12 Colorado Ski Resorts that Don’t Require I-70

Waterdog Lakes, north of Monarch Mountain

Waterdog Lakes, north of Monarch Mountain

For a bit of time, I viewed what many consider as the insufferable traffic on I-70 as a symbol of unbridled Colorado enthusiasm I silently shared with every other car alongside me. Today I see the I-70 traffic problems as so intolerable and so inexcusable, that if I can’t find another solution to arrive at a snowboarding destination, my preference is to not go at all.

Thankfully, there are alternatives via resorts that never required I-70 in the first place (hoo-ray!) and others which require an extra hour or so of driving to avoid the most horrendous portions of I-70 i.e. Floyd Hill to the Breckenridge exit. An hour in theory may seem like a lot, but frankly what is another 60 minutes when the other option requires countless sacrifices to your sanity and often, far, far more than an extra hour of your life.

Here are 12 options:

1.       Monarch

Time from Denver via US-285: 2 hours 52 minutes
Location: Near Salida
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $65, Season Pass $429 (includes access to 29 other ski resorts around the US and world)
Size: 800 acres
Claim to Fame: 350+ inches of snow annually AND Monarch is accessible, affordable and friendly.  Monarch skier and riders arrive in a good mood after an easy drive to the mountain (hurrah!) to find employees who have loads of pride in their mountain. People also love the cheap lift tickets – $65 at the window / $57 online.
Affordable Accommodations: Guests typically stay in Salida a great little town 22 miles from Monarch, which includes good shopping, dining and 23 artist owned galleries. For inexpensive accommodations check out The Simple Hostel or the Salida Super 8.
Fancy Accommodations: If you are looking for something with some of the finer touches, consider the Salida Palace Hotel in the heart of town. It is the premiere historic hotel in the area featuring 14 well appointed suites.

2.   Sunlight

Time from Denver via US-285 through Breckenridge:  4 hours 17 minutes (via I-70 3 hours 5 minutes w/o traffic)
Location: Glenwood Springs
Ticket Prices: Average Adult Lift Pass $42, Season Pass $392
Size: 470 acres
Claim to Fame: You can get a full day of skiing for about half the cost of some of the bigger resorts. Parking is free and there are never crowds or lift lines. All trails lead back to the lodge where you can brown bag it or buy something from the grill. Sunlight prides itself on no hassles and no hype.
Affordable Accommodations: If you are looking for reasonably priced places to stay for the night consider Hotel Denver, Hanging Lake Inn, or The Hotel Glenwood Springs.

3.       Eldora

Time from Denver via US-36: 1 hour 18 minutes
Location: Nederland
Ticket Prices:  Adult Lift Pass $79, Four Pack $149, Season Pass $399
Size: 680 acres
Claim to Fame: Although Eldora is smaller than some of the bigger mountain resorts it does have a trail 3 miles long, grooms every run to make it family friendly and has the best snowmaking equipment in Colorado.
Affordable lodging: A few different budget oriented hotels are located in the area. If you are looking to save money consider Foot of the Mountain Motel, University Inn or Days Hotel.
Fancy lodging: Located in downtown Boulder are the St Julien, a relatively new luxury hotel, which includes a full service spa, or the classic Hotel Boulderado, which was built around 1900 and comes with loads of historic charm.
Insider Intel: “The Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a Colorado Ski Escape package every year.  The package ranges from roughly $70-$350 per person. It includes a night in a hotel and a lift ticket to Eldora.” Lauren Halley, Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau

4.       Silverton

Time from Denver via US-285 South: 6 hours 34 minutes (Via I-70 6 hours 29 minutes w/o traffic)
Ticket Prices: Unguided Lift Ticket $49, Lift Ticket with a Guide $99 (low season), Single Run with Guide $35, $139 with All Day Guide.
Size: 1819 acres lift accessible, 22,000 acres accessible with heli-skiing
Bonus: Annual snowfall exceeds over 400 inches, which as they will also tell you, exceeds the total number of visitors per day. Silverton is for advanced and experts only and is considered the “all thrills, no frills” mountain. It is also the highest ski area in North America.
Affordable lodging: The Triangle Motel is an inexpensive option in the area. Studios, suites and rooms are available.
Fancy lodging: The Wyman Hotel & Inn is a historic luxury hotel serving gourmet breakfast early in the day, tea and pastries in the afternoon and wine and cheese in the evening hours.

5.       Wolf Creek

Time from Denver via US-285 South: 4 hours 29 minutes
Location: Pagosa Springs, South Fork
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $54, Season Pass $626
Size: 1600 acres
Claim to Fame: The most snow in Colorado with 430 inches of annually.
Affordable lodging: High Country Lodge is 15 minutes from Wolf Creek and the closest accommodation option to the mountain. In addition to hotel rooms it has cabins for rent, a free breakfast (that sounds amazing) and packages that include discounted lift tickets. The Oakridge Lodge has ski packages and is considered the least expensive option in the area. It is recently under new ownership.
Fancy lodging: The Pagosa Springs Resort and Spa offers a ski and soak package which includes lift tickets and 24 hour access to the hot spring pool. Rates start as low as $99 per person.

