B and I decided this was the year we were going to take our mountain backyard more seriously. Within an hour of Denver sit a dozen ski areas at our binding-strapped feet, and this year we were going to play as much as possible for as little cash as possible.

Both of us are blessed with unorthodox work schedules, so we can play during the week. Such a setup is critical to really enjoying Colorado’s mountains. Driving the I-70 corridor on weekends through mountains with tens of thousands of other people is not only a time-waster, it’s treacherous. Interstate 70 looks like an SUV convention, and overconfident drivers, convinced that their four-wheel drive is failsafe, fly by around tight mountain curves (sometimes not lined with guardrails): sometimes in the middle of a snowstorm, sometimes with a couple of cocktails in their bellies, and sometimes both.

The amount of stress associated with just driving to the mountains on the weekends is too much for this East Coaster. I’m used to traffic. I’m used to black ice. I’m used to aggressive drivers. But take all three and toss in a weary day at the hill, and all of the sudden the myriad of benefits from the day’s activities of carving turns and boarding through glades hardly seem worth it. I arrive at home now not just physically exhausted, but mentally drained and wired all at once.

Years ago I dabbled with different season passes – midweek at Loveland, A Basin, and Winter Park. The problem is, between five and ten years ago folks either bought the five-mountain pass (now known under a different nomenclature that includes A Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek) OR the Superpass (Winter Park and Copper). Both of the passes allowed the user unlimited access (with the exception of Vail and Beaver Creek – there one only got ten days) to any of these mountains. These passes have risen in price over the past ten years, from $200 to $429-$459.

Now, with lift tickets at many of the aforementioned resorts going for almost $100, one can see why a blue-competent, ten-times-a-year snowboarder like myself might shop around. I like variety and even when I spent that glorious season 2005-06 going to the Mary Jane section of Winter Park every other Friday, I still found myself looking for variety. I wanted more out of my boarding experience than the even the magnificent glade skiing toward the base of Parsenn Bowl at Mary Jane.

I wanted different scenery, different people, different terrain, and a different vibe.
So this year I bought the Colorado Gems Pass, offfered by Colorado Ski Country. For $10, one has access to discounts at many of Colorado’s smaller resorts: A Basin, Echo Mountain, Eldora, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Cooper, Sol Vista, and Sunlight. Some of the discounts include a free day, a two-for-one deal, or $10 off the lift ticket. Many of the twofers are good only on weekdays, which perfectly matches my schedule.

I have tried taking advantage of the Gems card in years past only to be unmotivated by the lack of a playmate to make the drives with me up to the mountains. The reason the $400-plus multi-mountain passes are so successful is because they encourage car-pooling and group outings; folks spend much of their Thursday and Friday coordinating their weekend ski trips to the mountains.

This year I’ve got a playmate, B, and a sincere desire to become a more confident, more competent, and more graceful snowboarder. And I’m going to reach these heightened levels of confidence, competence, and grace as inexpensively as possible.

In the coming weeks and months at SheSpoke, I’ll be reporting on my progress as a snowboarder and on my varied experiences with some of Colorado’s lesser-known ski resorts.

Watch me carve!

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