11 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Colorado, 2017
Colorado offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, and snowfall amounts during major storms can be spectacular. Ski resorts in the state vary widely, with everything from top-end, world-class resorts and seemingly endless terrain to single-lift, family-run operations that deliver skiers to some of the best hike-to possibilities in the country. Finding the right resort typically comes down to personal taste, skiing preferences, skill level, budget, convenience of location, and even what time of year you want to ski.
Many of the major resorts are within a couple of hours' drive from Denver, including Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Copper, Vail, and Beaver Creek. Aspen and Steamboat are slightly further afield but still within range of Denver. In the more remote southwest portion of Colorado are Purgatory and Telluride, along with a number of other smaller resorts. Unlike some ski resorts in Utah, all of the resorts in Colorado are open to both skiers and snowboarders.
1 Vail Mountain Resort
Vail is known for being one of the largest resorts in the world and home to some of the best terrain in Colorado. The seven back bowls are enough to make you change the rest of your ski plans for the whole season because you could certainly spend an endless amount of time right here. This is if you manage to drag yourself off the long groomed runs on the front side, stretching along the hillside overlooking the town of Vail. And certainly there are people who never do venture into the back bowls.
The extensive and varied terrain means the hill can cater to all ski levels, from beginners to experts, and you can almost always find good conditions somewhere on the hill regardless of the weather. Beginners and intermediates tend to enjoy the front groomed runs, more advanced skiers and experts will find excellent tree skiing, moguls, and steeps on the back side.
Vail is not as high as some of the other resorts in the area but still receives a heavy amount of snow, with approximately 341 inches per season. Spread over 5,289 acres, the hill has 31 lifts, three terrain parks, and does an extensive amount of grooming; great for beginner and intermediate level skiers.
The town of Vail caters largely to high end travelers, with luxury accommodation, fine dining, and upscale shopping. More affordable accommodation can be found in the surrounding towns, from Silverthorne and Frisco over to Eagle. Many visitors fly into Denver and drive or take a shuttle to Vail but the closest airport is the Eagle Vail Airport, about a 40 minute drive from Vail.
2 Telluride Ski Resort
In a remote setting in the San Juan Mountains, Telluride is one of the most scenic ski towns in the United States. Add to that a top-end ski resort with incredible terrain, consistently good snowfall amounts, and it's no wonder Telluride has become such a popular resort destination.
If you are looking to ski a serious amount of vertical, this is the place to come, with more than 2,000 acres of terrain, a base elevation of 8,725 feet, and a maximum elevation of 13,150 feet. The hill has a good mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced level runs, and experts will find a substantial amount of hike-to terrain for more extreme skiing. The annual snowfall amount is about 300 inches.
A free gondola moves people between the town of Telluride and Mountain Village, meaning skiers staying at the village can come into town whenever they like, and it's easy for skiers staying in town to access the ski hill. You don't have to be on skis to hop a ride on the gondola; anyone can go up and have a look around. Skiers staying in Telluride, rather than Mountain Village, can ski all the way down to the town when they are done skiing, or download using the gondola. The runs from the top of the gondola down to the town are not green runs, and are steeper than some skiers want to attempt, particularly at the end of the ski day.
3 Editor's Pick Breckenridge Ski Resort
Breckenridge is the complete package, from groomed runs through the trees to extraordinary high alpine bowls that you can access with a lift. And with even a minimal amount of hiking off the Imperial Chairlift, you can access some outstanding terrain. The bowls at the top of the peaks are exposed and can be intimidating as you look at the mountain from a distance, but they offer unparalleled skiing opportunities for advanced skiers. This is the place to come for anyone looking to push their skill level beyond intermediate. But there is plenty of terrain for everyone, with green, blue, and black runs lower down on the mountain, moguls here and there, and beginner-friendly areas. This hill is fairly easy to navigate, largely due to the fact that it is spread out along the front side of a series of peaks.
The skiing here is high, with a base elevation that begins at 9,600 feet. The Imperial Chairlift on Peak 8 is the highest lift in North America, and the hill's summit elevation is 12,998 feet. On spring days, when the bottom of the hill is soft, the top of the hill often has full-on winter conditions with excellent snow. For late season skiing, Breckenridge can be a good option. Keep in mind, if you are flying to Colorado from a much lower elevation, the altitude can sometimes be challenging, especially on day one.
On-hill dining is always quite good at Breck. New this season is Sevens, a fabulous new restaurant at the base of Peak 7, set at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet.
