12 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Colorado, 2019
Colorado offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, and snowfall amounts during major storms can be spectacular. Ski resorts range from top-end, world-class resorts with seemingly endless terrain to single-lift, family-run operations that deliver skiers to groomed runs and 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 Colorado ski 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 farther 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. Get inspired and plan your trip with our list of the best ski resorts in Colorado.
1. Vail Mountain Resort
The Mountain: When it comes to skiing in Colorado, Vail is the biggest name around. This is 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 occupy skiers for a whole season, and you could certainly spend an endless amount of time right here. This is if you manage to drag yourself off the long groomed runs, which stretch along the front side, 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 resort can easily accommodate all ski levels, from beginners to experts, and you can almost always find good conditions somewhere on the mountain 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 more than 350 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: At the base of the mountain, just off Interstate 70, is the town of Vail. It caters largely to high-end travelers, with luxury accommodation, fine dining, and upscale shopping. By ski village standards, Vail is big. Along the interstate, you'll see exits for East Vail, Vail Town Center, and West Vail. Vail Town Center, including Lionhead Village immediately to the west of, and essentially joining Town Center, is where all of the action is located. Town Center or Lionhead is also where you will likely want to park for a day of skiing, and where you will find dining and shopping. East Vail is quite removed from the action, mostly occupied by homes and condos, and staying here will require figuring out transport to the ski hill. West Vail is a little more accessible and offers easy access to grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and more everyday shopping. You will still have to take a shuttle to the mountain.
Nearby Towns and Accommodation Options: Staying in Vail is pricey, but more affordable accommodation can be found in the surrounding towns, from Silverthorne and Frisco over to Avon and 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.
Official Site: www.vail.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Vail Mountain
2. Aspen Snowmass
Aspen Snowmass is actually a combination of four ski areas around the town of Aspen and Snowmass Village. The four mountains together, which consist of Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk, cover a massive amount of terrain, rivaling Vail in sheer size.
The Mountains: Buttermilk, although it has a relatively small amount of terrain, has gained notoriety by frequently hosting the Winter X-games. It has a large number 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. Snowmass started a tradition of offering free s'mores between 3:30 and 4:30 daily at the Base Village fire pits and at the Snowmass Mall.
The Town: 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. This is not just a resort that has been developed around a ski hill. It began as a mining camp, and as a result, has an authentic mountain town feel. You can find a full range of accommodation at the base of the slopes or a little farther back.
Official Site: www.aspensnowmass.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Aspen
3. 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.
The Mountain: If you are looking to log a serious amount of vertical, this is one of the best places to ski in Colorado. The resort has more than 2,000 acres of terrain, a base elevation of 8,725 feet, and a maximum elevation of 13,150 feet (4,425 feet vertical drop). The mountain offers 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.
The Town: Telluride is a true ski town, not a company-owned resort town. The main street is lined with interesting stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. You don't have to be a skier to enjoy a stay here, and the town is as enjoyable from spring until fall as it is in winter. The town hosts events throughout the year, making it a great getaway anytime.
Nearby Towns and Accommodation Options: If you are skiing Telluride, the best option is to stay in Telluride. You can find accommodation in town or on the mountain. Due to the demand in high season, prices can be high. Also, if you are traveling with a pet, finding a hotel that accepts pets can be very difficult. For better prices and pet-friendly accommodation, you may want to consider staying in Durango, about two hours away, and commuting. Even locals who have the option of skiing at Durango's Purgatory Resort make day trips to ski Telluride.
Official Site: www.tellurideskiresort.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Telluride
4. Beaver Creek Resort
The Mountain: Owned by Vail Resorts, Beaver Creek Resort lies just a short distance down the highway from Vail, and only two hours from Denver. This resort is known for its high level of customer service, groomed runs, and friendly atmosphere. With over 1,800 acres of skiable terrain, this hill offers a full range of runs for all abilities but it is one of the best ski resorts in Colorado for beginners. The resort does an exceptional amount of grooming, creating perfect conditions for new skiers.
