As I sit down to write this, it is nearing the end of summer. In a community that boats four world class ski areas, this can be cause for celebration. However, the popular local saying, “we came for winter but have stayed because of summer” never rings more true than as the sure signs of season’s change begin to appear….cooler nights (now in the 40’s on a regular basis—we have approximately 45 frost free days a year!), aspen leaves that even now are beginning to show tinges of yellow, bears padding their rotund middles with all they can forage and days that are seem to get shorter with every passing 24 hour period.Preparing to write this for you, I drove around Summit County this morning. Not that I haven’t done that countless times before, but I wanted a fresh perspective, to share with you something beyond what you can read in most Colorado travel materials. There are four roads in to Summit County and in my opinion, they are indicative of the very best we have to offer in so many respects.
From the east, Loveland Pass offers a spectacular alternative to the I-70 interstate tunneling beneath it. At its summit, 11,990 ft., you find yourself atop the Continental Divide with vistas that give you the distinct impression you indeed are atop the world. Twelve months a year, you can have a snowball fight at this spot and I promise your photos will be amazing. The drive into Summit County from the east is indeed one well worth pursuing. At the “bottom” of the pass on “our” side, you will come to Keystone Ski Resortowned and operated by Vail Resorts. Keystone is the only ski area in our community that offers night skiing and visitors love to take advantage of this unique activity. Besides that, a day pass stretching well into the evening hours gives one the feeling of securing a “bargain” for those extra turns made long after the sun has gone down behind the mountain peaks. Keystone’s mountain village, River Run, bustles with music, activity and lots of unique food choices whether your après ski starts at 4:00 in the afternoon or after last chair at 9:00 in the evening.
Entering Summit County from the south requires traversing Hoosier Pass, where on a clear day Pikes Peak can be seen from its summit. Heading down from there into Blue River at the south end of Summit County requires full attention on the part of the driver, particularly if there is winter weather involved. It will be easy to distinguish a “local” driver from a visitor on those days; locals who drive this regularly to work in Breckenridge tend to exhibit their impatience with those less certain of the winding mountain pass road. Breckenridge, the most visited ski area in North America for many years, is also a quaint Victorian town dating back 152 years to gold mining days in the Rocky Mountains. As a matter of fact, the largest gold nugget to be mined in the Rockies came from a mine near Breckenridge and the story of Tom’s Baby (named thus because as he brought the 9 pound “nugget” into town, he carried it in his arms like a baby wrapped in an infant’s blanket) is among the most interesting of Summit County historical lore. Historical sites in Breckenridge are a “must visit” as they share a story of a community that has grown up around gold, railroads and in the past 50 years, some of the most spectacular skiing available. Local people will tell you that Breckenridge is a “real town” (as opposed to a “ski village” at the base of a mountain) and the uniqueness of the shops, the rich variety of restaurant choices, and the unparalleled mountain scenery make this a place you will want to return to often.
Continuing north on Hwy 9 out of Breckenridge, you will pass our summer play area, Lake Dillon. Sailing on this mountain reservoir is such a challenging sport that the annual sailboat regatta held in early August brings sailors from all over take on the ever changing winds on this lake. Truth be told, kit skiing in winter is growing in popularity and so, while the lake is frozen for approximately 8 months of the year, its recreational use provides year round opportunities. Frisco, the town most centrally located in Summit County, claims the “Main Street of the Rockies” title. Standing at the east end of Main Street and looking west, you can almost picture an old west scene with cowboys going in and out of the Moosejaw Saloon at the end of the day. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a shootout in the middle of the street even though a second look reminds you that it’s the twenty-first century, not the mid 1800’s. Frisco claims “Copper Mountain” as its ski area and the short drive from the edge of town to Copper’s entrance is a spectacular one. Biking this area in summer is a popular local activity and hiking trailheads are numerous. This brief jaunt on I-70 takes you in and out of the county from the west and is only about 20 minutes to Vail from the top of the pass where the sign at the county line reminds you that you are coming into/going out of Summit County, Colorado’s playground!
The northern route in and out of the county is on Hwy 9. Going north out of Silverthorne (after stopping to shop at the Outlets at Silverthorne, of course!), you will note the scenery changing dramatically. While Buffalo Mountain (a Summit landmark named for its resemblance to a buffalo’s back looms above the four shopping village of the outlets and the Gore Range stretches off to the north, the landscape on either side of the road you will travel definitely becomes ranch-like. Indeed, several prosperous ranches are found along this stretch of highway and your line of vision takes in miles of sagebrush, river beds and pasture with the mountains now forming a backdrop to this ever changing terrain. At the edge of the county line is Green Mountain Reservoir, another, more remote recreation area that includes campgrounds, hiking trails, water sports and as always, glorious scenery!
It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful and versatile place to spend time restoring your soul. Whether it’s winter when around every bend, you seem to be walking/driving/skiing in the middle of a Christmas card, autumn when the gold aspen leaves dance to a tune only they can hear, or glorious summertime when truly—the livin’ is easy, the richness that is Summit County draws millions of visitors again and again for unforgettable experiences. Whether your passion is extreme sports, retail therapy, history, art, photography, sailing, magnificent scenery…..you will find it all here! Visit soon….and I promise you’ll be back often.