Visualize driving up to the slopes on empty roads, parking at the base and waltzing from ticket window to lift to summit with nary a wait. Or perhaps it snowed six inches the previous morning and you're still skiing untracked powder by late afternoon.
The small base lodge is welcoming. Finding a seat at lunch is as easy as pulling out a chair. At day's end, good cheer abounds in the lodge, where you receive a friendly "How was your day? from fellow skiers as you walk in.
Last winter, I found that such places still do exist outside the nostalgia of skiers over 40. Small but satisfying resorts thrive across the country. In fact, there's a group of them collectively called the Colorado Gems - eight small ski areas spanning the state, from the craggy eastern peaks overlooking the Great Plains to the breathtaking mountains straddling the Continental Divide to the high mesas that dominate the state's western desertscape.
They're steeped in history, they're charming and full of character, they're affordable, they're located in eccentric communities, and they're kept afloat by passionate locals and loyal visitors alike.
What's easy to overlook in this era of skier entitlement - when nothing less than high-speed lifts, 24-hour grooming and 5,000-acre mountains will do - is that these small ski areas routinely serve up superb turns. As I discovered, you won't find the huge vertical or the glut of terrain you'll find at megaresorts, but since there are so few skiers, the trade-off often isn't as glaring as you might expect. Here's the lowdown on some of Colorado's quirkiest and most beloved ski areas.