Known throughout the skiing world as a hub for the snow-sliding enthusiast, Colorado has an All-Star lineup of resorts to choose from. There are almost too many world-class mountains crammed into the state, and deciding on what resort best fits your desired ski holiday can be a daunting task. Don’t let planning a vacation stress you out (that’s entirely antithetical to the purpose of a vacation). Here you’ll find a brief synopsis of the ten major Colorado mountain resorts. All you have to do is read below to find what spot (and stereotype) matches your idea of the perfect Colorado ski town and mountain.
Aspen/Snowmass: Aspen at NightKnown for being the playground of the rich and famous, Aspen brings a lot to the proverbial table. Top-shelf is the motif that resonates throughout Aspen, from skiing to dining to art to nightlife. And, there is definitely a “scene” that comes with the territory. Some people relish the scene, others handle it, and some loathe it (they either move down valley or to Crested Butte). Regardless, there’s not a better place in Colorado to fill a self-indulgent day. Ski hard, eat well, people-watch, shop, art gaze, party, and repeat. Semi-accurate Stereotype: Fur-clad Aspenites come down from their Red Mountain lairs to prey upon the young, helpless gentlemen in town (like Aspen Extreme’s Bryce Kellogg). Beaver Creek: Some people see Beaver Creek in Vail’s shadow, but the atmosphere at Beaver Creek is extravagant and quaint. There’s no comparing Beaver Creek to some of Colorado’s charming mountain towns (like Crested Butte, Steamboat, Telluride, or Aspen). However, as a vacation destination, B.C. learns a lot from its I-70 neighbor: Vail. Ski-in, ski-out accommodations, delicious restaurants tucked into tiny alleys, and fun skiing and boarding are Beaver Creek’s specialties. Luxury and convenience are the methods of operation at Beaver Creek. Semi-accurate Stereotype: Presidents, sultans, and princes like to think that once they cross beneath “the gate” they enter a bubble of opulence and outdoor excursions.
Breckenridge: Every Colorado-based college student (from Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, etc) calls Breckenridge “my mountain.” Day trips to Breck are fairly easy from all of Colorado’s campuses, and the terrain is solid for how little time you spend in the car. It gets freezing on the mountain; hence, the “Breckenfridge” nickname on Colorado’s front range. The park and pipe are at the heart of Breck’s scene, and the other terrain, accessed by the Pama lift up top, is pretty fun (if the winds stay down). Semi-accurate Stereotype: You’ll find 10 guys for every two girls schralping in Breck’s pipe, rocking brightly colored and baggy gear, and looking like a bag of Skittles from a distance.
Copper Mountain: All of Denver seems to converge on Copper Mountain every Saturday and Sunday. I-70 whisks skiers and snowboarders up into the Rockies quickly, and Copper is the first “real” mountain people pass. Thus, the mid-mountain intermediate areas can be pretty scary (scarier than the challenging terrain accessed by snowcat on top of the mountain, and the double-black steeps on the mountain’s eastside). Denver Broncos fans go nuts on gameday in Copper’s base village, leaving the ski runs relatively wide open. And, the best French Fries found on the snow in Colorado are from the T-Rex Grill near the Timberline Express chairlift. Semi-accurate Stereotype: Denver’s masses plug iPod headphones into their ears, and try to emulate the moves they saw in their favorite ski and snowboard magazines.
Crested Butte: No matter how you approach Crested Butte—from Gunnison, Marble, etc.—the looming Peak greets all visitors, foreshadowing the mind-blowing terrain to be found on Crested Butte’s mountain. But for how gnarly and intense the Butte’s skiing can be, its town is as mellow as it gets. There’s nothing phony about Crested Butte; the people are real, the town is authentic, the skiing is awesome (even the coffee at Camp 4 is legit). And, while there aren’t a ton of dining and drinking options, those that are around are good. Semi-accurate Stereotype: Crested Butte-eans wear their TEVA sandals 12 months a year, and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon for their daily vitamins and sustenance.
