Sometimes the place that comes with the lowest set of expectations is the place you love the most.
I’ve written before about how much I love skiing with my dad and the little rituals and traditions we have when we’re together on a mountain. Last week, we made it back to Colorado for our second ski outing of the season. We weren’t sure which mountain would have the best conditions, or how bad traffic would be getting out of the city and up to the resorts (we recently spent over 3 FREAKING hours in a car trying to get from Denver to Copper Mountain), so we held off on figuring out exactly where we were going until the morning of our trip. That’s something that I love about Denver: there are so many mountains and ski areas within just a few hours of the city; a ski trip out that way involves pretty minimal planning and you can change your mind basically at the last minute when you hear that a particular mountain got a bunch of fresh snow. On Friday, we were deciding between some of our usual suspects: Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Breckenridge… when we heard that Lake Eldora (one of the smaller, less popular resorts in the area that my dad hadn’t been to in decades and a mountain I’ve never even skied) got eight inches of fresh snow over night, so, we packed up and hit the road and drove the 45 or so minutes to the mountain.
The drive was absolutely gorgeous, and also really eerie. The area had gotten some snow overnight, so everything was coated with a light dusting of powder but, because its currently the dead of winter the trees are all pretty much dead at the lower altitudes, and the snow was clinging to bare, yellowing branches. Add a heavy layer of fog to that scene, and my dad and I felt like we were traveling under water. The dead tree branches coated in white powder looked like coral, and the heavy gray fog created a strange, other-worldly atmosphere. It wasn’t until we’d climbed a few thousand feet on Highway 36 that we saw sunlight, sky or anything that resembled normal Colorado terrain.
Speaking of highway 36: it’s gorgeous. If you ever find yourself in Denver with the option to use I-70 or this small highway, take the road less traveled. It’s (very, very) windy, but the climb is absolutely stunning. Once we got up high enough, we could see Lake Eldora Ski Area poking out in between several snow-capped peaks in the distance – the view was amazing. I-70 may get you to the mountains faster, but Highway 36 is one of my new favorite roads, and the adventures that day didn’t stop with the breathtaking views…
When we were about three or so miles from the resort, we saw a man about my dad’s age by the side of the road, in ski boots and pants, holding out his thumb to get a ride to the mountain. My dad slowed down, popped the trunk of our SUV and announced excitedly that he’d never picked up a hitch hiker before. The guy climbed in and the three of us made our way up the mountain together. The drive was fun – the guy we picked up was (at least in my opinion) the quintessential hitch hiker: he was sort of unshaven, wearing these big vintage glasses, he had long hair and everything he said started or ended with “yeah man” or “sure buddy.” Between the vintage glasses, the “yeah mans” and the fact that we didn’t get murdered by a stranger on a back-country road in the Rockies foothills, for my dad’s first experience picking up a hitch hiker, I’d say he really nailed it.
We made it to the mountain (where we snagged an amazing parking spot – the hitch hiker told us that picking him up brought us good karma…who am I to argue?) and we spent the next 3.5 hours skiing non-stop. There were no lift lines and hardly any crowds (like I said, Lake Eldora tends to be a less popular spot due to its size and elevation – since when was 10,500 feet not enough elevation?), so my dad and I never had to wait to get back up the mountain and could basically ski the whole way down without stopping or worrying about anyone else on the runs. In half a day, we did 10 runs, which is a ton. By the time we got down the mountain for our traditional end of the day beer (OK, it might be two beers) at the lodge, we were absolutely wiped out.
This ski trip will go down as one of my all-time faves. Between the beautiful drive, picking up a random hitch hiker and skiing non-stop for hours, I really can’t think of a better way to spend a day, and I have a feeling my dad and I will keep going back to Eldora – a small mountain neither of us had even thought of skiing – for years to come.