After relocating from suburban Chicago to the Denver metro area, my husband and I embraced our geographic location by taking frequent winter road trips into the nearby mountains. From our Front Range home, we could easily reach most of Colorado’s prime ski destinations after driving just a handful of hours. While many local skiers and boarders opt for economical day trips, we prefer to maximize our time in the mountains by staying several days. The majestic snow-covered mountain ranges, coupled with a slow-paced lifestyle, offer a respite from the hassles of day-to-day life.
This year, the usually quieter months of January and February did not deter pandemic travelers from risking the possibility of hazardous road conditions or exposure to the virus. Cars with out of state license plates often outnumbered residents on the highways and in mountain town parking lots. Even though on-mountain access during the 2020-2021 ski season is controlled by a pass holder reservation system, I often encountered lengthy lift lines during our midweek visits.
Road trippers coming from outside Colorado should consider stopping at the Genesee Mountain Park Bison Sanctuary, about five miles west of Golden on Interstate 70. Weather permitting, hikers flock to the family friendly trails. Since the bison are periodically moved, it may be necessary to drive from one pasture to another in order to locate the captivating herd.
Keystone Resort is my favorite ski destination. It is known for its low-key ambiance and convenient location. Decades ago, the resort’s ski school taught our four sons skier etiquette and how to become expert skiers. Skiing at Keystone became our family’s annual wintertime tradition. Parking has remained straightforward and most of the green and blue runs are groomed daily while moguls are common on expert runs. COVID-19 safety measures include wearing of mandatory face coverings and adherence to social distancing policies. To ensure the safety of my husband, who is undergoing chemotherapy for glioblastoma (brain cancer), we chose to avoid the gondolas and to ride by ourselves on chairlifts.
In pre-COVID times, the dining and outdoor activity options were adequate in Summit County. Until we are fully vaccinated, we are choosing to minimize contact with others. This decision prevented us from supporting local businesses and attractions who have adopted the state’s pandemic guidelines. Hopefully, this summer we can dine at some of our favorite restaurants which include the rustic Keystone Ranch and Sauce on the Blue in Silverthorne. To increase dining opportunities during the pandemic, the latter created an innovative two-hour culinary experience in four outdoor yurts.
Our 2021 Keystone Resort ski experiences have stood in sharp contrast to our January and February 2020 road trips to Winter Park and Aspen Snowmass. Winter Park, a Grand County favorite located less than 70 miles from Denver, has been selected two years in a row by USA Today readers as the #1 Ski Resort in North America. Unlike Vail, Aspen, and Telluride, which attract posh trendsetters, Winter Park’s adventure seekers would rather spend more time playing than driving. Our 2020 winter road trip included downhill skiing, sampling the cuisine at local restaurants, a dogsledding experience at Snow Mountain Ranch, and a guided snowmobile tour offered by Grand Adventures.
Zipping up and down steep trails on a snowmobile was an invigorating experience, while standing on the back of a dogsled offered more time to contemplate the surrounding beauty of the ranch property.
Fewer Coloradoans drive the 200 miles from Denver to Aspen Snowmass. As a media guest at the Limelight Hotel Snowmass, we had the convenience of being within steps of the Elk Camp Gondola and had easy access to Snowmass’ main attractions. Our time on the slopes was enhanced after we met Ruthie Waldman, the guide for the Over-the-Hillers Group. This fast-paced ski experience introduced us to a variety of advanced intermediate runs and a small group of mature outdoor enthusiasts. On our second day, Kelly Hayes led us to more advanced terrain and breathtaking overlooks that showcased the surrounding peaks.
After skiing aggressively, our bodies were nourished by some of Snowmass’ talented chefs. Most notable was our on-mountain lunch at Sam’s restaurant at the top of the Village Express chairlift. Tucker Burton, the Senior Relations Manager for Aspen Snowmass, treated us to an extraordinary Italian feast in this alpine dining room with spectacular views. Other memorable dining experiences included a romantic dinner at the Lynn Britt Cabin, a nutrient-dense bowl at mix6, and innovative crepes at The Crepe Shack.
Perhaps next ski season, we will once again be able to fully enjoy our winter road trips by participating in a wide variety of activities and dining experiences devoid of pandemic fears.
Grand County Colorado Tourism Board, Snow Mountain Ranch, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, and Winter Park Resort hosted Sandy and Ira Bornstein during their two-night stay. Aspen Ski Company hosted the Traveling Bornsteins’ 3-night stay at the Limelight Hotel, 3-days of lift tickets, and meals.