When I studied at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I skied as often as I could. I usually headed for Aspen, Vail, Steamboat, Keystone or other big resorts because that was where friends with cars were going and had places to stay — even if it meant sleeping on the floor.
But I never made it up Colorado 119 through twisting, picturesque Boulder Canyon to Eldora Mountain, which was 21 miles from my modest basement room in a house a few blocks off campus.
So on a visit to Boulder and my old college haunts last December with my two youngest children we stayed at the lovely St Julien Hotel, a block off the public-art-filled Pearl Street Mall. When it came time to ski, we avoided the often backed-up Interstate 70 to the major resorts and had a great time carving turns at Eldora.
Eldora was purchased in 2016 by Powdr Corp., but retains something of a low-key, mom-and-pop feel. It has gentle terrain, ideal for beginners, as well as double-black-diamond runs for experts who like to challenge themselves. It also has a Nordic center where you can cross-country ski or snowshoe on about 25 miles of wooded trails.
Eldora is relatively small by Colorado standards (650 acres versus Vail’s 5,289) but it’s no slouch, with a 1,600-foot vertical drop, 300 inches of annual snowfall, seven chairlifts and 65 runs. Its 9,200-foot elevation may leave you wheezing on your first day. I was.
Because the resort is close to Boulder, you can ski and ride during the day to your heart’s content then stay overnight in a sophisticated college town and enjoy its myriad entertainment and restaurant offerings. Eldora also is less than 50 miles from Denver.
On our first afternoon at Eldora, my kids and I hopped on the new six-person Alpenglow lift with ski patrolman Richard Bartkowiak, a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service when the snow melts.
Bartkowiak described Eldora as more laid-back than the better-known resorts he’s skied in Colorado and Utah.
“For the most part, it’s a Boulder locals’ mountain,” he said. “We get a lot of people from Denver and Fort Collins [about 70 miles away] who don’t want the hassle of Interstate 70. But we also have some folks from much farther afield. Just the other day I rode the chairlift with a girl from Texas who’d never been on snow before. She was loving it.
“There’s a strong [ski] racing culture here, and I sometimes see grade schoolers who are better than I am,” he said, exaggerating slightly. “But for the most part, this is a great family area with something for everyone. And there’s hardly anyone here weekdays.”
After a warm-up lap on the intermediate (blue) Hornblower run, we moved on to other blues, such as Windmill, Dream and Scream, Jolly Jug and Lower Ambush, most on the front of the mountain. When it came time to call it a day, we headed for Timbers Lodge, where the kids grabbed a hot chocolate and I sipped a Boulder-brewed beer in the Tap Room.
After a good night’s rest — and some needed altitude acclimation — we got back on the snow a little after 9 a.m. and did a few warm-up runs before heading to the backside of Eldora and mostly black runs such as Red Tail,Mule Shoe and Alpen Horn. If there had been a bit more fresh snow, I might have tried tree skiing in Brian’s Glades.
For lunch, we stopped at the Lookout, which serves gourmet pizzas, sandwiches, chili, hot chocolate and beer at 10,800 feet on the top of the Corona Bowl. Best of all, it has wonderful views stretching to the Great Plains to the east and the Continental Divide a metaphorical stone’s throw to the west.
On our final day, for a bit of a different experience, we rented snowshoes at the Nordic Center and tromped through the trees on a rolling trail that led to a rustic cabin that looked as if it might have been built in the 1800s. Along the way, we stopped to read small signs that told of the region’s history as a Native American and mining post.
I know Boulder will draw me back. And if it’s during the winter and the snow is good, I’ll do my best to make a side trip to Eldora for a few laps on Hornblower. And maybe I’ll even hop into Brian’s Glades.
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO DENVER
From LAX, American, United, Southwest, Delta and Frontier offer nonstop service to Denver; Southwest offers direct service (stop, no change of planes); and Delta, Southwest, United and American offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfare from $287, including taxes and fees.
Eldora, 2861 Eldora Ski Road, Nederland, Colo.; (303) 440-8700. Lift tickets: Adult, full-day tickets, $129 ($99 early-season rate); kids 5-15, $79; senior, 70 and older, $79; children 4 and younger, $19. Ikon, which are good at Big Bear, Mammoth, June Mountain, Squaw Valley, Aspen Snowmass and other resorts, provide unlimited access to alpine skiing and snowboarding at Eldora.
WHERE TO STAY
St Julien Hotel, 900 Walnut St., Boulder, Colo.; (720) 406-9696. Opened in 2005, this upscale hotel offers afternoon tea; music some nights in its lobby by the fireplace and on the outdoor terrace in warm weather; Jill’s Restaurant & Bistro; and a spa and pool. Doubles from $300 a night.
Hotel Boulderado, 2115 13th St., Boulder, Colo.; (303) 442-4344. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Italian Renaissance/Spanish Revival Boulderado is in the heart of downtown. It appears in the Stephen King novel “Misery” and has a working 1908 elevator and a speakeasy-style bar in the basement. Doubles from $169.
Adventure Lodge, 91 Fourmile Canyon Drive, Boulder, Colo.; (303) 444-0882. The A-Lodge has regular rooms, a hostel and wooden decks for camping, which make it a popular hangout for skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Doubles from $139, hostel beds from $39.
WHERE TO EAT
Blackbelly Market, 1606 Conestoga St., Boulder, Colo.; (303) 247-1000. Blackbelly, the first restaurant by “Top Chef” winner Hosea Rosenberg, is in East Boulder and has a meat-centric menu from its in-house butchery. Entrees from $25, though you can get a beef burger for $16.
Corrida, 1023 Walnut St., No. 400, Boulder, Colo.; (303) 444-1333. Opened in 2017, Corrida’s meals are inspired by northern Spain’s Basque Country. Beef entrees from $40, though small tapas begin at $3.
Timbers Lodge, 2861 Eldora Ski Road, Nederland, Colo.; (303) 440-8700. Breakfast burritos and cheeseburgers from $10. The Timbers Tap Room serves regional microbrews, margaritas and gourmet pizzas.