The Ski Resorts of Colorado
Colorado is home to many of America’s most well-known and beloved ski resorts, places like Aspen and Vail which are household names even to those who preferences in winter destinations tend toward palm trees and margaritas rather than snow-covered pines and hot toddies. If you’re looking the largest concentration of top-notch ski resorts in North America, look no further than Colorado.
Arguably America’s poshest ski resort, Aspen Snowmass is really four resorts in one – Aspen Mountain (the original), Aspen Highlands (an expert’s paradise), Aspen Buttermilk (gentler terrain which is home to the X-Games) and Snowmass (the family resort just outside town). The downtown is full of novel and exciting galleries, shops and restaurants, but don’t let Aspen’s movie-star reputation fool you. The skiing came first and the movie-stars followed – Aspen is home to some serious terrain and world class snow.
Beaver Creek is Vail’s upscale brother. While some may dismiss Beaver Creek as being only for the rich and pampered, those willing to look beyond the heated walkways, ski valets and escalators will find over 4,000 vertical feet of uncrowded terrain. Home to the only men’s FIS World Cup skiing event on US soil, Beaver Creek has some downright scary expert runs on Grouse Mountain which will challenge even the best skiers and boarders. Mogul addict? Beaver Creek is home to the best bumps in Colorado. But don’t worry, Beaver Creek didn’t get a reputation as a family-friendly playground for nothing. Intermediates and corduroy-lovers will be spoiled by a seemingly endless array of groomed terrain. Whether you like moguls, groomers or steeps, Beaver Creek has a little bit of something for everyone hiding beneath that rich kid façade and hey…you don’t have to be a millionaire to appreciate a warm smile and an even warmer cup of complimentary hot chocolate when you get off that first chairlift on a chilly morning.
Breckenridge is America’s most visited ski area, only an easy hour and a half drive from Denver. Being so close to Denver is a double-edged sword, however. Breckenridge’s ease of access makes if a great choice for those traveling into Denver, but it also means the resort can be flooded by day-tripped Denverites chasing the freshly fallen powder. Breckenridge is an authentic Wild West town and those visiting may prefer to stay close to the downtown to avail themselves of all the colorful culture the town of Breckenridge has to offer. The choice between staying slopeside or town got a lot easier with the new BreckConnect gondola which connects the town with the mountain in less than ten minutes! While the town is certainly fun, the skiing is the real draw. Breckenridge has bowls, trees, steeps which are more challenging than neighboring sister resorts Vail, Keystone and Beaver Creek. An excellent lift-system provides speedy access to 2358 acres of terrain spread across four interconnected peaks and almost 3,400 vertical feet.
Copper Mountain is Summit County’s largest and least crowded ski resort. Consistently ranking in the top five for “accessibility” in the yearly polls, Copper Mountain boasts the convenience of a simple 90-mile (144-km) drive from Denver International Airport. Copper also enjoys the orthographic advantage of being just west of the 10 Mile Range, where storms tend to roll in and stall. What does all that meteorological mumbo jumbo mean? Storms dropping ample amounts of the legendary Colorado White roll through regularly throughout the winter. Copper boasts 280 inches (710 cm) annual snowfall, and a base elevation of 9,712 feet (2,960 m) allows for superior snowmaking. It also allows for some of the best early and late season snow in North America.
“Rugged,” “unique” and “off the beaten path” are terms our readers have used to Crested Butte . Crested Butte is certainly a littler rougher around the edges than some other Colorado resorts, but therein lies the appeal to many. Crested Butte hearkens back to a time when skiing was more of an adventure and less of an activity that merely preceded après-ski. Crested Butte has more cliffs and chutes than you can ski in a month, including some that are downright terrifying. If you’re looking to be pampered before, during and after skiing miles of corduroy, look elsewhere. If you’re looking to ski 1,100+ acres of heart-pumping terrain over 3,000 vertical feet, then you’re in luck – Crested Butte is waiting.
Being only 90 miles from Denver means Keystone is one of the most easily accessible resorts in the Rockies. Keystone features an interesting terrain layout with three mountain peaks stacked one behind another, allowing skiers to ski on many different exposures and faces. Snowcat skiing provides speedy (and surprisingly affordable) access to a wide assortment of expert bowl skiing. When your ski day is over, Keystone also has a brand new base village, which appeals to all ages. Restaurants, shops and bars line the streets of a charming Western-themed village.
Home of American ski great Billy Kidd, Steamboat receives 360 inches of its signature “champagne powder” every winter. If you’re looking for light snow, varied terrain and fun nightlife, Steamboat’s the place for you. Steamboat continues to lure visitors with its authentic western atmosphere and friendly locals-Stetson hats and cowboy boots mingle with the latest ski gear-and not one but six peaks with varied terrain. Top that with 30 feet of “champagne powder” and it’s clear to see that this resort is up there with the best.
