Colorado ski – which resort is right for you?

Aspen, Breckenridge, Snowmass, Wolf Creek, Silverton, Telluride, Steamboat, Vail … the list goes on. Colorado has 28 incredible ski resorts and “champagne powder”. For Australian families, the choice can be overwhelming. So we’ve decided to break it down for you. 

Family skip trip
Which Colorado ski resort suits your family? Read on to find out. Picture: Shutterstock

The first place to start is Denver. The capital of Colorado is known as the “Mile High City” because it is one mile (1600m) above sea level. Andrea Blankenship, the director of International Tourism at Colorado Tourism Office, says you will want to spend a few days here to adjust to the jetlag and the altitude before you hit the slopes. 

“I think people are always surprised when they come to Denver and realise what an urban setting, artsy, cultural community it is,” Andrea says. 

Most flights from Australia will transit in Los Angeles, however, you can also fly via Dallas Fort Worth or San Francisco on Qantas or Houston Texas on United. You can also get here on Air Canada via Vancouver and you don’t have to go through the hassle of picking up your bag and re-checking it once you hit the USA.

From Denver airport, it’s a 37-minute train ride into Union Station in downtown Denver. This is the place to find a great coffee. 

Colorado Ski resorts Denver
Union Station Denver Colorado. Picture: Shutterstock

“It’s Colorado, you’ve got a decent coffee shop, I would say, on every block,” Andrea says. 

One of Andrea’s favourite places for coffee is the Maven hotel, a five-minute walk from Union Station. 

“The Maven is very avant-garde, it’s very cool, they have a little teardrop trailer in their lobby and that is their little coffee shop, which is a lot of fun,” Andrea says. “And it’s really good coffee, too, because I’ve had it often.”

If you want to spend a few days in Denver, you will find loads to do. The Colorado Avalanche ice hockey team and Denver Nuggets basketball team play in downtown Denver’s Pepsi Center in the winter months. This is a must-do with sports-mad kids. For culture, check out the interactive exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marisco Campus and the dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  And for food head to Larimer Square where Victorian buildings are now home to boutique shops, wine bars and restaurants. 

Once you’re ready – it’s time to hit the mountains. Colorado has 28 ski resorts to choose from. Each one is detailed below to help you choose. It helps to think of Colorado in groups of ski resorts. Several are linked together. Some are on the Epic Pass and some are on the Ikon. So if you are skiing in Australia and then planning a trip to ski Colorado – you may want to match up your resorts to save on lift tickets. 

Note: all lift and lesson prices are in US dollars. 

Winter Park 

Winter Park is the closest ski resort to Denver International Airport. This resort has more than 3000 acres of deep snow and loads of bumps. It comprises seven different ski areas: Winter Park territory, Vasquez Ridge, Parsenn Bowl, Terrain Park, Mary Jane, Eagle Wind and the Cirque. 

Winter Park Colorado
Winter Park Colorado. Picture: Shutterstock

Winter Park is famous for groomed, long cruisy runs – great for families who want to stay together. Vasquez Ridge has some of the best powder stashes on the mountain. Parsenn Bowl has North America’s highest six-passenger chairlift and breathtaking views. Terrain Park is the place for jumps, rails and pipes – teens will love it. Mary Jane is all about bumps and tree-skiing. Eagle Wind has exhilarating tree skiing and challenging side-country terrain and the Cirque is the place for extreme, double black diamond runs and ungroomed backcountry skiing. 

Besides skiing, families can enjoy tubing, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, ski biking and a fabulous spa. The Ski school has group lessons or private lessons from a day to four weeks. 

“Winter Park town is really family-friendly it’s all in a central, walkable area and they have kids activities such as bouncy castles, so kids can play or they can ski,” Andrea says. 

It’s also cheap when compared to skiing in Australia. You can get a lesson, lift passes and ski rental here for just $99 (adults) in the early season. 

From Denver Union Station, catch the Winter Express train to Winter Park. Tickets are just $29 and the trip takes two hours. The train runs every weekend between January and March. 

