All of Sean Murphy's directions around Summit County are upside down. PHOTO: Taylor Boyd
All of Sean Murphy's directions around Summit County are upside down. PHOTO: Taylor Boyd

How To: The Complete Survival Guide to Summit County, Colorado

There's a reason Colorado is among the most recognized snowboard destinations in the country, and the reason is Summit County. There's better freeriding elsewhere in the state, but the caliber of freestyle terrain and general convenience are what set Summit apart. This accessibility and proximity to Denver and the Front Range has also contributed to the traffic and lift lines you should be prepared for during peak season. But only two other places in the country, Utah and Tahoe, rival the variety and quality of terrain parks in Summit, and if you're looking for the location to experience the quintessential snowboard trip, this fabled county off I-70 just might be the spot. – Taylor Boyd

Getting there

If you're coming from out of state or outside the country, chances are you're flying, as opposed to driving, into Colorado. In that case, Denver International Airport will be where you touch down. It's obnoxiously far from downtown but a great place to indulge in conspiracy theory. Keep an eye out for the spooky murals near baggage claim and the demonic horse statue. There is now a train that will take you from DIA to Denver's recently revamped Union Station. Located on the west end of downtown, food, drink, lodging, and entertainment options are a walk or Uber away. Not far from the station lies a skate and snowboard shop called Emage, which is a great spot to get your gear for the trip dialed or get a quick wax. But no matter how you slice it, you've got to brave the I-70 gauntlet to get to the mountains.

Dylan Alito takes off, airs, and lands in Denver all the time. PHOTO: Dave Lehl

Renting a car

There are advantages to having your own car when you're on a snowboard trip, and if you're going to rent one, you'll take a shuttle from the terminal to the rental car spot. Once you've got your car, hop on Peña Boulevard, which will put you on I-70 West, where you'll stay until you're in Summit County. If conditions are snowy, and you want a rig with four-wheel-drive, make sure the SUV you book comes with four-wheel, as many of the more budget options—Budget is one of them—will rent you a two-wheel drive SUV without saying a word. You know what they say about assumptions—they make an ass out of the driver who thought he got a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Or something like that.

Copper-Matt-Ladley-CourtesyCopper

Matt Ladley with a backside air above Copper’s precision cut pipe.

Taking a shuttle

If you want to avoid the stress of I-70 traffic, or at least not deal with it from behind the wheel, you can be picked up at DIA and driven to your destination in Summit County via shuttle. CME is the most popular option, and one-way to Summit costs around $65. They have WiFi onboard, and the drivers are often relatable skiers or snowboarders.

Where to ride

The ultimate question. Within Summit, there are five resorts. Well, technically four: Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper, and Keystone. Loveland is on the east side of the county line. Breckenridge and Keystone are likely the first resorts that come to mind. Thus, they are the most crowded. Both places have a lot going for them, especially in terms of terrain parks, and they're on the same pass, so you can ride during the day at Breck then take night laps at Keystone. Despite the often excessive liftlines and overbearing ownership—and the Bumblebee speed cops and rules that come with—the parks at these places are top-notch, and the town of Breckenridge is a fun place. But don't limit yourself. There are other options.

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Copper Mountain is beautiful at any time of year.

Copper Mountain
Just a bit further down I-70, but no longer of a drive than the aforementioned resorts, Copper Mountain is one of those options. Typically less crowded, and full of fun natural and freestyle terrain, Copper is, in my opinion, the gem of Summit County. Lift lines rarely exceed the "what the fuck?" mark, the park is always one of the best in the country, the mountain is naturally laid out with steep terrain on looker's left, gradually mellowing out to the right, and the tree riding is the best in Summit. Typically, their superpipe is open before the rest of the country, so early season is prime time to watch the best pipe riders ripping while you sip a cool one on the sundeck at Jack's. Or get in there blast out of those perfectly manicured 22-foot walls.

Just fifteen minutes up the road from Keystone sits the legendary Arapahoe Basin.

Arapahoe Basin
Arapahoe Basin refers to itself as The Legend, and it is a bit legendary. Nestled fifteen minutes up the road from Keytsone, A-Basin's mom and pop vibe couldn't be further from the contrived resort village down the hill, and your Epic Pass will work here. They always start their season early and stay open late. Don't anticipate a world-class park, but do expect people drinking beers in Hawaiian shirts behind cars lined up on "The Beach"—the edge of the lot closest to the mountain. Arrive early to get a Beach spot.

Breckenridge
Breckenridge epitomizes Summit County. The town is lively, and the resort is large. A convenient gondola will take you from downtown to the base of Peaks 7 and 8, the latter being home to the famed Freeway and Park Lane terrain parks, which boast some of the best-built jumps you'll ever hit. The mountain is relatively flat and often windy, a slice of pizza from the cafeteria will set you back about $14, and the lines are absurd during peak season, but if you're looking for the quintessential Summit experience, Breck might be your spot. Nowhere else in Summit do you have a town—not a resort village—right at the base of the mountain.