Keystone: There’s a lot more to Keystone than the terrific night skiing, but you won’t find a cooler place to ski under the stars in Colorado. Located close to the front range, like Copper and Breck, Keystone gets crowded on the weekends. So, the park scene is big, and popular trails resemble Los Angeles rush hour more than a ski runs. However, you’ll find fun secret stashes if you follow the locals into the trees or ask a patrolmen. Big names in the freestyle skiing and snowboarding worlds call Keystone home—like Andres Wiig—because of the world renowned A51 Park. Semi-accurate Stereotype: The longest ski day in Colorado, provided at Keystone via the night skiing, is a fun way to make the most out of your ski holiday.
Steamboat Springs: Did you know that “Champagne Powder” was invented in Steamboat? No joke, the folks in Steamboat’s Public Relations department copyrighted the term, and it can legally only be used to describe Steamboat’s snow. There’s a caveat, though: the snow that falls on Steamboat Springs is so good that it deserves a proper name. Super fun low-angle trees, challenging sidecountry terrain, and family-friendly rollers add to the mountain’s allure. In addition, the authentic “western” atmosphere in town is unique (and the locals of Steamboat love trading ski boots for cowboy boots). Semi-accurate Stereotype: Keep your eyes peeled for Steamboat locals flying through the trees, powder blowing over their cowboy hats, screaming “Yeehaa!”
Telluride: There’s no messing around when it comes to the skiing at Telluride. Steep, exposed terrain jumps right out of town, with very few beginner and intermediate runs for those in need of a breather. Longtime Colorado-skiing aficionados say Old Town Telluride resembles the Aspen of years gone by (and those that live there agree). Even the stars have started migrating to T-ride because of its small-town charm, and Jackson Hole-esque skiing. The effort that is required to arrive in Telluride is balanced by the unreal skiing found in the newly opened Revelation Bowl, and the raucous nightlife that ensues at the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon. Semi-accurate Stereotype: The Blues & Brews Festival might be the best way to spend a pre-winter (otherwise known as fall) weekend in Colorado, or maybe the Telluride Film Festival is more your speed.
Vail: The vast back bowls of Vail have beckoned Denver-based skiers and snowboarders the extra two hours past other viable schussing options (like Copper, A Basin, and Loveland) since they were made in-bounds terrain. Out of state skiers also see Vail as a destination of choice because of its endless terrain and welcoming village area. The shopping and cuisine are as good as the skiing in Vail, but the parking and lift lines are as bad as it gets (but they’re working on it). Annually a top 10 resort in every major ski magazine, Vail gets the recognition it deserves by doing everything well (except super steep skiing). Semi-accurate Stereotype: People have a propensity to drop their pants when skiing Vail—whether it’s the late Shane McConkey skiing a mogul run naked, sorority girls tossing their undies into the trees, or that infamous weekend warrior that slipped out of a chairlift…
Winter Park: Renowned for being a bumper’s paradise—Winter Park boasts the best mogul terrain in Colorado—the bumps grow to be the size of Volkswagens around Mary Jane. Front range-based families love Winter Park for its old school style. The nightlife is pretty close to extinction, but this might be Colorado’s only big resort where you can drive right up to the lift. Families ski down to their cars, open the back trunk, sit on the bumper, and eat lunch together (just like in the good old days). Semi-accurate Stereotype: Lot of 1-Zs (the one-piece ski outfits that dad’s love) are to be found bobbing up and down the infamous bump runs, racing back to meet up with the family at the Mary Jane Base Area.
You’re bound to find what you are looking for in one of Colorado’s mountain resorts, each have a distinct culture and atmosphere that the locals are proud of. Only a few talented people can seamlessly enter each mountain resort’s environment and not miss a beat. If you can spin fur-clad Aspenites on an après-ski dance floor, stomp a misty flip with the “bro-brahs” at Breck, and make people on the chairlift hoot and holler during a bump-off down Mary Jane…well, then you’re Jonny Moseley. But for all of us that aren’t Mr. Moseley, find your niche, and have fun exploring!
Photos courtesy of (from top to bottom): Robert Fullerton; Jeremy Swanson; Beaver Creek Resort; Justin Sailor; Copper Mountain Resort; Shelley Dennis