Summit County, a mere hour's drive from the Denver Metro Area on a straight shot up I–70, is Denver's playground. The wide-open mountain park ringed by 13,000- to 14,000-foot peaks greets westbound travelers minutes after they pop out the west portal of the Eisenhower Tunnel. The sharp-toothed Gore Range rises to the northwest
and the Tenmile Range gathers up behind Breckenridge. Resting in the center of this bowl are the sapphire waters of Dillon Reservoir, an artificial lake fed by Blue River.
In winter, Summit County is packed with tourists and Front Range day-trippers skiing the steeps at Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Copper Mountain. The high density of first-rate ski resorts generally keeps lift lines low, particularly on weekdays. In summer, the steady westbound traffic is mostly SUVs stacked high with kayaks and mountain bikes.
Summit County, as its name implies, is relatively high. The town of Breckenridge sits at 9,603 feet (Aspen by comparison is at 7,908 feet), and the resort's highest ski lift tops out just shy of 13,000 feet. Visitors from sea level should take their time getting acclimated. Even Denverites find themselves breathless in the thin air. Drink lots of water and rest your first few days. There will be plenty of time to play.
Just 90 miles west of Denver over Loveland Pass or through the Eisenhower Tunnel, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin are among the closest ski resorts to the Front Range. Given their location hugging the Continental Divide's western flank—both are surrounded by high-altitude peaks topping 12,000 feet—they are also among the highest resorts in the state. You can reach both by taking I–70 across the Divide to Dillon and then following U.S. 6 south and east up the narrow valley.
Lake Dillon, a 3,233-acre artificial reservoir with four narrow arms and almost 27 miles of shoreline, sits at the heart of Summit County. The lake is guarded on the northwest by the steep Gore Range and on the southwest by the Tenmile Range (a part of the Mosquito Range), and to the east by the Continental Divide. Along the northern shore sit Dillon and her sister town Silverthorne, while Frisco hugs a southwest arm of the lake. Breckenridge is roughly 5 miles south of Lake Dillon, backed up against the Tenmile Range.
Skiers head to Copper Mountain because the runs make sense—you can start easy and progress to harder slopes without having to crisscross the mountain. It also offers the largest expanse of skiing in Summit County. Although nearby Leadville has a small ski resort (Ski Cooper) and plenty of snowmobiling trails, this rustic mining town is more popular as a summer base for hiking forays to nearby Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.