Trip report: snowboarding in the Colorado rockies

One of my most consistent vacations since I was in my mid 20s is taking a week off each February and flying out to Colorado with my snowboard gear to spend several days on the mountain.  Without proper planning, this type of vacation can get quite pricey.

Skiing and snowboarding are inherently expensive hobbies, especially if you don’t live within driving distance of a ski resort.  On my most recent trip, a single day lift ticket had gone up to $178.  For one day.  That’s insane.

For visitors who fly in, it can be a struggle to do a one week ski trip without ending the week with a cretaceous meteorite sized crater in your bank account.  Fortunately, there are some ways to get some time in the snow without spending several thousand dollars.

Here’s what I do each year:

The consistently best deal for people who don’t live near the mountains is the Copper Mountain 4 Pack.  These start selling in late spring for under $200, and they usually throw in a free 5th day most years.  So that’s up to 5 lift tickets at less than $40 a piece.  That deal is hard to beat.

The new bubble lifts at Copper Mountain. No more harsh wind in your face while ascending.

They do stop selling these passes in the fall, so some advance planning is needed to snag one before they become unavailable for the season.  I bought mine later in the summer, so I paid a little more than the cheapest introductory price.

A beautiful day of powder at Copper

Copper is a great mountain, but the lodging choices are limited and usually pricey.  I have a good friend who lives in Denver, so I stayed with him and we drove back and forth to the slopes most days, but if you don’t know someone who lives in the area, a good place to stay nearby is either Frisco or Silverthorne/Dillon.  It’s about a 10 minute straight shot drive on the highway, and the road is usually well maintained.

On my most recent trip, we stayed at the Super 8 in Dillon for $108 a night, taxes included.  The lodging was pretty much what you would expect in that price range, but there are a good assortment of hotels in all price ranges around that area.  I don’t do AirBnB, but there are plenty of those available as well.

Since I like to minimize my costs, I never visit around the holidays.  The days surrounding Christmas and New Years are always packed with tourists, and in addition to expensive rooms, there will be a long wait everywhere you go, from the lift lines to gas stations to restaurants.  I typically go out there in the month of February when there are no major holidays, and I only visit the mountain during weekdays.  Saturdays and Sundays are just too crowded, and I don’t enjoy waiting in the lift line for half an hour like a member of a cattle parade.

Most people will need to rent a car for a trip like this.  On this particular vacation, my friend picked me up and we drove around together, but some years I do rent a car from the airport.  I always get the cheapest, smallest car they offer.  Since the roads are usually well maintained even in times of recent snow, I’ve not felt the need to rent anything larger.

Driving back into Denver, we stopped by a restaurant called El Rancho in Evergreen to get some food and drinks.  As many times as I’ve driven past this area, this was my first time stopping here.  They have some great happy hour food specials and a solid selection of craft beers.  After a long day of riding, this was a perfect place to replenish ourselves.

We got really lucky with some great snow this year, so I feel fortunate for having experienced another excellent week in the high rockies.  And in case you missed it, here’s how I packed for this trip.  A lot more stuff than my usual luggage, but still manageable, and I only had to check the one bag.


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