When Will Rice needs a surefire shot of fresh powder and short liftlines, he heads for the glades beneath Chair 8 at Loveland Ski Area. "The snow loads up in there," says the Denver telecommunications salesman, who's been skiing Loveland for eight years. "It's one of the most consistent stashes in Colorado." Better still, Loveland is just 53 miles from Denver, making it one of the easiest mountains to reach when a storm swoops in. "From my office," Rice says, "I can be in the parking lot and into my boots in 50 minutes."
Thanks to its deep snow (400 annual inches), steep pitches and proximity to the Mile High City, Loveland has long been a favorite of Denver-area powderhounds. It's also-ironically-the Front Range's best-kept secret: This 2,410-vertical-foot mountain straddles the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70-the main artery to the Front Range ski resorts-making it virtually impossible to miss. Often, just before they're swallowed by the maw of the 1.7-mile tunnel, bewildered skiers wonder aloud, "Which resort is that?"
For starters, it's the one with the world's highest chairlift. Dropping skiers atop the Continental Divide at 12,700 feet, Chair 9 serves hike-to bowls, chutes and cornice drops at a staggering 13,010 feet. Thanks to such terrain, Loveland has gained a reputation as a hangout for world-class athletes hoping to train outside the limelight: Freeskier Seth Morrison has been spotted charging the chutes. Among the first areas to open every season (lifts run October through May), Loveland is also a favorite late-fall training spot for Bode Miller and the U.S. Ski Team; you may even catch a glimpse of Miller gearing up for early-season World Cup races on Switchback and Richard's Run.
Hoping to lure destination visitors this season, Loveland is pitching itself as the affordable ski area with terrain to match the spendier resorts. (Lodging is in nearby Georgetown.) The Flex Pass, which allows skiers to ride for any four consecutive hours for $45, is designed for travelers who want to trade the pricier resorts for a day of no-frills skiing.
But that's always been Loveland's draw. Evidence Dave Bauers, owner of the now-defunct après-ski joint the Red Ram Restaurant and Rathskellar, who ditched Aspen and moved to Georgetown in 1995 to escape the crowds and the high property costs. He skied 100-plus days last season and couldn't be happier. "The terrain can match anything at the bigger resorts," he says. "You're not going to find a better deal anywhere in Colorado."
Georgetown, population 1,000, is the nearest lodging to Loveland, and has the boon of being one of the best-preserved former mining communities in Colorado. It's a history buff's dream town, with more than 200 historic buildings-from early prospectors' log cabins to a silver baron's Victorian mansion. And Georgetown sparkles during the holidays. Most hotels in town offer ski-and-stay packages. Check out the Georgetown Visitor's Center website, georgetowncolorado.com, for details.
Where to Stay
>Georgetown Mountain Inn This 33-room motor lodge-style inn next to the old train station offers ski-and-stay packages, lift tickets included. A short stroll down a tree-lined street from Georgetown's shops and restaurants, the inn offers a hot tub and indoor swimming pool, as well as complimentary continental breakfast. 303-569-3201; georgetownmountaininn.com
Where to Eat
Finding a good restaurant in Georgetown is easy: Head to historic 6th Street.
>The Happy Cooker Follow the aroma of fresh-baked bread to this 28-year-old Georgetown institution. Try the chicken à la king ladled over hot waffles. 303-569-3166
>The Raven Hill Mining Company The bison prime rib is so tender you won't need a knife. 303-569-2209
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2004; UPDATED DECEMBER 2009