Winter holds tight at 11,000 feet along the Continental Divide even as the days grow longer, the sun intensifies, and the calendar slips into the second quarter. Through April, I gladly accommodate late-season storms that sweep over Colorado’s Loveland Ski Area. It’s impossible to argue with a foot of fresh on a 100-inch base. But in May, on closing day, when unsettled weather and a half-inch of graupel thwart my agenda of sunshine and top-to-bottom slush bumps on Chair 1, I bitch a little, though no one seems to care.
As I ride the lift, I watch skiers dive-bomb under my skis into a popular fall line, feathering their edges just right to surf the grabby snow frosting the moguls. First comes a pack of freeride-team kids, then a couple tele skiers at full lunge, and finally Ruby Rhod, or rather a dude decked out in Ruby’s low-cut leopard-print jumper and popsicle-hair wig, charging Fifth Element–style under the lift. The sight of the greatest radio star in the galaxy completely turns my day around. (Kudos if you get this cult-classic sci-fi reference.)
Ruby’s unexpected appearance caps a laundry list of fond memories from this season, my first year as a Loveland pass holder. After several years of bouncing around the Front Range, I finally found a home in the quirky ski community perched atop the Eisenhower Tunnel. In a crowded state full of world-class ski options, Loveland’s unpretentious vibe cures my megaresort blues.
Most I-70 travelers can be forgiven. In their hurry west, Loveland and its dirt parking lot, simple day lodge, and fixed-grip lifts are easily overlooked. While the new Ptarmigan lift—a key midmountain improvement—and a few cozy new warming shelters have spruced up the ski experience in the last few years, it may seem very little else has changed. Yet Loveland has experienced a growth trajectory over the last 10 years in subtle yet meaningful ways.
Instead of jockeying for vacation dollars with hotels, restaurants, and marketing superlatives, the focus here has been finding and attracting new participants to the sport and converting them into lifelong skiers. Since 2009, the snow-sports school has doubled their business. Easy access from Denver, affordable prices, and clever marketing strategies (like a Broncos-loving Bernese Mountain Dog mascot that frequently shows up on the local news) continue to entice curious Front Rangers. Weekends at Loveland Valley, the beginner area just east of the main resort, bustle with new skiers of all ages. It’s gotten so busy that the next major upgrade will expand the Loveland Valley lodge to accommodate more beginners with a larger rental shop, improved food, and more seating. Once newbies progress beyond the Valley, more than 1,500 acres of above-treeline terrain perfect for the progressing skier await at Loveland Basin, the main area. Meandering groomers follow the contours of massive but approachable bowls. It’s a beautiful patch of alpine to explore on a bluebird day.
Most longtime locals, though, would attest that the growth isn’t limited to the softer side of the resort. Apologies in advance, but bigmouthed skiers like me continue to discover the place, dig the initial vibe, then set down roots once they discover the incredible skiing and deep snow off I-70 exit 216. No, Loveland itself doesn’t offer the terrain variety and off-slope diversions of Colorado’s megaresorts and conjoined passes, but a whopping 420 annual inches of snowfall, free cat skiing at 13,000 feet on the famed Ridge Cat, and of course Chair 1, the local institution that accesses 1,000 vert of some of the best bang-for-buck technical steeps on the Front Range, provide plenty of excitement to keep chargers coming back year after year. New this season, guided ski touring in the neighboring Dry Gulch drainage along the ski area’s northeastern boundary further expands the more adventurous offerings. And the addition of three free days at Powder Mountain, Utah, makes Loveland’s $380 season pass a multistate experience thanks to a reciprocal program that also includes Colorado staples like Crested Butte, Monarch, Purgatory, and Powderhorn. A mom-and-pop operation Loveland is no longer.
The last few riders of the season hop off the lift as a late-day thundersnow has every ski patroller trying to shuffle the costumed masses down to the base. I scrape down with the crowd. Though still a touch bitter I never got my slush-bump zipperline of glory on closing day, I wouldn’t trade my countless other deep turns on Chair 1 that season for the privilege. Down at the lodge, the snow continues to spit, and the live band busts out a Michael Jackson cover that gets the party rolling. I sip a tall canned domestic, enjoy some barbecue, and watch Ruby Rhod materialize in the center of the dance circle for his closing-day encore. My second season as a Loveland regular can’t come soon enough.
Eat: While the lodge food probably won’t win highfalutin awards, it will stick to your bones and fuel a full day of Chair 1 laps without breaking the bank. A Skier’s Breakfast and a coffee will help shake any cobwebs before the lifts start spinning, and for lunch, the comfort-food special at the deli, especially turkey and gravy, is the author’s personal favorite.
Drink: Après is all about the Rathskeller. It’s the perfect musty basement ski bar to cap a day on the slopes. After an après beverage there, head to The Alpine in nearby Georgetown for bourbon and local microbrews. Grab a pizza while you’re there. It’s handmade by Loveland skiers for Loveland skiers.
Sleep: The Chateau Chamonix offers the charming kitsch and well-appointed comfort found only at a European-inspired guesthouse in an old Colorado mining community like Georgetown. Choose between the private-hot-tub-equipped rooms on the lower floor or the private-deck rooms of the upper floor. Plus, it’s right down the street from The Alpine (see above).
By the Numbers
Miles from Denver: 53
Cost to Ride the Ridge Snowcat to 400 Acres of Advanced Terrain: 0
Year the Resort Opened: 1936
Summit Elevation: 13,010
Vertical Drop: 2,210 (feet)
Skiable Acres: 1,800