Loveland Ski Area: Authentic Colorado
Story and photos by Neil E. Wolkodoff
There are ski resorts and there are ski areas. Many ski hills have transitioned into full-blown resorts in the last 30 years. In Colorado, one has remained true to that heritage of great skiing: Loveland Ski Area.
Suppose you have driven west to the resorts in Summit County and beyond. In that case, you may have noticed Loveland as you entered the Eisenhower Tunnel. However, the whole expanse of the area’s 1800 skiable acres is not visible from a quick glance at the lodge, the two closest lifts, and the base area as you pass under the mountain.
Loveland is the closest major ski area to Denver, about an hour’s drive west. Turn for the buck; this is sliding value. With over 422 inches of snow annually and snowmaking, conditions are better than most early and late in the season. Starting at a base of 10,800 feet and peaking at 13,010, you feel like you are skiing at the top of the world.
The ski area boundary on the west goes all the way up to the Continental Divide. Almost 46% of the skiable terrain is above the tree line. It’s an alpine experience, like the Alps but without the yodeling. Loveland is comprised of two parts of the same area. The Basin is more expansive, it edges the divide on three sides of a semicircle surrounding the valley. Runs range from beginner to multiple black diamonds. From your first ride up, what is striking is how much of the area expanse you can see from almost any point. Vistas abbondante!
The Valley is specifically for beginners and intermediates. With its own lodge, dining, ski shop, rentals, and ski & ride school, this is the perfect place for anyone new to get some snow legs without getting buzzed by Go-PROtagonists. It is also a great stop to get acquainted with sliding again before progressing to more challenging terrain. The lodge was recently expanded to increase seating by three times the past capacity. If you have skied in the Midwest, the Valley is more extensive than some smaller ski hills. As expected, the terrain is much more enjoyable as well.
I grew up skiing at Loveland as one of the places on my turn rotation. I have a historical perspective on how it has mutated. It still has the same comfortable feel, though it’s an area that started with one lift, progressed to two, and now has 10 lifts between the two components.
There is no right or wrong way to progress around the Basin. Recently added, the Chet’s Dream Quad lift quickly gets you to an access point where you can ski runs to four other lifts. While the paths to the other uphill lifts are primarily intermediate, some beginner paths exist. Stick to the trees by heading to Lift 6 via Tempest, then at the top, start to get a sense of the immense skiable terrain, and then head down Blackjack.
At that point, you can meander to three more lifts. The Ptarmigan lift gets you to almost the top of the boundary and the Ptarmigan Roost Cafe. A scenic view from the Roost at over 12,000 feet melds with mountain burgers, chili, snacks, and beverages. This has been a calorie- loading point since it was built, as the indoor fireplace and outdoor deck fit any weather.
At this point, your decision on which lift is next in your sliding progression is based on terrain type and difficulty. While Lift 9 has an easy road down to the intermediate terrain, it is infamous for the double-black Patrol Bowl and Headwall. Progress further around the rim to lifts 4 and 8, and you get a mix of high alpine and tree-lined runs. As the sun and weather influence snow conditions, you can choose the lift and orientation that suits your preferences and conditions that day.
To add to that high-country alpine experience, Loveland has four cabins around the Basin. Three cottages are open during the day. One is available for private rental if you have a group of like-minded winter pals. Park it, warm up, and catch your breath, which might be more important than you think at 12,000 feet.
Rather than hiking, you can take the Ridge Cat uphill to the top of the ski area boundary. This stout and demanding terrain is an excellent thrill for the advanced skier. The Ridge Cat runs Wednesday through Sunday, and access is through a season pass or lift ticket with a special ridge cat pass at no extra cost.
An expanded open terrain option is the Snow Cat Tours, which feature all-day trips guided by Loveland Ski Patrol. Expect lunch, an avalanche transceiver, and somewhere between 8-11 runs for the day. Here the real backcountry experience encompasses both skiers and riders of intermediate to expert ability. There are 580 acres of bowl and tree skiing without the helicopter ride.
Even though Loveland is not a resort, the base area has everything you need for a day trip. Storage and lockers on two levels and an outdoor dining deck for starters. The main lodge features a bevy of food options, not just the standard and expected school lunch options. The Grill serves hot breakfasts daily, with biscuits and gravy as the local fuel-up. If it’s a sandwich or pastry, then the Deli & Coffee Shop has that and pizzas. Right in the middle of the two is the Wedge Bar, where Cheesesteaks and nachos pair with full bar service. Just below, the Rathskeller pours a wide variety of brews on tap with snacks for another apres-ski wind-down.
Ski resorts are more than famous for sundries that are royalty-priced. The Sport Shop not only has all the left-at-home items like goggles, but it is also a full-tilt ski & ride shop. The boot fitters are Masterfit-certified, so an adjustment or performance-enhancing orthotic is a simple procedure that doesn’t cramp your ski day. You can demo more than one pair of skis in a day , a simple walk back from the lift to the shop to change skis. Everything else is what you would expect to find at a top-notch shop except the mountain-high tare. Maybe Karl in Aspen is more famous, but this friendly staff is just as good.
If you are in Denver for a few days, want to ski, and didn’t transport the gear and clothes, you can rent head-to-toe at Loveland. Parts of the setup are available for individual rental, such as ski bibs. Having your own personal contact items like base layers, gloves, and socks is a good idea. The rest is in the Day Tripper Package at the Valley.
There is still a ticket window for walk-up purchases. However, with limited capacity, it’s best to reserve whatever is in your sliding quiver via the web before arrival.
Loveland is staying true to its ski heritage of being an authentic experience. No valet parking, just pure Colorado skiing.
Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sports Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.