Centering yourself in Colorado's winter playground

There’s an addiction common in the mountains. It involves a compulsion to seek the best lines down snow-covered slopes. The addict will travel resort to resort, mountain pass to mountain pass, in any sort of weather, in search of a legendary ski day. Those most affected purchase the lift tickets offering the greatest number of free days at sister resorts, then hit the road to figure out the true meaning of nirvana. The dream is to find a location that gives the highest bang-to-pow ratio — great lines, reliable accommodations, and some rest-day fun.

Satisfying the Cravings in Montrose

My husband and I are addicted. We traveled thousands of miles this past season chasing the dream around the West and into Canada. At each prime destination, we shared a chairlift seat, hot tub conversation, or ski après discussion with someone that bowed to our sublime fortune to live in Montrose, Colorado. The first time it happened was in Tahoe City after a day of gleefully skiing deep, fresh powder with views of the shimmering sapphire lake. The strangers in the hot tub asked where we called home. Our answer prompted one to exclaim the absurdity of us having left. The other started asking how to get there. He was road-tripping, and although Aspen had been on his mind, we talked him into a modified trajectory.

Why would powder-hungry skiers see this high desert crossroads town as some sort of Mecca? It’s easy – put a pin in the map and draw a circle of where you can drive within two hours. Ski addicts are not afraid to drive. As a species, we’re more afraid of paying too much for our fun. If there is a basecamp where you can get a nice hotel with a fridge and microwave in the room, free breakfast, and drive sub-two hours to a variety of hills for turns — well that’s the dream. And that’s precisely what our hot tub acquaintance had on his mind. “You can ski Telluride one day and Crested Butte the next!” Yeah, we do that. A lot. Our other hot water companion was practically booking his Montrose hotel from the tub.

Day of Rest

If you aren’t up for the full Circle of Bliss tour, or you just don’t like to ski every day (really?), there are plenty of other options around Montrose for a zero-vertical day. Fishing the Uncompahgre River through town is available year-round. A wintertime trip to Black Canyon National Park is a special treat, especially if you have cross-country skis or snowshoes. The newly renovated Ute Indian Museum beautifully tells an important piece of local history and presents the stories of modern Utes. The also new Montrose Recreation Center offers day passes and great family fun or ski bum warm pool laziness. Desert hikes are an option as well and provide solitude in a quiet season beneath cliffs and among cacti. If rest for you just means clicking into your Nordic skis, there is an abundance of great terrain to keep your heart rate going and Instagram feed buzzing.

Winter Driving

To be sure, the Circle of Bliss involves some potentially intimidating winter driving. Just choose the right destination for road conditions, weather forecast, and your nerves. The Colorado Department of Transportation does an amazing job keeping US Highways 50 and 550 open all winter and frequently updates conditions on their website ( Webcams are well positioned along the routes if you are the type that likes to see what you are getting into before going. The Million Dollar Highway south of Ouray is not for the faint of heart in the winter. If the driving doesn’t cause heart flutters, the scenery will – it’s gorgeous when blanketed in snow.

Ski addicts know to have snow tires, chains, a properly maintained vehicle (four-wheel drive preferred), a grain shovel, and a calm head. Be sure you have extra food, water, and layers in the vehicle as well. Be aware that vehicles must meet specific traction requirements when Colorado’s traction and chain laws are in effect due to hazardous road conditions.

Establishing Basecamp

Montrose has numerous hotels, motels, B&Bs, and other lodging options that work wonderfully for an affordable ski basecamp. For the budget savvy, many have rooms that come with a mini-fridge and microwave for in-room dining potential. Grocery stores, liquor stores, and breweries that will bottle up their craft draft for you are all readily available, and some even have online ordering and delivery options. Montrose has an incredible fish market and lots of local meats, produce, and beverages to offer. And if you aren’t in the mood to be creative with hotel room culinary arts, the restaurants are diverse and convenient from most lodging. And they will feed you at a fraction of the price of the ski towns.

Stay 'N Ski

Interested in a program that won’t break the bank, yet lets you play in and explore America’s hottest winter playgrounds?

Earn bragging rights for that Monday morning water cooler conversation with the Montrose Stay ‘n Ski Program. During your adventure, add value to your getaway by staying a few more days in the most centralized destination on Colorado’s Western Slope while experiencing the heart-palpitating thrill of skiing five world-class slopes.

A well-connected airport makes it easy to get here from virtually anywhere in the world by offering convenient non-stop service from Denver, Chicago, Newark, New York, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City (see page 15). Montrose’s regional airport does its part to ensure visitors have a delightful experience by providing a 98% flight completion rate, the best performance among mountain destination airports.

Make Montrose your destination. You’ll discover the true meaning of hospitality and enjoy a stress-free, affordable, and memorable Colorado vacation. Stay here. Play everywhere. It’s more than a tagline: it’s a promise. Call 866.858.6709.

Discovering Hits in the Circle of Bliss

The Circle of Bliss includes a diverse group of resorts. Telluride, with its famously stunning landscape and long runs, pops first into most minds. But five other resorts, from the family-friendly fun and affordability of Powderhorn Mountain Resort on Grand Mesa to the high adventure factor of Silverton Mountain, present tantalizing samples of diverse styles of ski life within the circle. All six resorts offer abundant sunshine days and terrain for all types. Some require a higher pucker factor to get there, with winter travel over Red Mountain Pass, but that’s just part of the adventure offered by basing in Montrose and pursuing ski nirvana.

At Squaw Valley we shared a chair with “I Blew it in Telluride Ted” who owned a downtown T’ride house in the 70s and sold out when the property had a smidgeon of the value it has now. He lived with regrets. We did our best to assure him that it was for the best, but he called our bluff. And he instructed us to never, ever leave Montrose.

Canada is truly a dreamy ski destination. Well, maybe part of our dream was actually the heavy mist of low cloud cover and rain, but we thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the deep snow and exhausting long runs. The Revelstoke taproom conversation went something like this: “Colorado, eh? And Montrose, wow. You have so many options of where to ski.” I licked the poutine grease off my fingers and concurred. We are spoiled. Unlike Canada where we spent a week and saw the sun and mountains for parts of two days, a ski trip within the Circle of Bliss is far more likely to be bluebird. In the San Juans, on Grand Mesa, and throughout Colorado, the sky is either dumping fresh powder or blasting sunbeams. The soupy skies of other destinations are rare here. You can ski deep snow and work on your goggle tan.

Montrose is one of those rare ski towns that no one has ever thought of, but trust me, the permutations of how you can ski from here are shockingly abundant. The Circle of Bliss is just the tip of our iceberg of winter fun.