6.       Purgatory

Time from Denver via US-285 South: 6 hours, 32 minutes
Location: Durango
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $77, Season Pass $819
Size: 1360 acres
Claim to Fame: 25 miles outside of Durango, the city named one of America’s Best Small Towns by Outside Magazine. Purgatory has something for everyone in the family with some of the best ski weather in the US to boot.
Affordable Accommodations: Compared to many other Colorado ski resort areas, accommodations in Durango are very reasonably priced. The Siesta Motel is family owned and operated since 1975. Their budget friendly rooms come with breakfast and discounts on lift passes.  Also worth checking out is the award winning historic Strater Hotel. Located in the heart of downtown Durango, this hotel offers charm and an onsite saloon without breaking the bank.  The General Palmer Hotel was built in 1898 and features modern day comforts with historic charms.

7.       Ski Cooper

Time from Denver via US-285 to US-24: 3 hour 10 minutes (via 1-70 2 hours 2 minutes w/o traffic)
Location: Leadville
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $47, Season Pass $219 (includes three free days at each reciprocal resorts in Colorado, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Alaska)
Size: 400 acres (lift served), 2400 (cat served)
Claim to Fame: Cooper is one of the most affordable Colorado ski resorts complete with short lines, long runs, terrain for everyone and 100% natural snow.
Affordable Accommodations: All Cooper accommodations are located in the quaint town of Leadville. (The highest incorporated city in the USA.) Check out The McGinnis Inn, the Governors Mansion Guest Suites (which comes with complete full kitchens), Peri and Ed’s Mountain Hideaway or go the unconventional route and stay in yurts. The Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts go for $225 per night and sleep up to six. They also have a cook house you can snowshoe to featuring a four course meal that is rumored to be divine. Grand West Village Resorts between Cooper and Leadville has condos that can sleep up to 10 people.

8.       Copper Mountain

Time from Denver via US-285 : 2 hours 37 minutes (via I-70 1 hour 25 minutes w/o traffic)
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $62 – $75, Four Pack $149, Season Pass $369
Size: 2465 acres
Claim to Fame: Copper’s terrain is cleverly (and naturally) crafted by skill level. On the west side of Copper are the easier trails and as you move east they get more challenging. This ensures skiers and riders of varying abilities never need to worry about getting on each other’s runs and/or in one another’s way.
Affordable Accommodations:  Two Peak is an inexpensive option in Copper. Also consider staying in The Edge. The Edge is primarily employing housing but has hostel style accommodations for those looking for budget accommodations.
Fancy Accommodations:
Five Peak, Mill Club or Copper One

9.   Vail

Time from Denver via US-285 thru Breckenridge: 2 hours 55 minutes (via I-70 1 hour 43 minutes w/o traffic)
Ticket Prices:
Adult Lift Pass Starts at $85, Season Pass Begins at $419 (includes multiple mountains throughout Colorado and Utah, restrictions apply)
Size: 5289 acres
Claim to Fame: The back bowls, the most mountain in acreage in Colorado and frequently voted the best mountain in North America.
Affordable Accommodations: The Roost Lodge located in Vail is a short bus ride from the mountain. It offers basic and clean rooms, a hot tub and typically the least expensive lodging option in town. For those willing to take a short drive to Vail, The Minturn Inn (approximately 20 minutes outside of Vail) is a great option that offers a small town feel many quite enjoy. For an extensive list of Vail and surrounding area properties and for last minute deals see:  vailonsale.com.
Fancy Accommodations: One of the few independently owned luxury hotels in Vail, The Sonnenalp gives guests authentic Bavarian charm, some of the best personal service in Colorado and great dining. Also see the new and consistently luxurious Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton.

10.   Telluride

Time from Denver via US-285 to 5oW:  6 hour 15 minutes (via I-70 6 hours 10 minutes)
Ticket Prices: Six Pack $450, Season Pass $1098
Size: Over 2000 acres
Claim to Fame: Set in a town that is not just a Colorado destination but a world destination – yes, it truly is that beautiful. Telluride is a town which through the careful consideration of its residents remains in practically pristine condition. The lack of crowds and lift lines on the mountain can make guests feel as if they have the whole place to themselves. Terrain exists for all levels and as an added bonus for beginners Telluride provides high mountain green runs. For the expert and advanced skiers, Telluride gives skiing and riding experiences with all the feelings of the backcountry without any of the hazards.
Affordable Accommodations: Check out The Mountain Side Inn or The Victorian Inn. Telluride Alpine Lodging also offers some affordable condos and accommodation options as does the Telluride Lodge.
Fancy Accommodations: If you are looking for higher end accommodation options consider Hotel Colombia, Lumiere Hotel, Hotel Madeline, The Inn at Lost Creek or most photographed buildings in Telluride – The New Sheridan Hotel – a building that has stood in Telluride for over a century.

