The winter holidays are one of the busiest times of year for Colorado ski resorts, but at Sunlight Mountain, a friendly little stop between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, the action stops for a few special moments. This is when leaders of the Ute Indian tribe, whose ancestral home includes these slopes, bless the mountain in a traditional, moving ceremony.
That's just one reason Sunlight Mountain is considered a Colorado Gem, one of eight little ski destinations in the Rocky Mountain State known for their western authenticity, charm and beautiful terrain. Located on the roads less traveled in all corners of the state, the Colorado Gems are designated that by the serious locals who frequent their slopes, who don't need the glitz and glamour of a major ski resort, but cherish the individual and intense alpine experiences these mountains offer.
Take Arapahoe Basin, for example, known locally as A-Basin. It was developed before WWII had ended and has since become known as the soul of skiing. With a base at 10,700 feet and the summit at a woozy 13,050 feet above sea level, A-Basin offers the highest skiable terrain in North America. Located just an hour west of Denver near Keystone, A-Basin has 960 acres of skiable terrain right on the Continental Divide. Put that one on your bucket list.
What's not to love about Loveland? Just a snowbal'ls throw from A-Basin, Loveland appeals to families with beginning skiers and those who love to get rowdy on the slopes with two separate base areas. This year, there's a new warming hut on the mountain called the Ginny Lee cabin that offers incredible views and a space to meet up with friends. Loveland gets about 400 inches of snow a year - what's not to love about that!
Eldora is a short drive north of Denver, just about 20 miles from Boulder. Eldora is technically located at Nederland, famous for the Frozen Dead Guy Days in March. This is arguably one of the best children's ski schools in the mountains and with dedicated days to people of all skill levels, you never feel intimidated by the big boys when skiing Eldora.
In southern Colorado on Highway 50 between Gunnison and Salida, Monarch Mountain gets about 350 inches of Mother Nature's best powder each winter. This mountain is right on the Continental Divide and is popular for its Snowcat tours. If you want to get away from the crowds, save some money and make some friends of the local folks who make southern Colorado their home, this is the place to book your ski vacation.
If you're coming to Colorado from the west on I-70, your first stop should be Powderhorn. Located a few miles from Grand Junction, Powderhorn does not boast the beautiful evergreen trees and mountain vistas travelers expect from a Colorado ski vacation. Instead, Powderhorn is located on the Grand Mesa with views of the Brooks Cliff Mountain Range and ski runs through groves of Aspen trees. It's worth the ride just for the change of scenery.
Granby County Colorado is known as the Dude Ranch Capital of the U.S., so when snow covers the horse corrals, lace up your snowshoes and continue the exploration at Ski Granby Ranch. Or pull out your cross-country skis for a little flatland exercise in the mountains. There's also a killer terrain park here for snowboarders and with 300 days of sunshine each year, the family photos will shine in your album.
Don't confuse Ski Cooper with Copper Mountain. It happens, but the Copper is a massively developed resort and Ski Cooper is, well, the opposite. Located south of Vail (another big name) on Highway 91, Ski Cooper is exciting because of its Snowcat skiing that takes you way up into the hinterlands for some serious deep-powder experiences. Short lift lines and long runs - not only are these hallmarks at Ski Cooper, but all of the Colorado Gems.
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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