Outdoors

Colorado’s Coolest Old Ski Towns

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Summit County, Colorado

Image: Shutterstock/IDAK

Colorado’s Coolest Old Ski Towns

It’s not easy to avoid long lift lines and commercial flair at ski resorts across Colorado. But if you’re after that authentic, back-to-basics charm of yesteryear, you’re in for some luck. A few places throughout the state have maintained that hard to come by, homey feeling that seems all but lost in modern times.

Check out these old school ski towns from around Colorado. From the southwest all the way to the north, a great place to hang this winter is just around the corner!

Leadville

Leadville’s small town charm isn’t the only thing that keeps skiers coming back for more each winter. The town’s resort, Ski Cooper, is a one-stop-shop for skiers and snowboarders of any level. It’s notorious intermediate runs and wide, sweeping cruisers are great for those looking for an all around casual good time. A few challenging mogul runs round off Ski Cooper’s set up. Add in short lift lines and access to powdery backcountry and you’ve got the perfect old school skier’s dream. Ski Cooper can back that claim up, as it’s been open for seventy years.

To get to Ski Cooper from Leadville, head north on Highway 24 until you reach Tennessee Pass Road. Turn right and you’ve made it.

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado, USA

Image: Shutterstock/PHB.cz (Richard Semik)

Silverton

The sheer elevation of Southwest Colorado’s towns gives the powder-hungry skier a distinct advantage over other choices around the state. Silverton, a preserved 1800’s mining town, has everything you’d ever need for a serious adrenaline-pumping weekend in deep snow. Silverton Mountain is famous for heli-skiing the glorious backcountry terrain, but there’s also a chairlift to access slightly calmer runs. Be warned, the mountain definitely isn’t groomed nor really marked, so only advanced and expert skiers should venture there. As their website claims, Silverton Mountain is “All thrills, no frills.”

Getting to Silverton is a bit of a feat in the dead of winter. To arrive from the south, head north on Highway 550 from Durango. It’s important to note that Highway 550 is tricky to navigate during/after snowstorms and is often closed over Red Mountain Pass. Check road conditions ahead of time. If you’re coming from the north, head south on Highway 550 from Montrose. Once in Silverton, drive north on 110 until you reach the ski area.

Silverton also has an in-town ski hill, Kendall Mountain, for a cheaper, less death-defying experience. The mountain is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only.

Pagosa Springs

A hidden gem in southern Colorado, Pagosa Springs has serious appeal for winter visitors. The town is not only next door to world-class natural hot springs, but is also the home to a ski area that receives the most snow per year than any other resort in Colorado. Wolf Creek is notorious in the skiing and snowboarding community for its intermediate and expert terrain, which is often made more fun with giant dumps of fluffy powder. The best part? After a long day on the mountain, head back into town for a dip in the springs-—your life might just be changed for the better!

Pagosa Springs is easily reached from the east, southwest, and northwest. From Durango, head east on Highway 160, which runs right through town. Keep going on 160 to reach the ski area. From Alamosa, take Highway 160 west. You’ll reach Wolf Creek before hitting Pagosa Springs. From Santa Fe, take Highway 285 until the split with 84. Follow 84 north to Chama, where you should turn west on 64. At the next 84 split, follow 84 north into Pagosa Springs. From there, follow Highway 160 to Wolf Creek.

Steamboat Springs

This internationally-recognized ski resort town has a little secret that not many tourists are aware of. Howelsen Hill Ski Area is perfectly perched right inside town, making it the epitome of epicness for anyone who wants that small town local hill vibe. It’s a unique place to ride, offering up several ski jumps to test out—the largest one is more than 114 meters. But ski jumping isn’t the only element that entices locals to choose Howelsen over the glitzier resort—the classic runs and Nordic trails have produced more than seventy Olympians throughout the years. If the hill is good enough for Olympic-level athletes, rest assured it’s equally perfect for novices and intermediates alike.

To reach the base of Howelsen Hill Ski Area, simply turn right at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and 6th Street. Follow 6th until the intersection with Yampa Street, where you will turn left. Head right on 5th Street for one block (over the river) and you’ve made it!

Beautiful and very high peaks in Colorado, USA

Image: Shutterstock/Eunika Sopotnicka

Durango

Durango is everyone’s favorite summertime hangout, but did you know it’s also a great ski town come winter? With access to three awesome ski areas, the snow scene in Durango is no joke. In town, you’ll find Chapman Hill on Florida Road. This extremely steep run is actually the side of a mesa that overlooks the town. You might be surprised to learn that a university rests atop that mesa. The second closest ski area is known as Hesperus, just west of town on Highway 160. Hesperus’ most notable feature is the plethora of bright lights for night skiing, where you can mix and mingle with the friendly locals. Durango’s most famous ski area is Purgatory, located north of town on Highway 550. It’s an incredibly family-friendly spot, but also has challenging runs for intermediate skiers.

To get to Durango from Albuquerque, head northwest on Highway 550 from Bernalillo. It’s as simple as that.

Mandy Burkholder is a travel, adventure, and outdoor writer who honed her craft in the foothills of the La Plata Mountains of Southwest Colorado. After a stint in the Swiss Alps, she now resides in Tennessee. Follow her on twitter — @mandyburkhold3r