Colorado is home to some of the best skiing in the country and across the world. Base yourself in Denver for easy day or weekend trips to resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, or Winter Park; escape some of those day trip crowds by venturing out farther to Steamboat or Aspen; or take a scenic road trip to the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern corner of the state to experience a more rugged and minimalistic ski scene. Whether you’re a novice to the slopes or a mogul master, Colorado has a resort for you.
Breck is a great option for skiers and boarders of all levels. The ski resort comprises five separate peaks, each offering unique terrain and difficulty. Many skiers start the day on Peaks 8 or 9, which are easily reached from the base area and are dominated by green and blue runs toward the bottom with some black options if you make your way all the way to the summit. (The Imperial Express SuperChair that takes you to the top of Peak 8 is the highest ski lift in North America). Intermediate-to-advanced skiers can make their way to Peaks 6 and 7, which hold more blue, blue-black, and black runs; and advanced skiers will find enough of a challenge at Peak 10, which is strictly black and double-black diamonds. Navigating the mountain and bouncing from peak to peak is relatively easy, so it’s also possible to explore the entire resort in just one day if that’s all you’ve got. Breck is also a fun ski town with lots of lodging, dining, and apres ski, or nearby Frisco is comparable in charm at typically lower prices.
Thrill-seekers, this one’s for you. In fact, this one’s for advanced skiers only. This resort in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains only has one two-seater lift to take you to a point where you’ll have to hike up for another 15 minutes to an hour to reach the prime black-diamond, backcountry terrain. All visitors must ski with avalanche gear (beacon, shovel, and probe), and you can also opt to ski with a professional guide to help you navigate the terrain safely. With about 400 inches of snowfall annually (on the higher end for Colorado) and no groomed or maintained runs, this is a paradise for powder hounds who love to ski the snow just as it falls. And if you still aren’t sure that the details above are enough of a challenge for you (you daredevil), book a heli-skiing or heli-boarding adventure at Silverton. You can stay close to the slopes in the minimalistic, former mining town of Silverton, or some choose to stay an hour away in Durango where you’ll find more options of lodging and amenities, and make the day trip.
Colorado’s ski resorts and mountain towns range from no-frills and minimalistic to plush and pampering, and perhaps not surprisingly, Vail fits into the latter category. While it is one of the more expensive options in the state from lodging to skiing—an adult day lift ticket can run you up to $219 at the window during peak times (though you can find discounts online for advance purchases)—it’s one of the best in the world for several reasons. Vail is one of the largest resorts in the country with 5,317 skiable acres (about half of that comprising some great back bowl terrain) that’s divided up pretty evenly for skiers of all levels. It’s also got a few kid adventure zones for families, such as Chaos Canyon and Porcupine Alley, and two terrain parks for those looking for boxes, rails, jumps, and pipes.
Another luxurious ski experience in the state, Beaver Creek is perfect for those who like to be pampered both on and off the slopes. After a long day of skiing, make your way down to the base area where you might catch a whiff of freshly baked cookies; you’re not delirious—at 3 p.m. every day, warm cookies are handed out to treat those wrapping up their day (or to re-fuel those looking to catch last chairs). While you savor your cookie, one of the available attendants will also help you carry your gear to the town. Oh, and you won’t have to watch where you step too carefully—sidewalks in the town are heated, so there are no icy patches. Beyond the world-class service, Beaver Creek’s ski experience also makes it a worthwhile trip, especially for beginners, with plenty of groomed terrain, the Haymeadow gondola that takes you to beginner-only trails, a variety of ski school options for first-timers, and a lower elevation (about 8,000 feet at the base) than other resorts to help lessen the effects of altitude.
More winter Olympians have come from Steamboat than any other ski town in the country, so you know this resort is home to some top-quality terrain. Add to that it’s trademarked “Champagne Powder,” the name for its snow that averages only six percent water content, making it softer and lighter than that of other locations, and it’s hard to resist the unique powder experience you’ll find here. In 2019, Steamboat is also opening up a new gondola (in place of the previous one) that will shuttle visitors from the base to the slopes even faster—the ride is less than 10 minutes, and the addition of new cars also means less wait time in line. It’s three hours from Denver, so you can make the drive from there after landing at Denver International Airport, or Steamboat/Hayden Airport (about 20 miles from the resort) has nonstop flights to and from 14 major airports around the country.
Skiers of all levels will find something to love about Keystone’s three main peaks. Advanced skiers will find enough of a challenge particularly on the blue and black runs of North Peak and the tree runs and nearby bowls on The Outback. Families will love the large area of green runs on Dercum Mountain; its longest run, Schoolmarm, is four miles and designated as a family ski trail because it’s a long, wide, spacious green, perfect for taking the time (and space) to learn how to transition from “pizza” to S curves. A major draw to Keystone is its night skiing. While other resorts are shutting down the lifts, Dercum Mountain at Keystone is lit up for you to get the most out of your daily lift ticket. If you happen to be skiing on a Saturday night, don’t miss the fireworks from the slopes!
At 80 years old, Winter Park is Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort, and its seven territories offer a variety of options for visitors. A few highlights: Winter Park Territory is great for an easy day on the slopes cruising down groomers, Mary Jane is where you’ll find the resort’s famous moguls and tree skiing, and Vasquez Ridge is the place for powder and backcountry skiing. To get to Winter Park, you exit I-70 sooner than you would to visit other resorts farther down the interstate (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breck, and Keystone), so you aren’t fighting that day trip traffic. However, navigating the winding switchbacks of Berthoud Pass to get up to Winter Park can also be tricky, especially in bad weather. One method of transportation to consider is Amtrak: catch a train from Denver’s Union Station to Winter Park on weekends from January to March.
For those who love a day with fresh powder (ahem, snowboarders), Wolf Creek in the San Juan Mountains is your spot. It boasts the most snow in Colorado, getting about 430 inches annually, so you can shred to your heart’s content. That amount of snow also means that it’s typically one of the earliest to open and latest to close for the season. The 1,600 acres of skiable terrain is divided up pretty evenly for levels with 45 percent dedicated to advanced and expert runs and the other 55 percent making up beginner and intermediate runs. It’s also a great budget-friendly option, as lift tickets for the season are $76 for adults and even cheaper for seniors and kids. There’s no town right at the resort, so you can stay in surrounding Pagosa Springs (lodging options are about 20 to 30 minutes away from the resort), Alamosa (an hour away), or Durango (about 90 minutes away), and you can either drive or use the available shuttle services from those nearby towns or airports for a fee. It might take more planning, but its remote location is also one of its major draws for those looking for fewer crowds and awesome terrain.
Telluride is a scenic mountain town located in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. More than half of its 2,000 acres is dedicated to beginner and intermediate skiers, but more advanced skiers will still appreciate the amount of challenging terrain, especially the hike-to options. You can stay in Telluride or in Mountain Village, both of which are walkable areas, and there’s a free gondola that connects the two for easy round-trip transportation. One of the best parts about Telluride is the views—walking down Main Street (where you’ll find lots of shops and dining), the backdrop of the mountains behind the town is stunning, and the sunsets here are incredible. Make time for some apres ski in town to take in the views while kicking back with a drink.
The town of Aspen is actually surrounded by four different ski resorts—Buttermilk, ideal for beginners and also host of the X games since 2002; Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands, which are known mostly for their advanced and expert terrain; and Snowmass, probably the most well-known and biggest of the four with 3,100 acres of skiable terrain (out of the combined 5,517 acres). While all are worth a trip, Aspen Snowmass is the most popular due to its varied and expansive terrain. However, you could base yourself in Aspen and hit all four during your trip.