A bounty of mountain resorts are open in 2020-2021 with a variety of vacation styles and experiences
Map of Colorado Ski Resorts
OPEN FOR THE 2020/2021 season
Mountains have always made me happy. I delayed journalism school for a year, so I could live and ski in western Canada. And a move to Colorado in 2010 gave me the chance to explore this state’s amazing mountain resorts. I really think there is something for everyone here, so I created a map of Colorado ski resorts, along with a guide to the state’s most popular winter destinations.
When I am asked by friends for a Colorado ski resort recommendation, my answer depends on a number of things – who they are going with and what style of holiday are they imagining? A low-key family vacation or a luxurious ladies trip? Are they beginners or avid skiers?
And yes, downhill skiing is very expensive and has a steep learning curve (pun intended). But there are lots of fun winter activities that are easier on the budget and quicker to master – nordic skiing, snow biking, snowshoeing, ice skating, snow tubing, sleigh rides and dog sledding are among the options. You could spend a week not downhill skiing, and not run out of things to do.
In some places, such as Vail and Steamboat, it’s also possible to take the gondola to the top of the mountain even if you aren’t skiing. You can enjoy the same gorgeous views and in some cases, mountain-top dining. A wonderful meal with spectacular views is always a winning combination.
As for accommodation, there are so many options and prices vary widely. In cases where I have stayed somewhere that I really liked, I’ve mentioned it in the guide, below. Otherwise, I suggest TripAdvisor as a tool to find the right accommodation; it’s what I use most often.
COVID-19 and Colorado Ski Resorts: As of December 2020 most Colorado ski resorts are open and operating alpine skiing with reduced capacity and limited on-mountain dining options. Some ski schools are only offering private lessons. In some cases advance reservations are required for skiing, so check individual websites for details. Even with the restrictions it’s possible to have a wonderful and safe experience. As I type this in December 2020, my son Charles is skiing in Steamboat and having a great time – he reports lots of powder.
Icon Legend - Colorado Ski Resorts
A ski resort built around a historic Colorado town, most of them dating to the mining rush of the mid to late 1800’s. These are some of my favourites.
A resort destination known for luxury – upscale accommodations, special amenities, exceptional dining and a wide range of activities… lots to do beyond skiing.
A destination that is ideal for a family holiday. It offers a range of family-friendly accommodation and diverse activities, to keep everyone happy.
A good place to learn to ski; the ski school is well run and there is a nice variety of terrain for beginners.
My favourites for a ladies’ getaway: great skiing, delicious food and a variety of activities and amenities, including spas and nightlife.
This resort and/or ski town is especially known for a variety of excellent restaurants, ideal for foodies.
These resorts are slightly less expensive than some of Colorado’s best-known ski destinations.
Steamboat has it all: it’s located at the historic mountain town of Steamboat Springs, has a fun western flair, and all of the activities you could dream of. The skiing is amazing – it’s known for it’s ultra-light champagne powder, and gets close to 300 inches a year. You’ll find luxury accommodation yet it doesn’t feel ”too fancy”. It is also family-friendly and there is so much to do in Steamboat. It’s a fantastic option if you are interested in other winter activities, beyond downhill skiing. For all of those reasons, it is probably my favourite Colorado ski resort.
As for accommodation there are super deluxe – and expensive – options here. For a moderate-priced option, I like the Inn at Steamboat. It offers great value for money – it is charming, has a nice breakfast and a heated pool.
Vail is a world class ski resort by any measure. It is the largest in Colorado with over 5000 acres of terrain and 195 runs. The back bowls of Vail are an amazing experience – a vast open winter wonderland above the tree line. After years of skiing, I finally got the hang of skiing powder at Vail – on a blustery day, with the snow dumping down everything clicked and I experienced that rhythmic floating sensation as I swooshed through the powder. So Vail holds a special place in my heart.
