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Wolf Creek. Photo by Matt Gibson

7 Underrated (and Under-Budget) Colorado Ski Areas

Shred the mountain without shredding your wallet at these low-key resorts.

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More than 20 ski areas speckle the Centennial State, and while it’s convenient for skiers and snowboarders to fall into a one-mountain routine, season after season, it can be so satisfying to strap- or click-in at a new mountain—especially when you can nab a cheap lift ticket without the compromise of diverse terrain.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of terrain at Wolf Creek, Monarch, Powderhorn, and Sunlight. People have the misconception that these resorts are geared toward beginners and that’s not the case at all,” says Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director for Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association with expertise in public policy, marketing, and communications that represents Colorado ski areas. Linsmayer visited each of the organization’s 23 resorts in the 2016–17 winter season (the organization announced on February 14 that they’re adding one more, Kendall Mountain in Silverton).

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While we love our close-to-home, under-the-radar resorts like Echo Mountain and Loveland Ski Area, both of which offer reasonably priced lift tickets, sometimes you gotta take a road trip. “Most of these seven resorts [below] offer an underrated experience for experienced skiers with regards to the terrain and the snow quality,” Linsmayer says. The following resorts—Wolf Creek excluded—are also on the Gems Card: a $25 ski resort pass that allows for two 2-for-1 lift tickets, or two 30-percent off lift tickets, at each of the 10 Colorado ski areas on the pass. Here’s what else you need to know:

Wolf Creek

Here, untouched powder hides in the hike-to terrain. Catch the Snowcat Shuttle (after hiking to the Dog Chutes from the Knife Ridge Staircase) and head to Horseshoe Bowl. Ask about the day’s snowcat schedule at the ticket window.

Located: Pagosa Springs, Colo.
Odometer: 252 miles, one-way
Full-Day Ticket Costs*: $70 for adults; $36 for kids (6–12)
Snow Report: 430 inches annual average; 121 inches year-to-date*
Travel Tip: Stay overnight in South Fork, Creede, or Pagosa Springs, home to the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs.

Powderhorn
Powderhorn resort. Photo by Casey Day

Powderhorn Mountain Resort

Powderhorn offers breathtaking views from atop Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-topped mountain, and overlooks Colorado’s wine country.

Located: Mesa, Colo.
Odometer: 233 miles, one-way
Full-Day Ticket Costs: $71 for adults; $60 for youth (13–17); $35 for juniors (7–12); $18 for children (6 and under)
Snow Report: 250 inches annual average; 66 inches year-to-date
Travel Tip: Feel free to park and camp overnight: built-out vans, campers, trucks, RVs, etc., are all welcome. Also, stop by the lodge where you’ll find live music on the weekend and meet Scotty Waters, who has been Powderhorn’s bartender for 10 years. “Scotty loves talking to the guests and hearing their stories from the hill. You can spot him by his long blonde hair and classic brown hat,” said Ryan Robinson, marketing & sales manager of Powderhorn.

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Sunlight Mountain Resort
Sunlight Mountain Resort. Courtesy of Colorado Ski Country USA

Sunlight Mountain Resort

Sunlight is home to one of the steepest lift-served runs in the state: the Heathen, a 52-degree pitch.

Located: Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Odometer: 170 miles, one-way
Full-day Ticket Costs: $65 for adults; $45 for kids (6–12)
Snow Report: 250 inches annual average; 86 inches year-to-date
Travel Tip: Bring you swimsuit for an après soak at Iron Mountain Hot Springs or Glenwood Hot Springs, which are about 12 miles north of Sunlight.

Ski Cooper
Ski Cooper. Photo by Scott DW Smith

Ski Cooper

Cooper is home to the state’s longest magic carpet—at 770 feet—but it’s also fitting for experienced skiers: “Cooper is adding additional expert terrain in the 2018–19 season. Expansions at ski areas don’t happen that often so that’s exciting,” says Linsmayer.

Located: Leadville, Colo.
Odometer: 77 miles, one-way
Full-Day Ticket Costs: $54 for adult; $34 for kids (6–14)
Snow Report: 260 inches annual average; 147 inches year-to-date
Travel Tip: Cooper first opened as a training ground for the 10th Mountain Division in preparation for World War II. To celebrate this history, the annual 10th Mountain Ski Down will take place March 2, 2018.

Hesperus
Hesperus. Photo by Scott DW Smith

Hesperus Ski Area

Hesperus has 26 trails, one lift, and a terrain park that was installed last year featuring rails, boxes, and a VW Bug.

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Located: Near Durango, Colo.
Odometer: 348 miles, one-way
Full-day Ticket Costs: $39 for adults; $33 for teens (13–20); $28 for kids (8–12)
Snow Report: 150 inches annual average; 13 inches year-to-date
Travel Tip: Pack low-light (or completely clear) googles to enjoy the night skiing.

Granby Ranch
Granby Ranch. Photo by Sarah Wieck

Granby Ranch

In addition to lift-served runs, skiers and riders can check out the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails—or go night skiing.

Located: Granby, Colo.
Odometer: 86 miles, one-way
Full-day Ticket Costs: Adults: $79 (peak), $73 (non-peak); kids (6–12): $49 (peek), $44 (non-peak)
Snow Report: 220 inches annual average; 45 inches year-to-date
Travel Tip: Stay for free live music on Thursday and Saturday nights at the 8350 Bar & Bistro. Past performers include the New Orleans Jazz band Tight Like That and acoustic artist Kenny Lee Young.

Monarch Ski Area
Monarch Ski Area. Courtesy of Colorado Ski Country USA

Monarch Mountain

Monarch operates entirely with snow au natural: no fake flakes here.

Located: Salida, Colo.
Odometer: 157 miles, one-way
Full-day Ticket Costs: $59–$74 for adult; $49 for teens (13–17); $32 for kids (7–12) (*Note these prices are only if you buy online.)
Snow Report: 350 inches annual average; 130 inches year to date
Travel Tip: Post morning powder, go fly fishing in the Arkansas River.

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*Ticket costs at all resorts vary throughout the winter season. Prices are based on each resort’s Saturday, full-day ticket costs at print. Most resorts offer discounted tickets when purchased online in advance.  

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