Each afternoon at 3pm 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 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 8,100 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: At the base of the ski resort is the quaint Beaver Creek Village. After a day of skiing or snowboarding, this is a nice place to relax at an outdoor table at the base of the runs and watch the last remaining skiers come down the slopes. Behind the restaurants and establishments lining the mountain is a pedestrian-only area with a lovely outdoor space. Here, you'll find seats, fire pits, and a large outdoor skating rink in the center. Surrounding the open space are shops and restaurants.
Nearby Towns and Accommodation Options: About 10 minutes down the hill from Beaver Creek Village is the town of Avon, which can also serve as an excellent base. You can often find more affordable accommodation options and a full selection of restaurants and retail shops, like sports stores, grocery stores, and a pharmacy. Free shuttle buses run regularly, taking guests from their hotels in Avon up to Beaver Creek. For upscale dining with a semi-casual atmosphere and great food, check out Vin 48 or Blue Plate. A local favorite for breakfast is the Northside Kitchen, where you can sit down and enjoy a tasty meal or grab some takeaway pastries from the front counter.
Official site: www.beavercreek.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Beaver Creek
5. Editor's Pick Breckenridge Ski Resort
The Mountain: 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 find some outstanding terrain. The bowls at the top of the peaks are exposed and may look intimidating 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 mountain is fairly easy to navigate, largely due to the fact that it is spread out along the front side of a series of peaks. Also of note, the on-mountain dining is always quite good at Breck.
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.
The Town: Breckenridge is a fun, small town with a cute main street offering great après ski opportunities. On a spring day, you can grab a snack and sit on an outdoor patio in town watching the late afternoon sun hit the mountain you just skied. The gondola accessing the hill leaves from town, and you can park right here, making the whole process of getting on the mountain extremely simple and convenient. Parking is relatively inexpensive compared to other resorts in the area.
Nearby Towns and Accommodation Options: Breckenridge is an enjoyable place to stay, and you should make this your first choice if you are skiing Breck. If you can't find accommodation here, nearby Silverthorne often has some moderately priced hotels. Frisco is another good option in the vicinity. This is a cute town with plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels.
Official Site: www.breckenridge.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Breckenridge
6. Keystone Resort
The Mountain: Keystone is spread over three mountains, each taking you back farther 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. Keystone Resort also lays claim to "Colorado's longest ski day" due to its night skiing schedule.
The Town: Keystone has two villages; River Run and Lakeside. River Run Village is the main village at the base of the mountain. For skiers, this is the heart of the action. It offers a variety of relaxed dining options, just perfect following a day on the hill. The parking here 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.
Lakeside Village is, as the name suggests, set around a small lake. In winter, it's frozen over and becomes a huge skating rink. Shops, restaurants, and condos surround the lake.
Keystone Resort does a great job of entertaining guests who choose to stay in the area. Activities beyond skiing, snowboarding, or skating include horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowmobiling, yoga, an art studio, and more.
Official Site: www.keystoneresort.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Keystone
7. Purgatory Resort
The Mountain: Purgatory Mountain Resort, which for a time prior to 2015 was known as Durango Mountain Resort, is primarily a family-oriented ski hill just outside of Durango, in the San Juan Mountains. This is a local's mountain with a friendly atmosphere and old-school attitude, although facilities are being upgraded on an ongoing basis. It is also known for offering decent value, with reasonably priced lift tickets and amenities.
The terrain at Purgatory has traditionally been heavily skewed towards beginner and intermediate level skiers and boarders, although those with advanced skill levels have always been able to find places to challenge themselves. Ongoing expansions and improvements since 2015 are changing the dynamics, and in recent years the resort opened up new intermediate- and advanced-level terrain and new areas for tree skiing.
The Town: Purgatory has a range of accommodation options in the area surrounding the resort, but there is no town at the base of the mountain and most people stay in Durango, about a 20-minute drive away, and commute. A former mining town, Durango is a lively tourist town with restored historic buildings lining the downtown, wonderful old hotels, trendy restaurants, and numerous ski shops.