Jade Phelan enjoying some time at Keystone. PHOTO: Chip Proulx

Keystone
Like Breckenridge, Keystone is part of the Epic Pass. Their A-51 terrain park is consistently ranked among the top in country—for good reason—and it is expansive. Don't be surprised to see some of your favorite pros sending the massive jump line below the dedicated park chair. The crowds, costs, and speed control constraints at Keystone can feel similar to that of sister resort Breckenridge. But the park is world-class, and it's the only resort in the area that offers night riding.

Loveland
Yet another option lies just before you enter Summit. It's called Loveland, and the fact that the majority of traffic drives right past is to your advantage if what you're after is snowboarding in its pure, stripped-down form—sans the luxury resort village and overpriced food, drinks, and lift tickets that subsidize it. If you're making a day trip up from the city, this is ideal, as you can be in the parking lot 45 minutes after leaving downtown Denver, so long as the roads are dry and traffic is light.

Loveland Pass:
If you want to ride for free, you can shuttle Loveland Pass. Drive past the ski area, and wind your way up to a large and defined lefthand turn with a sizeable parking area on the left side. You'll likely see hitchhikers here. Park your car, get in the queue and follow suit. We recommend backcountry equipment and knowledge no matter what, but if you're going to ride beyond the well-traveled trail that follows the fall-line, it's essential.

Not to toot our own horn, but we like to think TransWorld contributes to the nightlife in Summit County during Riders’ Poll. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

Where to stay

Like most places, Airbnb can be your best bet to find a unique place for a reasonable price. Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper all have traditional lodging options, and your best bet is do your own research to find the best deal. Here's a breakdown of the scene to expect in each Summit County town.

The epitome of Summit County, Breckenridge, has insane snow, nightlife, and is the perfect spot to watch top level snowboarding. Seb Toots taking advantage of Breckenridge at last year’s Dew Tour. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

Breckenridge: Stay here if you want to be in a lively town with plenty of lodging, dining, and nightlife options. Riding Breckenridge will be the most convenient, but you can easily commute to Keystone, Copper, and A-Basin.

Silverthorne/Dillon: Silverthorne and Dillon are divided by I-70, the former on the is on the east side, the latter on the west, but they're pretty much the same place. They both have a more commercial—as opposed to quaint—feel than other towns in the county but are a great option for affordability, amenities, and close proximity to Keystone.

Frisco: Frisco is the most central of all towns in Summit. From here, Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone, and A-Basin are all a mellow drive away. 10 minutes west on I-70, Copper is especially close. This is a great place to stay if you want to ride there but prefer to stay in a town instead of a resort village.

Georgetown/Silverplume/Idaho Springs:
None of these places are in Summit Country; they're on the other side of Eisenhower Tunnel in Clear Creek Country, but you can find a cheap Airbnb here and easily cruise up to Loveland or A-Basin. These towns aren't so much ski towns as much as mountain towns on the side of I-70, and they certainly have character.

Shops

Satellite is as core as they come. Photo provided by Satellite.

Satellite: Located in Boulder, Satellite has supported Colorado snowboarding and snowboarders for fifteen years, and has an ample selection of product to choose from with a knowledgeable staff who sells them.

Emage: A boutique skate and snow shop in Denver carrying a well-curated product selection from snowboarder-owned brands like CAPiTA, Union, Dinosaurs Will Die, and United Shapes.

evo: The third brick and mortar location from the retailer offers a vast selection of gear, along with top-notch tuning in partnership with the highly knowledgeable Edgeworks team.

Gravitee: The shop in the base village at Copper, Gravitee is your go-to for if you're at the resort, whether you need a board, a beanie, or a tune.

Underground: The premiere shop in Breckenridge, this is the spot to go if you're staying in town and need anything snowboard-related.

Check out Red Gerard at the 6:40 mark for some Summit County goodness.

Street spots

From J2 and Chad Otterstrom, to Lucas Magoon and Dylan Alito, reels worth of hammers have gone down between Denver and Summit Country. If there's snow on the ground, you just need a keen and creative eye to line up options.

Denver-area

Typically, the best cities for street spots are built on hills. They naturally create more staircases, and after all, snowboarding is a gravity-fed activity. Denver is relatively flat. However, plenty of heavy urban trickery has happened in this city and its surrounding suburbs. The suburbs west of downtown are more hilly than Denver proper, and the office parks in these areas are home to plenty of plausible zones. This is universal, but weekends, especially Sundays, provide the best window to mitigate the bust-factor.

Summit County

The most recognizable street spot in Summit County is located at a middle school. There's both a closeout and heavy downrail that are sessionable until the cops show. But when there's snow on the ground, drive around, and you're bound to find some options. Gooner just may have gotten to them before you.

