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When two roads diverge, which is better for the skier?
A summertime view of the drive through Clear Creek Canyon.

When two roads diverge, which is better for the skier?

By Jason Sumner

January 20, 2008 —  One of the great debates faced by many Front Range skiers is: canyon or highway? For the uninitiated this is a reference to US 6 Ė a.k.a. the road through Clear Creek Canyon Ė and Interstate 70. Whether heading up to the mountains or coming home, both roads can get you there. But which is better?

For Boulder-based skiers like myself, the initial decision-point comes at the south end of state highway 93, where it runs into US 6. Go right and itís a windy, scenic trip up Clear Creek Canyon before the road ends, sending traffic onto I-70 for the remainder of the trip.

Head south at the 93-6 intersection, and you skirt past Golden, before quickly joining up with I-70.

Coming from the other direction, the canyon-v-highway choice arises about five miles east of Idaho Springs: either exit left onto US 6 or stay right and continue on I-70.

Now obviously, for most people the key component here is mileage. I took the canyon home last Monday morning, and according to my carís odometer it was 14.4 miles from the I-70 exit to the 93-6 intersection. Thursday, I plugged the same route into Google Maps, and it reported 14-even. Weíll split the difference and call it 14.2.

Opt for I-70, and Google Maps says it is 18.5 miles between the two decision points. Now Iím not going to go all math crazy and try to figure out how much faster you have to be going in order to make up 4.3 miles over 18.5 miles, but all else equal, youíre likely to be going at least 20mph faster if you stay on the highway. And if you happen to get caught in the canyon behind a slow-moving 18-wheeler or some blue-hair on her way back from a Texas-holdíem session in Central City, that disparity could be even greater. There are not many places to pass.

On I-70, even in bad weather, the section in question is usually a smooth ride. Unlike the two-lane stretch from Summit County to the canyon exit, I-70 widens here offering up three lanes. Itís usually no problem to engage the turbo and wind it up to 80mph.

But even if taking the highway is a little quicker (which I donít think it is) the bottom line for me is this: The road through Clear Creek Canyon is one of the most beautiful on the Front Range. The almost-always-in-view creek changes throughout the year, going from raging spring torrent to oozing wintertime ice flow.

The canyon is also big horn sheep country, and in winter itís not uncommon to see a half dozen of these majestic animals grazing along the roadside. Also since there are so few passing opportunities, the canyon offers a soothing break from the hustle and bustle of I-70. Get in line, roll along, and donít worry about overtaking this car or that truck.

The highway is the highway. Drive fast, get agro when someone cuts you off or drives too slow in the left lane, and get home as fast as possible Ė bad gas mileage be dammed.

As you probably already guessed, I take the canyon every time.



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