4 Aspen Snowmass
Aspen Snowmass is actually a combination of four ski areas around the town of Aspen and Snowmass Village. The four hills together, which consist of Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk, cover a massive amount of terrain, rivaling Vail in sheer size.
Buttermilk, although it has a relatively small amount of terrain, has gained notoriety by frequently hosting the Winter X-games, and it has a high ratio of beginner and intermediate runs. Aspen Mountain, by contrast, has no beginner runs, and Aspen Highlands is known for its advanced and expert runs, although it does have beginner and intermediate skiing. Snowmass, with more than 3,000 acres of terrain, dominates the other areas in terms of size. It is largely a family oriented hill with great intermediate skiing. The base elevation is just over 8,100 feet, and the top elevation is just over 12,500 feet.
As a resort destination, Aspen has long been known for its high wattage celebrity status. Many famous people ranging from Hollywood superstars to famous athletes own property in the area.
5 Beaver Creek Resort
Owned by Vail Resorts, Beaver Creek Resort lies just a short distance down the highway from Vail. This resort is known for its high level of customer service, groomed runs, and friendly atmosphere. Each afternoon at 3:00pm the smell of fresh-baked treats wafts through the air as chocolate chip cookies, served by staff in chef's hats, are handed out to skiers coming off the hill and anyone who happens to be lingering around the base. Escalators take guests up several flights of stairs from the town right to the chairlift, and attendants are always around to help tired and struggling skiers carry their skis down the escalators and to the bus stop at the end of the day. The town sidewalks are heated, so there is never a buildup of ice.
The hill has the lowest elevation of the big resorts in the area, with a base elevation of 7,400 feet and a summit elevation of 11,400, feet, making it a good option for people flying in from lower elevations and worried about altitude sickness. If you are planning a multi-day trip and visiting several ski hills, starting at Beaver Creek will help lessen the effects of the altitude.
The town of Beaver Creek at the base of the hill is adorable, with an outdoor skating rink in the center, along with good shopping and dining. Further down the hill is the town of Avon, which can also serve as an excellent base with a fine selection of dining and hotels. Free shuttle buses run regularly, taking guests from their hotels in Avon up to Beaver Creek.
6 Purgatory Resort
Purgatory Mountain Resort, which for a time prior to 2015 was known as Durango Mountain Resort, is a family oriented ski hill just outside of Durango, in the San Juan Mountains. The terrain at Purgatory is heavily skewed towards beginner and intermediate level skiers and boarders but definitely offers some challenges for the more advanced and expert levels. This is a local's hill with a friendly atmosphere and old-school attitude. It is also known for offering good value, with reasonably priced lift tickets and amenities.
Purgatory was purchased by a new owner in 2015 and has undergone a number of improvements. New this season is a T-3 surface lift, offering better access to the Legends Lift high-speed quad chairlift. The resort has also made changes to snowmaking efficiency and improvements to tree skiing areas.
Purgatory has a range of accommodation options, but it is also possible to stay in Durango, about a 20-minute drive away, and commute. A former mining town, Durango is today a tourist town with restored historic buildings lining the downtown, all kinds of hotels, good dining, and a variety of ski shops.
7 Steamboat Ski Resort
Steamboat Ski Resort, at Steamboat Springs, is set off on its own, well off the I-70 corridor and a fair distance from the other major ski resorts in Colorado. The town of Steamboat has a strong Western heritage and cowboy culture that gives the area a casual and Wild West feel. The ski resort is centered around Mount Werner, just outside Steamboat Springs. The hill receives ample snow each year, averaging 334 inches annually, although by Colorado standards, it is not particularly high. The elevation ranges from 6,900 feet at the base to 10,568 feet at the summit. With 2,965 acres, this is a big resort with plenty of terrain. Steamboat is particularly well known for its fabulous tree skiing.
Steamboat is a three-hour drive from Denver, but there is also an airport with direct flights from some of the major airports around the USA.
8 Keystone Resort
Keystone is unique in that it is spread over three mountains, each taking you back further into the wilderness, away from the resort. As a result, the deeper you go, often the less crowded the skiing becomes. This is a large resort with 20 lifts and terrain to suit every ability, making it perfect for families. The runs on the first mountain, Decorum Mountain, are primarily groomed cruisers and beginner runs. Beyond this is North Peak with slightly more advanced terrain, including moguls and steep runs. At the back is The Outback, with the resort's highest peak at just under 12,000 feet. This area is also designed for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders. For those looking for even more adventure, the resort offers CAT skiing, providing access to a number of bowls.
