Skiing is chock full of soul and that rich culture is no better reflected than in the small, independent ski areas that dot the mountains of America. And what better way to experience these down-home ski communities than by road tripping? Load up your snacks and supplies, grab your favorite ski allies and steal away to Denver, Colorado, where the ski road trip of your life awaits. You’ll start at Colorado’s Loveland Ski Area ticking off five more independent gems before ending at Utah’s Powder Mountain.
Now, remember, you’re driving through the Rocky Mountains in the winter, so you’ll need a vehicle, and most importantly, tires, up to the task of navigating wintry mountain passes across your roughly 650-mile road trip. Anyone who’s slid and slipped up and over Loveland Pass can tell you it’s no treat. We recommend slapping on a pair of winter tires from Nokian Tyres to give the maximum grip, stability and durability possible along your drive.
From Denver, head west on Interstate 70 toward those pointy things erupting from the Earth. About an hour of drive time will deposit you at Loveland Ski Area, a true gem nestled along the Continental Divide. Pull into the ski area’s modest main parking lot and you’re immediately smacked in the face by The Luv’s down-home vibes, welcoming attitude and lack of crowds.
If you’ve got time—and you should remember those uncrowded lift lines?—pop into the Loveland Grill and enjoy a breakfast sandwich before grabbing a chair on Chet’s Dream. Warm-up with a high octane plunge down Richard’s before linking up with Chair 2 to start exploring the upper mountain. Runs off of Chair 6 and Ptarmigan are more laid back while thrill-seekers can head up Chair 9 to take on the steeps. Don’t forget to hitch a ride on the free Ridge Cat to access all the high alpine terrain Loveland has to offer.
When you’re through at Loveland, hop back in the car and make the short drive up the twists and turns of Loveland Pass. Don’t worry, you can save the adrenaline rush for the slopes thanks to your dependable Nokian Tyres.
On the other side of the pass lies Arapahoe Basin, known as “A-Bay” to the locals. This ski area offers steep skiing in a mostly alpine environment that receives nearly 350 inches of average annual snowfall. With your ski legs warmed up, you’ll want to immediately hop on the Pallavacini Lift and dive into steep tree skiing that’ll have your legs begging for a breather. If you’re feeling extreme, head down The Steep Gullies, previously backcountry terrain that’ll guarantee to get the blood flowing. Just remember, The Steep Gullies require a 30-minute hike out back to the lift. If you want a true high alpine experience, head to the top of Lewanee Mountain and hike the East Wall for a wide variety of chutes to choose from or drop off the backside for wide-open descents in Montezuma Bowl. When you’ve skied to your heart’s content, spend the night in Silverthorne, where plenty of local haunts are sure to replenish your energy for the rest of your trip.
Time to head further west on Interstate 70 toward Colorado’s Western Slope. Enjoy the smooth ride and stability provided by your Nokian Tyres on your 115-mile drive to Sunlight Mountain Resort. Located between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, Sunlight is all about maximizing your ski time. Sunlight offers a full day of skiing for about half the price of its mega-resort siblings with free parking, quick lift access and a wonderful lack of lift lines. All 67 of Sunlight’s trails lead right back to the lodge, giving you 730 skiable acres and a 2,000 vertical foot drop at your fingertips.
Back on I-70, you’ll drive to one of the more unique ski areas on your road trip itinerary, Powderhorn Mountain Resort. Powderhorn is situated atop the Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain in the world. Enjoy panoramic views of cliffs, mesas, canyons and endless valleys while tackling some of the best glade skiing in the state. Colorado wine country is a mere 45 minutes away, too, making the apres experience that much sweeter.
Back on the open road, it’s time to cross over into a new state en route to your next ski area, Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah. Sundance is about as diverse as they come. During your visit, you could ride the chair with a movie star in town for the Sundance Film Festival or a local family from Provo. Either way, you’ll enjoy Utah’s world-famous bone dry snow underneath the ever-present Mount Timpanogos, and unlike the more popular nearby ski areas in Park City and Little Cottonwood Canyon, you enjoy that powder for days on end.
Spend the night in Salt Lake City before heading up Little Cottonwood Canyon to perhaps the most legendary ski area on your list, Alta. There’s no easier way to get on the bad side of the locals than spinning out on icy roads in Little Cottonwood Canyon and backing up traffic. I wouldn’t want to be that person, but that vice-like grip provided by your Nokian Tyres winter treads should have you in the clear and ready to make some friends.
Alta is a skier’s paradise. Year after year, SKI magazine readers rave about the sheer amount and quality of snow that blankets Alta during the winter. The area’s signature terrain feature, Devil’s Castle, traps winter storms as they hit the Wasatch Range and wrings out 547 inches of average annual snowfall. It’s not uncommon for snow to shut down the canyon, but if you and your Nokian Tyres can sneak to the top before the closure, you can enjoy a “country club day” of endless powder turns all to yourself.
While your ski road trip of epic proportions is about to end, you’ve saved one of the best mountains for last. Head north to the town of Eden, where the aptly named Powder Mountain and its 8,400 skiable acres await. PowMow’s four lifts offer up access to blues and mellow blacks spread across 3,000 acres, but the ski areas 5,000-plus acres of cat and hike-to terrain provide enough of a thrill for any seasoned two-planker. And with over 500 inches of average annual snowfall, the odds are good you’ll catch a legendary northern Utah powder day while you’re there.