Official Site: www.purgatoryresort.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Durango
8. Steamboat Ski Resort
The Mountain: Steamboat Ski Resort is centered around Mount Werner, just outside Steamboat Springs. The mountain receives ample snow each year, averaging 334 inches annually. The elevation ranges from 6,900 feet at the base to 10,568 feet at the summit. By Colorado standards, this is not particularly high and can be a good option for people concerned about the effects of high altitude. With 2,965 acres, Steamboat is a big resort with plenty of terrain and is particularly well-known for its fabulous tree skiing.
The Town: 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 has a strong Western heritage and cowboy culture, which gives the area a casual and Wild West feel. Festivals and events are often based around this theme. Steamboat is a three-hour drive from Denver, but there is also an airport with direct flights from several of the major airports around the USA.
Official Site: www.steamboat.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Steamboat Springs
9. Copper Mountain
The Mountain: Copper Mountain is a popular family-focused resort a little more than an hours' drive from Denver. As you are driving along Interstate 70 towards Vail, you can see the runs trailing down the mountainside. With 23 lifts spread across 2,465 acres, 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. Ski conditions are generally on par with the rest of the ski resorts in this area. Copper is high, with a base elevation of 9,712 feet and a summit elevation of 12,313 feet. You can sometimes see feet of fresh powder after a storm, but the mountain has plenty of grooming capacity.
The Town: The mountain empties onto an adorable little village, with shops and restaurants. Places like the City Pop, serving gourmet popcorn and candy, are fun stops for families, but you'll find plenty of adult restaurants and entertainment options as well. The village is divided into East Village, Center Village, and West Village, each of which has chairlifts, but these areas are all very close together. Center Village, where all the action is, centers around the main plaza at the base of the lift, and West Lake is tucked in behind.
Official Site: www.coppercolorado.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Copper Mountain
10. Arapahoe Basin
The Mountain: 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 and a base elevation is 10,780 feet, which allows the resort to stay open into June and sometimes even later, well beyond the April closing dates of the surrounding mountains. Arapahoe is one of the best places, if not the best place in Colorado for spring skiing. The resort has traditionally not been known for having an excessive amount of terrain, especially compared to the surrounding Vail Resorts, but that's all changing. The resort is in the process of a multi-year expansion, which includes the Beavers and Steep Gullies expansion for "hike-to" skiing. This new area has proved to be very popular with advanced skiers.
At Arapahoe, you can expect to find 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. This can be a windy mountain, but usually one side or the other is sheltered on any given day.
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 mountain 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.
Arapahoe Basin is also easy to reach from Denver, good value, and included on several of the multi-hill and 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.
Nearby Towns and Accommodation Options: Since Arapahoe Basin does not have a town at the base, you'll need to find accommodation in the surrounding area. From Arapahoe, it is a 10-minute drive to Keystone and a 30-minute drive to Breckenridge. If you are looking for reasonably priced hotels, it's best to look in Silverthorne, about a 20-minute drive from the mountain. Just slightly farther away, but with a more lively atmosphere and good selection of hotels, is the town of Frisco.
Official Site: www.arapahoebasin.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Frisco
11. Silverton Mountain
No article on skiing or snowboarding in Colorado is complete without a mention of Silverton Ski Resort. This mountain is not for everyone but it does offer a completely unique experience that many people dream about.
The Mountain: A lone, old, double chairlift takes skiers and boarders up the mountain to hike-to terrain. It's essentially backcountry skiing with a lift. This resort is only for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders, and people come here specifically for the powder. The area gets an exceptionally high level of snowfall, with annual totals of about 400 inches, and there are no groomed runs. Everyone is outfitted with avalanche gear before they head up the mountain. Old school buses pick up guests where they come off the runs, 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 resort that screams posh. What it does have is great skiing, a strong following of skiers that live for this type of terrain and experience, and an atmosphere like no other ski hill in Colorado. Everyone here is pumped up for a great day of skiing, and the rustic ambience is embraced.
Silverton Mountain also offers heli-skiing and heli-boarding. This includes six runs in areas reserved for heli-tours.
The Town: Silverton Mountain is just outside of the tiny town of Silverton. This former mining town is today a largely summer-focused tourist town and many of the establishments here close in winter. It sits at over 9,300 feet and in winter is piled deep with snow. Much of the accommodation here in winter is motels, but a couple of small historic inns offer a bit of boutique luxury.
