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I’ve been alpine skiing a long time. I grew up in Minnesota where I mostly Nordic skied (including competitively in high school), but I did get in a few downhill days at such epic resorts as “Afton Alps.” When I arrived in Salt Lake City for college, an early order of business was to hit a ski swap and acquire my own downhill equipment. With 7 resorts within 45 minutes, it would have been a crime not to. My freshman year was epic – Alta got 800 inches of snow. I don’t recall how many days I skied, but it felt like a lot. I didn’t have a season pass but lift tickets were under $40 most places ($24 at Alta). Every outing was a day trip – drive up, park, get pass, ski. Maybe a granola bar in a pocket for lunch, and a 50% chance of picking up hitch hikers trying to get up the canyons in my mighty Tercel. Point of that all being skiing was about… skiing.

Fast forward a few years. After separating from the Navy, I moved to Colorado, dusted off my skis, and started skiing again. The drive here is longer (2+ hours to any resort) but still feasible for a day trip. But, I can say a lot of the industry has evolved in ways I’m not sure I appreciate, especially in the last 10 years.

  1. The price. To buy a day pass at a lot of resorts is eye-wateringly expensive – well North of $200 at the biggest/most popular places. Add in pay to park (now about the only option at some resorts) and buying lunch (since most places don’t allow brown bagging anymore) and a ski day might wind up costing $300 a person or more. Obviously having a season pass makes this much more reasonable, but if you get one you kind of have to commit to a few days on the slopes to make it worth it.
  2. The convenience, or lack thereof. At many resorts getting to the first run is a game of planes, trains, and automobiles (well, more like buses, gondolas, and lines). In one recent case it took 1.5 hours from arrival to first run.
  3. The crowds. Lift lines are insane at some of the larger resorts, and the slopes themselves are crowded to the point of being hazardous.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that these big resorts aren’t trying to compete with other ski resorts, they are trying to compete with Disney World, Universal Studios, and cruise ships. In that context, the prices and lines don’t seem so bad… but I still just want to ski.

This brings me to the point of this post: there are still some great old school resorts out there, where you can drive up, park, walk a bit, clip in, and get on a lift. There are certainly some tradeoffs in terms of acreage and terrain, but I’ll take that trade any day and say thank you. So, here’s to you, Colorado Gems – Monarch Mountain, Arapahoe Basin (post Epic Pass), Ski Cooper, and others – please don’t change. Also, don’t tell anybody.

No resort provided any compensation for a mention in this post.

1 thought on “Gems”

  1. The big mountains have lost a lot of luster in my view as well. The crowds can be overwhelming most weekends or any big snow day. Yes to the Gems.

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