A snowstorm rolls in over Denver just as my train pulls into Union Station. It’s snowy enough to close schools and museums and cold enough to freeze locks on car doors.
shuffle through the snow to the Oxford Hotel where I sleep undisturbed by the ghost of Florence Montague. The oldest building in Denver, the Oxford, is said to be haunted by the ghost of this 1898 suicide victim. Luckily, she only pursues male guests. I sleep in one of the most comfortable beds of the ski season and wake up to explore this natural, artistic and fast-growing city.
Denver is the gateway to Colorado’s 28 ski resorts and 58 peaks over 14,000 feet, and my starting point for a road trip through the mining towns and cattle ranches of northern and southern Colorado. an epic ski safari exploring some of the state’s most distinctive resorts – Steamboat Springs, Aspen Snowmass and Telluride.
With many Colorado ski areas located well above 2,000m, Mile High City is an ideal place to acclimatize before heading into the dry air of the Rocky Mountains.
There is a lot to see. Union Station (LoDo District; unionstationindenver.com), the once-busy train station, which was shut down and revived before being rescued by conservationists in 2014, is home to the Mercantile restaurant, where owner/chef Alex Seidel’s creative cuisine rivals that of Europe’s fine dining restaurants.
There’s another ghost lurking – that of beat writer Jack Kerouac, who used to work with Neal Cassady (the inspiration for On road) at the oldest bar in town, My Brother’s Bar. They say Kerouac still has an outstanding check at a place that serves a sinful array of burgers and chili bowls.
Speaking of tabs, we’re thinking of getting ours at Wynkoop Brewing Co (wynkoop.com) after tasting a selection of experimental beers. There are 400 breweries in Colorado and Wynkoop is one of over 140 in Denver. The city’s RiNo Art District alone is home to 25 microbreweries, which are also home to jazz bars and street art.
I could easily spend more time exploring Denver’s eco-friendly second-hand ski gear shops, art museum, and nightlife on Larimer Street, but it’s time to head to the mountains.
The drive to Steamboat Springs takes approximately three hours while we stop to see the legendary music venue Red Rocks (redrocksonline.com), home of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and a popular destination for serious music fans.
This journey takes us through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which takes Interstate I-70 under the continental divide, known as the backbone of America, and into the Rocky Mountains.
Steamboat Springs is famous for many things; It’s home to 100 Olympians, excellent tree skiing and hot springs. It’s also in the midst of a $200 million investment that aims to make it America’s second-largest ski resort by 2023/24.
Unlike other Colorado ski resorts that started out as gold rush towns, Steamboat’s heart is ranching. The city’s name came about when settlers heard what sounded like a chug
a steamship. What they actually heard was the sound of water gushing from a thermal spring.
Today, like the other Colorado resorts I visit, Steamboat (steamboat.com) is owned by Alterra Mountain Company, which operates the Ikon ski pass system for skiers. Like all of its resorts, there’s a hilltop village where all the skiing action takes place, while still preserving the old town below.
Our spacious four bed apartment at One Steamboat Place is beautiful and couldn’t be much closer to the slopes. Steamboat offers skiing on your doorstep with a strong focus on family-friendly activities like night skiing, on snow so dry the Champagne Powder name has been trademarked by the resort.
We spend a morning skiing between the trees at Pioneer Ridge and cruising around some of Steamboat’s 170 trails before stopping for lunch at Timber & Torch Restaurant, a perfect meeting place for families of mixed abilities. There are also some gnarly Double Black Diamond runs for experienced skiers like Chutes 1-3 and Christmas Tree Bowl.
After a day on the slopes we take a short drive to Strawberry Park Springs (strawberryhotsprings.com), so named because it used to be the largest strawberry producer in the United States. Today it is a rustic thermal spa with hot and cold outdoor pools. Admission to the springs is affordable, and it’s both a relaxing and social après-ski activity.
Next stop is Aspen Snowmass, a three and a half hour drive from Steamboat Springs which takes us past Glenwood Springs, home of the world’s largest hot springs and the burial site of infamous gambler and gunslinger Doc Holliday.