The resort has childcare for children aged six months to six years. But you do need to book at least seven days in advance. 

Lift pass: Ikon Pass
Lift Prices: Adults from $749 to $934, kids (5-12) from $449 (seven days) with the Ikon base pass
Lesson price:
Adults and kids (3+) $179
Snow conditions: Winter Park Colorado snow report

Vail Ski Resort

Vail is so big they need seven trail maps to cover all the runs. This ski resort has seven back bowls, 193 trails and a staggering 5,289 skiable acres. You could spend a week here and do a new mountain area every day.

Vail Ski resort Colorado
Vail ski resort is enormous. Picture: Shutterstock

Best parks for beginners and intermediate skiers

Golden Peak is home to the ski school and has easy blue and green runs for beginners. It does have one black run  – Golden Peak Race-  if you are waiting to pick the kids up and need a challenge. Golden Peak also has a great terrain park for little ones. The smallest jumps and rails can be found on the left-hand side. Make your way right as you improve your skills. Once you’ve got a bit more experience head to Chair 2 / Midmountain. This is the best park for families, with plenty of blue and green runs and kids adventure areas, Chaos Canyon and Porcupine Alley. Adventure-seekers will also find great rolling wide groomers and sneaky black runs to test their skills. The Northeast bowl has a run for every type of skier, great tree-runs and powder stashes. Game Creek bowl is the easiest to access and has 200 acres of terrain for all ability levels. If you stop at the top of Chair 7 you will have an incredible view over Vail, Beaver Creek and Eagle country. Blue Sky Basin is a local favourite with fun blue runs and great apres dining options – hello hot dogs at the bottom of the run. 

Best for advanced skiers:

If you have a family that only does black runs you will love Vail. Head to Sun Up and Sun Down – every run on this mountain is black. At China bowl, you will find sprawling wide open runs, but seriously steep skiing – the blue runs are difficult, all the other runs are black. Mongolia Bowl is another ski area that really is for experts. The trail is ungroomed and all the runs are black. 

Apart from skiing, families can also try ski biking, snowmobiles, snowshoeing. Of course, it has plenty of spas for an after ski massage. 

Vail Colorado Ski resorts
Vail Village is incredibly beautiful. Picture: Shutterstock

You will need to decide where to stay in Vail. You can choose to stay in Vail Village, Lionshead, Golden Peak, East Vail or West Vail. We did tell you it was huge. It’s probably best to find a hotel area close to the bowl you want to ski on the most. East Vail and West Vail are the most budget-friendly and allow families to live like a local. Vail Villiage is the centre of the apres ski action. Golden Peak is great for families looking for a little more privacy and easy access to lessons. Lion’s head is popular with families, couples and people who like apres ski. 

Off the slopes, Vail’s dining scene is top-notch, with world-class chefs working here every year. But you can also find affordable bistros and pub food. 

Lift pass: Epic Pass
Lift Prices: Epic Australia Pass is currently on sale for AU$839 (or only $49 up front) for the 2019 season. The EAP offers access to Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek, plus unlimited, unrestricted access to Perisher in Australia.
Lesson price:
Adults $229 per day, kids $249 one day, $498 two days, $630 three days. Families can also book a family ski private guide for $1029 per day. 
Snow conditions: Vail Ski Resort website

Aspen / Aspen Highlands / Snowmass / Buttermilk

These four ski resorts are interconnected so you can ski between them. Combined they offer 5524 acres of skiable terrain. But choose wisely. 

Aspen is the “posh playground” where celebs love to ski. Expect the prices to reflect that. It is also a mountain for more expert skiers. It does not have one green run. Aspen Highlands is even more intense – 65 per cent of the terrain in this park is double black diamond runs.

Collorado Ski resorts
Aspen Colorado mountain stats.

Buttermilk mountain is home to the Winter X games and the Red Bull double pipe event. But it is also the area to go with absolute beginners. It has the most green runs of any of the Aspen Mountains. The longest run here is 4.83km. So you will be able to ski all day. 

Andrea says most families will choose to stay in Snowmass because it’s a little bit cheaper and has easier terrain than Aspen Mountain. 