And I love to eat and the food scene here is excellent, perhaps parallel to Aspen but with more options, because it’s bigger. And yet, Vail is not the one I typically recommend for a Colorado ski holiday. Why? There is no historic town here, as there is in Steamboat, Aspen and Telluride. Vail was built in the 1960’s and then developed and considerably built up, by Intrawest, which also developed Whistler so they have a similar feeling.
That said, anyone would have a wonderful Colorado ski vacation here and I especially like it for a girls getaway. When I am skiing with other women, it’s where I go most often. They offer a free guided ski day for women, a few times a month. Check the website for details.
Where to Stay in Vail
This depends on your budget and what you are looking for. I’ve stayed at the Grand Hyatt Vail, formerly the Vail Cascade Resort. It was wonderful then and has since had a massive renovation.
It’s directly connected to the mountain via chairlift #20 which is at the base of the hotel. You can ride the same chair down at the end and of the day, and into the arms of a ski valet. Ski valet, you ask? A staff member meets you as you exit the lift and takes your skis and poles and puts them in storage for you. If you have small children with you, this will be the single best moment of your day.
The Grand Hyatt is removed from the busier areas of Vail, which I like, but that would not be for everyone. It has a lovely pool which looks out over Gore Creek, a beautiful spa and huge attached fitness center which I did actually use. Looking back I have no idea why I felt the need to exercise, after a full day of skiing. It also has a basketball court and other amenities.
Fans of Breckenridge are true fans – they return again and again and absolutely love it. Like Vail, Breckenridge is a huge resort. There is seemingly limitless terrain to enjoy, almost 60% of it for advanced skiers. It is also known for its terrain parks. And, like all the big Colorado resorts, the ski school is excellent. It also has a cute and historic town with lots of delicious restaurants. And there’s lots to do besides downhill skiing. I cross country skied here last winter and it was fantastic.
The only negative I can report is it can be very windy. So Breck has everything you could want in a ski holiday. And I’ve had a great time there, and I do recommend it. For families, I do prefer Steamboat f. I think it’s northern Colorado “ranch country” setting makes it feels more western. But Breck is a little closer to Denver.
I’ve stayed at the the Residence Inn Breckenridge and thought it was great. It can be shockingly expensive, even for a Residence Inn, but I like that they have suite-style rooms with kitchens.
At the base of Beaver Creek is one of the most luxurious hotels in Colorado, the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch, and just for fun, I once looked up the prices to stay there over Christmas. Let’s just say you could buy a car for what it would have cost for a week. I have stayed there in fall and it is stunning.
This gives you an idea of the vibe at Beaver Creek – it is a beautiful and luxurious place to ski. They do have great programs for families and kid, although I haven’t signified it as a family resort, because there is less emphasis on families.
Like Vail, located down the road, Beaver Creek is an over-the-top beautiful ski resort. But it’s not historic – there’s no old mining town. Unless luxury and the Ritz Carlton are what you are looking for, I think there are better choices, especially for a first time ski holiday to Colorado.
I haven’t been to Telluride – it’s the furthest from Denver – but it’s at the top of my ski holiday wishlist. Telluride gets glowing reviews and becomes many people’s absolute favourite Colorado ski resort. I have a feeling it will be mine as well.
The scenery here is arguably the best of all the resorts in Colorado with a dramatic backdrop of jagged peaks. The historic mountain town is overflowing with Victorian cowboy charm. (Butch Cassidy apparently robbed his very first bank here.) Although it is not as big as Vail and Breck, the skiing is ideal for everyone and anyone, with close to 60% of the terrain for beginners and intermediates.
And the food scene is said to be amazing. You will find the highest elevation fine-dining in the U.S. here – Alpino Vino at almost 12,000 feet – and exceptional casual dining as well.
While it is far from Denver (see the map of Colorado ski resorts at top) it’s possible to fly into Telluride, with a connection at Denver International. And there are direct flights to nearby Montrose from many U.S. Cities, on American, Delta and United.
