Here in Denver, we can see the white-capped peaks beckoning from the west, and some of us already waxed up our planks to hit first chair on opening day at Arapahoe Basin back on Friday, October 21, the official kickoff to Colorado’s 2016-’17 ski and snowboard season.
But just as we were going to press for this year's Edge, our annual guide to Colorado's ski resorts (which you'll find in this week's print issue), we learned about some opening-day delays due to unseasonably warm weather. We're keeping an eye on news from resorts and will roll out opening-day information as we get it. Fortunately, we have at least one opening today: Loveland. Continue reading for what's new at the resort this year, insider info, how and where to splurge and some ski-bum tips.
LOVELAND SKI AREA
What’s new: In the spring, look for a new guided backcountry skiing and split-boarding experience offered in partnership with the Loveland Ski Patrol in the area known as Dry Gulch. “We have about 1,200 acres back there that are within our permit area but outside of our current ski-area boundary,” says Loveland spokesman John Sellers. “We’re working towards offering a full-day snow-cat experience in that area some time in the future, and we see this as a step in that direction, so we’ll be offering day trips from the base area that will take guests through the backcountry access gate near the bottom of Lift 8 and into mostly gladed terrain on lower-angle slopes that won’t require avalanche mitigation.” Still, Sellers emphasizes, it will be a true backcountry experience, and will include some training in the use of avalanche beacons, shovels and probes, as well as terrain assessment and route planning. “It’s really designed for the beginner-to-intermediate backcountry traveler,” Sellers says. Pricing will be announced during the season; packages will include lunch and a bus shuttle back to the base area.
Signature experience: Sign a waiver at the base-area ticket office to pick up a free access pass to ride the Ridge Cat, which picks up near the top of Chair 9 Wednesday through Sunday (conditions permitting), then prowls along the Continental Divide to save skiers and riders a hike to some of the ski area’s most difficult terrain.
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Insider info: “We serve a full-service breakfast starting at 7 a.m., so get up here early to avoid the traffic, grab some breakfast, shred hard for four hours, and be back on the road in time to beat the traffic home,” suggests Sellers. On powder days, chat up the lift operators and ski patrollers for up-to-the-minute news on lift openings, because the snowiest areas of the mountain — under Chair 8 and Chair 9 — can also be the windiest.
Splurge: As the closest major ski area to Denver, Loveland has a well-earned reputation as a doable day trip, but when the snow is right and the I-70 traffic is wrong, Sellers suggests making it an overnight adventure. “We’ve teamed up with lodging properties in Clear Creek and Summit counties to provide Front Range skiers and riders with amazing deals on ski-and-stay packages,” Sellers says. “Packages start at $160 per night and include lodging and lift tickets for two adults, so you can afford to spend a night in the mountains and avoid the morning traffic.”
Ski bum tips: Brown-bag it or set up a tailgate grill to eat lunch in the free base-area parking lot — you won’t be the only one — or make your way to the cafeteria, which boasts some of the lowest food prices of any ski area in the state. Can’t afford a season pass? Sellers recommends Loveland’s 4-Paks. “Four transferrable lift tickets for $139 is Colorado’s best lift-ticket offer, the cheapest and most flexible option,” he says. For straight-up freebies, Sellers suggests volunteering to help the Loveland Ski Club and Alpine Race Academy on training and race days in exchange for lift tickets.
Drink local: For a mid-day break, don’t miss the on-mountain warming cabins, including the decidedly vintage E-Tow Cabin, built in the 1940s and still heated by a wood-burning stove, or the more modern Ginny Lee Cabin, built in 2014 under Lift 8 and named for Loveland matriarch Virginia Frances Lee Upham, who died in 2015 at the age of 91. End your day at the Rathskeller, an iconic ski bar at the base area offering daily drink specials, custom cocktails and Pine Bough Ale, a signature brew from Idaho Springs’s Tommyknocker Brewery using pine needles collected from the ski area. The bar hosts live music every weekend in the spring.