Planning a trip to Summit County this winter or spring? You’re not alone. And if you’ll be making the trip from Denver on I-70 on a Friday night or Saturday morning, or returning to Denver on Sunday afternoon, then you definitely won’t be alone.
We’ve been getting SO much snow up here this year. The powder keeps coming. Which is GREAT for skiing and riding. Also great for sledding, snowshoeing, tubing and snowmobiling. However, it’s not so great for driving. Especially when there are hundreds of other cars on the road with you, all trying to go the same place you’re going.
Yesterday my daughter and I got to experience what tourists go through every weekend. We ventured out on Sunday around 11 am. First, we wanted some coffee, but the coffee shop was so jammed full of people we knew that we’d be waiting forever. We went to Copper Mountain Resort and parked in the free parking lot, then JUST missed the bus, so we had to wait a while for the next one. Luckily the lift lines weren’t too long, but we did end up sitting for a pretty long time on a lift that stopped. We had a blast, then left Copper around 3:30 and before long, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Luckily we didn’t have to drive all the way back to Denver—we got off the highway at the Frisco Main Street exit, and headed to Breckenridge to check out the snow sculptures. Since it was Sunday night, I figured most of the traffic would be headed AWAY from Breck.
Wrong. Plenty of people were heading into town. It took us longer than usual to get there, and then of course parking was a challenge. Luckily we found a spot, and walked over to Main Street. My daughter wanted a crepe, and at 12 she has more patience than I do, so we got in line and waited to make our way to the window. The sun was setting, and we decided the snow sculptures always look cooler all lit up anyway. We spent about an hour, all in all, to get one Nutella crepe. Which is kind of a long time, but we entertained ourselves chatting with other people and enjoying the ambience of Breckenridge Main Street and the sweet smell of cooking crepes. By the time we made our way over to the snow sculptures, we were getting pretty cold, so we didn’t stick around for long. We lucked out in that at least we didn’t have to get back on I-70 to go home, because it was just one big parking lot!
All the traffic and standing in lines and shifting our plans to avoid standing in lines was a good reminder of why sometimes, visitors to Summit County are a little worn out and even frustrated. When you’re on vacation and you want to make the most of your time, it is disappointing to sit in traffic for hours, only to walk into a restaurant and be told it’s a two-hour wait for a table. Or to wait in lift lines all day, then pop into a coffee shop and have to wait 30 minutes for a latte. But alas, that is the reality of our little mountain town. Sure, if you come in October you’ll have no trouble getting from point A to B, and you might be the first in line for coffee. But in January, especially when the snow is this good, there is going to be some waiting. Maybe a lot of waiting.
Waiting is hard. If you’re here on a Saturday, all I can offer is my condolences. But if you’re planning ahead, I can offer a little advice. So for what it’s worth, here is the best way to deal with the high volume of people on this epic snow year:
Come during the week, if at all possible. Many people come up from the front range just for the weekend, so that westbound I-70 traffic is especially terrible Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday morning. Eastbound I-70 can be absolutely horrible all day Sunday, and particularly if there’s snow falling, Sunday night can be a nightmare with people struggling to even get ONTO the highway. If you can at least avoid travel on the weekends, it can save a lot of headaches. And if you’re here for a week with the weekend in the middle of your trip, Saturday is a good day to take a day off and avoid the ski resorts, as that is the busiest day on the slopes.
Come prepared. Some lines can be avoided by planning ahead. Can you get your lift tickets ahead of time? Study maps to get the lay of the land and decide where you’re going. Make dinner reservations when possible. With any activities you’re planning, check to see if you can reserve a time slot. If you show up unprepared, you might have a more spontaneous experience, but you also might spend a lot more time figuring things out and waiting your turn.
Allow for extra time to get anywhere. This is something I’m still working on, when it comes to getting my kids to school, getting myself to work, and even going to the grocery store. (I haven’t even touched on the grocery store. Oh, my. That might be the most patience-challenging experience in town.) Always assume it will take longer than it should to drive anywhere, and leave early. Assume the store will be out of your favorite type of chips, and that you’ll be waiting in line behind three families with full shopping carts. Assume that when you stop in for a “quick cup of coffee” it might take half an hour. Avoid scheduling things too close together, or too many activities in one day, so that you have extra time built in, because it’s likely things will NOT run like a well-oiled machine.
Be flexible. Maybe you don’t really need coffee? Hahaha. Just kidding. But if you don’t want to wait, maybe you can get the drip coffee instead of a mocha. If your time feels precious and valuable, just grab something quick instead of delicious. If the highway is packed, maybe you take the next exit and see what there is to do there. Sometimes a change of plans results in the best experiences. If you’re absolutely set on your plans, changing them is painful. If you make plans but are able to compromise, then you’ll end up enjoying yourself a lot more.
Embrace it all. During all of our delays, my daughter kept pointing out that at least we were spending time together, and we had the entire day free, and I didn’t have to work. Sure it would be nifty if we got our crepes in five minutes, but standing around for an hour on Breckenridge Main Street at sunset was not exactly torture. There’s the people watching, along with all the sights and sounds and smells. Crepes cooking and snow covered mountain peaks and cheerful string lights and people with their adorable dogs. Sometimes when you have to slow down for a bit, it gives you an opportunity to look around and take it all in. Take a deep breath and let yourself be “on mountain time.”