Nothing can suck the wind out of a fat day of skiing and riding faster than a few hours stuck on I-70. Is there any realistic hope of getting a full day in and making it home on time for football and rest for the workweek? Well, yes, and that’s why we have created this guide that gives you some spots to wait out the traffic and updates on the latest deals at Colorado’s best resorts. The snow is coming. Prepare yorself.
1. ECHO MOUNTAIN
The closest stop of the I-70 power circuit gives you the chance to avoid the long drive and just come up for a few hours if you live in Denver. Echo Mountain is conveniently located only 35 miles from the heart of downtown. Better yet? Ski or ride Echo under the lights until 9:00 p.m. five nights a week.
The perfect palce for a sanity-saving cup of coffee. Don’t say we told you but if the Interstate is bad you can hop on the frontage road here and head straight to Berthoud Pass.
3. THE FRONTAGE ROAD
We may get in trouble for talking about this… but when the traffic is dead stopped, the local route is the only answer. One rule: do not speed. Do not piss off the locals. Drive slow, and be thankful you are at least attaining forward motion.
4. SOPP AND TRUSCOTT BAKERY
Most I-70 travels blast by tiny Silver Plume. But this unique bakery housed in a historic old building is well worth a stop when the traffic is so bad you need something sweet and tasty. They also serve soups and sandwiches.
5. POWDER ADDICTION CAT SKIING
The closest cat skiing to Denver is well worth it, hauling you up to powder turns in high alpine terrain between the Interstate and Berthoud Pass. A single seat costs $350 in the high season, but if you are a true addict, you can join the Hot Seat Program. You pay $200 to join, then get a shot at $150 seat when the operation emails you two days before an opening.
6. WINTER PARK
A guaranteed way to avoid traffic? Splurge on the ski condo (Winter Park and Granby are closer to Denver and significantly cheaper than Summit County real estate) and forget about the highway.
Believe or not, the stodgy old Basin got a facelift. The new detachable quad Black Mountain Express will replace the Exhibition chair lift, has a capacity of 2,000 people per hour and a ride time less than three minutes. To celebrate, The Basin will hold full moon and snowshoe dinner events at the Black Mountain Lodge, followed by a snowshoe or hike down the mountain.
Buy a season pass for at Loveland this year and you have a surefire way to avoid I-70 on the worst weekends. The $359 pass includes free ski days at Silverton Mountain and Durango and three free days at Monarch Mountain.
9. THE RATHSKELLER AT LOVELAND
All you are going to do when you get home after a hard day on the slopes is flip on the tube and watch the Broncos, Nugest, Avs or whatever team represnts the place you forsook to move where you can ski, so why not do it with likeminded yahoos while you wait for the traffic to die down? Make sure to have a designated driver.
10. THE TUNNEL
Based on data from previous years, the website go170.com reports the worst period to be stuck on the dreaded highway is Sunday between 3:30 and 5 p.m. During this time, CDOT often stops traffic for 20 minutes at a time at the tunnel—it’s called “metering”—to allow gridlocked cars inside to clear out.
11. THE SKI TIP LODGE
It’s surprising that more people don’t know about this classy little rustic inn between Keystone and Montezuma. The four-course dinner menu is outstanding and it’s a great alternative to resort condos for a speical overnight.
There’s a $5 cat but you can also hike to the steep, open bowls in Keystone’s Outback. The main event here though is the mountain’s backcountry cat skiing operation that delivers you to remote glades and open slopes then plies you with a delicious, hot lunch in a backcountry yurt. It’s pricey at $225 per person, but well worth it.
13. AMAZING GRACE
It’s only open for breakfast and lunch, but this quirky little natural foods store and cafe is the absolute best stop for baked goods and healthy sandwhiches in Summit County. Plus owner, pro adventure racer, ski mountaineer and all around adrenaline junkie Monique Merrill and her staff have the skills to hammer when they are not cooking up delicous meals.
14. DILLON DAM BREWERY
Beer is always calling. Designate a driver, order up a Sweet George’s Brown and some BBQ and wait out the gapers clogging the blacktop.
Head to Peak 7, which you access from the BreckConnect gondola. It has everything from beginner slopes to 45-degree chutes for the experts. If you want to stay the night, check out breckaccommodations.com, where you can bid on last-minute lodging.
16. THE MINTURN MILE
Want to avoid the Vail parking structure debacle? Park at the Saloon in Minturn. Take the bus to Lionshead. Ski hard all day. When you are close to shot, drop from Game Creek into the Minturn Mile. Ski late freshies (at Vail!), stop for a swig of wine with folks hanging out along the trail, schuss out to the Saloon. Drink margarita. Head home.
17. ALPINE MARKET AND DELI
Here’s your stop for the healthiest food along the corridor. The handmade sandwiches at this natural food store in Frisco just off Exit 201 beat any other fast food fare and you can stock up on a little ginseng and eleuthero to keep you mindful while you battle the traffic back.
Just moved here and new to the whole Colorado resort thing? Have a sig other who can’t ski or snowboard? Just want to work on your skills? Copper offers a package wherein you can take three lessons and then have a chance to buy a discounted season pass.
Deals at Vail? Sure if you are creative. Park on the frontage road for free outside the Vail Parking lot (they can’t ban it when the lot’s full, and by the time the ticketers get out, it will be full), and, unless there are more than eight inches of fresh, stick to the Highline lift or the Northwoods Express for fast, crowd-free side runs. Vail also offers a Sunday Sleepover package (sundaysleepover.com) with rates starting at $79.
20. BEAVER CREEK
Free sunblock and cookies? No crowds? Big leg burning runs off the Grouse Mountain Express? Underrated slackcountry like the Stone Creek Chutes? Why does anyone suffer through Vail on a crowded day?
