You can have spring break skiing to yourself at Sunlight, Copper, Monarch, Aspen and Keystone if you stick to these lifts
By Shauna Farnell
An argument can be made for quality versus quantity when it comes to shredding the slopes. It explains why crowds gather at certain chairlifts on powder days long before the lifts start turning. With few exceptions, most Colorado ski areas are home to at least one antique lift or two. Although these fixed grip chairs move up the hill at a more sluggish pace than their sleeker, larger and faster counterparts, they are worth the ride for more reasons than you’d think. Not only are these chairlifts uncrowded and offer a chance to give your legs a break while taking in the serenity of your surroundings, but they bring you to some of the most pristine (and/or challenging) terrain in the Rockies.
Where: Sunlight Mountain Resort
Why it’s worth the ride: You can make a solid case that Sunlight as a whole is worth the ride. It’s one of the only ski areas in Colorado where you can park within easy walking distance of the base area and after a day on the slopes, stop for a relaxing soak in Iron Mountain Hot Springs. The resort even has its own craft soda – Sunny Pop – thanks to a collaboration with Tommyknocker Brewery. Primo is the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado, dating back to 1966, but don’t judge it by its age. The slow-moving (12-minute-long) double chair is the only one of Sunlight’s three chairlifts to take you to the resort summit (9,895 feet). From here, the views of Mt. Sopris and the entire valley are jaw-dropping and you can access pretty much every trail on the mountain. With five new steep glade runs this year and more coming along with a new lift by 2021, this amounts to about 830 acres. And when we say steep, we mean steep. The slope angle on The Heathen trail measures 52 degrees in places (basically a wall with trees on it), making it one of the steepest lift-accessed runs in Colorado.
Where: Copper Mountain
Why it’s worth the ride: Take the busiest Saturday in spring when every single Ikon Pass holder in the state has flocked to Copper and every other chairlift at the base area (all high-speed quads and six packs) is a zoo. You can ski right onto Alpine lift every time. This slow double chair takes you to the steepest runs on Copper’s lower mountain, many featuring large moguls, but always one or two (Triple Treat and/or Formidable) groomed. You can do nonstop laps here all day with entire trails all to yourself, soaking up the sun in the afternoon and growing to relish the break that each 13-minute lift ride provides your thighs.
Where: Monarch Mountain
Why it’s worth the ride: Like Sunlight, Monarch in general is worth a trip for convenience and a more classic ski experience. While smaller than many areas (but not really that small with 800 acres), Monarch offers a surprising bang for its buck and if you’re coming from Denver, allows you to avoid the whole Interstate 70 rigamarole. Having just celebrated its 80th birthday, Monarch has been operating since 1939. Although its first chairlift didn’t come until 20 years later – operating in the line now occupied by the Garfield lift – today, it is the base area’s most unassuming and uncrowded chairlift, yet covers more vertical (850 feet) than Monarch’s other six lifts. Another slow double chair, Breezeway, typically draws the expert crowd (because it takes you to the iconic Mirkwood Basin, where you can hike to the double black-rated terrain previously only accessed by SnoCat), but Garfield delivers you directly to the glorious, south-facing, wide open glades (Cleanzer, Examiner, etc.) that are especially lush when covered by sun and spring slush. Also, Monarch extended its season to April 12.
Chairlift: Gent’s Ridge
Where: Aspen Mountain
Why it’s worth the ride: People are often surprised by the amount of slow, fixed grip chairlifts at a posh resort like Aspen. While double chairlifts like Shadow Mountain, which stems from the base area, is due to be replaced in the next year by a high-speed quad chairlift, Gent’s Ridge, a rare fixed grip quad chair built in 1986, appears to be staying a while. Although its 13-minute ride deters some skiers, it is absolutely the most convenient and fastest way to lap AJAX’s upper mountain steeps – Walsh’s, Kristi’s and Hyrup’s – and totally avoid the crowds.
Where: Keystone Resort
Why it’s worth the ride: For beginner and intermediate skiers, Argentine chair is the most relaxing way to reach mild terrain. We know what you’re probably saying … at a popular resort like Keystone, there’s no way to avoid crowds, especially on a spring weekend. Think again. If you’re an expert skier with money to spare, you can literally have untouched bowls to yourself – and zero lift rides – by opting into an all-day Guided Cat Skiing Tour. As for green and blue-level skiers, the Argentine is your vessel. This old double chairlift (circa 1977) sits right at the Mountain House base area, but instead of stepping up for its meandering 11-minute ride, most people flock to its neighbor, Peru Express. However, the Argentine is the best way to get to unfrequented green slopes like Modest Girl and Jaybird as well as what is possibly Keystone’s finest cruising run: Haywood.