The 10 Best Ski Resorts in Colorado - 2017/18
Written by Jack Lee • Last updated Sep 22, 2017
Narrowing down the 10 best ski resorts in Colorado is always going to be a subjective endeavor and really based on what you're looking for in a ski vacation. That said, I consulted our writers who have skied most, if not all, of the resorts in Colorado to come up with a list of ten ski areas which are definitely worth visiting. But just because it's on our list doesn't mean it's all sunshine and snow - we've weighed up the good along with the bad so that you can decide which resort would be the best fit for you!
- One of the earliest resorts to open supported by extensive snowmaking
- Ideal resort of intermediates
- Free snowcat Friday-Sunday to provide access to above-treeline skiing, when there's snow
- Slightly less snow than other Summit County ski resorts
- Solid ski area, but with no real standout runs
Even with an impressive 2,601 feet of vertical drop and a respectable 2,465 acres of ski terrain, Copper Mountain’s biggest draw lies in its natural topography. The mountain, for the most part, splits itself into three sections, dividing advanced, intermediate, and beginner terrain into three sections across the resort.
On the east side and the backside of the mountain are the majority of black trails, the center is chock full of blues, and to the west green runs reign. The lifts and base areas of the resort work in harmony with the mountain topography, which also helps to enhance the overall ski experience. The East Village is best for advanced skiers, Center Village for intermediates, and West Village for beginners, with efficient lifts servicing each area, which keeps crowds nicely spread out.
While Copper Mountain generally sees slightly less snowfall than its other Summit County counterparts, it has one of the most extensive snowmaking systems to make up for it. The cold temperatures mean they start cranking the machines early in the season and also keeps it fresh. The fact that the US Ski Team descends upon Copper Mountain for early-season training is a testament to the consistency of its snow from early November.
When it comes to accommodation, there’s a wide range to choose from here, from large luxury homes to smaller studios, but the most common places to stay are two- to four-bedroom condos. Timber Creek Condominiums in the Center Village is a fantastic choice for ski-in/ski-out lodgings. Copper Mountain isn’t quite as expensive as Vail or Aspen, but you’ll still pay a premium to stay in the ski village. For even more affordable options try Frisco, just a 10-minute drive away, where a few reasonable hotels and private rentals can be found, or Silverthorne, a 15-minute drive away, with even more budget options to choose from.
Center Village is where you’ll find the most facilities, restaurants, and shops in Copper Mountain, so if being close to amenities is important, stay here. The Incline Bar and Grill is a top spot for a bite to eat any time of day, and once you’ve hung up your ski boots for the day, there’s a great happy hour which transforms the place into a happening après-ski spot! A word of warning: if partying into the early hours is your thing then you’re probably better off at Breckenridge; there are not many places open after midnight here.
- Highest lift in North America
- Bustling historic town with a laid-back vibe
- Diverse range of lodgings from cozy and affordable to lavishly high end
- Big crowds are a real pain
- Epic wind chill
- Snow can be blow-packed into a crusty shell
More skiers and snowboarders visited Breckenridge last season than any other ski resort in the United States, which means two things. It’s undoubtedly an awesome mountain to ride, but it can also get frustratingly crowded. This isn’t surprising given all the things Breck has going for it – affordable lodging, an abundance of slopes spread across five peaks and North America’s highest lift, the Imperial Express Super Chair, reaching 12,840 feet!
The town is also a big draw in itself, an old mining settlement that’s far from a purpose-built mega resort (if that’s your thing head to Vail). The atmosphere at the bottom of the mountain is fun and relaxed, plus there are a ton of shopping, dining, and drinking options to choose from. Accommodation options here are varied and plentiful, with hundreds of hotels and thousands of condo units to stay in. If you want ski-in/ski-out you’ve got it, or if you’d prefer to save money on lodgings and don't mind being a bit further from the slopes, that’s also an option. Whether it’s 5-star or self-catering you're after, you’ll find it in Breck, making it a great ski resort to suit all budgets.
