Skier’s Guide to 3 of Colorado’s Most Unique Independent Ski Areas
Nothing beats a bluebird ski day in Colorado! Photo Credit: (OutThere Colorado)
Wide-open spaces, local personality, and some of the best natural snow you’ll find in Colorado—These are just three of the many characteristics that make Monarch Mountain, Loveland Ski Area, and Ski Cooper some of the most approachable and authentic ski areas in Colorado. From expert hike-to terrain to groomers made for beginners and families, these three independently owned Colorado ski mountains truly have something for everyone. And the best part? The unique views from each of these ski areas are unlike any other in Colorado. We’ve put together a guide to help you explore three of Colorado’s most unique independent ski areas. See you on the slopes!
It would be a shame to leave your camera at home for a day at these three ski areas because, in addition to awesome terrain, the views are spectacular.
Situated a few miles from Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet above sea level, Ski Cooper is surrounded by the highest peaks in the Centennial State. Head to the top of the blue square-level Trails End run, and you’ll be rewarded by unbeatable views of Mount Elbert (14,439 feet) and Mount Massive (14,429 feet) to your left.
A trip to Loveland Ski Area also brings you high above sea level and high above the I-70 corridor below. For more than 75 years, Loveland Ski Area has been offering skiers and riders the opportunity to make turns while taking in panoramic views of the surrounding Rockies. From the top of Lift 9 at 12,700 feet above sea level, you’ll be able to see the summits of Grays and Torreys peaks, and to the west, you’ll look down on Keystone, Breckenridge, the Ten Mile Range, and the Gore Range.
The best views from Monarch Mountain are to be found along the pistes of their hike-to terrain. From the top of Mirkwood side country on a clear day, skiers and riders will find views of a number of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks, including Mount Aetna, Taylor Mountain, Pikes Peak, Mount Shavano, Tabeguache Peak, Uncompahgre Peak, Wetterhorn Peak as well as the summits of the Sangre De Cristo Range and the West Elk Mountains.
Perfect for Families
These smaller ski areas offer the perfect terrain and experience for families. In addition to affordable lift ticket prices, their manageable size makes it so you’ll never have to walk too far to your first lift ride and lunch won’t break the bank. The welcoming culture at each of these resorts is also a mark of pride; as Ski Cooper says, “When you come to Cooper, you’re a member of the Cooper Family.” And if you’re getting that childhood nostalgia for your early days on the hill with your parents, feel free to indulge that feeling because for these three independent ski areas, it’s all about family.
If you’ve got beginners in your crew just learning to ski or snowboard, Loveland Ski Area offers a special, separate area called Loveland Valley just for beginners. The gentle slopes make for the perfect place for families to learn together or for parents to teach their children the fundamentals of the sport. And because it’s separated from the more advanced terrain, you won’t have to worry about little ones getting lost or sharing the slopes with more advanced riders.
- Pro Tip: After you have mastered the slopes of Loveland Valley, check out Fire Bowl off Ptarmigan Lift at Loveland Basin. This wide-open cruiser is the perfect place for beginners to improve their technique and experience a lot of terrain while remaining on slopes with difficulty grades they know they can handle.
The number one priority of Monarch Mountain is cultivating a welcoming guest experience. Their staff thinks of themselves as a family, so they seek to extend that inclusivity and welcoming nature to the skiers and riders that come to enjoy their slopes. That sense of comfort also comes from the manageable size and layout of the mountain. All runs eventually funnel down toward one base area, so if your kids are ready for a little freedom, you can let them take a run on their own without worrying about losing them on the mountain.
- Pro Tip: Accessed from the Panorama lift, the gentle green run called Skywalker rides along the Continental Divide, so skiers get all the views without the added challenge or fear of harder terrain. Make sure to stop at the peak locator at the top that will help you identify the surrounding mountains’ names and elevations.
Ski Cooper‘s affordable all-around experience truly makes it so the whole family can enjoy a day on the hill. From reasonable lift ticket prices and free parking, to affordable lessons, rentals, and meals, a day at Cooper will be a fraction of the cost of a day at a larger resort. Additionally, the size of the resort makes it easy to navigate so the whole family can ski together, and the friendly staff is always around to help make the day awesome.
- Pro Tip: Tenderfoot is a long beginner run on the backside of Cooper with an amazing view of Chicago Ridge. It is a wide open stretch perfect for beginners and funnels down through the trees toward the base.
Untouched Expert Terrain Without the Crowds
Wanna know the best part about Monarch Mountain, Loveland Ski Area, and Ski Cooper? They offer blood-pumping expert terrain without the crowds of the larger resorts. From snowcat skiing to in-bounds steeps, get ready to send it when you ski one of these mountains because their terrain gets big.
If you’re looking for steep and fast, Monarch Mountain’s iconic Gunbarrel black diamond run was the first run cut at Monarch and skis as fast as it sounds. Monarch Mountain also offers guided cat skiing, which takes skiers and riders to over 1,600 acres of side country bowls, chutes, and glades. Book a single seat or reserve the whole cat for you and 11 of your closest friends for a pow day that you’ll never forget.
Ski Cooper’s Nightmare expert run takes skiers and riders off the beaten track to the backside of the mountain. Because of the minimal traffic, expect soft and deep snow. Ski Cooper also operates Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours on 2,600 acres of bowls, glades, and steeps in the San Isabel and White River National Forests. Book in advance for a full day of unforgettable terrain.
Loveland Ski Area operates The Ridge Cat, a free snowcat skiing experience at 13,000 feet along the Continental Divide. It provides access to five ski areas (as conditions permit) that cannot be accessed from a lift. A favorite of these hike-to or snowcat accessible runs is Marmot. This run drops in off of the ridge line of the Continental Divide and features open terrain, steep grades, and deep powder.