Summit County Weekender

upper lift at arapahoe basin summit county colorado

Recently asked “adding a weekend to a Denver business trip.  Planning to stay in Summit County and skiing Friday and Saturday…what do you recommend?”

First off, Saturdays usually suck in Summit County.

But you gotta do what you gotta do, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc.

Friday is reasonable, unless it’s a holiday weekend or just after a dump.  So here goes Saturday, alphabetically of course.

Arapahoe Basin – If this is your pick for Saturday, you want to arrive early and get out of the base area as fast as you can, work the upper lift as long as it remains uncrowded.  Move to Montezuma when it does, or use the Pally lift.  Another good bet is to arrive around 11:30, find an open parking spot, boot up and head to the lifts while the crowds are headed to lunch.  It’s doable.

Beaver Creek – Long drive, but definitely doable and about as good as a ski area can get as long as you’re willing to max out your Visa card.  Bring some cash for parking, because the free lot fills up early.   But that’s ok, because the shuttle bus is slow.

Breckenridge – On a Saturday, seriously?

Copper – If you stay in Frisco and you run into bad weather, Copper is your best option no question, all flat roads.  Copper Mountain on Saturdays gets real busy.  It gets busy all the time, but Saturdays can get grim at all of the Summit County places.    Ticket deals available in advance, on Liftopia, or morning-of if you go to the Safeway.  I drive by Copper on Saturday mornings on my way to Cooper and I’m glad I do.  The bus might be a good option on a Saturday, the parking is nutty.  Copper is the lowest priced ticket of the full service resorts, fastest big resort to get to, so it gets all the people who are too cheap to ski Breck & Vail.  It’s also on the MAX pass or IKON pass or whatever, so it gets huge tourist volume.  Rendezvous Bowl is a great way for low end intermediates to avoid crowds.

Eldora – If you check’s entry for Eldora, the listing hasn’t really been updated, they do have high speed lifts now.  Unfortunately I think you might find it a long way to drive and not much bang for the time invested.  It would make sense if you stay nearby, or, after skiing proceed into Denver area for a hotel closer to the airport.  Some people really enjoy Eldora, others don’t.  If Breckenridge appeals to you, Eldora probably won’t.

Keystone – Great ski area but I’ll never go back if I can avoid it. Well, I might go on a Wednesday.  The gondola and lodge up high are terrific, terrain is great, but it tends to attract the crazies for some reason.  Also, the gondola base is terrible.  Long lines, no place to boot up, 45 minute wait at ticket windows — and that’s on a Friday!  Terrible.  If you want to check Keystone off your list, do not go to main base with the gondola.  Instead off Route 6 into the complex at the traffic light for West Keystone Road/Mountain House West/Condo Registration West and take an immediate left, follow West Keystone Road to that base, park by the ski school.  Trust me on that.  Here’s a map route from downtown Frisco.  Don’t get here late on a Saturday.  Parking is close, and good, but when it’s gone — it’s gone.   Also you should be able to pre-load your Vail or Breckenridge RFID card to work at Keystone, which would save you some time, don’t know for sure if that’s still available, check in advance.  Best way to beat liftlines: Ski from Dercum Summit House down to Gondola mid-station, and load at the mid station.  Won’t work as well early.

Loveland —  will be less crowded but the lifts are slow.  If all the lifts are running it’s like a less civilized, vintage version of Vail.  If the visibility is bad you do not want to ski here under any circumstances, it’s not worth dying.   Loveland Valley I have not skied, but it does offer a quiet alternative on a Saturday.  Do not buy the cheap Lift-7-only ticket unless you are really a full blown low end novice.  If you are a full blown low end expert, do not try to ski the tunnel below lift 8.  I think Frisco Safeway has discounted Loveland tix.

Outer Range — New brewery in Frisco, well worth a visit.  Maybe not so new by the time you read this.

Ski Cooper — Unless you are a terrain park rat, confirmed hotshot or uppity expert who demands the country club experience, this is your best option for a Saturday.  Parking is free and close, liftlines are short, ticket price is one-third of what the Vail Resorts charge.  The snow is 100% natural and the backside is glorious — even for the lowest intermediate.  Drawbacks?  The lift out of the frontside is slow, and you gotta drive down to Leadville.  If you can deal with that, you’ll spend your Saturday smiling, instead of paying $150 to wait on lines.

Swan Mountain Road — This is how you get from downtown Frisco to Keystone or A-Basin (and vice-versa) thereby avoiding the traffic on US Route 6 in Dillon.

Vail –  since you know it and love it, why not? You won’t find bigger/better.   40 minute ride from Frisco, good if you have sufficient funds and a parking plan.   If you don’t know your way around the base area and the parking, forget it.  Wait until somebody can show you the ropes, or find valet parking and pay for it.

Winter Park – beautiful ride if the weather is cooperative.  Ski here on a Friday, it’s busy but manageable.  At the main base you’ll want to consider close in parking, or drop off.  Even if you park close to the free parking lot gondola you still have to hump your stuff 1/4 mile through the Potemkin Village to get to the lodge and tickets.  Otherwise good base lodge facilities.  There is also parking at Mary Jane but I’m not 100% sure they sell tickets there.  Despite its reputation there are a couple of groomed trails at Mary Jane that make it very much worthwhile.  As for the Parsenn Bowl up high, I can’t recommend it for the average intermediate.  There’s enough to do here without it.

Bookmark:  $25 GEMS card, gets you two-for-one tickets at all the GEMS, which includes A Basin, Loveland, Eldora, Ski Cooper and others.   GEMS Card 2017-2018 | Colorado Ski Country USA

Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.