How to beat the spring skiing crowds in Summit County
Spring is one of the best times of the year in Summit County, particularly for those coming to the area to explore the vast recreational amenities and events.
Whether it’s heading outdoors to fish or raft, or taking in the scenic vistas on a snowshoe hike, there’s plenty to offer no matter what your preference is. Though, one of the most popular attractions is certainly the area’s ski slopes, where visitors can carve up the final months of snow and soak up some sun without the often-blistering winds and cold that come with winter in Colorado.
Unlike most other ski areas in the state, Summit County resorts have capacity limits in place, but required physical distancing in lines and spacing out groups on lifts can make for some longer-than-usual wait times during the busy spring break period.
With so many skiers and riders heading up for some late-season turns, how can a visitor make the most of their trip without getting bogged down by crowds?
There are a few tips for handling the masses while adventuring up to the mountains this spring, starting with how to avoid the migraine-inducing traffic along the Interstate 70 corridor.
Skip the gridlock
Those who’ve been skiing in Summit County before have probably experienced the brutal congestion that can occur with thousands of cars making their way through the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels.
One of the best solutions to avoid the jam is to try some midweek skiing. With the exception of some holiday periods, avoiding weekends is usually a good bet to beat the traffic. Still, for those willing to brave a Saturday or Sunday commute to the mountains, it’s worth getting up early.
“The earlier is always better,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said. “If you can get past Idaho Springs by about 6:30 or 7 a.m., you’ll be OK. The jam-ups usually start at around 7, and things slow down quickly.”
Similarly, avoiding peak times heading back down to the Front Range can drastically improve the experience. With most ski areas closing down around 4 p.m., it can be worth stopping in one of the towns for dinner before making the trek back home. Wilson noted that 4 to 6 p.m. is typically the most busy period for eastbound traffic, but visitors should see considerably less traffic if they hit the road between 7 and 8 p.m.
Find the right spot
Ski area representatives also recommend arriving early, before the lifts open at 8 a.m., to find parking and get to the front of lift lines. For late-risers, it might be worth sleeping in and arriving after lunch at around 1 p.m. when the early birds are leaving and crowds begin to thin.
For those who are willing to take on peak crowds, there’s still plenty of fun to be had, especially for those who want to explore the mountains a little bit. With more than 11,000 skiable acres at resorts in the area, there’s plenty of room to spread out and find less hectic lifts and runs.
“Midweek and non-holidays, you’re going to see less traffic,” former Copper Mountain Resort Marketing Manager Stephanie Backes said. “But if you are there during the weekend, the midlevel lifts and back bowls are always going to be a little lighter. You can definitely see that a lot of people kind of like to stick to those base lifts.”
Tips aside, there are times when being on an overly crowded run is unavoidable. When things feel overwhelming and room on the trail is hard to find, it’s important that everyone take the time to respect others and follow Colorado’s skier and snowboarder responsibility code, which urges skiers to stay in control, not obstruct trails, observe posted signs and look uphill for others.
“It’s important for all skiers and riders to familiarize themselves with skier safety laws,” Backes said. “Ski in control, always look around the hill and, especially on a crowded day, you have to keep your head on a swivel.”
For those who don’t want to wait, a change of timing or location could pay dividends. Keystone Resort offers night skiing to passholders, allowing skiers to venture down Dercum Mountain under the lights with minimal crowds and lift lines.
Try a fun alternative
For times when the crowds on the slopes are too dense, there are other activities that can be enjoyed.
Most ski areas offer alternative activities on-site, and many of them offer similar thrills as tearing down the mountain. Copper and Keystone offer the option to slide down the hill while tubing, and Breckenridge Ski Resort and Copper both offer Alpine coasters.
The truly adventurous (and experienced) also can leave the resorts entirely and try their hand at touring Summit County’s backcountry. Guide services are available for various areas in and around Summit County, and no one should head into the backcountry without extensive knowledge of the area and its avalanche danger.
No matter when someone travels to Summit County, there are plenty of ways to beat the crowds with a little bit of planning.
This story previously published in the spring 2020 edition of Explore Summit magazine.
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