Having insider information to the lesser known and least crowded Colorado ski resorts is paramount to having a good ski season. Luckily, I’m a Colorado snowhound and passionate snowboarder and live in a Colorado mountain town.
Planning your ski trip requires much more than looking for valet service, gourmet food or luxury resort amenities. A great family ski vacation demands reliance on insider local information to ensure you get the biggest bang for your buck. Finding the least crowded ski resorts in Colorado that offer amazing terrain, huge skiable acres, untouched fresh powder, short lift lines and fast chairlifts is the name of the game. And, FYI, the best ski areas are not always the ones with the biggest name recognition, like Aspen, Steamboat and Vail.
We all want snow, really good snow – the kind that makes for an exhilarating and exhausting day. I scoff at the majority of blogs written about what makes a resort – the hotels, the nightlife, the amenities? No, no, no. In my opinion, it’s snow, skiable acres, family friendly and budget friendly, but mostly it’s the snow.
This season, the last thing I want to do is spend my days standing in long lift lines. I’m looking for the least crowded ski resorts in Colorado. Where one good snowfall lasts for a good week to 10 days. And I know exactly where to look. Read on for the best and least crowded ski resorts in Colorado.
1. Sunlight Mountain Resort
Sunlight in Glenwood Springs, CO was our local ski area for 21 years. It is small, it is rugged and while it offers the bare minimum in amenities, the snow is almost always great, with an average 250 inches annually. In fact, Sunlight’s famous slogan is “Where the Powder Lasts For Days.” And, really, that’s all I need to know. While admittedly, it’s no Copper Mountain or Breckenridge, and it doesn’t claim to be, it has everything you need for a really great ski trip.
Sunlight Mountain Resort is also where families can enjoy amazing terrain, everything from beginner to expert, for about half the cost of the other major resorts like Aspen and Vail. And unlike both those mountains, Sunlight prides itself in having no lift lines. Sunlight has always delivered in this realm, though I have to be honest – the last ski season or two saw crowds and unprecedented lines. The fact that there are no high speed lifts at Sunlight means crowds pose a particularly unwelcome problem. But then Sunlight is the most aggressive at remaining the least expensive resort in the state.
2. Monarch Mountain
Located halfway between Salida and Buena Vista, two of our favorite Colorado mountain towns, sits Monarch Mountain. Monarch is one of a handful of thriving smaller mountains that delivers family fun without all the hype attributed to the larger ski areas. There are no comparisons between Breckenridge, arguably the most crowded ski resort in Colorado and Monarch Mountain, easily one of the least crowded ski resorts in Colorado.
Monarch is renowned for having great snow and really fun terrain to ski and snowboard. It averages about 350 inches of snow per year and the skiable terrain is 800 acres. Monarch Mountain, like all the resorts listed here, has minimal luxuries, but makes up for what it’s lacking in the lodge on the mountain. With two terrain parks, 1,635 backcountry terrain, seven lifts and enough snow to average a five-month season, Monarch may very well be your diamond in the rough. In addition, Monarch has the perfect combination of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain and a loyal clientele who are looking for a rugged natural experience, not an affluent extravaganza.
3. Silverton Mountain
When I am not riding at Copper Mountain or Steamboat Springs, I’m shredding at Silverton Mountain. It’s raw and rugged and extraordinarily epic. And it is hands down the least crowded ski resort in Colorado.
Silverton is all thrills and absolutely no frills. There is one chairlift that takes you up the mountain where you will find yourself surrounded by amazing runs in every direction. Silverton is not a family resort unless your family consists of expert skiers and riders. This obviously contributes to its status as THE most uncrowded Colorado ski resort!
Silverton doesn’t operate like your normal resort either. At certain times of year it provides guided-only skiing with minimal numbers (8) of skiers and riders, similar to a cat or heli operation. At other times of the year, late in the season, Silverton Mountain allows unguided skiing similar to a normal ski resort. Please note that Avalanche gear is required to ride the lift at all times.
Silverton is home to bowls, chutes, cliffs and wonderfully rugged, natural terrain in every direction. The views are stunning as Silverton is the highest and steepest ski resort in all of North America. Its peak elevation is at 13,487 feet!
Aside from avalanche mitigation work, the mountain is left completely untouched and in its natural state. Check the website for scheduling.
The coolest thing about Silverton Mountain is that it is the only place to heli-ski in Colorado. Heli-skiing is at the top of our bucket list. We are just waiting until more of our kids can join us!
4. Powderhorn Mountain Resort
Powderhorn Mountain Resort sits on the edge of Grand Mesa, outside of Grand Junction, CO. Grand Mesa is notably the world’s largest flat-topped mountain in the world. Due to the fact that Grand Junction has become wildly popular with mountain bikers, Powderhorn has positioned itself as a year-round resort with lift-served downhill mountain biking on Grand Mesa all summer long.