21. SKI COOPER
Off the main drag of I-70, funky Ski Cooper is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be. The area itself is certainly underrated but the true action here is on the cat. With 2,400 acres of big-mountain terrain up at 12,600 feet, Chicago Ride Snow Cat Tours will give you an average of 12 runs per day, on slopes from 3,000 to 10,000 feet in length, with vertical drops of up to 1,400 feet.
22. TENNESSEE PASS
Believe it or not, there are some activites off I-70 that don’t requir fat skis and Red Bull. The Tennessee Pass Nordic Center offers up high mountain nordic, tele and snowshoeing Even better, ski or snowshoein one mile to the rustic Tennessee Pass Cookhouse where you can feast on gourmet food while enjoying tha warmth of a wood stove and a big view of the wild.
BEHIND THE PLOW
What happens when the guy who is supposed to keep the road safe goes off it?
Working with heavy equipment was never my thing. So I probably should never have taken a job as a snow plow driver for CDOT. But I’m not one to turn away from a good challenge. Which it was. Trying to keep 13 tons of equipment under control while descending an icy patch of asphalt to Evergreen Lake is enough to make anybody reach out to a higher power.
Still, I was out helping people in one way, or another—from assisting a stalled motorist to scraping an elk carcass off the road with a front end loader, I felt as if I was providing a service and making the road safer for all travelers. I felt good, proud.
That was until that one night when I let the road go.
You’re not asked to do much when you are working the night shift before a storm: just follow the “Two Snowflake Rule.” Crews are called out before the second snowflake hit the ground. Pretty simple. If it’s not snowing there’s no need to wake up the boss. Everybody’s happy and rested.
We knew the front was coming through, but not when. For a plow driver, the front moving through is almost an emotional experience. You know the weather is changing. You can see it. You can feel it.
That night, the humidity was high, the air temp 36 degrees and there was a cold front coming in. I just didn’t know when. Around 3:45 a.m. I punched through a thick wall of fog by Buchanan Park only to find a bull elk standing in the middle of the highway. I repeated a series of braking maneuvers in the cab as I worked furiously to grab lower and lower gears, all the while raising and dropping the plow to add drag and increase friction.
I was able to stop in time, barely. The bull just casually walked into the median after I had come to a complete stop. It was a sign. I see that now that I know what came next.
I made a lap up top, dropped a little sand and headed back down. I went past the shop and into the canyon. I turned around at Red Rocks and took a 10-minute break. After sharing pleasantries with the night manager at the Conoco, I headed back up canyon. In that time the road had changed. It had a subtle glow, like millions of rainbows and then it passed. The road was normal again, just colder. like 10, maybe 15 degrees colder.
Then I noticed the ice.
The road was glazed like a donut. I dumped my remaining sand on the way up the hill by Evergreen Lake. Not looking good. I made it to Lewis Rd. and called my boss and coworker. It was now maybe 6:15 and I saw what I feared the most, the start of morning traffic. The morning commuter in evergreen is a special breed of animal. Aggressive and quick. Not this morning.
I headed back to the shop to get more sand. No sand, no weight. No weight, no brakes. No brakes, no stop. Very bad.
I did come to a stop—sideways. I saw vehicles spinning like the hippos in Fantasia. People looked at me for help as they slide by. It haunts me to this day.
I took me about 45 minutes to return with sand and my crew another 30 to join me. By 10 am, the road was dry. The morning commute was a disaster, but no major accidents.
Later that morning I was in my doctors office to look into my recent onset of high blood pressure. The doctor was late and flustered. I asked her what was going on.
“The roads in Evergreen were a nightmare” she said.
PARENTS AND KIDS
Bring the Family, Just Heed These Tips
Getting snagged in an I-70 log jam with dog-tired kids piled in a minivan can easily ruin an otherwise delightful family ski weekend. A one-and-a-half hour commute can stretch to a four-hour hell trip with the kiddos screeching and kicking your seat back the whole way. “There can be a perfect storm of weather and traffic, and when it really peaks it can be pretty miserable,” says Stacey Stegman, CDOT’s PR director. But miserable you need not be. With a little ingenuity, flexible scheduling, and traffic pattern intel, you can breeze through the I-70 corridor.
The following tactics will help you avoiding the jam—or at least achieve a certain zen inside the car:
Log onto www.go170.com to view web-cams, get weather and road conditions, and check estimated travel times. One spiffy feature: predicting traffic speeds for specific dates and times. Plug in a travel time, and the site generates a graph based on previous years’ traffic patterns. Once you’re on the road, use the streamlined app at www.goI70.com/mobile. Also check CDOT’s www.cotrip.org, which covers I-70 and beyond, with streaming cams, weather reports, road conditions, live traffic speeds, and updates on tunnel metering.
Pack non-spill water bottles and snacks. Pre-cut apples, pretzels, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, bananas and energy bars are good choices.
High Noon Exit …
On Sunday, start at first chair and quit early. The Sunday slowdown starts between 2 and 4 pm and traffic can come to a crawl almost instantaneously. In the car, have kids eat the lunch you packed the night before. Every minute counts when you’re trying to beat the rush.
… Or Kill Time
If you do ski till last chair Sunday, consider delaying your commute. Stop in Silverthorne, shop at the outlets and have a relaxing family dinner. Dress the kids in PJs, then hit the road around 8 p.m. The parent riding shotgun tells bedtime stories. Ideally, the kids snooze.
FORSAKE I-70 COMPLETELY
If you really want to avoid the Highway from Hell, head to resorts that don’t require driving it (or are so far away you can avoid the peak traffic). For secrets and deals at Eldora, Monarch, Crested Butte, Aspen and Telluride, go to ElevationOutdoors.com/off-the-map