I think what I am trying to say is, let’s go to Telluride!
I’ve skied here only one day and the weather wasn’t very good – bad luck. But Crested Butte is a favourite of many people I know; it is a charming resort with incredible scenery and fabulous skiing – it’s known for its challenging terrain, so it’s a great place for expert skiers. Crested Butte is considered a sort of holdout, a resort that feels like Colorado used to, before it was all so developed. You could say it’s the opposite of what Vail has become.
They have done a great job of preserving the charming town which dates to 1878. One downside is it’s located further from Denver (see above map of Colorado ski resorts), so it is more challenging to get to, but if you are looking for an authentic old-school Colorado ski trip, this is it.
At Crested Butte I stayed at the Almont Resort and if you don’t mind being away from the mountain this was great value. Next time I would stay at the Pioneer Guest Cabins. I tried to get in there, but it was booked when we went.
Copper Mountain was the first place we skied as a family when we moved to Colorado and we had great experiences there. The ski school is very well run and the beginner terrain is terrific; it’s a great place to learn to ski.
It is also “slightly” less expensive than some of the bigger name resorts that appeal to international visitors (Steamboat, Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge), and it is possible to get packages that make it more affordable, so I am giving it the budget symbol. There is also lots of condo-style accommodation, great for families and groups. And you could also consider staying in the nearby town of Frisco.
One unique amenity at Copper Mountain is “The Woodward Copper Barn” an indoor training area with trampolines so kids and teens can safely learn tricks that they can take on to the hill. One program gives kids and teens half the day training indoors and half out on the mountain.
I’ve been to Aspen a few times and really enjoyed myself, although I did not ski. The restaurant scene is fantastic and there are lots of luxurious amenities and beautiful hotels. It’s come a long way since it was founded as a camp for silver miners in the 1880’s. While this is definitely “lifestyles of the rich and famous”, the western charm of the original town helps to moderate the fancy vibe, in a good way. The skiing is comprised of four mountains, with the one set at the town of Aspen known as Ajax (note that it is short on beginner terrain.)
So Aspen has a lot to recommend it, yet I rarely do. I would choose other resorts over Aspen. For a big-budget ski holiday it would be Telluride. For families, I would choose Copper or Steamboat. For a ladies’ ski trip I would go to Vail, Breckenridge, or Telluride. I would recommend it, along with Vail and Beaver Creek, if luxury was the priority. And I always say it is a worth a visit to the town of Aspen if you are nearby. Have lunch or dinner at the French Alpine Bistro.
If you do stay in Aspen, I quite liked where we stayed on our last visit: The Aspen Square Hotel has a great location, nice mountain views from the pool and the prices were moderate for Aspen.
If you are looking for a shorter ski trip or to learn to ski on a budget, Eldora Mountain outside of Boulder is a nice option. It’s only an hour from Denver and Eldora has lesson packages and the Woodward Mountain Park which offers the chance for action sports training (the same franchise as in Copper, but this one is outdoors).
While it doesn’t have all of the activities and amenities of the big resorts, there are some including nordic skiing. And nearby Boulder has a fantastic dining scene and lots of accommodation choices.
The map of Colorado ski resorts at the top of this guides includes many ski resorts which I have not expanded on here: Keystone and Winter Park are great for families. Arapahoe Basin is known for its extreme terrain and extra-long season.
Simply put, Colorado has an abundance of choices. And a Colorado winter holiday can be a travel splurge, but if you are open to different styles and experiences, there are ways to have fun on various budgets. Again, if budget is an issue, I would strongly encourage you to consider other winter activities besides downhill skiing. The mountains, pine trees and blue skies are enchanting, regardless of what activities you are enjoying.
If you are interested in a budget-friendly Colorado winter adventure, you might enjoy my story about: A Colorado Winter Yurt Vacation.
Have you visited Colorado in winter? Do you have a favourite mountain resort? Please share your experience in the comments.