The combination of champagne powder, endless blue skies, mammoth mountains and a live-to-ski ethos makes skiing in Colorado the stuff of legend. From cruisers and tree runs to back bowls and terrain parks, Colorado is one of the country's best and most varied places to ski.
With more than 30 resorts to choose from, this state really has a mountain – and ski town – for every sort of vacationer.
Should I buy a ski pass or lift ticket?
Colorado resorts offer daily lift tickets, season passes and multiday packs, usually valid for three to five days. The more days you plan to ski or ride, the more sense a pack or pass will make, and with single-day tickets pushing $225 at some resorts, you’ll hit the tipping point fast.
Most of Colorado’s resorts are operated by Vail or Aspen companies, and the various Epic and Ikon options often can be used at multiple resorts, but read the fine print for restrictions and blackout days. The best prices are available from the end of the previous season to Labor Day. Pass insurance and installment plans can give you added security and convenience.
Should I rent or bring my own equipment?
Bringing your own equipment is more practical now that most airlines have dropped oversized luggage fees and don’t require hard-shell cases. That said, all resorts have rental gear, from basic to high performance, as do local ski shops like Christy Sports and Epic Mountain Gear.
Experienced skiers and riders prefer their own gear, but for kids, beginners or anyone planning to ski just a day or two, it’s often easier to rent. If there’s one piece of your own gear to bring, it’s boots. Rentals never fit as well as your own, and sore feet on the slopes are no fun.
Go for glitz at Vail
Vail oozes mountain luxury, with second-to-none slopes and a glitzy village to match. The hill spans more than 5000 acres and is truly a paradise of silky corduroy and spacious back bowls, including the legendary Blue Sky Basin.
When the lifts close, mountainside glam awaits in Vail’s Bavarian-themed village with twinkling lights and heated cobblestone streets (no slush here). Its storefronts are home to fine restaurants, mountain-chic bars and designer boutiques. Swanky five-star hotels dot the village, offering amenities like ski valets and luxe spas, rooms with fireplaces and picture-postcard views.
Getting to Vail: Vail is located along I-70, a two-hour drive from Denver. Bustang and Greyhound bus lines service Vail. Epic Mountain Express provides shuttle service from Denver International Airport. Most convenient, Eagle County Regional Airport is just 35 miles west of Vail, with direct flights from a handful of US cities.
Breckenridge is the best ski town
Colorado has many great ski towns, but Breckenridge takes the prize for its accessibility, down-to-earth vibe and outstanding mountain resort. Breck is easy to get to, nestled in a gorgeous valley 80 miles from Denver. It has lodging, restaurants and shops for most budgets, and its jewel-box historic downtown gives it a real-town feel that ski villages often lack (don’t miss the excellent Breckenridge Heritage Alliance museums).
Breckenridge Ski Resort is a sprawling, welcoming hill, with an abundance of mellow greens and blues, yet enough steeps and bowls to satiate the chargers. Just pack an extra sweater – it often lives up to its “Brecken-fridge” nickname.
Getting to Breckenridge: From Denver, Breckenridge is a 1.5-hour drive via I-70 and Hwy 9. Epic Mountain Express provides a shuttle service from Denver International Airport. Summit Stage, a free bus service, connects Breck to Copper, Keystone and A-Basin.
Get more for your money at Copper Mountain
Occupying an enviable patch of Rockies mountainside, Copper Mountain is equal parts vacation destination and genuine locals’ favorite. Its world-class terrain and modern amenities, including 140-plus runs and an Olympic training facility, place Copper easily among Colorado’s elite ski resorts. Yet somehow it maintains the down-home atmosphere of a much smaller resort, including unassuming lodges and free parking areas.
Unlike other first-tier resorts, Copper still offers affordable passes and multipacks, especially if you buy early.
Getting to Copper Mountain: Copper is located just off I-70, about a 1.5-hour drive from Denver. Summit Express provides a door-to-door shuttle service from Denver International Airport. If you prefer the bus, ride Bustang or Greyhound to Frisco and take the free Summit Stage shuttle to Copper.
