Every ski tourist has heard of Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge, but those willing to sacrifice the sexy name will find they’ll not only save money, but also sidestep the crowds and ride with the locals in their favourite ski spots. But which should you choose? Let us help you decide with our guide to the best ski resorts in Colorado.
Western Colorado Alternatives
Most people who come to Colorado on a ski trip fly into Denver, rent a car or schedule a shuttle, and drive I-70 up to Vail or Breckenridge. These are the most popular names for those coming from out of state, but locals know that littered amongst these two resorts in Summit County are a handful of ski areas that, despite the lack of a well-known name or a full-service town, deliver big on the mountain.
Just down the road from Breckenridge is Keystone Resort, known for being family-friendly and very kind to the beginner skier. Those learning to ride will appreciate the fact that Keystone’s bunny trail is located at the top of the mountain – not the bottom as is typically the case. The true benefit of this is that beginners aren’t grounded to one lift at the base of the mountain, as riding the lifts all the way to the top is all part of the skiing experience, affording the opportunity to take in the views and ski down the entire mountain via slow and steady green runs.
Keystone’s next door neighbour, Arapahoe Basin (A-Basin), is popular with the younger crowd thanks to its steep terrain, lack of on-site lodging (which keeps family tourists away), and a tailgating area known as “The Beach.” Located at the bottom of the three main chairlifts, this is arguably the most unique aprs-ski opportunity in Colorado on days with good weather. Locals love the idea of bringing their own cooler to avoid pricey lodge restaurants, and the location by the lifts provides plenty of people watching opportunities. There are 10 spots that are available for reservation, and the rest are first-come, first-serve, so get there early. Each spot has room for two vehicles and a picnic table.
In theory, Aspen’s location three and a half hours from Denver should put it on the list of locals-only resorts, but the town’s popularity and prestigious image have made it into anything but. To be fair, the town does maintain its local vibe and is absolutely worth a visit, but its remote location has not stopped anyone from visiting.
The scoop on Steamboat Springs, on the other hand, is a different story. Aspen’s reputation has tourists making the long drive without hesitation, yet the same cannot be said for Steamboat, despite the fact that it’s actually closer to Denver (approximately 3 hours drive). In short, there are several factors contributing to its lack of popularity with tourists, the two biggest being that from Denver, Steamboat is accessible via mountain passes that are subject to bad weather, and that there is only one resort to ski here compared to Aspen, which has four and the myriad of options along the I-70 corridor (Abasin, Keystone, Breck, Vail, Copper). But those that make the journey will indeed be rewarded, as Steamboat is praised by locals for its light, dry snow (which it has branded “Champagne Powder”) and its large quantity of well-spaced, high quality tree runs.
Want to visit the place that typically gets the most snow in Colorado? A 4 ½ -hour drive from Denver, Wolf Creek is one of the harder ski areas to get to in the state, but visitors will be pleasantly surprised. The biggest fear in Wolf Creek is too much snow, as long stretches of flat terrain can pose problems on huge powder days. That said, if too much snow is the only concern, life is sure to be good for those willing to make the journey to this isolated area.
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Have you visited any places featured in our list of best ski resorts in Colorado? Where’s your favourite place to ski in the state? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Written by Will McGough