The hustle and bustle of downtown Aspen, the people, the art scene and the mountains immediately draw me in. Shortly after arriving, I bump into Ted Mahon, one of the stars of ski mountaineering in Aspen, who stops to chat.
I ski with local guide Tim Mutrie, who points out Tourtelotte Park, an area on the slopes that was once home to thousands of miners, complete with seven mountain brothels. The city’s wealth was based on mining success, but like many other Colorado cities, it transitioned from a “pickaxe to powder” economy and is now a destination for wealthy residents and visitors.
After skiing, I visit a major Andy Warhol exhibit and enjoy cocktails at the Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop restaurant/bar (aspenartmuseum.org) – a unique après experience in this upscale city.
Aspen Snowmass consists of two cities and four mountains – Aspen Mountain for steeper, moderate terrain; mass of snow for family slopes; Buttermilk for beginners and the legendary Highland Bowls for expert-only off-piste bowl skiing only accessible by hiking up the mountain.
I check into the Limelight – a hotel full of families – in Snowmass (Limelighthotels.com), where 95% of the accommodation is ski-in ski-out. The village feels very safe for children and has a concierge system that allows skiers to drop off and pick up their skis at the various bases.
With the steep trough of Garrett Peak as a backdrop, I ride gentle tree-lined slopes in fresh powder with local real estate agent Zach Lentz, whose family has owned a home on Aspen Main Street since the 1970s. When not pursuing his passion for skiing, Zach sells homes in the area for anywhere from $2 million to $20 million.
I eat great food in Snowmass—alpine-inspired fare at the Alpin Room on the mountain, sushi at the Kenichi restaurant in the village, and dinner at the Viewline Hotel (viewlinerresortsnowmass.com), accessible by gondola from Limelight.
Unfortunately I have to leave the hustle and bustle of Aspen Snowmass behind me. Nicknamed “the place with the most Colorado on earth,” Telluride beckons.
Driving past Ralph Lauren’s sprawling ranch, the rugged peaks of Telluride come into view. The further south we move, the younger, more dramatic and more familiar the mountain ranges seem to my European eye.
Telluride turned to gold mining in the 1870’s and still retains its downtown Victorian architecture. Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank here and rumor has it the bullet holes are still visible. It might explain why Telluride – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a ski resort this year; tellurdeskiresort.com – is a National Historic District.
A free gondola takes us from the center of downtown to Telluride Mountain Village and our lodging at Fairmont Heritage Place, Franz Klammer Lodge (fairmont.com).
One of my favorite things about Telluride is the gondola ride to split my time between the city and the mountain. The views are stunning – this area is home to the largest concentration of 13,000 and 14,00 foot peaks in America.
Skiing is in the San Juan Mountains against the backdrop of Wilson Peak, made famous by the Coors Light beer logo. High-altitude Telluride (the mountain village sits at 2,910m) is known for its technical skiing but has something for everyone with basic cruisers that might prove perfect after a night on the downtown tiles.
Telluride has a reputation for being a private, discreet ski resort where guests can party without being spotted. After aperitifs in the Last Dollar Saloon (lastdollarsaloon.com), Dinner at Sidework (sideworkpeakeasy.com) and legendary Flatliner cocktails to end the night, most skiers are fit only for the easiest descents and a relaxing lunch at the Bon Vivant restaurant the next day.
Telluride is also home to the highest elevation fine dining restaurant (Allred’s) in the US and has a brewery in the heart of its mountain village. But one of the special things to do in the area is take a snowmobile tour of the old mining towns of Alta Lakes. There’s something special about walking past old bunkhouses where miners once shared shifts and sleeping quarters.
The tour takes us past the Observatory (altalakes.com), a mountain retreat that has a long wait list for private stays and parties, and a seclusion that grips me as much as the buzz of Aspen.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/colorado-ski-safari-is-mountains-of-fun-42012353.html The ski safari in Colorado is a mountain of fun