While Breck ticks the boxes for many, it’s not without its drawbacks. We’ve already mentioned the crowds (if this is a deal breaker for you, try Winter Park or Steamboat), but talking terrain, while its got a good variety of groomers, glades and moguls – it’s not the best Summit County can offer. But if you are after high alpine, no-fall zone chutes and wide open bowls at extreme altitudes, then you’re at the right place. Just make sure you’re prepared against possible altitude sickness!
- Huge ski area covering over 3,000 acres
- Some of best long groomers in Colorado
- One of the country’s top terrain parks, with its own lift
- Crowds can be a problem, particularly on weekends
- There’s not much truly extreme terrain here
Keystone treads the middle ground between luxury ski resorts like Vail and bustling ski towns like Breckenridge, offering an affordable and family-friendly ski experience while remaining competitive in other aspects. Night skiing is one of them, with the largest number of trails in the state lit up after dark here, which solidifies Keystone’s claim of having Colorado’s longest ski day! It also has a fantastic cat ski operation that costs just $10 a ride, opening up huge swathes of powder-filled glades and bowls to tear through.
The resort’s A51 Terrain Park is widely regarded as one of the finest in the country, covering a huge 60 acres and regularly winning awards from top ski and snowboard magazines. The 6 separate parks combined have over 100 different features, kickers, rails, and pipes for all abilities, from beginner tricksters to pro freestylers. The main park even has its own dedicated chairlift that will keep tireless park rats lapping all day!
Keystone is a member of the 3x3 club, which means its mammoth 3,087 acre ski area enjoys a staggering 3,128 feet of vertical drop! All this terrain will keep you skiing or boarding new trails for days on end, on the wonderfully wide and long groomers that make up a large portion of the runs here. Experienced intermediates will be in heaven, but advanced riders could find that the trails simply aren’t challenging enough. Luckily, just up the road is Arapahoe Basin, where there’s plenty of gnarly terrain for even the most committed adrenaline junkie.
All sorts of different accommodation options are available here, whether you’re looking for casual hotels, private lodges, or premium condos. There’s usually something to suit most budgets, with prices a notch lower than at Aspen and Vail. Alpine Slopes Lodge is a decent place with straightforward rooms a short stroll from the lifts.
For all that’s great about Keystone, it does fall short of the competition in a few areas. Snowfall here is lacking for a Summit County resort, but thankfully is supported by a superb snowmaking and grooming operation which keeps the slopes smooth and white. Crowds, especially on weekends, can also be an issue so plan accordingly!
- Expect lots of deep fluffy powder here
- Some of the best extreme steeps in Colorado
- Laid-back local vibe
- One of the longest ski seasons
- Old lifts, only one is high speed so there can be queues
- Ski terrain area is small compared to nearby resorts
- Very limited amenities
Arapahoe Basin, A-Basin, The Legend, however you want to call this ski resort, its reputation precedes itself. Shrugging off the idea that ski resorts need to offer a multitude of facilities and amenities, it instead focuses solely on riding the mountain. This draws a younger crowd that like to drink beers and rip through the steeps - giving the A-basin a very authentic local flavor. Thanks to its north facing slopes and high elevation, Arapahoe Basin enjoys one of the longest ski seasons in Colorado, opening in October and sometimes staying open until July!
As the firm favorite among locals, who appreciate the affordable lift tickets and relaxed attitude, there’s one big drawback for visitors. There’s no accommodation at the base of the lifts here. If you don't mind driving to the resort then you’ll be just fine, with a variety of accommodation options at nearby Keystone. For some great value lodgings, it’s also worth checking out the town of Silverthorne, a 20-minute drive away.
A-Basin doesn’t wow you with an expansive ski area or huge vertical rise, instead its strengths lie in the extreme chutes and gnarly steeps that keep the blood pumping for advanced skiers and snowboarders. There are few other resorts in Colorado that serve up as much expert terrain within ski area boundaries with the intimidating East Wall as its crowning glory. One downside to the emphasis on big mountain riding is the limited intermediate and beginner terrain here, so for more relaxed slopes try Keystone just around the corner, which is altogether a more family-friendly resort.
