Skiing Denver’s “Hidden Gems”

Colorado families love these smaller resorts for their short lift lines, big value, challenging terrain and convenient location – less than two hours from Denver.

by Heather Mundt


Families heading to Colorado’s major ski resorts know to expect crowds, especially during the holidays.  But the state still has a few secrets: “gem” resorts, the smaller, lesser-known ski resorts that still offer plenty of challenging terrain for a variety of skill levels.  

Check out these local favorites within two hours from the Denver area for a ski vacation that’s big on both fun and value but small on lift lines. 

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Boasting one of the longest ski and ride seasons in North America, typically spanning October through early June, Arapahoe Basin or “A-Basin” is known for its variety of high-alpine terrain. From learning areas to intermediate groomers and some of the most challenging steep runs in the state, the resort also just added 468 acres of new lift-served intermediate and expert terrain, The Beavers.

Set just 68 miles west of Denver on the scenic Continental Divide, the resort offers ski and ride school, as well as on-site rentals and plenty of dining options. And if you really want to feel like a local, hang for a while at “The Beach,” A-Basin’s slopeside parking area where tailgating is a way of life and costumes work as everyday attire.  


Echo Mountain

Originally opened in 1960 as Squaw Pass Ski Area, Echo Mountain has experienced many iterations and ownerships—even closing from 1975 through 2005—becoming a private ski-race training facility in 2012. Reopening to the public in October 2016, the resort has been reborn as one of Denver’s closest, most affordable resorts along the Front Range. About an hour’s drive west of Denver, roughly 36 miles, the 2017-2018 season brought several upgrades to the mountain, including a conveyor in the beginner area, as well as new food and beverage options.

This season, the resort debuted an expanded beginner area, revitalized menus offering alleged “life-changing fries,” and a new tubing hill. Featuring a cozy mountain lodge, equipment, and clothing rentals and stunning views of the Continental Divide, families will find everything they need for a solid day on the slopes. 


Eldora Mountain Resort

Set just 21 miles southwest of Boulder (about 50 miles northwest of Denver), Eldora Mountain Resort’s 680 acres of skiable terrain accommodate all ski and rider abilities. From beginner areas to the challenging Corona Bowl serviced by nine lifts, the resort is one of only two in the state to feature the Woodward Experience. Eldora also offers day and multi-week lesson programs for kids and adults, as well as rentals. And if you’d rather not drive (parking is free!), this resort is the only one served by Denver’s RTD public transit. 


Granby Ranch

With a tag line like “because your longest run of the day shouldn’t be on the highway,” who wouldn’t want to head to this gem resort, located just 90 minutes west of Denver? Offering western charm and small-town friendliness, GranbyRanch.com is a family-owned resort that remains a longtime family favorite for Coloradans. Designed for skiers and riders to learn in a safe environment for all abilities and ages, including a ski and ride school, end the day with several après-ski options like the Granby Ranch Grill, where you can relax on the sun-drenched patio for stunning panoramic views. 


Loveland Ski Area 

Opening in 1937 as the state’s second-oldest ski area (behind Howelsen Hill Ski Area in Steamboat Springs), Loveland Ski Area has been offering some of Denver’s closest skiing and riding for more than 75 years (53 miles west). Featuring nine lifts serving 1,800 acres of exceptional terrain, Loveland has two separate base areas—Loveland Valley for beginners and Loveland Basin, the main area that provides a wide variety of terrain—both of which host rental shops, sport shops, restaurants and bars. (Guests can ride the free shuttle between the areas from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.) Experience high adventure at The Ridge, which takes skiers up to 12,700 feet, offering intermediate and advanced snow-riders terrain just the way they like it: open, steep and deep. FREE snowcat skiing, an innovative lesson program and a new high-speed detachable quad to replace Lift 1 for the 2018/19 season. 


Ski Cooper

In just under two hours (located about 109 miles southwest of Denver), metro-area families will find some of the best learning terrain in the country at Ski Cooper. This gem just 32 miles southwest of Copper Mountain Resort offers 41 runs through 400 skiable acres of powder, as well as a ski and ride school. Need bigger adventure? Take a snowcat skiing tour on Chicago Ridge for long, epic runs on 2,600 acres of wide-open powder bowls and glades. Then grab some eats at a mountaintop yurt or enjoy some après-ski fun at Katie O’Rourke’s Irish Pub for a brew, appetizer and live music! 



Not skiing this winter?

Read Heather’s local picks for snowy Rocky Mountain off-the-slopes adventures.

Heather Mundt – November 2019

ROAM Contributor   

The Colorado native and her husband feared having kids would mean sacrificing their love of travel. Instead, they realized they could enjoy traveling just as much with our two boys in tow. Relaxing? Not really. But she wouldn’t want it any other way.


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