But Powderhorn has gained my respect for winter skiing. In fact, we are purchasing season passes here this winter. Why? Because it’s got great terrain! Powderhorn brings it home with a whopping 1,600 skiable acres and the fact that 30 percent of the mountain is expert terrain. This makes my heart sing. In addition, Powderhorn has three terrain parks, four chair lifts, and on average, Powderhorn enjoys 250 inches of beautiful light and dry Colorado powder.
Powderhorn is a family resort, for sure, and definitely one of the least crowded ski resorts in Colorado. And, Powderhorn has one additional amenity that makes it popular even among those who don’t ski or ride – it has a tubing hill!
5. Ski Cooper
Cooper is definitely one of the top contenders in the least crowded ski resorts in the Colorado gang. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, close to Leadville, it offers amazing views of some of the highest peaks in the state.
It is an ideal location for families looking for a genuine Colorado ski vacation. Regardless of the time or year, or whether Colorado is having a great snow year or not, Ski Cooper has snow that hasn’t been touched.
Ski Cooper is always uncrowded, which means the lift lines are practically non-existent. There is no pretension or haughtiness and absolutely no marketing. Ski Cooper has reasonable lift ticket prices and it is a great family resort!
With 470 skiable acres and 260 inches of snow annually, Ski Cooper is pure authentic down to earth skiing and boarding. Now, if you are looking for more adventure, Ski Cooper also offers snowcat skiing tours on Chicago Ridge. Here you will enjoy long, epic runs on 2,600 acres of wide-open powder bowls and glades.
6. Loveland Ski Area
Loveland isn’t exactly small, with 1,800 lift-served skiable acres, nor is it unknown. In fact, it’s uber popular among those who live in Denver. However, the crowds are mitigated by Loveland’s fast lifts and skilled lift operators. Plus with an average 422 inches of snowfall each year, Loveland always delivers.
True, Loveland is a big draw for the 303’s – those living in the Denver Metro area, as it’s a mere 53 miles from the sprawling urban city. And while, it’s not the least crowded ski resort in Colorado, it does boast the most snowfall of any Summit County or Front Range resort, including Winter Park.
The resort is comprised of two different areas. Loveland Valley serves beginners and beginners alone. With its own lift and gentle terrain, Loveland Valley allows beginners to hone their skills away from the more advanced skiers and boarders.
Loveland Basin is the main area and offers a wide range of terrain from wide-open cruisers, trees and bumps to open bowls. Looking for adventure? Take Lift 9 to The Ridge at 12,700 feet. The Ridge provides intermediate and advanced skiers and riders with a variety of challenging trails. With 480 acres to choose from right off the lift, 100 hikeable acres and free snowcat rides to some of Loveland’s most exhilarating terrain, The Ridge offers a thrilling experience.
Loveland, known as one of the highest Colorado ski resorts, with a summit at 13, 010 feet, it crosses the Continental Divide and the views are outstanding.
7. Arapahoe Basin
Known as the Legend, Arapahoe Basin, affectionately called A-Basin by locals and visitors alike, is hands down the Colorado ski resort with the longest season. With skiing and snowboarding through late spring and early summer, it’s often the hangout for dedicated riders and skiers into June. And, not only that, A-Basin is often the first Colorado Ski Resort to open for the season, sometimes as early as mid-October, typically winning the #racetoopen battle amongst Colorado ski resorts.
A-Basin has a reputation for some gnarly runs. With only 3 percent of the resort serving beginners, A-Basin is more of an intermediate to expert mountain. Skiers and boarders alike challenge themselves in all the resort has to offer. Open bowls, chutes and super steep moguls give visitors an experience that is hard to beat. If you get a chance to visit, be sure to check out the uber-challenging Palvinci Trail.
The terrain, the people and its status as one of the least crowded ski resorts in Colorado, all make A-Basin a destination. A-Basin has 1,400 skiable acres, averages around 350 inches of snow per year, and has three terrain parks that are, notably, some of the best in the state.
Additionally, A-Basin is making a name for itself as a summer destination, as it offers everything from disc golf and hiking to scenic chair lift rides to its aerial adventure park. Needless to say, Arapahoe Basin is a year-round resort that everyone should make the opportunity to enjoy!
I think it’s worth mentioning the Epic Pass here as it is a gateway to Vail Resorts. And while these resorts are not the least crowded ski resorts in Colorado, the pass is a great deal if you enjoy winter travel for skiing and riding. For $323 per pass, you have access to Keystone, Crested Butte, Beaver Creek, Vail and Breckenridge in Colorado. The pass is also valid at Steven’s Pass in Washington, Lake Tahoe resorts (Heavenly, North Star and Kirkwood) in California, and Whistler in Canada. In addition, there are numerous Vail Resorts throughout the country as well as some international destinations.