Investment in the lift system is another thing that’s lacking, and while you’re unlikely to find yourself waiting in long queues you will have to be patient while the old chairlifts creak up the mountain. The Black Mountain Express is the only high-speed chairlift in the entire resort and that only takes you up half the way! On the plus side, you’ll have plenty of time to choose your off-piste routes while watching other skiers and boarders brave new lines through the freshies.
At the base of the mountain you’ll find just a few older buildings with the essentials, all centered around the A-Frame Lodge, where the usual cafeteria and coffee shop can be found. There’s also the 6th Alley Bar and Grill, which doubles as an après-ski spot, but the front of the nearby car park, dubbed the ‘Beach’, is the heart of A-Basin’s party scene. Barbecues, snow-cooled beers, music and good times, there’s always a reason to celebrate here, and everyone is welcome!
A-Basin is a true locals mountain, with a funky vibe that will delight some but put off others. The more experienced and low-maintenance you are, the more fun you’ll have here, so skiing newbies or those looking for a more catered experience should probably look elsewhere.
- The glade skiing is 'impossible' to beat
- Unwind in one of the many geothermal hot springs!
- Trademarked ‘Champagne’ powder
- No crowds!
- An authentic Western town with unique winter events!
- Possibility of poor snow on lower half of the mountain due to lower base elevation
- A bit further out of the way
- Smaller town with somewhat pricey lodging and dining options given the limited options
A cowboy ski town that holds the record for being home to more Winter Olympic athletes than anywhere else in the United States, Steamboat Springs is a hotbed of snowsports culture! The oldest ski hill in Colorado opened here in 1915, and since then, the newer and much larger Steamboat Ski Resort has opened with 2,965 acres of diverse ski terrain across an entire mountain range. The town is also home to geothermal hot springs where you can soak those weary muscles after a hard day on the slopes!
Where Steamboat really excels is in its glade skiing, which is undoubtedly some of the best in Colorado. Head up to Sunshine Peak and ski over the backside to Morningside Park – here you’ll find some of the best tree runs in Colorado, with options for a variety of tree-skiing abilities! Snow quality is top notch – there’s a reason they call it ‘champagne’ powder. Without getting too deep into the science, there’s a desert off to the west where most snowstorms come from which dries out all the moisture. This turns the snow into tiny flakes that are incredibly easy to blow through, even if you’re knee deep in it.
On the flipside, even though the resort is famed for its excellent snow quality, it doesn’t always get much of it, especially if the storms flow from the south. The relatively low summit elevation of 10,568 feet also means that on a warm day, the snow on the lower half of the mountain degrades quickly. Lastly, the small town feel does mean that shopping and activities outside of skiing are limited – if you want that, then Vail and Aspen have you covered.
All in all, if you imagine the name ‘Ski Town USA’ with its great western charm and friendly local attitude, you’re probably visualizing Steamboat.
- Excellent range of terrain for different abilities
- Some of the best steep mogul runs in the country
- Reliable snowfall
- Turn off of the I-70 early enough to avoid the infamous traffic around Eisenhower Tunnel and beyond
- Lift layout can be a little confusing
- Limited range of facilities and activities at the base area
- Access via Berthoud Pass is challenging in bad weather
With over 75 years of ski history, Winter Park began life as a playground for Denverites, owned and operated by the city, before slowly growing into a world-renowned ski destination made famous by Mary Jane’s moguls! Despite being the longest continually running ski resort in the state and serving up genuinely awesome ski terrain, this place retains a down-to-earth attitude. Winter Park doesn’t show off because it doesn't have to, and adventurous skiers will find this out when they visit.
Even getting to the resort can be a daring endeavor in itself, with the Berthoud Pass becoming a treacherous route during a snowstorm. Maybe this puts a few skiers and boarders off, but there’s an easier way to reach Winter Park that harks back to its early days. Being the only ski resort in the United States that has an Amtrak train service, you can reach the mountain by rail aboard the Winter Park Express from Denver! It’s just a shame this service only runs on weekends between January and March.
