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With spring break approaching, you’re probably feeling the urge to go somewhere warm and sit on a beach near the ocean. But savvy Coloradans know that many Centennial State ski resorts offer something just as relaxing and picturesque: the snow beach.
Much like its warmer-weather counterpart, the snow beach is best enjoyed with a libation in hand and the sun shining overhead. Instead of planting yourself in the sand like at an ocean beach, however, the setting for the spring skiing staple is a giant swath of snow. The slopeside experience can vary in size and vibe, but among our five favorites, there is sure to be one that fits your mood.
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The original Colorado ski area “beach” got its start as a prime hangout spot in the ski-in, ski-out parking lot at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area around the time the Pallavicini Lift was installed nearby in 1978. “Skiers would lap the new lift and the 1,300 feet of steep terrain it accesses, then gather to tailgate in the adjacent parking lot,” says Katherine Fuller, communications manager at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
In the 1980s, A-Basin became a hot spot for freestyle skiing. For two decades, the resort hosted a freestyle moguls masters event, during which the participants would take over the entire space for rowdy parties. Eventually, though, the party atmosphere got a little out of hand (there are rumors that a couch-burning incident factored into the decision to ban overnight camping in the A-Basin lots), and the resort began requiring reservations for The Beach.
Currently, there are a handful of practical rules to follow at the tailgating space, including no glass, hot tubs, or open fires. Reservations to park at The Beach (open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) also fill up quickly when they go on sale on October 1, but there are still some spots left for this season (rates start at $100). It’s always a festive scene filled with large groups, costumes, and grills, especially as spring skiing gets going.
Skiers and snowboarders have limited time to enjoy the newest—and most upscale—Colorado snow beach. The pop-up experience—which feels like a fancy pool party, but with expansive views of the Elk Mountains and Highland Bowl, and, well, snow—opened February 18 and will be available every weekend through April 16 at Aspen Mountain.
Cabanas, custom lounge chairs, and lifeguard towers elevate the vibe, as does the live DJ and the high-end menu (think caviar selections and black truffle pizza slices) and beverage service. Reservation options for the experience, curated in partnership with fine art photographer Gray Malin, include single lounge chairs with the purchase of half a bottle of champagne or rosé, a cabana for two with a bottle of champagne or rosé, or a cabana for six with three bottles of champagne or rosé. Package and reservation prices range from $150 to $4,200, depending on bottle selection and group size.
Situated at about 11,200 feet, Lunch Rock, a 1,600-square-foot restaurant perched at the top of Mary Jane Mountain, offers jaw-dropping views of Parry’s Peak, James Peak, and Parsenn Bowl. When the weather is nice, grab a spot in one of the many outdoor Adirondack chairs and quench your thirst with a Bloody Mary or a Mary Jane Ale, which is brewed special for the resort in partnership with Boulder’s Upslope Brewing. “You can get Mary Jane Ale at all of our bars on the mountain, but there’s something special and unique about sipping a Mary Jane Ale atop Mary Jane,” says Jen Miller, public relations and communication manager at Winter Park Resort.
Last call at Lunch Rock is usually around 3:30 p.m. So if you want to keep the beachy vibes going, ski down about 1,000 feet to the Sunspot for après festivities on Friday and Saturday, including live music that begins at 4 p.m.
The Gorrono Ranch at Telluride Ski Resort—the frame of which was built by Basque sheepherders in the 19th century—is widely considered one of the best mid-mountain ski resort lodges in North America, having earned plaudits from national magazines like Travel and Leisure and Ski. On bluebird days, guests can grab a libation from the historic Saloon or Outpost bars and post up at the ranch’s outdoor area appropriately known as the “Snow Beach.” The space features an expansive deck and swaths of lounge chairs spread out on the surrounding snow, where guests can enjoy live music. The lively space can be reached via the Village Express Lift 4.
The design of the Umbrella Bar—including its round shape, glass walls, and 35-foot retractable roof—makes it one of the most eye-catching locations at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The sweeping views of the surrounding Elk Mountains aren’t too shabby, either. In addition to indoor seating, there are a plethora of Adirondack chairs outside, perfect for lounging and socializing in the sunshine. The watering hole’s location at the top of the Painter Boy Lift, which services both beginner and intermediate runs leading back to the base area, also allows for skiers of all skill levels to enjoy the experience.