The village of Keystone is cute, with relaxed dining options following a day on the hill. The parking for Keystone is convenient and free, making the whole process of spending a day skiing at this resort easy and more affordable than some of the surrounding resorts, like Vail, where parking is at a premium and rates are correspondingly high.
9 Arapahoe Basin
Known more commonly as "A-Basin," Arapahoe has the distinct advantage of being high. Located on Loveland Pass, the summit elevation reaches 13,050 feet, allowing the resort to stay open into June, well beyond the April closing dates of the surrounding hills. Arapahoe does not have an excessive amount of terrain, especially compared to the surrounding Vail Resorts, but it does have beautiful open runs, some steep, others designed for beginners, and skiing on two sides of a ridge, meaning you can usually find good conditions regardless of the day. Arapahoe can often be windy, but usually one side of the mountain is sheltered.
The relaxed, fun, and old school atmosphere at Arapahoe is also one of the hill's big attractions. On warm spring days, people set up their barbecues on picnic tables at the edge of the parking lot at the base of the hill and watch the skiers making their way down the runs. Kids, dogs, and the whole family come out to enjoy the day, whether they are skiing or not.
In addition to being the place for spring skiing in Colorado, it is also easily reachable from Denver, good value, and included on several of the multi-hill, multi-day passes. Even if you don't plan a full vacation to A-Basin, it's definitely worth checking out if you are skiing some of the surrounding resorts. From Keystone, it is a 10-minute drive to Arapahoe and 30 minutes from Breckenridge. If you are staying in Silverthorne, it is a 20-minute drive and slightly further if you are staying in Frisco.
10 Copper Mountain
Copper Mountain is a family focused resort a little more than an hours' drive from Denver. It has 23 lifts spread across 2,465 acres, so there is plenty of terrain for skiers and boarders to explore and good carrying capacity. It has a decent mix of runs for all levels, including advanced skiers. Facilities are modern, and ski conditions are generally on par with the rest of the local ski hills. Copper is high, with a base elevation of 9,712 feet and a summit elevation of 12,313 feet.
11 Silverton Mountain
No article on skiing in Colorado is complete without a mention of Silverton Ski Resort. This ski hill is not for everyone but it does offer a completely unique skiing experience that many people dream about. A lone, old, double chairlift takes skiers up the mountain to hike-to terrain. It's essentially backcountry skiing with a lift. This hill is only for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders. Everyone is outfitted with avalanche gear before they take to the hill. The annual snowfall is more than 400 inches, and there are no groomed runs. Old school buses pick up skiers where they come off the hill, a kilometer or so down the road from the lodge, and shuttle them back to the base.
The base "lodge" is little more than a home-built tent-covered yurt. This is not a hill that screams posh. What it does have is great skiing, a strong following of skiers that live for this type of terrain, and an atmosphere like no other ski hill in Colorado, where everyone is pumped up for a great day of skiing and the rustic ambience is embraced.
Other Resorts to Consider
Wolf Creek Ski Area, outside of Pagosa Springs in the southwest of the state, is a small ski operation known for huge amounts of snow during winter storms. It receives 430 inches of snow annually, much of which comes down in large quantities at a time. Crested Butte, close to the middle of the state, is another favorite with skiers, but its remote location and distance from any major center takes some trip planning. There are all kinds of smaller or lesser known resorts spread around the state, many of which offer good value and can be perfect for families on a budget. Some ski resorts to consider in this category are Winter Park, Loveland, Ski Cooper, and Powderhorn.
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
- Ski Utah: Just one state over from Colorado you'll find a whole other winter playground for skiers and boarders. Check out our article on the 9 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Utah. Discover resorts just outside Salt Lake City and those further afield.
- Ski Tahoe: Ever wonder what the skiing is like in California? Have a look at the 8 Best Ski Resorts in Lake Tahoe. There's more to this area than just Squaw Valley.
- Ski Vermont and New Hampshire: If your skiing is taking you back East this year, you'll want to see our 10 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Vermont and 10 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in New Hampshire to help plan your winter trip.
- Ski Europe: From the Alps and the Pyrenees to the Dolomites, discover new terrain to test your skills on the hills. Let our 10 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Italy and 8 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in France articles help you decide on your next European winter vacation.