The ski terrain here is split between 7 territories, each offering something unique. From wide open bowls and family-friendly groomers to steep alpine chutes and progressive terrain parks, there’s plenty to challenge all levels of ability. Coupled with reliable snowfall, skiing at Winter Park rarely disappoints.
One gripe we have about the resort is its lift layout. As can often be a problem for older resorts, some of the lift connections here are a little complicated, particularly in the Winter Park Territory, and getting around the mountain is not as easy as it could be. If you're a snowboarder and you don't know where you're going, watch out, as there are a couple of nasty traverses that'll have you popping that board off to stalk along in frustration - better read up on our Winter Park ski guide!
Off the mountain, Winter Park isn’t a particularly glitzy destination like some other Colorado ski resorts and is quite similar to Steamboat in this respect, so some amenities might be missing (no oxygen bars here!). That said, all this can be overlooked if you just want to ski and ski hard!
- Top-notch grooming
- Fast and efficient lift network with short lines
- The Birds of Prey World Cup Downhill is held here early in the season so you better believe they'll do whatever it takes to ensure great skiing conditions!
- Free chocolate chip cooking at 3:00 pm every afternoon at the base of Centennial Express
- No terrain above the tree line and has limited bowl skiing
- Expect to pay top dollar for everything here
- The bowl skiing is limited compared to nearby Vail
Welcome to Colorado’s newest ski resort, the one and only Beaver Creek, where luxury comes as standard. Smart, sophisticated and unabashedly expensive, this purpose-built ski resort is as much about the pampering as the powder, which are both equally as good! Just 10 miles west of Vail, Beaver Creek doesn’t suffer from the same crowds as its bigger sister, but then again it doesn’t offer anywhere near as much terrain. Still, the 150 remarkably well laid out trails here are nothing to scoff at, particularly the Birds of Prey downhill course, an annual fixture on the men’s Alpine Ski World Cup tour.
The Beaver Creek ski village is pretty small, at roughly 5 blocks by 8 blocks, which makes it easy to navigate and explore (great for families). There are even escalators to get you up from the bus stop at the plaza area to the slopes, although these can be tricky to navigate if you're already in your ski boots! Perhaps the highlight of entertainment in the town is the Vilar Performing Arts Center, hosting everything from hit Broadway shows to the latest ski movie epic from Warren Miller, but the weekly American Jukebox Skate Night at the ice rink is a close contender! Further down the mountain are the base areas of Avon and Arrowhead with lifts connecting to the slopes of Beaver Creek.
Immaculately groomed green and blue runs make up a large portion of the ski terrain here, and unlike many other ski resorts, most trails at Beaver Creek don’t flow straight down the fall line. Instead, they leisurely wind down their way down the mountain for a scenic and unique skiing experience. There’s a nice chunk of advanced and expert terrain here too, but you can find bumpier bumps at Winter Park or steeper chutes at Arapahoe Basin.
That said, neither of those resorts will indulge you off the slopes quite like Beaver Creek. With a modern lift network comprised largely of high-speed lifts, you can get around the mountain fast without too much queuing. The highest point is the summit of Beaver Creek Mountain at 11,440 feet, served by both the Cinch Express Lift and the Drink Of Water Lift. Even from up here, the entire ski area is below the treeline, so don’t expect any true high alpine terrain.
When it comes to somewhere to stay, The Osprey Lodge and Beaver Creek Landing both offer exquisite ski-in/ski- out accommodation slap bang in the center of Beaver Creek Village. For one of the finest dining experiences in the resort you need look no further than Allies Cabin, famous for its wonderful valley views and Thursday winery dinners. For something slightly less pricey, try the Dusty Boot, a steakhouse and saloon that oozes rustic old west charm! All in all, Beaver Creek is a top resort with a good balance of snow, terrain and village.
