Weekender: Spring Skiing in Summit County, Colorado
Published: April 2009
By Meg Lukens Noonan
Fluffy powder, peaked-roof chalets, wicked margaritas, grazing elk, off-piste skiing
No region gets into spring skiing with more uninhibited zeal than Colorado's Summit County. As temperatures soar into the forties, tans deepen, moguls soften, and snow lovers take to the slopes in beachwear and boots. Arapahoe Basin often keeps its lifts — and skiers' adrenaline — running through Independence Day, while the more upscale resorts at Breckenridge and Keystone stay open well into April. After exhilarating days on the mountain, the revelry continues in A-Basin (as locals affectionately call it) at the Beach, a flat patch between the parking lot and the lifts where barbecues are a daily ritual, and down the valley in the pubs, cafés, and fine restaurants of modern Keystone and historic Breckenridge. So grab your skis, dust off the hibachi, and hit the road; it's springtime in Summit County.
Where to Stay
Ski Tip Lodge 764 Montezuma Rd., Keystone; 970/496-4950, fax 970/496-4940; doubles $100—$175. It's hard to imagine a more perfect ski lodge. In the 1940's, this former stagecoach stop on the banks of the Snake River was the house of ski pioneer Max Dercum, who founded Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. While the 11 guest rooms (some with shared baths) are nothing fancy—faded quilts, no phones or TV's—the inn itself, with its intimate, antique-filled sitting rooms, hand-hewn beams, worn wood floors, and rough-plaster walls, drips with nostalgia and unselfconscious charm. Après-ski, guests gather by the fire and take meals in the highly praised dining room (reservations required).
Keystone Resort Lodges at River Run Hwy. 6, Keystone; 800/222-0188 or 970/496-4242, fax 970/496-4343; doubles $152—$467. Yes, its faux-frontier architecture is Disneyesque, but don't let that put you off. A pedestrian promenade lined with shops, restaurants, and galleries makes this a convenient place to stay, as do the heated outdoor pools and on-site gondola. You can book anything from a studio to a deluxe four-bedroom unit in one of eight mammoth timber-and-stone lodges.
Keystone Lodge Keystone Village, Hwy. 6, Keystone; 800/222-0188 or 970/496-4242, fax 970/496-4343; doubles $167—$300. If you want location without cutesiness, search no further. The plain cement block isn't much to look at, but inside, most of the 152 spacious rooms have unobstructed views of Keystone Lake and Village. Guests can take a shuttle bus to the slopes at Keystone (just five minutes away) and A-Basin, and also have access to the adjacent Keystone Fitness Center and its heated outdoor pool.
The Pines Hwy. 6, Keystone; 800/222-0188 or 970/496-4242, fax 970/496-4343; one bedrooms $147—$358. Just off Highway 6 in Keystone's Forest Neighborhood, this comfortable condo complex offers good, affordable lodging. Since it's not close to much, you'll have to shuttle to the area's slopes and shops. The accommodations run from studios to three-bedroom units (144 units total); all have hot tubs and/or outdoor pools nearby.
Allaire Timbers Inn 9511 Hwy. 9, Breckenridge; 800/624-4904 or 970/453-7530, fax 970/453-8699; doubles $145—$250. Hearty breakfasts and après-ski drinks are served fireside in a soaring two-story great room that's the centerpiece of the angular, window-filled lodge. Each of the 10 airy guest rooms has a handcrafted log bed, private bath, and small deck with glorious views of the Ten Mile mountain range. The two suites come with in-room fireside whirlpool baths. There's also a hot tub on the inn's sundeck, a quiet reading loft, and a slate-floor sunroom. With all these adult accoutrements, it's no wonder kids under 12 aren't allowed.
Lodge & Spa at Breckenridge 112 Overlook Dr., Breckenridge; 800/736-1607 or 970/453-9300, fax 970/453-0625; doubles $165—$275. This cliffside stone-and-log lodge is a few miles out of town, but the dramatic views of the Hoosier Pass, Breckenridge trails, Ten Mile range, or Mount Baldy make up for the slight inconvenience. (Be sure to request a room without a parking lot vista.) Each of the 45 rooms gets the full antlers-everywhere, Old West treatment, while modern amenities abound in the modest spa, with its massage and therapy rooms, aerobics and yoga classes, small indoor pool, and well-equipped weight-lifting room.
