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If you’re skiing Colorado, it’s nearly impossible to miss Loveland, which straddles the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, the main road from Denver to Vail, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and other high-profile resorts. When I-70 is jammed – which is often – it’s the rare skier who hasn’t turned to a fellow passenger and said, “Maybe we should stop and ski Loveland. Most don’t, however, which is good news for intrepid skiers who have the presence of mind to pull off the highway and sample Loveland’s 450 annual inches of snowfall and excellent bumps, cruising and hike-to terrain.
But Loveland isn’t for the faint of heart. Until Breckenridge stole the title last year, the resort boasted the highest chairlift in North America, topping out at 12,700 feet on a blustery ridge atop the Continental Divide. Since more than half the area is above treeline, face-numbing wind and toe-biting cold are common. If you visit Loveland with some frequency, you will inevitably hit a day when temperatures drop into the 25-below-zero range – without wind chill.
My come-to-Loveland moment took place three or four years ago, when it was 30 below and blowing a gale. I was dressed for high-alpine success, but my finest technical garments were no match, and when, halfway up my first chairlift ride, I started crying, my tears flash-froze. At the top, I didn’t even stop to make plans with my posse; I skied straight down to the base and ordered a hot cocoa. I plunked down at a table in the cafeteria with a retired agriculture professor from a local university, who thoughtfully helped me pry my feet out of my ski boots. Then he warmed them – in his armpits. All deference to more luxurious ski resorts, but even those that pride themselves on fluffy high-end customer service don’t provide personal foot-warmers. Count me as a lover of Loveland. I ski there every winter.
Visitors to Loveland are within easy driving distance of towns on either side of Loveland Pass – stay in Keystone or Georgetown, a historic mining hamlet along the highway. Try Georgetown Mountain Inn for lodging; I like the Red Ram for hearty food and local character.