Nearby Towns and Accommodation: In good driving conditions, Durango is a little over an hour's drive from Silverton. In snowy conditions, plan on much longer. If you are looking for a little more action than Silverton, this is the place to base yourself and you can find all types of accommodation here.
Official Site: http://silvertonmountain.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Silverton
12. Wolf Creek Ski Area
The Mountain: This is one of the best places to ski in Colorado if you're looking for epic powder skiing! Outside of Pagosa Springs in the southwest corner of Colorado, Wolf Creek Ski Area is set in San Juan Mountains and known for huge amounts of snow. It receives a mind-boggling 430 inches (over 35 feet) of snow annually and proudly claims to have "the most snow in Colorado." Must of it comes down in major storm events. When snow storms roll through this area, you can expect to be floating down feet of snow at Wolf Creek. The ski area has a base elevation of 10,300 feet and a summit elevation of over 11,900 feet. It generally opens early and closes late. In the 2018/2019 ski season, it opened on October 13 and was the first ski area to open in Colorado. The mountain offers a mix of beginner and intermediate runs, but advanced and expert terrain makes up almost half of the runs. The mountain offers 1,600 acres of skiable terrain and 1,604 feet of vertical. New this season, Wolf Creek is opening its 10th lift.
The Town: There isn't one. Wolf Creek Ski Area is set on a high mountain pass. A day lodge at the base of the mountain serves good food, but you will have to look elsewhere for accommodation. On the west side of the pass, the nearest place to stay is at Pagosa Springs, about 35 minutes away. On the east side of Wolf Creek is South Fork, about 25 minutes away, where you will also find a full list of hotels.
Official Site: https://wolfcreekski.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pagosa Springs
Other Resorts to Consider
- Crested Butte: Close to the middle of the state, Crested Butte is another favorite destination for skiers, but its remote location and distance from any major center takes some trip planning. This is not a large resort by Colorado standards. The mountain offers a little over 1,500 acres of skiable area. The town itself is fun and the reason many people choose this destination for their skiing.
- Value Ski Resorts: A number of smaller or lesser known resorts are spread around the state, and many of these 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.
Tips for Skiing in Colorado
- Dealing with Altitude: Skiing in Colorado means skiing at high altitudes and this is something first-time visitors may not be prepared for. Many Colorado ski resorts, particularly some of those just west of Denver, are set at incredibly high elevations. In some cases, you can expect to be skiing between 11,000 and 13,000 feet. For some perspective, Sunshine Village, the highest ski resort in Canada, has a top elevation of only 8,960 feet. If you are flying in from much lower elevations, you will feel the effects of altitude. Consider allowing some time to acclimate before hitting the slopes, especially if you are planning on skiing in destinations like Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, and Keystone. If you are planning to ski at a few different resorts, plan to ski your first day at the lowest elevation mountain. Learn more about how to avoid altitude sickness.
- Weather Report for Skiers: For the best and latest snow reports and detailed ski forecasts, you can't beat meteorologist Joel Gratz' Snow Report.
- Finding the Right Skis for You: Wondering what length of ski you need, or maybe what type of ski? Your height, weight, intended ski conditions, skiing ability, and a number of other factors are things to consider when you are planning on buying skis. Have a look at this buyer's guide to skis for some ideas.
The Best Ski Resorts in North America and Europe
Ski Utah: Just one state over from Colorado, you'll find another great playground for skiers and boarders. Check out our article on the Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Utah to discover more of the best ski destinations.
Ski Tahoe: Ever wonder what the skiing is like in California? Have a look at the Best Ski Resorts in California or zero in on the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. There's more to this area than just Squaw Valley.
Ski Canada: The mountains in western Canada offer some of the best skiing in North America. Eastern Canada also has a surprising number of ski resorts, and many of Canada's most famous Olympic skiers have come from and trained in this area. For details on skiing from coast to coast, see our list of the Best Ski Resorts in Canada.
Ski the Eastern USA: If your skiing is taking you east this year, see our article on the Top Ski Resorts on the East Coast for a complete overview. For a more detailed breakdown of the best ski resorts in each state, have a look at our articles on the Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Michigan.