Little Mountain Lodge 98 Sunbeam Dr., Breckenridge; 800/468-7707 or 970/453-1969, fax 970/453-1919; doubles $160—$230. Built in 1994 on a quiet side road just off Breckenridge's busiest thoroughfare, this whitewashed-log B&B is appealingly casual; staying here feels as if friends lent you the keys to their mountain home. The décor veers into the hyper-cute arena (cowboy theme in one room, fly-fishing in another), but families with teenagers will feel at ease playing pool, watching movies in the basement rec room, or hanging out by the communal fire. (Children under 12 are not permitted.) Rooms are bright and spacious; some have whirlpool baths, fireplaces, and private decks. A complimentary shuttle brings guests the few blocks to "Breck"'s downtown area and ski slopes.
Corral at Breckenridge 700 Broken Lance Dr., Breckenridge; 888/609-9600 or 970/547-9600, fax 970/547-9275; doubles $150—$345. The peaked-roof chalet, within walking distance of the shops and bars on Main Street, stands out in a sea of nondescript complexes. Inside, the comfortable condominiums have gas fireplaces, high ceilings, whirlpool baths, full kitchens, washer/dryer units, and small decks off the living room.
Getting There and Around
Denver International Airport has daily flights to and from most major cities. To reach Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, take I-70 west for about 100 miles and then follow signs (Breckenridge at exit 203, to Highway 9 south; Keystone at exit 205, to Highway 6 east; Arapahoe Basin just past Keystone on Highway 6). If you're heading to Arapahoe and the weather is clear, take the scenic hairpins of Loveland Pass (exit 216 off I-70).
Resort Express (800/334-7433; $49) runs a shuttle service from the Denver airport to Summit County resorts. For travel within the county, hop the free Summit Stage (970/668-0999), which makes stops at all major resorts, or the free Keystone Resort bus (970/468-2316), which leaves four Keystone locations for the Arapahoe Basin every half-hour.
Where to Eat
Alpenglow Stube Outpost Lodge, North Peak, Keystone; 970/496-4132; dinner for two $160. Start with two gondola rides up Keystone's 11, 444-foot North Peak, add a six-course New American— meets—Bavarian meal, and mix in a blazing fireplace, and the result is magic. If a heavy dinner seems like overkill, go for Sunday brunch instead.
Café Alpine 106 E. Adams Ave., Breckenridge; 970/453-8218; dinner for two $100. The pretty yellow and green Victorian sits just off Breckenridge's frenetic main street, but the inside is calm and sophisticated. The menu changes daily, but it's hard to go wrong here. Past highlights have been Rocky Mountain trout meunière with crisp okra, and capellini-wrapped walleyed pike with grilled portobello mushrooms. After 5 p.m., whet your appetite with seared tuna sashimi from the tapas menu.
Keystone Ranch Keystone Golf Course, Soda Ridge Rd., Keystone; 970/496-4161; dinner for two $144. Though it's in a 1930's log homestead, the Keystone Ranch is anything but rustic. Oriental carpets, antiques, and fine china set the stage for an elegant six-course meal, including Arctic caribou over foie gras, and roast rack of Colorado lamb with minted couscous. While you have dessert in the parlor by the colossal two-story stone fireplace, keep an eye out for grazing elk.
Ski Tip Lodge Montezuma Rd., Keystone; 970/496-4950; dinner for two $116. The menu changes every day in the intimate dining room of the town's best B&B. The four-course dinner starts with hearty soups and breads and continues with New American entrées: hickory-smoked tenderloin, and prairie quail stuffed with foie gras.
Blue Moose 540 S. Main St., Breckenridge; 970/453-4859; breakfast for two $10. What every ski town needs is a Blue Moose—a no-nonsense spot where unflappable waitresses play to stereotype. They never fail to spot a nearly empty coffee cup while cheerfully slinging eggs, sausage, and plate-sized pancakes at gleeful customers.
Breckenridge Brewery 600 S. Main St., Breckenridge; 970/453-1550; dinner for two $30. A lively pub with a crowded bar that gets rolling just after the lifts close and is still going strong well past midnight. Have a rich, sweet Avalanche Brew—one of six beers made on the premises—along with your burger or buffalo wings.
6th Alley Bar At Arapahoe Basin base lodge; 970/468-0718. On a sunny spring afternoon, there's nothing finer than sipping a cold one on the deck at A-Basin's wildly popular bar. Compare stories of killer bumps with your fellow skiers (in shorts and T-shirts), and then hop a shuttle safely back to your hotel.
