboarders, which is perfect, as it ensures that Loveland Basin is clear for the more advanced skiers.”
Loveland exhibits a more mom-and-pop, local vibe due to the resort being family owned. Other resorts, Vail and Breckenridge included, are managed by the megacorporation Vail Resorts, which results in the resorts retaining a certain touristy feel. Furthermore, the lift ticket prices attribute to Loveland’s alluring nature; a day pass costs $74 less than a day of skiing at Aspen/Snowmass. Loveland’s runs can compete with Aspen/Snowmass’s as well. Enjoy some expert terrain by hitching a right off Lift 9 and hiking until Gate 1, where you can catch a free snow cat ride along the Continental Divide to a number of expert slopes like Velvet Hammer, Tickler, and Marmot. The extraordinary views from the cat also contribute to a matchless, Loveland skiing experience.
~Samuel Lapkin '19
© 2014 Princeton Traveler