Most people make holiday travel plans months in advance. On Christmas Eve, I found myself with an acute case of cabin fever and my skis calling. I found the typical area resorts completely booked as the week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously the busiest of the year. In a dire “Is there room at the inn” calling spree, I found consecutive single night vacancies at three different bed and breakfasts an exit or two away from Loveland Ski Area.
Facebook posts from local friends at Loveland suggested it’s a family favorite, offering affordable ski lessons in close proximity to the Denver metro area. I’d lumped its “easy access” with “less-than-desirable terrain.” But not so fast; I was about to be proven wrong in so many ways about Loveland. My nine-year-old son Ames and I set out on our impulse trip with low expectations.
Welcome to Loveland
You can see a few of the resort’s lifts from Colorado’s I-70, but that’s just a fraction of the terrain, which in total is made up of 1800 skiable acres and 94 trails. Parking is free and right at the base, offering access to most of the ski area. For beginners, Loveland has its very own ski area and dedicated parking lot just before you get to the main area. Newbies don’t have to worry about getting mowed over by faster skiers/boarders and more advanced folks don’t have to dodge anxious snow-plowers and sloth-paced boarders. Brilliant.
Walking from my car to the mountain base, I could tell my new mittens weren’t going to cut it in the frigid single-digit temps of December. To my surprise, Loveland’s gear shop offered two floors of selection without the big resort prices. “Take a run in these and if they aren’t warm enough, bring them back and we’ll exchange them,” offered the friendly salesclerk. (Thankfully, they were plenty toasty.)
The main Loveland parking lot was almost completely full, so I expected to see the typical Christmas holiday crowds on the hill. But once away from the base lifts (one and two), there were no crowds. Spend December 26th at any other big resort and you can expect to be among the herd of masses. Each run we blazed, Ames and I would stop midway and wonder: “Where were all the people?” At the bottom off of lifts eight and nine, we didn’t wait longer than 60 seconds. Though it hadn’t snowed in a while, we found nice areas of fresh powder.
Friendly and unpretentious
The vibe of Loveland is friendly and unpretentious. And it wasn’t just locals we chatted with on the chairlift or at lunch tables that gave me that sense. We heard multiple languages and accents from visitors around the globe: German, French, Spanish, and Russian. An Aussie couple we shared a lift ride with had driven over from nearby Keystone to take advantage of bargain lift ticket prices and, to their surprise too, fewer crowds.
The cafeteria and food court options at the Basin Lodge were hardly Michelin-rated, but for an $8.95 lunch special (lasagna and a salad), my belly was full with a hot meal and to my surprise, it was actually pretty good. The selection wasn’t just your typical fried mountain grub fare. Ames had a filling portion of mac n’ cheese for just $3.95. This was a budget-minded trip so we brought our own hot cocoa mix. For twenty-five cents each, we got two cups of hot water and mixed our own.
A new speedier way to the top
When I’d posted on my neighborhood Facebook group page about thoughts on Loveland, one comment dismissed its lifts as being agonizingly slow. To our delight, last season’s lift two has been reconfigured to offer a much faster way to the top. Lift two now stops mid-mountain, and a brand new triple chairlift called Ptarmigan loads there and more speedily reaches the top. And at the top, the new Ptarmigan Roost Cafe is the perfect spot to take a break, grab another hot cocoa and take in the panoramic view.
Where to stay: mining town bed & breakfasts you’ll totally dig
Loveland’s a ski area, not a resort, so it doesn’t offer its own lodging but it does partner with hosts in the area to offer package discounts.
Georgetown, Idaho Springs and Silver Plume are all mining towns along I-70. I’d dismissed all as places that cars nowadays pull over for the weed shops or fast food munchies. At a fraction of the cost of resort lodging, there are a number of affordable B&Bs ranging in type of bedroom, breakfast and character—all within a short ride of Loveland. You can be sure I’ll be putting them in my contact list for those times I’m stuck in I-70 gridlock during a blizzard to park my head for the night.
