Introduction to Loveland Ski Area
For many, Loveland is a place they simply cruise right by on their way up to Summit County or Vail, casting a quick look to either side of I-70 before disappearing into the Eisenhower Tunnel and wondering where the hotels and restaurants are. They may have heard that Loveland is too windy, too cold, or just doesn’t have enough to offer to make it worth stopping.
Today, my friend, I am going to take a match and light the fuse on those ridiculous notions because if you are a serious skier or boarder that rides at an advanced level, the truth is that there is no better place on Colorado’s Front Range than Loveland Ski Area. But before you buy that more-than-affordable ($389 USD) season pass, it is imperative that you ask yourself a couple questions.
First, are you a park rat? If so, keep driving. Keystone isn’t much further.
Second, how do you feel about wide open bowls, steep tree lines sunk in powder, and absolutely zero lift lines? Maybe a snow cat ride to a slick cornice drop from the top of the continental divide at nearly 13,000 feet? If this sounds like heaven, then you have found your spot.
Loveland Ski Area first opened with a single rope tow in 1936. Since then, it has grown to include 10 lifts across the two separate areas of Loveland Basin and Loveland Valley. A free bus runs between the two areas. They average 422 inches of snow per year. Loveland Basin, the main ski area, has a vertical drop of 2,210 feet. There are 1,800 skiable acres at Loveland Ski Area, all of which can be accessed with one lift ticket that will run you anywhere from $53-$65, depending on the time of year. Compared with the $149 that spots like Vail and Steamboat are charging, this place is a bargain.
Getting to Loveland Ski Area
Loveland Ski Area is literally situated right on I-70- it actually passes over the highway as drivers head through the Eisenhower Tunnel underneath. Fly into Denver International Airport, from there it is about an hour’s drive. The highway will take you from the airport right to the ski area. Simply follow the signs to merge from Pena Boulevard onto I-70 as you leave the airport.
All parking at Loveland is free. As it is just a ski area and not a ‘resort’ per say, there are no hotels on site. The town of Georgetown is about ten minutes down the highway towards Denver, and the Summit County towns of Frisco, Silverthorne, and Dillon are on the other side of the tunnel. All have lodging options, which we’ll discuss later.
Where the locals are riding
On a powder day, locals will be crowding round the base of Lift 9 anxiously awaiting its opening. This lift takes riders up to 12,700’ and services black and double black bowls and runs. Hiking is accessible by heading skiers right off the lift and traversing across the top of Super Bowl towards the adjacent peak. Even if you decide to take that hike, the runs will keep you in-bounds and put you back at either the top of the Ptarmigan Lift or Lift 6.
As you approach the top of Lift 9, look to the right. You may see a bright red snow cat running up the hill towards the top of Golden Bear peak. If the cat is running, skiers and riders can take it up to terrain not accessed by any of the lifts.
A separate pass is required to ride the cat- it’s free, but you have to sign a waiver at the lift ticket office and have them print one out for you. Some of the best terrain on the mountain is accessed by the snow cat. Beware- there is nothing easy coming out of the cat runs.
The terrain is steep (by Colorado standards, anyway), challenging, and often requires dropping directly off of a cornice into the run. Basically, what you’re getting here is lift and cat accessed backcountry- the best of both worlds. Typically, the runs accessed by the cat will put you onto the far north and east part of the ski area. Plan on doing your next run up Lift 8. To get back to the base area, you will have to head down below Lift 8 on a challenging and often rocky trail that ends at a walking tunnel. Take the tunnel underneath the highway and you’ll find yourself back at the main lodge.
Read also: Things to bring on your ski trip
More great expert terrain is accessed from the top of Lift 1. Head skiers left and check out Spillway, Avalanche Bowl, and Over The Rainbow. For those less advanced, many of the runs off Lifts 1, 2, and 6 may be more your style. Also, check out Loveland Valley- the runs are mellow. There are a cafeteria and bar in case you need to warm up and gain some liquid courage.
Where to Eat and Drink
On the subject of bars, Loveland has three. Two are in the main lodge in Loveland Basin. Locals and employees hang out at the Rathskellar Pub, on the bottom floor of the building. They have great bartenders and amazing Bloody Mary’s made with infused vodkas. There is also a horseshoe bar on the main floor, in the cafeteria area.
The cafeteria is separated into two parts. The Loveland Deli and Coffeeshop has decent calzones and sandwiches, while the Grill side has the standard fare of burgers, chicken fingers, etc. As always, its ski resort food- overpriced for the quality. When heading back to Denver there are several great spots to grab a bite.
Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs is a Colorado Legend. The serve the famous Mountain Pie, which is a pizza surrounded by thick, breadstick-like crust that dips perfectly in honey. This is a must do for any first time Colorado visitors.
Lucha Cantina in Georgetown serves Tex-Mex and BBQ in an old restaurant building with a rathskellar pub (German for basement bar) underneath. The place is a bit of both past and present- old building reminiscent of taverns from the golden era of mining in Colorado mixed with modern, trendy food and cocktails.
If heading west to Summit County, Backcountry Brewery does a great job of taking traditional pub fare and pizza and kicking it up with Colorado flavors and spice. If you’re feeling balls-y, try the Rocky Mountain Oysters (hint: they don’t come from the sea). Their beer isn’t bad, either- I love the Colorado Trail Ale and Ptarmigan Pilsner.
Where to stay
Idaho Springs has some cheap hotels and is about a 30-minute drive from the mountain. It is possible to book the H&H Motor Lodge for under $60 if your timing is impeccable. Georgetown has a few hotels as well, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything under $100. Summit County has more hotels than is possible to count for all kinds of budgets- I recommend staying there because of the accessibility to après-ski action and nightlife. The Snowshoe Motel has decent rates.
Where to party
Summit County is party central year round. If live music is your thing, The Barkley Ballroom in Frisco is the place to be. Here you’ll find touring and local acts playing to a young and often raucous crowd and solid drink specials.
This is Colorado, after all, so take a night and check out the Brews, Booze, and Buds Tour. Microbreweries, craft distilleries, and that famous CO bud- there is no better way to relax in Summit County.
Loveland Ski Area attracts outdoorsy types more so than tourists planning to spend most of the day drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace or flashy bros who spend all day riding handrails in the terrain park. Be prepared to have lift ride conversations about the mountains, the powder stashes, and the Grateful Dead cover band playing at Barkley’s that night and don’t be afraid to nip off a flask of whiskey. Dress warm- Loveland does get windy and cold especially once you get above tree line. Having face cover is essential.
Loveland Ski Area is my favorite spot on Colorado’s front range because the people are friendly, the drinks are moderately priced, there is no douchey vibe, and I know there will be powder to ride. Even if it’s just from the overnight wind blowing snow over yesterday’s tracks. The fact that it’s so close to Denver is an added bonus.