“Snowmass is great,” Andrea says. “You could usually rent a nice two-bedroom that will fit the entire family, with a living room, a pull-out couch, a kitchen if you want to cook.” 

Snowmass Colorado Ski
Snowmass has plenty of family-friendly accommodation. Picture: Shutterstock

Snowmass has a VIK (very important kids) program. Every day the kids can join free S’Mores making, cooking decorating or storytelling. When they aren’t skiing or snowboarding, they can ride the Alpine Coaster – a track sled ride down the mountain, learn to ride a snowbike or hurtle down the slope in a ski tube.  

For beginners who like jumps and rollers, head to Lowdown Park in Snowmass. This beginners terrain park has rollers, a small half-pipe, tabletop jumps and a gentle grade. Makaha Park is for intermediate skiers and Snowmass Park is where you will find expert shredders. 

Lift pass: Ikon Pass or Mountain Collective Pass
Lift Prices $903 adults, $532 kids (7-17) 7 days. It may be worth packaging this with accommodation for a deal or looking at the pass options above. 
Lesson price (Snowmass):
Adults $170 per day with some experience, $244 beginners, kids $230 (up to 7), $132 (7-12) one day. 
Snow conditions: Check out the Aspen Snowmass cams here

Steamboat Ski Resort

“If you think of cowboys and horses – that is Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” Andrea says. This is also the town that trademarked the term “champagne powder.” 

“They just have beautiful, fluffy, wonderful snow,” Andrea says.

Steamboat Springs Colorado
Steamboat Colorado is a fun town for families. Picture: Shutterstock

Steamboat is a year-round family-friendly town with an old Western-style main street. The locals developed a sport called skijoring, where you hitch a tow-line to a horse, get on your skis and the horse pulls you through the town. Once a year the town also hosts the Cowboy Downhill where real cowboys attending the National Western Stock Show in Denver come up for a day for cowboy skiing – in their cowboy chaps and hats.

“It’s a hoot, it’s absolutely a hoot,” Andrea says. 

Steamboat has hot springs, sleigh ride dinners, balloon flights, horseback riding, tubing, a mountain coaster, night skiing and snowmobile tours. It’s Winterwondergrass festival celebrates bluegrass and craft beer. 

You can fly here direct (Hayden Airport) from 15 US cities, including Denver, LA, New York, Houston and Dallas in the Winter. Alternatively, you can fly to Denver and take a scenic three-hour drive. 

On the mountain, Steamboat has six peaks: Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Christie Peak and Pioneer Ridge covering 2965 acres of skiable terrain.  The gladed areas of Pioneer Ridge, Sunshine and Storm Peak are Steamboat’s particular claim to fame, with legendary “Champagne Powder” snow in the trees for the powder hounds. The longest run is 4.8km. 

Steamboat Springs Colorado
Champagne Powder at Steamboat Springs Colorado. Picture: Shutterstock

Mavericks is Steamboat’s terrain park. It has rails, sliders, and rainbows. Little shredders can begin at Mini Navs – a min version of the superpipe. 

Steamboat Springs is also home to Howelson Hill – Colorado’s oldest ski area. It has the largest natural ski-jumping complex in North America, making it a great home for many Olympic Skiiers. 

Lift pass: Ikon pass
Lift Prices $749 adults and kids (5-12) from $449 with the Ikon Base pass. 
Lesson price: Adults $225 per day, $225 kids one day or $205 when booked in advance. 
Snow conditions: Steamboat Colorado

Telluride Ski Resort

“Telluride is kind of like Aspen where it’s a remote town and it’s fantastically beautiful,” Andrea says.

One of the coolest things about Telluride is that you can choose to either stay at the top or the bottom of the mountain.

Telluride Colorado ski resorts
Telluride Villiage is at the base of the mountain. Picture: Shutterstock

Families can fly to Telluride direct (Montrose or Telluride Regional Airport) from many US cities including Denver, Dallas Fort Worth, New York, LA, Houston, San Francisco. Alternatively, you can drive from Denver. 