1. Silver Valley Bed & Breakfast, 1467 Silver Valley Rd, Silver Plume, CO 80476 (innkeeper: Cynthia; 702-772-6496)
Closest to Loveland is the Silver Valley Bed & Breakfast, located just seven miles from Loveland Ski Area. Each individual room offers a private bathroom (clean enough that I let Ames take a bath in the tub) which has all the toiletry essentials including bath salts for aching ski muscles. The owner, Cynthia, was welcoming and offered us tea and cookies upon our arrival. Other guests enjoyed a complimentary glass of wine in the communal living area downstairs with TV, pool table and fireplace.
Breakfast the next morning was DIY continental with muffins, Danishes, frozen waffles, cereal, and granola bars to go. An ample selection of bottled juices and milk was also available to eat there or take on the run. I’d forgotten to pack our suits for a soak, but there was a hot tub on the deck right outside our bedroom door. The place had the feel of staying at a friend’s house, relaxed and homey. Rooms start at just $125/night even during holidays.
2. Miners Pick Bed and Breakfast, 1639 Colorado Blvd, Idaho Springs, CO 80452 (innkeeper: Vicki; 303-567-4870)
Miners Pick Bed and Breakfast in Idaho Springs offered the best breakfast of the three, a sit-down breakfast made to order. Owner Vicki’s hospitality was palpable when we arrived as she asked my son what his favorite breakfast dish was. We awoke the next morning to the smell of bacon wafting up the staircase. Vicki served up two eggs perfectly over easy with crisp bacon and toast for Ames. She prepared a lovely vegetable egg strata for me and the other visitors we dined with.
The fireplace downstairs was cozy and inviting. The reading room upstairs had a nice selection of historic books about the area and a mini fridge with drinks and snacks. Our room was decorated in Gone with the Wind theme. We were walking distance, just a half block, from downtown Idaho Springs. Rooms start at $99/night for weeknights.
3. The Historic Windsor Bed & Breakfast, 515 Woodward St, Silver Plume, CO (innkeeper: Monica; 970-670-7551)
The Historic Windsor Bed & Breakfast was the bargain of the three places with rooms starting at just $60/night for a single bed. What was once a miner’s boarding house in the 1860s serves up one-of-a-kind character today. It’s outfitted in funky “unearthed from the attic” décor and creaks with each step up the staircase and down the hall. It’s popular with Europeans and those partial to non-homogenized budget hotels. Owner Monica had one international visitor there, on a lengthier stay and named Thor, skiing Keystone only at night when it was less-crowded. The toilet and clawfoot tub/shower are separate from one another and shared. Breakfast was a mix of muffins, bagels and frozen American fare (waffles, pancakes on a stick and breakfast sandwiches).
The town of Silver Plume is a bit of a ghost town. Monica serves a chili in the afternoons that we didn’t try (we opted for Mexican food instead in the nearby town of Georgetown. Monica is the sister of Cynthia, who owns the nearby Silver Valley B&B (above). The two places couldn’t be more different from one another, underscoring the fact that you don’t have to dig deep to find that there’s something for everyone in the way of lodging here.
Dining: forks in the road
Georgetown and Idaho Springs have a number of dining options worth their weight in gold, silver or whatever you’ve got a hankering for on a budget:
- Georgetown’s popular Alpine Restaurant and Bar offers awesome crisp crusted pizza and live music
- Also in Georgetown is Lucha Cantina, which was decent and modestly priced (disclaimer: Being a bit of a Mexican food snob after living in California, Texas and Arizona, I’ve yet to find stellar Mexican food since moving to Colorado)
- The newly remodeled Buffalo restaurant is just a half block from The Miner’s Pick (above); the “Nashville Fried Chicken” plate (a breast, leg, thigh, and wing) with two cheddar biscuits and pickled okra was enough for my hollow-legged son and me; for $14 we left stuffed and satisfied
On Valentine’s Day, you can even get married or renew your wedding vows at Loveland on a budget at their 25th annual Marry Me & Ski Free event. Whether visiting just for the day or on a multi-day trip, Loveland has lots to love.