I am running out of superlatives to describe these Western ski areas. But, Colorado’s Loveland Ski Area has just broken the bank! I visited Loveland on April 22, 2005. The wide, easy, steep, and extremely well-groomed trails are wonderful. The panoramic vistas, often well above the tree line, bring you close to the skies, and give you the beautiful moonscape sensations available in Vail, Telluride, and a few other very special areas in the world.
It is a major area - it claims to have the highest chairlift in the world, topping out at 12,700 feet. Then you can walk up to the top of the Continental Divide at 13,010 feet. Nine lifts service 1,265 skiable acres. As in most Western areas, especially those which are largely bowls, it is impossible to count the trails. You see what looks good, and just take it! Most were well groomed, but got crusty and chunky on the sides. You know you are in spring conditions, when you find yourself dodging hundreds of tiny pinecones on the trails.
There is little on earth to equal the thrill of standing on the summit of the Continental Divide as you do at the top of Loveland. From it, you can see across to other impressive Colorado ski areas - Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, and the four mountains of Breckenridge. Further in the distance are Vail, Copper, and - way down the highway - Aspen. But, you could not see them from the Divide. What we could see of all the areas was more than enough snow to keep going for months. Only economics, and not nature, forced Loveland to shut down. The end of 2004 might have been a bit slow, but the snow roared in for most of the Western areas in 2005.
For the life of me, I do not understand why more snow lovers from the Washington area - and the rest of the country - do not head for Loveland. It is a world class area for serious skiers and snowboarders. It does not have a fancy town or night life - the only buildings on the premise are the usual ones that make a resort area function, plus one bar, cafeteria, and small clothing and ski store. The lift prices are not high, and you get unrivaled skiing for your money. You also get to ski in the Colorado area that tends to open the earliest (opening on October 18 for the 2004-2005 winter season), with a season stretch to May 1, 2005. The season passes were only $269, and some could be used in the other areas! Daily lift tickets were in the forties, but about $10 less if you bought them beforehand at some supermarkets or convenience stores.
There is a fine beginner area, which has separate parking and a small village across the road to Loveland Pass. Called Loveland Valley, it is ideal for children and connected to the main area by a chair that goes over the road. (If it had been open, my husband would have wanted to ride that chair just because it is so unique; like the taxiway at DFW airport!) There are also discount prices for the Loveland Valley lifts. This way kids can come up from Denver for a few hours and take lessons. Loveland is the closest large ski area from Denver and is right next to Interstate 70, roughly the same time as our commute from the Washington area to Whitetail or Liberty.
If you don’t need to return to Denver, there are neat places to stay in nearby Silver Plume, Georgetown, or Idaho Springs for a flavor of the Old West, or Dillon or Frisco for lake scenery. Loveland is working out package deals, which include economical bus service from Denver, lodging at one of the small, old cowboy and mining towns, and lift tickets. There is shuttle service from Denver International Airport for $29 per person each way. I found the drive over the steep, dramatic highways and mountain roads to be harrowing. We had excellent spring conditions - it gets much worse in the snow and ice. If my husband did not do the driving, I would not attempt it on my own (although I used to when I was in my twenties). I am trying to encourage more ski resorts to organize economical bus service all over the country. It takes more cars off the roads, and brings people together, but not in a crash. I still find driving to be the most dangerous aspect of skiing.
At Loveland, we were fortunate to be guided around by John Sellers, a young transplant from Chicago who is the event and promotional coordinator. He specializes in snowboarding, and was checking out the terrain park for a major competition the next day. But he gave us a comprehensive tour of the panaromic area. We never would have found our way to all the majestic peaks on our own, in so short a time. There were no lift lines on a Friday. We were told it never gets very crowded at Loveland even on weekends, although it must build up at times, since it is so close to Denver.
We were also assisted by Kevin Wright, who was spending his last day as Director of Marketing, and moving onto still more challenges in Portland. Ainsley Kasten, the Marketing Manager, is expected to move up to his shoes. Congratulations to all of them - they have a wonderful ski area. It is not a slick destination, general vacation resort, but for sheer beauty, convenience, and economy, it is the place to go.
Loveland is right off the major highway, I-70, and skiers go right next to it and to the Eisenhower Tunnel as they make their way down. Cars (and trucks with hazardous cargo which cannot go through the tunnel) can also make their way over the winding, picturesque Loveland Pass, weather permitting. Can be scary driving for us flat-landers. But, not nearly as challenging as the Canyon road to El Dora, or some of the other mountain roads we have driven on the way to any number of resorts.
We moved too fast to remember the name of the trails we took, and most of the skiing we favored were open bowls, with a few cut offs through the trees. Because of the forgiving conditions, they were all green or blue. There were some blacks listed, but I don’t think we found them. Summit Ridge, the Patrol and Primer Bowls had the double black diamonds - not for us this trip.
The only complaint I had is one I have made at other Western areas - it can be very scary to be on a steep, swaying chair, in windy conditions, without a safety bar. We can all get along without the foot rests, but a safety bar could provide some comfort, if only psychological. I know they are expensive - maybe some seatbelts could be fitted to the chairs, and installed over the summer? Just a thought - not a sermon.
There are also no big, comfortable gondolas or Trams at Loveland - the lifts which provide so much warmth during bitter cold and whiteout conditions. But, for most spring skiing days, that is not a factor.
Loveland was the perfect way to end the ski season, although I am very sad it is over until next year. Maybe if we are lucky, we can still get more time at A Basin, or New Zealand in the summer. But, if not, we have the memories to savor of terrific friends and a wonderful season.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.