February 26, 2018
Oh, Interstate 70. The straight and uneventful highway that stretches from the outskirts of Baltimore to the heart of Utah passing through 10 states along the way including our lovely Colorado. Anyone who has traveled much of the asphalt thoroughfare knows it to be a great way to see the midwest and a perfect place to practice your cruise-control and podcast picking skills. All that smooth sailing can come to an abrupt halt on a Friday afternoon in the foothills as the masses from Denver fill the west bound lanes like a swarm of stoked locusts eager to get a few turns in over the weekend. To those who have witnessed the migration, it can easily turn the joy and excitement of a powder seekers journey into a profanity-laced, stress-inducing experiment in patience and safe driving protocol. While there is no one way to guarantee less traffic or good road conditions, here are a few tips and tricks to better your odds at spending more time on the mountain than in your automobile.
Winter Park/Mary Jane is a great resort offering world class skiing and riding for all abilities with small town charm that makes for a great spot to spend the weekend. It is one of the closest resorts to Denver and with little traffic takes about 80 minutes, each way, to make the trip. If you take Highway 6 west from Golden and the frontage roads from Idaho Springs to Lawson, you’ll only end up on I-70 for a 5 mile stretch from the bottom of Floyd Hill to Exit 241 at Idaho Springs. Be careful not to speed through the small towns on this stretch as it’s a good way to end up paying your tourist tax with a speeding ticket. Once you reach Highway 40 outside of Empire you should be in the clear up and over Berthoud Pass into Winter Park. This route skips the Eisenhower Tunnel bottleneck and is a good option for a day trip. The frontage roads can back up from time to time and another option is staying on I-70 until Idaho Springs if the highway traffic is moving fast enough for your liking. Highway 40 also goes to Steamboat Springs if you are out for a long weekend and want to visit multiple resorts.
The resorts in Summit County can be accessed by taking Highway 285 from Denver to Fairplay, heading north on CO-9 from here over Hoosier Pass and down into Breckenridge. This adds about 42 minutes to your trip versus the I70 path but there are rarely as many backups and slowdowns on 285. State Highway 9 goes over a high and winding mountain pass so be sure to have snow tires and check the conditions beforehand on the off chance the pass is closed. This route works well for those who live in the southern part of Denver and is a good way to skip the Sunday eastbound madness if you are coming home from Breckenridge, Keystone or Copper Mountain.
If you have the time and are willing, making the trek to one or all of the resorts in southern Colorado can lead to epic days that you will tell your grandchildren about. Telluride and Silverton offer some of the best lines and backcountry options for experienced skiers and riders. Wolf Creek is small but is known to get hit with storms that stack up and give you the chance for first tracks in waist deep powder. These resorts are 4 to 6 hours away from Denver under good conditions but the drive is beautiful and the traffic is light. While more effort goes in to a ski trip to these destinations, seeing the San Juan Mountains in their full winter glory is a must for anyone new to Colorado.
This may sound simple or impossible depending on your line of work but comes highly recommended and is the only true way to skip the weekend headache. If you have ever had a run all to yourself on a blue-bird powder day than you know the feeling is unmatched. If you have been hesitant to use a sick-day or play hooky in the past, watch the snow report closely and go for it the very next time.
Written by: Caleb Summeril
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