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Industry news so often circles around the Alterra and Vail big-box resorts. But what about our local independent ski areas? Sometimes it can feel like it’s Alterra and Vail’s world, and we’re just skiing in it. But there’s plenty of growth and collaboration among independent and small ski areas to give us hope for the little guy.

Sam skiing Loveland ski area
Sam shredding at Powder7’s local small ski area: Loveland |Skier: Sam Wheelock Photo: Casey Day

Nothing against those big-box resorts, we love riding your high-speed lifts. But what can we say? We love an underdog.

New Terrain

Last season, Grand Targhee opened up about 600 acres with a new high-speed lift on Peaked Mountain. Colter Lift unlocks access to beautiful intermediate and advanced terrain. With average snowfall of over 500 inches in a season and quiet lift lines, there are plenty of good reasons to take a ski trip out to the quiet side of the Tetons this winter. Grand Targhee is a member of the Mountain Collective pass, getting you two days at each resort with 50% off additional days. Learn more about the different partner passes here.

The US Forest Service recently accepted Idaho’s Brundage Mountain Resort‘s new master plan, unlocking tons of new terrain for the indie resort. With the opportunity to build several new lifts and more than double their terrain, Brundage is poised to become a ski area to reckon with. You’ll find Brundage on the incredibly low price Indy Pass.

A few years old, but Ski Cooper over in Leadville reopened their Tennessee Creek Basin terrain in 2020. The 70-acre addition at TCB is mostly expert terrain with a fresh T-Bar to get you to the top without lift holds on stormy days. It just adds to the variety and fun features that Ski Cooper offers even as a small indie ski resort.

New Ski Areas

It’s been a long time since a ski area last opened. Lucky for us, Colorado is going to be home to a new ski area this winter. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s no Arapahoe Basin. But it does offer riders who aren’t looking for steep rocky chutes a convenient and cheap alternative. Hoedown Hill, perched on top of Raindance Golf Course in Windsor, Colorado, is scheduled to open by Christmas this coming season. Fit with a tubing hill and 140 vertical feet of skiing, Hoedown Hill is the perfect place for learners, families, and anybody who doesn’t feel like spending $200 for a lift ticket on the I-70 corridor. The northern Front Range is a bit more tucked away from ski resorts, so this will be a welcome addition.

Of course, the big news with new ski resorts is Mayflower Mountain in the Wasatch. Mayflower doesn’t appear to be a part of mega passes just yet, but with Deer Valley just around the corner, who knows what the future will hold? With multiple luxury resorts and private residences, 4,000 plus acres, and a several mile long runs, Mayflower isn’t exactly the small ski area we daydream about. But a new ski area is a new ski area, and we won’t complain. Don’t expect to be shredding Wasatch powder at Mayflower anytime soon—lifts aren’t planned to start spinning until the 24/25 season. Developers expect the full resort to take more than two decades to complete.

Pow7 staffer Andrew Nielsen tossing around classic Wolf Creek pow. | Photo: Matt McDonald

New Pass Partnerships

This spring, Alyeska shook things up with news that they were partnering with Ikon for five days. It’s hard to say if Ikon pass holders will “blow up” the Alaska resort given its distance from the continental US. Nonetheless, Alyeska is a worthy destination on its own. Beyond being a refuge from “no-fly-days” from heli tourists.

Our very own Ski Cooper, just outside of Leadville, CO, offers their own reasonably priced season pass for Coloradoans looking to get off the beaten track. This year, Ski Cooper joins the Powder Alliance, offering three additional days at each partner resort in the alliance. This includes ski areas around the country, like Loveland here on the Front Range and Angel Fire in New Mexico.

It’s a mega deal with their additional reciprocal pass partners. But this isn’t without a little controversy: the Indy Pass feels like this competes too much with their indie ski area product. As a result, there are some shifts going on with this small ski area partner pass products. Learn more about the saga here.

New Perspectives

We can get pretty heated about the steep lunch prices and lift ticket costs at the large resorts. It’s easy to forget the small ski area operators keeping the ski dream alive. So what if they don’t get the massive lift upgrades or offer sushi at the lodge? Ask anyone at the shop, and most will tell you some of our favorite days on snow are at Wolf Creek Ski Area. Big snow or not. It comes down to the culture they create around skiing. It’s a no-frills approach to spend quality time with loved ones, playing outside. That’s what skiing is all about.

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