Nearly 60 per cent of the terrain at Telluride is dedicated to beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. You can access at least one intermediate run off every lift in the mountain. 

The Meadows learning area has a covered Magic Carpet and loads of wide runs so you can practice your skills. Beginner shredders should head to Ute Park Beginner Terrain Park. It has rollers, bank turns, a mini half pips, small jumps and boxes and rails. 

Hoot Brown Terrain park is for high intermediate skiers. Hoot Brown Advanced Terrain Park is only for the most experienced skiers and snowboarders. 

Telluride Colorado ski resorts
Telluride Colorado ski resorts.

If you have kids who like the snow – but don’t necessarily want to ski all the time – check out Telluride Adventure Centre’s Snow Camps. This cool alternative to ski school offers Winter Wilderness Survival classes, trekking, tracking and geocaching. It costs $140 for a full day and $95 for half a day. 

Telluride Kids Happy Hour will please parents. Drop the kids (aged 5-12) off at 3.30pm and they can learn how to make candles, snowflakes and craft until 5pm. That gives parents a little window of kid-free skiing for just $35. 

Lift pass: Epic pass
Lift Prices $637 adults (13-64), $344 kids (6-12) 7 days. 
Lesson price:
Adults $175 per day, $215 kids (3-14)one day. 
Snow conditions: Telluride Ski Resort

Beaver Creek

At 3 pm every day in the winter, Beaver Creek does cookie time.

“You will find chefs and volunteers at the bottom of lift six handing out free freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies,” Andrea says.

This resort also has heated moving walkways, wine-and-snowshoe excursions and 1832 acres of corduroy and powder waiting for skiers and boarders to ride.

Beaver Creek has 150 trails. The longest run is 4.43 kilometres. Learners have their own area – Haymeadow Express. This area is beginner only trails so it’s great for learners. Once you’ve conquered that, head to Red Buffalo Park with has sweeping views over the mountains and trails well-suited to beginners and intermediates. 

Advanced riders should head to Grouse Mountain – an entire mountain of black runs. Or try Stickline – a hidden gem with plenty of powder stashes for tree skiers. 

Colorado Ski resorts

Lift pass: Epic pass
Lift Prices $889 adults (13-64), $616 kids (5-12) 7 days. 
Lesson price:
Adults $229 per day, $249 kids (7-14)one day.  If you buy three days and your child still can’t ski – you get the fourth day for free. 
Snow conditions: Beaver Creek Ski Resort

Breckenridge

Breck is it is affectionately known has five mountain peaks – each with its own different style, 2908 acres of skiable terrain, 187 trails and the highest lift-serviced terrain in North America. At the top, you’ll be skiing above the treeline. The longest trail, 4 O’clock is 5.6km long. 

Breckenridge trail map.
Breckenridge trail map.

Breckenridge offers a complimentary tour of the resort with the Guest Service team. This 2.5 hour tour for intermediate and above skiers is a great way to get acquainted with the mountain. You can also ski with a ranger for free at Breckenridge. These tours run for one hour every Friday from 11am and will show you the highlights of the natural forest in the area.  

On the mountain, you will find incredible powder snow and stunning views no matter which peak you choose. Peak 8 is the heart of Breckenridge and has something for everyone – terrain parks, interactive trails for kids, beginner and expert trails. Peak 7 is the place for intermediate skiers with rolling terrain and gorgeous views. Peak 7 is above treeline skiing for intermediate and expert skiers and boarders. Peak 9 is where you will go to learn to ski. This family-friendly mountain has wide open runs but also some more challenging runs for advanced skiers and boarders. Peak 6 is largely for experts with challenging moguls and technical tree chutes. 

Breckenridge Colorado
Breckenridge Colorado. Picture: Shutterstock

Downtown Breckenridge started as a gold-rush base camp in the 1850s. It’s now a bustling town full of stories and legends. If you need a break from skiing try the Behind the Swinging Doors Saloon Tour, the Haunted Tours or the Victorian Tea Tour. The arts district has galleries cafes, pottery workshops and performance spaces. You can go bowling in Breck, you can take the kids to an interactive museum and an arcade with games. It even has an indoor water play park. Needless to say, you will have plenty to do on non-ski days. 