- Four different ski areas to explore, all under one lift ticket scheme
- Fantastic grooming and efficient lifts
- Amazing ski town with as much to do off the slopes as on them
- A bit more out of the way to reach
- Snowfall isn’t always great here
- You have to hike to terrain above the tree line
- An expensive choice for a ski vacation
A ski mecca for the rich and famous, Aspen has grown into four standalone ski resorts since the first slopes opened for business way back in 1946, and with such fine heritage, it’s one of the greatest ski towns in the world! The original Aspen Mountain resort (locally known as Ajax) is now joined by Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlands, each offering a distinctly different ski experience. Between them all, there are over 5,550 acres of spectacular ski terrain to explore, with quite literally something for every skier and snowboarder.
If you asked us to pick one, it’d be Aspen Highlands. Crowds don’t seem to affect this resort in the same way that Aspen Mountain and Snowmass suffer from, which means more freshies and less queuing! It’s also home to what many skiers regard as the most extreme terrain the whole of Aspen has to offer. You’ll find the Highland Bowl here, where you can take a high alpine hike to drop in from 12,392 feet, and there are secret lines scattered through the in-bounds ski area that can make even experts pucker.
One issue that affects the ski experience here is snowfall because without enough of it, the steeps are often peppered with rocks. It really needs lots of powder to fill in all the famously exhilarating terrain, so you could be disappointed if you visit early in the season. What Highlands doesn’t deliver is much intermediate terrain, but Snowmass and Buttermilk have you covered if you’re looking for more easy-going slopes.
Accommodation is spread over the old town of Aspen and the newer Snowmass Village, with a huge range of hotels, condos, and family homes available. Nothing comes cheap in Aspen though, so be prepared to splurge on accommodation if you want to stay close to the slopes. For ski-in/ski-out luxury lodgings, look no further than the Ritz-Carlton at Aspen Highlands, where you’ll appreciate warming up in the hot tub after being out in the snow all day!
There’s also tons to see and do in the town itself, with our top venue for live music being Belly Up (tickets for acts sell out quickly, so be sure to buy in advance). Wintersköl, an annual festival dating back to 1951, is another event not to be missed – it’s a toast to winter with fireworks, snow sculptures, torchlight parades and much more! Then we have the Winter X Games, held every year in Aspen, with pro skiers and snowboarders throwing down their biggest tricks. All the above just scratches the surface of what Aspen offers off the slopes!
With so much going for it and such a renowned reputation, Aspen certainly cashes in on the hordes of skiers and snowboarders who want to experience this legendary ski town. It makes a budget ski vacation in Aspen very challenging. Still, if you’re happy to burn a hole in your wallet then Aspen could be one of the most memorable ski trips of your life!
- Biggest ski area in Colorado
- Known for its long wide runs groomed to perfection
- Charming pedestrianized ski town
- Plenty to see and do off the slopes
- Your non-skier friends will light up in recognition when you mention Vail
- Can be hard to escape the crowds
- It’s an expensive place to ski
- Lacks an abundance of steep terrain
- Quite corporate so lacks the local charm of say, Steamboat and A-Basin
- I-70 can be closed during snowstorms, with Vail Pass being one of the main closures, meaning you can't get in or out of town
Often touted as the crowning glory of Colorado’s ski resorts, Vail’s enormous ski terrain covers 5,289 acres, more than anywhere else in the state. It goes without saying that there is an incredible amount of variety, from easy groomers to gnarly bowls. It’s a true mega resort, which might put some skiers and snowboarders off, but it’s one of those rare ski destinations that simply has it all!
The charming ski city is spread out across three base areas, Golden Peak, Vail Village, and Lionshead, and the entire place has an enchanting European feel to it. Being largely purpose-built means much of it is pedestrianized, so just strolling to the many shops, restaurants, and bars dotted around this picture-perfect resort is a joy in itself. There’s even a regional airport serving the town which is just 35 miles away; otherwise, it’s still pretty close to Denver International Airport, a 2-hour drive away. Just note that due to Vail Pass' treacherous nature during snowstorms, I-70 suffers semi-frequent closures that might make it impossible to get in or out of town for whole days at a time!