Snake River Saloon 23074 Hwy. 6, Keystone; 970/468-2788. A classic lounge with rock-and-roll and blues bands, a pool table, and draft beer. It's a requisite first stop for carloads of revved-up, sunburned yahoos coming down off a long, hard day at A-Basin.
Kickapoo Tavern River Run Village, Keystone; 970/468-4601. Ribs, burgers, nachos, and Colorado microbrews are all served on the deck, where checking out the beachwear-clad skiers and riders is a local sport.
Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant & Cantina 22869 Hwy. 6, Keystone; 970/262-9185; also at 600 S. Park Ave., Breckenridge; 970/453-2071. Both the Keystone and Breckenridge locations hum at happy hour, when free snacks are accompanied by wicked margaritas.
What Else to Do
When your knees can take no more moguls, work on other parts of your body. Summit County has two spectacular indoor public recreation centers: one in Breckenridge (880
Airport Rd.; 970/453-1734; admission $10), the other in Silverthorne (430 Rainbow Dr.; 970/262-7370; admission $8). Breckenridge has climbing walls and tennis courts; both have gyms, lap pools, baby-sitting services, and classes for adults and children.
The Breckenridge Ice Arena (189 Boreas Pass Rd.; 970/547-9974; admission $5), opened last July and has indoor and outdoor ice rinks. Sign up for skating lessons at any level, or just slap on some rentals ($3 per session) and show your stuff during open ice time.
Five chairlifts carry skiers and snowboarders to wide-open, above-timberline terrain, much of which can be handled only by strong intermediate skiers. Experts traverse "off-piste" to reach the area's toughest skiing, on the sheer East Wall. That said, novices will find enough terrain off the one beginners-only lift and the Molly Hogan hill to keep busy for days. Since there are no accommodations at A-Basin, you'll find mostly locals— and die-hards who want to hit the highest skiable slopes in North America.
Daily lift tickets: Adults $44 ($29 after April 23); kids 6—14 $15. (Buy one adult ticket and you'll get one free kids ticket free.) Open until July 4, weather permitting. For more information, call 888/272-7246 or 970/468-0718.
Owned by Vail Resorts, Keystone is the antithesis of Arapahoe. For one, it's got lodging; beyond that, the Keystone takes pride in keeping its facilities up-to-date. The sprawling, ever-evolving modern resort is especially popular with families that appreciate the fine ski school, the cruisable, well-groomed trails, and the ease of condo-by-the-slopes living.
Keystone has three separate mountains, one behind the other; the terrain becomes more challenging the farther back you go. In high season (November through late March), the resort also has the largest nighttime skiing operation in Colorado (with 235 acres open until 8 p.m.), a lit tubing park, and a five-acre skating pond.
Besides the excellent terrain, if you stay at a Keystone property, you'll get free one-day lift tickets to ski Arapahoe Basin. You'll also get two Mountain Passports, good for complimentary snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, yoga classes, and other activities before April 16; after that, through May 24, the passports can be used for boat, bike, and in-line skate rentals, tennis clinics, and wine-appreciation seminars, all free of charge.
Lift tickets: Adults $57 ($35 after April 1, $31 after April 15); kids 5—12 $2 ($17 after April 1). Open until April 29, weather permitting. For more information, call 800/468-5004 or 970/496-2316.
Twelve miles down the road from Keystone, Breck, is one of Colorado's most popular ski areas. The highly walkable, historic mining town, founded in 1859, is jammed with taverns, casual restaurants, galleries, and T-shirt shops, all housed in colorfully painted Victorian buildings. Breck has four skiable mountains suitable for every level, as well as an excellent ski school. The resort is favored by snowboarders, and stages world-class boarding events throughout the season.
On April 1, Breck begins Spring Massive, a new two-week festival. Concerts, bump-skiing competitions, and snowboarding exhibitions are scheduled; special lodging packages are available. The events conclude on April 14 with the grueling three-stage Imperial Challenge, whose participants bike and hike from town all the way up Peak 8 (13,000 feet), then ski or board down to the finish line.
Lift tickets: Adults $57 ($35 after April, $31 after April 15); kids 5—12 $17. Open until April 22, weather permitting. For more information, call 800/427-8308 or 970/453-5000.