Getting to Telluride is hard, but once you’ve arrived, you may never want to leave. Often voted America’s most beautiful ski resort, Telluride sits in a beautiful box canyon in the western part of the state. During the Gold Rush the gold and silver mining camp of Telluride once boasted more millionaires per capita than New York City, and its wealth attracted Butch Cassidy, who made his first bank heist here in 1889. Telluride eventually replaced its picks, shovels and hammers with skis, sticks and boots in 1972. Thirty years later it is a gem of a ski resort, with Victorian architecture cradled under majestic peaks. Telluride is remarkable in that it has continued to stay true to its historic mining roots.
The opening of Prospect Bowl in January 2002 almost doubled the size of the spirited and unpretentious ski area, and it has transformed this tiny canyon town from what was once generally viewed as a weekend resort into a full-fledged destination resort.
In a word, Vail is “massive.” Vail is the United States’ largest ski resort and its Back Bowls are legendary. Some resorts boast that you could ski there for a week without repeating a run. At Vail, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say you ski there for a lifetime and not ski the same line. And when the skiing is through for the day, Vail has several base villages which offer something for everyone. From fine dining, luxurious lodging and world class shopping to burger joints and great live music, Vail is too indescribably big for words.
Long known as a favorite amongst Denver skiers, recent terrain expansions have put Winter Park on the map as a destination resort. Winter Park is also one of the only ski resorts in the United States which is accessible by train. Amtrak trains depart daily from Denver whisking skiers to the resort, returning them when the sun goes down. Be sure to check out the new terrain on Mary Jane for some outstanding expert steeps. The newly completed base village is also drawing rave reviews from industry insiders, environmentalists and skiing enthusiasts.
A popular choice for Denver skiers because of its close proximity to the city and long ski season, “A-Basin” recently opened it’s new Montezuma Bowl to rave reviews. Doubling the size of the resort, Montezuma Bowl has A-Basin poised to become more than just a Denver day-skier’s mountain.
Formerly known as Purgatory, Durango Mountain Resort is in the midst of a renaissance. The sleepy southwest Colorado resort has ambitious plans to build a new base village and expand its terrain.
Often the first resort in North America to open every fall, Loveland, like nearby Arapahoe Basin caters mainly to day skiers from Denver.
A small ski resort located near Glenwood Springs, CO, Sunlight is mainly a local’s area, but remains popular with tourists staying in town to enjoy the town’s famous hot springs.
Silverton is an expert’s only mountain offering in-bounds backcountry skiing accessed by one chairlift and snowcats.
Getting to Colorado Ski Country
Getting to Colorado is relatively easy when compared to many other North American ski destinations. Denver International Airport (Code: DEN) is the largest airport in the state and is a major hub for United Airlines and Frontier Airlines, as well as a Focus City for Southwest Airlines. The competition breeds lower prices and many skiers prefer to fly into Denver and rent a car to take them to their destinations.
A second most popular option for skiers visiting Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain or Aspen Snowmass is flying into Eagle Airport (Code: EGE). While many of Colorado’s smaller airports are large enough only to accommodate regional jets or propeller-driven aircraft, Eagle’s longer runway means it can accommodate much larger, wide-body aircraft and more direct flights. Another advantage to flying into Eagle is that the airport is beyond the portions of I-70 which close most often. If your plane lands in Eagle, odds are excellent you’ll be able to make it to Vail or Beaver Creek, even if Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel are closed, because you’re already past them.
Skiers traveling to Aspen can consider Pitkin Airport (Code: ASE ), but Pitkin is very susceptible to weather-related closures so we recommend you choose Eagle Airport, which is farther away, but closes far less often due to snow. If you’re heading to Steamboat, Yampa Valley Airport (Code: HDN) offers a large number of direct flights per day to about ten destinations scattered throughout the US. Western Colorado resorts like Crested Butte and Telluride are accessible via smaller airports such as Telluride (Code: TEX) Montrose (Code: MTJ), Gunnison (Code: GUC), and Grand Junction (Code: GJT), but airfares to these airports tend to be substantially higher and flights are more limited.
Colorado is a very large state, however, and travelers should consider utilizing some of the smaller airports within the state depending on where they will be skiing and where they are flying from. While the airfares to smaller airports may be more costly, many find the extra price worthwhile when compared to several hours of potentially dangerous driving on snow-covered Colorado roads. Furthermore, the additional cost of a transfer or rental car when flying into Denver may actually make flying directly into airports cheaper overall. For example, while flying directly to Aspen is more expensive than flying to Denver, many hotels offer free transfers from the airport, while a transfer from Denver to Aspen can cost over $100.
International visitors should check best flight inclusive ski deals available from local tour operators as these will usually be cheaper and easier than travelling independently.