Travel

The Best Ski Trips Within Two Hours of the Denver Airport

You could use some adventure.

Two words of advice for anyone heading to Colorado’s slopes for the 2020-2021 season: plan ahead. With much of the state moving to higher levels of COVID-19 restrictions, including Summit County where many of Colorado’s nearly 30 ski areas are located, resorts are stepping up their health and safety game. As an important part of the economy, they’re expected to remain open, but the norm this season is required reservations for tickets and parking (even for pass holders), fewer après options, and lots of reminders to wear your mask. Yeah, it’s gonna feel a little different in the high country, but don’t let that totally dampen your fresh powder dreams. 

We’ve still got several of the state’s most fun ski destinations within a two-hour drive of Denver. A lot of these trips are easily accomplished in a day, so you can hit the lifts in the morning and be back in town early enough for some takeout food and booze from the Mile High’s best places to eat.

Copper Mountain

Location: Summit County, between Frisco and Vail on Interstate 70

Distance from airport: 102 miles (1-hour 45-minute drive)

Best for: Expansive terrain, casual resort feel, booming base area

Denver locals consistently name Copper as their favorite Colorado mountain, and it’s easy to see why. With nearly 3,000 feet of vertical and nearly 150 runs—take your pick from steep, powder-filled chutes, bowls, fast cruisers or flat groomers—you can’t even come close to tackling all the terrain in two days. The slopes are conveniently divided by nature—the steeper terrain stemming out of East Village, intermediate slopes out of Center Village, and beginner slopes out of the West Village.
 
In order to better control the crowds, Copper’s requiring parking reservations for all visitors this year. The upside? You won’t have to worry about finding a spot. Plus, there are other options for reveling in gravity’s downward direction: tubing, an alpine coaster, and Woodward, the one-of-a-kind ramp, trampoline, and foam pit-equipped facility where pro skiers and snowboarders workshop their newest tricks. 

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Summit County area

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Loveland Ski Area
Photo by Dustin Schaefer for Loveland Ski Area

Loveland Ski Area

Location: Straddling Summit and Clear Creek counties on Interstate 70, east of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Distance from airport: 83 miles (1-hour 15-minute drive)

Best for: High elevation skiing, steep runs, a separate beginner area

Loveland doesn’t always get the love it deserves, despite being the biggest and best value ski area near Denver (and receiving more snowfall than swankier nearby resorts). Situated on the slopes of the Continental Divide, Loveland’s terrain ranks among the highest anywhere—the base sits at 10,800 feet, with hiking access (and free snowcat rides) to the ridgeline above 13,000 feet. Of the area’s 94 trails, most measure on the steep side, but beginners can rejoice in an entirely separate area (Loveland Valley) designed exclusively for learning. The ski school is currently offering private lessons for all skill levels, and gear rentals range from state-of-the-art demos to jackets, pants, goggles, and gloves. 

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Clear Creek area

Arapahoe Basin

Location: Summit County off of US Highway 6, 5.5 miles beyond Keystone 

Distance from airport: 88 miles (1-hour 30-minute drive)

Best for: Experts, extreme terrain, gnarly runs

Starting at nearly 11,000 feet, A-Basin, or The Basin, as locals call it, has a summit that reaches over 13,050-feet, making it one of the highest ski areas in the world. The majority of its runs rank on the gnarly side—most difficult to expert. The Basin also has a longer season than just about anybody, rivaled only by the world’s glaciers. It opens mid-October and has been known to stay open until July 4. The place typically hosts numerous competitions for bionic mountain athletes (involving skinning up the top windy ridges then skiing down among the cliffs, hunting for beacons, etc). This season, they’re offering several ticket options including a midweek pass that doesn’t require reservations, but no matter which option you pick, tickets are required to be purchased in advance. 

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Summit County area

Keystone Resort
Photo by Branden Smith for Keystone Resort

Keystone Resort

Location: Summit County on US Highway 6

Distance from airport: 93 miles (1-hour 30-minute drive)

Best for: Families, awesome terrain parks
This sprawling trio of peaks offers both 3,000+ acres of terrain and vertical. Although Keystone is popular among families (for its tubing, ice skating, and kids-ski-free packages), people are often surprised by its bounty of expert trails. About 50 percent of the terrain is rated “most difficult” and even the pitch on the intermediate runs might get your knees knocking. 

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Summit County area

Eldora Mountain
Photo courtesy of Eldora Mountain

Eldora Mountain

Location: Boulder County, 21 miles west of Boulder

Distance from airport: 64 miles (1-hour 20-minute drive)

Best for: All skill levels, the community vibe, spotting onesies

Eldora is no bunny hill. It's home to a shiny new high-speed, six-person chairlift and around 50 ski trails ranging from steep, packed glades, bumpy blacks, and a separate, too-big-for-a-bunny-hill area called Little Hawk—fitted with shorter beginner and intermediate runs. Despite the modern rental shop and stocked boutiques, every day here feels like retro ski day—a handful of regulars sport zany one-pieces and rooster-emblem Rossignols from the '80s. Parking reservations are required for the 2020-2021 season so plan ahead.

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Boulder County area

Winter Park
Photo courtesy of Winter Park

Winter Park Resort

Location: Grand County, off of US Highway 40

Distance from airport: 89 miles (1-hour 45-minute drive)

Best for: All skill levels

Winter Park’s 166 trails (and unchartered backcountry terrain) are divided into distinct areas. The namesake segment is evenly divided by skill level, and the others largely serve specific niches—Discovery Park for beginners, Parsenn Bowl for wide open cruisers and steep seekers, Mary Jane for mogul enthusiasts, and Eagle Wind for cliff jumpers and glade cravers. Though you may have to battle the infamous I-70 ski traffic to get there, once you arrive it’s pretty well self-contained with a walkable village and free local shuttle. Everything, including tickets and rentals, needs to be booked at least 48 hours in advance so planning is essential. 

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Grand County area

Echo Mountain
Photo courtesy of Echo Mountain

Echo Mountain

Location: Squaw Pass near Evergreen and Idaho Springs

Distance from airport: 60 miles (1-hour drive)

Best for: Casual skiers, quick day trips, affordability, night skiing

To be honest, Echo Mountain is not a fair representation of what Colorado has to offer. But for the first timer (there is no ski school, but on-mountain staffers provide free guidance) or the occasional skier whose token experiences have involved raking over East Coast ice in subzero temperatures, this could be the greatest ski day of your life. It’s also the Centennial State’s most affordable option and the one closest to Denver. 

The road there, albeit short, is legit mountain driving. Don’t speed around the 12 miles of hairpin turns—especially during a snowstorm—that take you to the base area above 10,000 feet. Originally opened in 1960 and sitting vacant for a number of years, the area served as a private race training venue and then a terrain park. Echo Mountain has had its current incarnation—one triple chairlift serving 600 vertical feet of blue and green runs, plus a section of black-rated glades—since 2016. There is no terrain park, but a flat learning area, a tubing hill, night skiing, and a friendly pub with decent burgers and a solid beer lineup. 

Find Airbnb nearby: Search Evergreen area

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Molly Martin is a Denver-based freelance writer. Follow her @mollydbu on Instagram and Twitter for more updates on food, fun, and life in the Mile High.
A Denver native, freelance writer Shauna Farnell loves a throwback ski lodge but has never donned one-piece outerwear. Follow her on Twitter @shaunafarnell or on Instagram @mountaingirlinthecity.
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