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A sunrise over Loveland is reason enough to visit Summit County. PHOTO: Matt Alberts

Eating well

Breckenridge
If you're looking for a massive plate of food and a stiff drink after a day on-hill, sans the Disneyland vibes, a hole-in-the-wall spot in Breckenridge known as Angel's Hollow is the jump-off. The atmosphere is casual as can be, the food quality excellent, prices reasonable, portion sizes insane, drinks strong, and music blaring. If you want to go with the flow and see some bros, check out Empire Burger. It's no Angel's Hollow, but the overpriced burgers are pretty good. Clint's is the place to get a coffee in the morning.

Frisco
Frisco is the central town in Summit Country, and if you're looking for a wholesome breakfast, the Butterhorn is a good option. A recent development added a Whole Foods and a restaurant called the Rio Grande. They've got great chips and salsa, a good Tex Mex-style menu, and if you're not afraid of a frozen margarita, order the Manberry, blended. This is a great option if you're staying at Copper but want to get out of the base village for a bit. That Whole Foods is pretty nice too…

Silverthorne/Dillon
Silverthorne offers many of the franchise restaurants you're familiar, like Chipotle and Noodles, with as well as some unique options like Chimayo, which is Chipotle in nature, but local in ownership. Jersey Boys Deli has East Coast-caliber cheesesteaks and pizza. Fiesta Jalisco is the spot if you're looking for a massive plate of traditional Mexican food, and Dillon Dam Brewery is exactly what you're imagining—decent beer, decent burgers.

Nighttime

JUSTIN GUNSON, MARK MCMORRIS,  KEYSTONE, CO

Mark McMorris making good use of Keystone. PHOTO: Jeff Brockmeyer

Breckenridge
The most notorious nightlife location in Summit County is called Cecilia's, and it lies at the south end of Breckenridge's Main Street. Do not go here with the intention of having a drink and calling it a night. The next thing you know it will be 7 am the next morning; as painful light streams into a room you don't recognize, you will attempt to piece together the sequence of events that got you here. At this point you may vaguely recall a swampy dance floor and heinous dubstep remixes of popular rap songs. Your best bet is to GTFO and head to Clint's Bakery for a croissant sandwich and a coffee.

Copper:
Most places in the Copper village close early, but Mulligan's is your best bet if you're looking to get it poppin' late night. Or just go skate Woodward, jump on the trampolines, then have a beer at the condo and call it a night. You'll be stoked in the morning.

Frisco:
If it's Friday night, Ollie's is your spot. Between 9 and 11 pm you can hand for over ten dollars and drink all the wells and drafts you can. And on Wednesdays you can get a burger for 2.50. If you're looking for the local experience, The Moosejaw is a classic sleepy dive in Frisco.

Silverthorne/Dillon
If you want to drink cheap beer and shoot pool, Lake Dillon Tavern is a solid option.

Explore your surroundings

Kit Hendrickson has done his share of exploring in Colorado. PHOTO: Taylor Boyd

Winter Park
As you're headed west on 70, you have another option. You don't have to go to Summit County. Take Exit 232, for Empire. As you wind your way up over Berthoud Pass, there are a number of backcountry access options—albeit critical to check avalanche danger, especially here. When you come over the other side, you'll be in Winter Park, which is a Colorado resort similar in size to those in Summit County, but with a different and welcome flavor. Winter Park is on the Rocky Mountain Super Pass with Copper Mountain.

Mons Roisland, Snowboarding, Winter Olympics

Mons Roisland checking out the views in Vail at the 2017 Burton U.S. Open. PHOTO: Mary Walsh

Vail/Beaver Creek
Should you continue on I-70, through Summit County and past Copper, you'll find yourself gaining elevation over Vail Pass. Both of these places are on the Epic Pass and offer expansive terrain and the sort of luxury you might expect. They're worth a day trip from Summit County if your schedule allows it.

Clear Creek County

There are lots of quirky bars and restaurants in Georgetown and Idaho Spring, but in a tiny old mining town off the side of I-70 called Silver Plume, not to be confused with Silverthorne, is a place called Bread Bar. This little-known gem is great for a cocktail, especially after a day at Loveland.

Denver-area
Colorado is becoming the concrete skatepark capital of the country. With many of the Team Pain crew calling the state home, a new and immaculate park seems to pop up every other month, but their crown jewel, the Arvada skatepark is something to behold, and it's not that far off your route between Summit and DIA. With an average of 300 sunny days per year, your chances of finding dry concrete near Denver while there's snow in the mountains is high. As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Denver's food and entertainment options are expanding weekly, and not far from I-70 is the RiNo neighborhood which seems to be booming quicker than any at the moment. Both Emage and evo are good shops to visit if you're in Denver.


Boulder

Boulder is one of the most beautiful cities in the country and worth checking out if you've never been. Or if you have. Stop and say hello to the folks at Satellite if you're in the area. A half hour above town is a little ski area called Eldora as well.