Small ski resorts in Colorado

Last Updated on 2nd September 2022 by Steve

Most skiers around the world are familiar with the Aspens and the Vails of this world.

These well-known Colorado ski resorts have helped make the state a dream destination for ski breaks booked on other continents and in other time zones.

But skiers outside the USA, and even outside the state of Colorado, might not be familiar with some of the smaller but still interesting ski areas that are dotted around the Rockies.

Here are a few ‘unknown’ Colorado ski resorts which people maybe should be more familiar with…

Ski Cooper

Ski Cooper
Top of Cooper
© Cooper Hill Ski Area

Ski Cooper Information

Cooper ski area is located less than 30 miles away from Vail – and it feels like 30 years away from the ritzy neighbour.

The nearest town of any size is Leadville, a historic mountain mining settlement to the south.

The original ski trails on the hill were cut for training by soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, who were based at a camp near Leadville during World War Two.

Nowadays the ski area offers five ski lifts and 60 ski runs in what is thought of mainly as a family and intermediate area, with the potential for tree and powder skiing. The new T-Bar draglift in the Tennessee Creek Basin will however offer access to a number of double black diamond (expert level) ski runs.

Snowcat tours are also offered to Chicago Ridge, which opens an off-piste skiing area of bowls and glades that is a similar size to Vail’s Back Bowls.

A limited amount of accommodation is available in Leadville, with much more on offer in the Vail settlements to the north.

More information:

Ski Cooper Video

Ski Cooper Video

Eldora Mountain

Eldora Colorado
© Eldora | Sam Bass

Eldora Ski Information

Eldora is a smallish ski area near the mountain town of Nederland, a short distance above the big student and outdoors magnet of Boulder on the Front Range.

It was founded in 1962 on Forest Service land and is now owned by the Powdr Corporation.

With a regular ski bus service from Boulder and a relatively short journey time of around 45 minutes, Eldora is popular with day skiers, although there is a limited amount of accommodation in Nederland.

The ski area has seven chairlifts and two draglifts serving 680 acres of skiable terrain. Although the majority of runs are intermediate or beginner standard, expert runs can be found in the Corona Bowl area just off the Corona lift.

More information:

Eldora Ski Video


Purgatory Ski Resort
© Purgatory Resort

Purgatory Ski Information

Purgatory ski area is a resort renowned for its affordability and laid-back atmosphere in the San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado. It is probably the best-known of our ‘smaller ski resort’ picks for people outside the state.

The closest town to the skiing is the historic town of Durango, with its own airport and road connections through to Grand Junction.

In high season, it gets plenty of visitors from the states to the south of Colorado, but outside those times skiers report little queuing for the ten lifts serving 85 runs.

Most of the skiing is at a beginner or intermediate level although there is some expert terrain dotted around the resort, especially off the new high-speed chairlift.

The resort has now taken over the nearby backcountry snow-cat operation, Purgatory Snowcat Adventures, which is the largest operation in Colorado and offers eight to ten rides a day in 35000 acres of terrain in the San Juans.

More information:

Purgatory Ski Video

Sunlight Mountain Resort

Sunlight Ski Resort in Colorado
© Sunlight | Deanna Trevizo

Sunlight Ski Information

Sunlight Mountain advertises itself as a family ski resort for half the price of the normal Colorado ski operations.

The ski area is located near Glenwood Springs on the I70 interstate highway that leads east-west through the heart of the Rockies. The actual skiing is a few miles to the south of the historic resort town.

Currently it is in the middle of a three-year expansion programme and skiers can expect five new runs added this year (termed ‘hike-out’ at the moment until the new chairlift is installed in 2020).

At the moment, the ski area offers three chairlifts with a good variety of standards in the 67 runs.

Skiers can also take advantage of the local hot springs which brought the original tourists to the town with the resort’s Ski Swim Stay package.

More information:

Sunlight Mountain Ski Video

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek Ski Resort
© Wolf Creek | Jason Lombard

The ski resort of Wolf Creek in southwestern Colorado is renowned for its powder skiing. More snow than anywhere else in the state of Colorado, say the resort ads proudly.

Generally, the locals reckon on nearly 500 inches of snow a year, which is probably one reason why the ski resort is celebrating its 80th birthday this year.

As part of the festivities, they are planning to reopen a historic draglift on the front side of the mountain. The draglift had been relegated to a backup for newer chairlifts, but now has a new spliced cable for a bit of ski nostalgia this winter.

As well as the draglift, the resort offers six chairlifts serving 77 runs, with nearly half of them being classed as advanced or expert standard.

The nearest towns for accommodation are Pagosa Springs to the southwest and South Fork to the northeast. (The Wolf Creek pass area is currently the subject of a development dispute, as plans by a Texan billionaire for accommodation housing thousands of visitors are being bitterly opposed by locals and environmentalists.)

More information:

Wolf Creek Ski Video