Lift pass: Epic pass
Lift Prices $709 adults (13-64), $379 kids (5-12) 7 days. 
Lesson price:
Adults $135 per day, $233 kids (3+) one day.  Note – they also have a “women and wine lesson” for $79. 
Snow conditions: Breckenridge Ski Resort

Keystone Resort

At Keystone, if families stay two or more nights, the kids ski free. They also do cookie hour. 

Keystone Ski Resort Colorado
Keystone Ski Resort Colorado. Picture: Shutterstock

This resort has 3148 acres of skiable terrain spread over three peaks. Decrum Mountain has long groomed beginner runs and wide, rolling intermediate runs. It also has a terrain park with boxes, rails, jumps and half pipes. North Peak is the home for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders with its long bumpy runs. The Outback is Keystone’s furthest and tallest peak and it’s packed with deep powder and tree skiing. 

Off the mountain, Keystone’s Kidtopia program has free family arts and crafts, fireworks and scavenger hunts. Kids can try snow tubing or tour the mountain on a snowcat. You cake take a scenic or dinner sleigh ride or try ice skating at either the ice rink or the 5 acre Keystone lake in Lakeside Village.

Lift pass: Epic pass
Lift Prices $672 adults (13-64), $392 kids (5-12) 7 days. 
Lesson price:
Adults $145 per day, $205 kids (3+) one day.  
Snow conditions: Keystone Ski resort

The rest: 

Arapahoe Basin

This ski resort has one of the longest seasons in North America with snow often hitting the ground from mid-October to early June. It boasts America’s highest elevation terrain park. It’s known for concerts and parties. 

Crested Butte

Crested Butte has a name the kids will love. The snow is even better. It has wide green and blue trails for beginners and uncrowded slopes compared to other Colorado resorts. Up to 83 per cent of the 1547 skiable acres is designated for beginners and intermediates. Advanced skiers and boarders should head to the “Extreme Limits” Section.

Crested Butte Colorado.
Crested Butte Colorado. Picture: Shutterstock

Copper Mountain

Copper has beginner, intermediate and expert runs clustered close together on 2490 acres. Off-piste it boasts the longest alpine coaster in North America as well as ice-skating, tubing and spa facilities. 

Echo Mountain Resort

Echo has 60 acres of skiable terrain. It is the closest ski resort to downtown Denver and it opens until 9pm.  

Silverton / Wolf Creek / Monarch Mountain

“Silverton, Wolf Creek and Monarch Mountain are some of your least expensive resorts in Colorado,” Andrea says. 

It will cost you about $US70-90 a day. But these mountains don’t have towns associated with them. They are less family-friendly more for the real serious ski hound. 

Hesperus Ski Area

Hesperus has about 160 acres of skiable terrain with 26 different trails. 

Purgatory Resort

Purgatory has 99 trails, five terrain parks, a racing course and loads of space for snowcat skiing. It is a great, smaller family-friendly option. 

Eldora Mountain

Eldora is known as a “locals” mountain thanks to its proximity to Denver. This is a great place to go to try cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Kendall Mountain Ski Area

Kendall has four groomed trails, a terrain park and tree skiing. Off-piste families can try ice skating, sledging and snowshoeing. 

Loveland

Loveland has two ski areas – one for beginners and one for advanced riders. This is a great place to practice powder runs. 

Sunlight Ski Area

Sunlight is an affordable way to ski. It has hundreds of acres of all-ability skiing and boarding. Plus, it has a great hot springs pool. 

Ski Granby Ranch

The highlight of Granby has to be a hot chocolate by the open fire pit at the base of the mountain. This ran has fun lessons for the kids in a more intimate atmosphere. 

Powderhorn

Powderhorn has 1600 acres of mountain terrain and 70 per cent of the runs are beginner or intermediate. 

READ MORE: 

Need to know more about Ski Colorado? You can find even more details on www.colorado.com/28resorts 

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