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With apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, savvy Colorado skiers and snowboarders of both genders and all ages start thinking about Loveland (tel. 800/736-3SKI or 303/569-3203 www.skiloveland.com) as soon as the days grow shorter and the aspens promise to turn golden. Loveland sits just east of the Continental Divide. The first significant snows fell on the high peaks on Sept. 21 and the area fired up its snowmaking system on the 23rd.

Lifts begin running in late October or early November with a handful of trails on about 1,000 vertical feet and continue until the second weekend in May. Loveland is usually in full operation by Thanksgiving and always by Christmas. With the Valley's base at 10,510 feet and the Basin's highest lift unloading at 12,700 feet, it is one of the world's highest ski areas. The panorama from the top is as awesome as any in the Rockies.

Legions of visitors have seen Loveland as the drive west of Denver on Interstate 70. It is actually a two-part ski area right next to and above the eastern approach to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Loveland Valley, the beginner area, is on the left side of the highway. U.S. Highway 6, the Loveland Pass road, and an active slide area called the Seven Sisters separates the valley from expansive Loveland Basin, an awesome cirque that arcs over the tunnel entrance. Loveland is less about trails than about terrain. If you can see it and there's not a patrol rope, you can ski it.

Chair 2 is a leisurely triple "chairway" to the high-alpine paradise of above the treeline, where grandiose snowfields are crowned by a rockbands and steep chutes. The sectors all interconnected by long catwalks. Loveland Basin has open glades and some tight trees near the base, it is treasured for open snowfields above the treeline that essentially create one enormous, natural terrain park that makes it one of Colorado's favorites with snowboarders and freeriders.

For those in the know, Zip Basin, on the far end of the arc (and across the Interstate) from the base area is Loveland's prime parcel. This expansive sector, named after Denver's Zipfelberger Ski Club, is reached by a daisy chain of lift rides and traverses. Snowcats pack a few European-style pistes onto 150 acres, but essentially, it is a backcountry-style experience with a unique return to the base via a tunnel under the highway.

Located just 53 miles from Denver's western edge, Loveland is overwhelmingly a local area. They are joined by thrifty skiers from the Plains states who appreciate the easy access and low-priced lodging available in Idaho Springs (20 miles), Georgetown (12 miles) and Silverthorne (12 miles). Idaho Springs (20 miles) is at a lower elevation and offers the most economy motels, while Silverthorne, on the west side of the Eisenhower Tunnel, is mainly a bedroom community for Keystone and an outlet mall shopping destination. Lodging information: Idaho Springs and Georgetown from Clear Creek County Tourism Bureau (tel. 303/567-4660 or 866/674-9237; www.clearcreekcounty.org); Silverthorne from Summit County Central Reservations (tel. 800/525-3682 or 970/468-7851; www.colorado.com/Listing.aspx?did=1163).

Loveland Stats

Lifts: 3 double chairlifts, 2 triples, 3 quads, 1 surface lift and 1 moving carpet (ski school only) Hourly lift capacity: 13,306
Terrain: 13% easiest, 41% more difficult, 46% most difficult
Vertical: 2,410 feet total from 10,514 (Loveland Valley base) to 12,697 (Loveland Basin top); two sectors connected by free shuttle
Skiable Acres: 1,365 acres; snowmaking, 160 acres

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