11.   Breckenridge

Time from Denver via US-285 South: 2 hour 13 minutes (via I-70 1 hour 34 minutes w/o traffic)
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $74-$110, Season Pass Starts at $549
Size: 2358 acres
Claim to Fame: The biggest ski resort expansion in North America in the last 10 years will be launching in Breckenridge during the 2013/14 season when they open Peak 6.
Affordable Accommodations: Wedgewood Lodge, Skiway Lodge
Fancy Accommodations: One Ski Hill Place, a Rock Resort, Mountain Thunder Lodge

12. Crested Butte

Time from Denver via US-285 South: 4 hours 15 minutes
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass Start at $50, Four of Five Days $211 – $380, Season Pass $749
Size:1434 acres
Claim to Fame: A beautifully preserved historic mining town located a short three mile free bus ride to the mountain. Mt Crested Butte is plenty big to please skiers of every level. For those who seek the runs on the more extreme end. The Butte offers more lift access to the hardcore skiing and riding than any other resort in North America. Combine this with friendly locals and a contagiously happy town spirit, and it really is a place that shouldn’t be missed.
Affordable Accommodations: One of the few hostels available in Colorado ski resorts is the Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel. Although it is a hostel, the beds in my experience, feel like a cush hotel and the room décor feels like a simple yet thoughtful appointed B & B. Another great budget option is the Old Town Inn. Both accommodation options are located right in Crested Butte.
Fancy Accommodations: If you are looking for 13,000 square feet of Rocky Mountain bliss and have $12,500 per night to shell out, you will most definitely want to check out the Scarp Ridge Lodge. (For that price you do get your own personal chef, indoor pool, sauna, steam room and even your own private place to ski. Oh, you get the entire place to yourself, too!) Want to hear more? Read this great article about the lodge. Other higher end options to enjoy the finer side of Crested Butte include the Elevation Hotel and Spa or the West Wall Lodge. Both options are conveniently located slopeside.

If you are willing to drive a few miles on the annoying part of I-70 (less than 12 miles to be exact) here are two more options:

Steamboat

Time from Denver via Golden & Winter Park: 3 hours 21 minutes (Via I-70 2 hours 51 minutes w/o traffic)
Ticket Prices: Six Pack $499, Season Pass $1,309
Size: 2,965 acres
Claim to Fame: Well known for their epic gladed areas, Champagne Powder® and heavenly snow found in the trees.
Affordable Lodging: The Rabbit Ears Motel is good and right in town across from old town springs. Nordic lodge is in town, cheap and decent too. The Ptarmigan Inn is mountainside, not too expensive and pet friendly. The Nordic Lodge and The Alpiner Lodge are in town and also inexpensive.
Fancy Lodging: The Steamboat Grand, located on Steamboat Mountain, is consider one of the nicest hotels in the area and it comes complete with a spa for those who don’t want to ski, or for those who need it afterwards. Alpine Rose B&B, which is in downtown Steamboat Springs, is a good, quaint option as well.

Howelsen Hill

Time from Denver via Golden & Winter Park: 3 hours 21 minutes (via I-70 2 hours 51 minutes w/o traffic)
Location: Steamboat Springs
Ticket Prices: Adult Lift Pass $20, Season Pass $175
Size: 50 acres
Claim to Fame: A little place with big significance, Howelsen Hill has sent more skiers to international competitions than any other place in Canada or the US. It is Colorado’s oldest continuously running ski area (almost 100 years now), and it comes complete with the largest ski jumping complex available in North America.
Affordable lodging: The Rabbit Ears Motel is good and right in town across from old town springs. The Nordic Lodge and The Alpiner Lodge are also in town and less expensive options.
Fancy Lodging: The Steamboat Grand, located on Steamboat Mountain, is considered one of the nicest hotels in the area. It comes complete with a spa for those who don’t want to ski, or for those who need it afterwards. Alpine Rose B&B, which is in downtown Steamboat Springs, is a good, quaint option as well.

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14 thoughts on “12 Colorado Ski Resorts that Don’t Require I-70

  1. Great article – and thanks for the Leadville shout-outs!. Just an FYI….it’s Ski Cooper (Leadville) and Copper Mountain (off I-70)- you have the cooper and copper flip-flopped.

    • I love Leadville. A great little town with loads and loads of things to do. And thanks for pointing out the flip flop. MUCH appreciated. It is fixed!

  2. How does one get to Glenwood Springs via 285 in the winter? Independence Pass is closed. Is there another way?
    Thanks

    • Hi Pete,
      If you take US 285 South to 9 North to 70 West (once in Breckenridge) you miss all of the I-70 headaches (which are always between Denver and Breck) and don’t need to use Independence Pass.
      Cheers,
      Linda

  3. I’m a little confused as to how you’d get to Ski Cooper and Telluride on US 36?

    • Hi there,

      The best way to get to Ski Cooper without I-70 would be 285 South to 24 thru Leadville. You could also take 285 South to Hwy 9 through Breckenridge to I-70 West as this would allow you to avoid the stop and go between Breckenridge and Denver.

      The best way to get to Telluride without I-70 (and the prettiest way in my opinion regardless of traffic) is to take US 285 South to 50 W to Montrose and then south!

      Cheers,
      Linda

    • thanks for the correction! This is a very helpful guide, i foresee using it frequently this winter.

  4. Excellent! Thank you so much! All of these places owe you a free pass for this article!

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