Enjoy après in Aspen
No place does après better than Aspen, where skiers can choose from designer cocktails and fine wines to craft beer and tips of the shotski. Add truffle fries and fondue, rosé happy hours and fur blankets – even a traveling champagne bar on the slopes – and there’s no doubt Aspen knows how to end a ski day right.
It helps that Aspen’s four sister resorts have world-class terrain that’ll smoke your legs and lungs and leave you in need of a stiff drink. Favorite spots include Ajax Tavern, French Alpine Bistro and the one-time-miner-saloon J Bar. For live music, head straight to Limelight Lounge.
Getting to Aspen: Aspen is 200 miles from Denver via I-70 and Hwy 82, around a four-hour drive. Epic Mountain Express runs shuttles from Denver International Airport. Aspen also has a small airport with direct flights from Denver and a few US cities.
Level up at Silverton Mountain
Only big-mountain skiers need apply at Colorado's most renegade ski area. With just one chairlift and no groomed runs or even cut trails, Silverton Mountain is an experts-only ski area that offers a blend of heli-skiing and cat-skiing in a quasi-resort setting.
Guides lead small groups through the resort's massive uncharted runs, with requisite hikes to 12,000ft and some of the best untracked powder in the state. Helicopters reach areas further afield, but you can count on serious face shots pretty much anywhere on this mountain. Skiers must carry avalanche beacons, probes and shovels. Play it safe and rent an avalanche float bag too.
Getting to Silverton: Sitting deep in the San Juan Mountains, Silverton is only accessible by car during the ski season. From Denver, it’s a 330-mile drive. Save time by flying into Durango-La Plata County Airport, 68 miles south, and rent a car from there.
Feel the romance at Crested Butte
Crested Butte is a slice of alpine paradise. The resort is cozy – just 12 lifts – surrounded by forests and breathtaking views of the Continental Divide. CB is famous for its double-black terrain, but you and your boo will find plenty of runs to cruise, no matter your expertise.
The town of Crested Butte is just as appealing. Check out its art galleries and boutique shops or plan a romantic evening, like a farm-to-plate meal at Soupçon or a rum tasting at Montanya Distillers. Top it off with a cozy sleigh ride or moonlit snow-shoeing, mitten-hand in mitten-hand.
Getting to Crested Butte: Crested Butte is at the end of Hwy 135, about a 4.5-hour drive from Denver. Alternatively, fly into Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport, 30 miles south, or Montrose Regional Airport, 96 miles west. Alpine Express provides shuttle service from both.
Take the family to Winter Park
Talk to skiing families in Colorado, and chances are good that Winter Park is their go-to resort. It checks all the right boxes for parents: easy to get to, an excellent ski school, reasonable tickets and passes, and terrific skiing and boarding. The resort is a perfect blend of groomers, chutes, trees, terrain parks and (in the Mary Jane area) the best bumps in the state. It’s big enough to keep you interested, but manageable for kids and families.
Add to that free parking and down-to-earth lodges, and it’s no wonder it’s so popular with families.
Getting to Winter Park: Winter Park is 65 miles west of Denver, and the I-70 turnoff is well before the often backed-up Eisenhower Tunnel. Driving is a breeze, but Greyhound has a daily bus service, and on winter weekends, Winter Park Express is a fun rail alternative. From Denver International Airport, Home James Transportation Services offers door-to-door shuttles.
Powder hounds flock to Wolf Creek
One of Colorado’s best-kept secrets, Wolf Creek Ski Area has the deepest average annual snowfall in the state – a whopping 430 inches. A family-owned resort, the mountain has 1600 skiable acres, from wide-open bowls to steep tree glades. Come after a big storm for waist-high powder and an incomparable white carpet ride.
Almost best of all, Wolf Creek’s distance from a big city and lack of on-site lodging has kept it happily isolated, meaning short lift lines and plenty of opportunities to lay first tracks.
Getting to Wolf Creek: Wolf Creek is about 250 miles southwest of Denver. A private shuttle runs from nearby Pagosa Springs, but arriving by car is the best option. It’s a 4.5-hour drive from Denver or fly into Durango-La Plata County Airport, 81 miles away, and take a rental car from there.