You’ll have two sides of the mountain to ride here – the frontside is famed for its exquisite groomers, jam-packed full of green and blue runs which makes it perfect for family skiing. Over the other side, the back bowls are absolute powder havens, and from the highest point in the resort, 11,570 feet, you can drop into the Blue Sky Basin. Finding freshies is never too hard on a powder day, and there’s an amazing variety of terrain to ride, through glades, bumps, and steeps!
So where does Vail go wrong? With everything the resort has on offer, it does draw in the crowds and with its strong brand name, expect to pay a premium to enjoy any of it. The window rate for a one-day lift pass is a pricey $175, making it the most expensive regular window ticket across the whole of America! In fact, most things in Vail are expensive (there’s not even any free car parking) unless you get a deal, making it costly choice, particularly for a family trip.
Also, there’s no true ski-in/ski-out accommodation at Vail, besides a few private properties with exclusive access. The closest you’ll get to the slopes at Vail Village is by checking in to the Lodge at Vail, while a room at Manor Vail puts you just a walk across the road from the lifts at Golden Peak. As for Lionshead, stay at The Arrabelle or Lionsquare Lodge, both next to the Eagle Bahn Gondola.
Vail is an all round great resort with a strong brand and reputation which it has deservedly earned over the years – in this sense, it’s comparable to Park City and Canyons, in Utah so definitely worth a visit. What it lacks is extreme terrain – for that, make your way to Arapahoe Basin or Telluride. For a less expensive option with the same hustle and bustle of a big lively town and a mountain to match, Breck or nearby Beaver Creek might be the ticket.
- Amazing variety of quality terrain, from gentle groomers to extreme off-piste
- Historic western town with jaw-dropping scenery
- High quality champagne powder, when it comes
- A difficult ski resort to reach
- It’s a pricey ski resort, particularly for lodging
- Small town with limited options
Not only is Telluride our pick for the best ski resort in Colorado, it’s also one of our top ski destinations across the entire United States! It’s a truly majestic place, steeped in Wild West history, surrounded by towering fourteeners that make for spectacular views. With over 2,000 acres of outstanding ski terrain, 148 trails, and more than 300 inches of velvety powder blanketing the mountain each year, Telluride serves up everything from kid’s nursery slopes to intense off-piste (which one of our experienced insiders admits is just ‘plain scary’).
Telluride doesn’t save the best for only advanced skiers and snowboarders – with the Prospect Express lift reaching over 11,800 feet, beginners can experience high alpine territory and mountain vistas usually reserved only for experienced riders. From here there’s a non-stop run all the way down to the base area, the Galloping Goose trail, a 4.6 mile green for all to enjoy! Adventurous experts aren’t left out – they can hike all the way up to an elevation of 13,320 feet, where Palmyra Peak offers a variety of extreme chutes to fly down! Where
Revelation Bowl is another awesome section of the mountain for powder junkies looking for freshies, starting from the highest spot on the mountain served by a lift at 12,515 feet. The snow stays deep up here thanks to its shelter from the wind, and some sections of the bowl are even groomed so intermediates can give it a try if they feel up to the challenge!
Accommodation here is split between the main town of Telluride and the Mountain Village built on a natural bench above. Free gondolas connect the base areas and nearby parking lot. There’s more happening down at the main town, so stay there if you want to get into the nightlife scene! If you’re on a family holiday with young children Mountain Village is definitely the place to stay; you’ll be right next to great beginner runs, with superb facilities for kids, and it’s generally cheaper.
While many Colorado resorts straddle Interstate 70 leading out of Denver, Telluride is on the other side of the state, in the south-west corner. Besides the limited flights that connect to Telluride Regional Airport, the nearest airport is at Montrose, which is a difficult 60 mile drive away. That said, if you’re really craving the pow and don’t mind a road trip, it’s a 6 hour trip from downtown Denver. Perhaps the difficulty in accessing Telluride is one of its biggest disadvantages, but it helps to keep the crowds away. As a package, Telluride feels like a tucked away piece of ski paradise – and is our pick as the top resort in Colorado!