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Photograph: Courtesy Telluride/Brett Schreckengost

The 10 best Colorado ski resorts

Wax your planks and make for these great Colorado ski resorts, from Aspen and Vail to Breckenridge and Telluride

Written by
Frederick Dreier

It’s no secret that Colorado ski resorts are among the country’s best. Heck, that’s why half of us moved here, right? We have a potentially huge ski season upon us, with El Niño-enhanced snowfall on the horizon. So, whether you’re looking for one of the best family vacations in America (and if you are, here are our top tips for family ski trips), some extreme outdoor adventures with friends, or you just want to indulge in some après mayhem, it’s time to hit the mountains. Here are the best Colorado ski resorts to help you choose (and if you want to cast your net wider, here are the best ski resorts in America).

Best Colorado ski resorts

Steamboat Springs
Shutterstock/Steve Estvanik

1. Steamboat Springs

Colorado’s exploding population has turned the state’s front-range resorts into overcrowded parking lots on the weekends. That’s not the case at Steamboat Springs, where the three-hour drive to Denver thins the herds. What you will find is arguably the best snow in the state—the dry, light “champagne powder,” as the locals have named it. You will also find a quaint downtown where the fur coats and haute culture of Aspen and Vail are overshadowed by cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats. And after a day of shredding knee-deep powder, you have multiple options for relaxation. Steamboat boasts two hot springs, the Strawberry Park Natural Springs and Old Town Hot Springs. Oh yeah: The latter one features waterslides. 3 hours from Denver

Photograph: Courtesy Telluride/Brett Schreckengost

2. Telluride

It’s difficult to focus on the ski slope at Telluride due to the jaw-dropping views in every direction. Telluride sits in a box canyon, surrounded on all sides by the soaring, steep peaks of Colorado’s San Juan range. Telluride was once the state’s best-kept secret, due to the six-hour drive from Denver. The mountain is now known internationally, but crowds are still small, even on weekends. Telluride serves up great après ski, thanks to the aptly named Mountain Village town, which sits amidst the chairlifts, midway up the mountain. Regular flights to Denver

Photograph: Courtesy Vail/Chris McLennan

3. Vail

Vail is ubiquitous on global “Best Ski Resorts” lists, and it’s easy to see what. The powder always falls, even in drought years, thanks to the mountain’s cloud seeding program. The après opportunities are unrivaled. The back bowls go on forever. While it’s no longer the country’s biggest resort, Vail created the model for mega resorts that cater to skiers of all abilities. The resort’s front side is where you’ll find miles of zoomers and groomers, while the backside is where the experts go to play. You pay for your fun at Vail, which boasts one of the most expensive lift tickets in the U.S. ($151 for adults). And with so many opportunities for good food, drink and entertainment, you’re bound to leave Vail with an empty wallet. It’s worth every penny. 2 hours from Denver

Breckenridge/Zach Mahone

4. Breckenridge

“Breck” is of the most popular ski resorts in Colorado due to its proximity to Denver, all-abilities terrain and amazing snow. This combination means that Breckenridge is often congested and competitive on the weekends. If you can skip away during the week, however, you will find a charming, laid-back vibe and lots of snow. The real draw of Breck, however, is the town, which features the most varied nightlife of the Colorado ski towns. The bars range from upscale to dive, and the cuisine runs a similar gamut. It’s a safe bet that there’s a party going on almost every night of the week. 1.5 hours from Denver

Aspen Snowmass
Photograph: Dan Bayer

5. Aspen Snowmass

Colorado’s most famous ski destination is actually comprised of four different ski resorts within a 10-mile radius: Aspen Mountain (aka Ajax), Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk Mountain. All are covered on the same ticket and linked via bus. The enormous skiable area provides more than enough terrain for all abilities. The regular powder dumps keep everyone happy, including the multiple celebrities you will see at the mountain lodge. But beware: if you travel on a shoestring budget, you will have a tough time enjoying Aspen Snowmass. The town’s nightlife, posh hotels and truly world-class restaurants are the real draw, but you pay for it. If Vail sends you home with an empty wallet, then Aspen leaves you with ample credit card debt. 4 hours from Denver

Winter Park
Photograph: Courtesy Winter Park

6. Winter Park

Just a short drive from Denver, Winter Park has provided world-class snowfall and challenging terrain to weekend warriors since the ’40s. The state’s population boom means Winter Park is a zoo on Saturdays, but the huge snow dumps are often worth the traffic jams and lift lines. Looking for a leg burn? Winter Park’s Mary Jane Mountain is revered internationally for its mogul runs, which dish out equal parts punishment and joy to those who love bumps. You’ll find zero pretentiousness in the town of Winter Park, which boasts plenty of budget lodging opportunities, cheap beer and mountain pizza parlors. 1.5 hours from Denver

Crested Butte
Photograph: Courtesy Crested Butte

7. Crested Butte

The newbies may want to stay home for this one. Crested Butte’s draw is its deep snow and abundance of steep double-black runs, including the world-famous Banana Chute, which towers above the resort. The mountain hosts numerous extreme skiing competitions, but the cliffs and sheer steeps are skiable by mere mortals as well (assuming you have zero fear of heights). If the mountain sends you packing, don’t fret. The nearby town of Crested Butte boasts a charming, laid-back cowboy vibe. And the area is home to an unlimited amount of guided backcountry skiing as well. 5 hours from Denver

Copper Mountain
Photograph: Courtesy Copper Mountain

8. Copper Mountain

If the ski gods designed a democratic mountain with equal terrain for everyone, they could not do better than Copper Mountain. Newbies flock to the flatter west side, while bump-lovers head east. Up top, the steep and deep bowls above timberline service the Kamikaze class, while a groomed front side boasts ample corduroy for carvers. And while the tourists often flock to Breckenridge or Vail, Copper grabs the locals, thanks to the mountain’s famous four-pack lift ticket deal ($169). Partiers should take note: the restaurant scene is limited, and there’s not much to do after dark. But a Jacuzzi and some cheap brews are easy to find. 2 hours from Denver

Arapahoe Basin
Photograph: Dave Camara

9. Arapahoe Basin

Start with world-class snow and terrain, and then strip away the overpriced food, expensive hotels and uppity attitudes, and you’re left with Arapahoe Basin. “A-Basin” is the local hill. But don’t let the off-brand jackets fool you. This is where the hardcore shred all morning, eat a brown-bag lunch at noon and then shred until closing time. Extreme skiers flock to the off-piste east wall and the vertigo–inducing Pallavacini steeps on the front side. Montezuma Bowl on the backside regularly traps hip-deep powder. If the mountain sends you packing early, crack a victory beer, chill on your tailgate and take in the atmosphere. The sights, sounds and (cough) smells at the A-Basin parking lot are pure Colorado. 1 hour from Denver

Wolf Creek
Photograph: Courtesy Wolf Creek

10. Wolf Creek

Bring your snorkel: it’s an El Niño year. The small resort in southwest Colorado regularly receives 450-plus inches of snowfall each year, making it the state’s snowiest resort by a wide margin. If you’re a powder hound, Wolf Creek is your Mecca. The huge snowfall makes up for the ski area’s somewhat puzzling lift layout and tiny base infrastructure. The six-hour drive from Denver scares off any crowds. Budget prices in the nearby town of Pagosa Springs means a trip to Wolf Creek won’t break the bank. 6 hours from Denver

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