A snowboarder in the Colorado mountains. Not all ski resorts in Colorado are suitable for amateurs.

A snowboarder in the Colorado mountains. Not all ski resorts in Colorado are suitable for amateurs. (Tomas Marek, Dreamstime/TNS)

DENVER — I thought I knew how to snowboard until I moved to Colorado.

Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans, I had a leg up on my fellow Southerners, at least. Both of my parents skied in Washington State where I was born, with my dad proposing to my mom by surprising her with an engagement ring in her ski goggles on Christmas 1994.

I took snowboarding lessons as a teenager on family trips to Alpental ski resort near Seattle and Park City, Utah. That was sufficient enough to proclaim my love of the sport because, even as my gear gathered dust in the attic, many of my peers hadn’t even stepped foot in fresh snow before.

Then, at the age of 26, I found a sublet in the Mile High City after accepting a reporting job at The Denver Post, with ski season already on the brain. Before I said goodbye to Washington, D.C., friends on the East Coast raved about the ski resorts dotted throughout the Centennial State, and my mom shipped decade-old equipment up to my new home.

But as I befriended Denverites who had largely relocated from the Midwest, a horrifying realization dawned on me: Compared to them, I didn’t know the first thing about snowboarding. For instance, my Minnesotan boyfriend started skiing in his middle school’s ski club, and can land tricks like aerial 360s. My friends would weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the Ikon and Epic Passes — both costing extraordinary amounts in the eyes of an amateur snowboarder.

With the help of peer pressure, I committed to my first ski pass last winter, an Ikon, vowing to make the $1,000 price tag worth every penny. In my inaugural season, I woke up at 5 a.m. to beat the inevitable Interstate 70 traffic, and spent a total of 14 days on the slopes, graduating from green runs to a double-black diamond.

And I only managed to give myself one minor concussion.

Last winter, I frequented five ski resorts, and can humbly offer my opinion on the best and worst destinations in Colorado for snowboarders who are still learning.

5. Winter Park Resort

In a controversial pick, Winter Park Resort takes the bottom spot on the list as my least favorite ski resort. My reasoning is simple: Winter Park isn’t built for snowboarders.

First opened in 1940 before the advent of snowboarding, Winter Park has been enjoyed by skiers for decades. But I had the opposite experience during my two visits because of the sheer amount of cat tracks, also known as catwalks. They’re flat trails “that traverse across the fall line (downward slope) of a mountain,” according to snowboarding brand Burton.

In order for a snowboarder to successfully conquer a cat track, she needs to build up speed in advance, which can be tough for a hesitant first-timer. If not, then she’s eventually left sliding to a stop.

And this isn’t solely an inconvenience suffered by snowboarders, but also by their skiing friends, who will inevitably have to extend their poles and execute minor rescues.

I recognize the cult following behind Winter Park, particularly because it’s only a 60-mile drive from Denver. But its proximity to the city means the resort is often crowded, making parking difficult.

Still, on New Year’s Eve, I was happy to give it another chance as the resort is where I rang in 2024.

4. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Arapahoe Basin, or A-Basin, is held dearly beloved by Denverites because it’s another one of the closest options.

It’s also home to the only “beach” at a ski resort, the reserved front-row parking area where skiers and snowboarders can party all day with easy access to nearby lifts. A-Basin’s warm welcome to revelatory patrons — accompanied by designated drivers — and their leashed dogs is part of its mass appeal.

It boasts one of the state’s longest ski seasons, typically opening in October and closing in June, and offers more affordable season passes and day lift tickets than other giants in the ski industry.

I snowboarded A-Basin twice last season, including one solo day. Its Montezuma Bowl is a great spot to practice snowboarding in the trees, albeit a little steep at the top. Practicing on blue and black runs, I unlocked my fastest speed: 40 miles per hour.

But in my eyes, the ski area earns the No. 4 spot because its amenities are lackluster compared to those of competitors like Vail Resorts. And for a first-timer, the drive along the U.S. Highway 6 over Loveland Pass to reach the high-elevation ski area left me clammy and slightly terrified, especially as a snowstorm rolled in.

3. Vail Ski Resort

Vail Ski Resort, about 100 miles from Denver, sits in the middle of the pack. Its world-renowned reputation precedes it as an extravagant locale that Coloradans either hate to love or love to hate, but I give credit where it’s due: It’s an impressive resort, with well-groomed blue runs that I flew down (and, then, trekked back up because my lift ticket blew off of my ski jacket).

Although I got stuck a few times on flatter trails, the fresh powder on its back bowls made Vail an easy place to practice carving and making small jumps, with jaw-dropping mountain views. Since it’s the largest ski resort in the state, I only explored a portion of its 5,000 acres.

The lift tickets were a surprise gift from a friend, so, without them, I wouldn’t have gone since Vail isn’t included on the Ikon Pass, and a one-day ticket can jump as high as $300 at peak window price. Parking is also scant, with drivers sometimes leaving their cars across the interstate and walking great lengths to reach the slopes.

2. Steamboat Ski Resort

Steamboat Ski Resort takes silver in my rankings because, even though I visited during closing weekend, April 15-16, the widely-lauded quality of its snow still managed to impress.

Of course, slush and ice pooled at the bottom by the lifts, but, as I climbed higher and higher into the sky, the remaining snow made for excellent end-of-season snowboarding.

Steamboat is also where I attempted my first double-black diamond slope, bumbling through the trees before making it back onto the run. Although I mangled it, I carved through to the end, and that’s what matters, right?

The town of Steamboat, which offers easy access to the resort by bus or even on foot, serves as the picture of a classic ski destination nestled in the mountains, with popular hot springs, like Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs, ready to relax those aching muscles.

Although it’s a bucket-list snowboarding spot, it still falls short of No. 1 because of its distance from Denver at over 150 miles, which means three to four hours of driving one way.

1. Copper Mountain Resort

Easily navigable and luxurious, Copper Mountain Resort ranks as my top-tier Colorado ski resort. Just check my kitchen cabinet — at least three aluminum cups from various watering holes at Copper have been kept as souvenirs.

This is where it all began for me last December. In the season’s earliest days, I slid down the green runs, then transitioned to blue runs. I took advantage of the often-uncrowded slopes to make plenty of mistakes, falling hard when I tried to carve or even gracefully exit the ski lift (every snowboarder’s nightmare).

Still, I felt comfortable riding solo at Copper, and racked up seven days there, finally moving onto black diamond runs and moguls, or fields of bumpy terrain.

The main lifts — American Flyer and American Eagle — stay very busy at peak times, so arriving early is worth the sacrificed sleep.

Depending on the traffic, the 90-mile drive to Copper from Denver only takes an hour and a half on a good day, so it’s more accessible for city slickers. It counts as my go-to spot to bring friends and family members from out of town.

The free shuttle buses from the parking lots circulate reliably, with an easy system to ferry visitors to their preferred runs, with green, blue, black and purple express routes. And after hours of shredding, I can easily find a snack — and, more importantly, a strong cocktail — at one of several bars and restaurants eager for exhausted snowboarders to stay a while.

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