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A no-fuss guide to finding your perfect ski resort in Colorado, the best state for shredding snowy mountains

Stephanie Granada  – January 3, 2020 | Updated January 24, 2020

Choosing a top choice from the plethora of Colorado ski resorts is a lofty feat. The state claims nearly 30 dream mountains with family-friendly offerings, big-mountain skiing, and tons of snow. And thanks to the Rockies’ slate of hot springs, cozy lodges, winter festivals, and tons of other off-the slopes activities, you can take advantage of the state’s dramatic topography even if you don’t ski or snowboard. What’s more, the Denver airport serves as a major hub, so out-of-state riders can find cheap flights from just about anywhere. Whether you’re planning a ski trip for four, have your heart set on getting the five-star treatment with spas and après fun, or are in the market for gnarly terrain without any frills, Colorado has a ski resort to suit you. Here, we look at the best mountains for every winter adventurer.

Breckenridge Ski Resort

Family climbing up a ski hill on a blue bird day in Breckenridge
Courtesy Breckenridge Ski Resort

If You Don’t Ski and Have Kids in Tow

Distance from Denver: 1 hour, 35 minutes

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There’s a reason why Breck is one of the most popular ski resorts in the country, with more than 3 million visitors annually. Spread across five peaks with three bases, the resort covers everything needed for an epic family trip. Sure, the skiing is superb: There are separate family and kid zones where little ones can learn and practice, and the other almost 90-percent of the mountain is dedicated to advanced skiers. But where Breckenridge really excels is on the memory-making activities. Off-the-slopes your crew will enjoy the alpine coaster, ice skating, dog sledding, and more than 200 picturesque stores and restaurants in Colorado’s largest historic district. If you get a wild hair to learn, the Adult 1-Day, First Time Ski Lesson costs less than $200.

Steamboat Resort

Scenic view of downtown Steamboat Springs in witner
Ninotchka Lizardi / EyeEm/ Getty Images

If You’re Looking for a Real Mountain Town

Distance from Denver: 2 hours, 53 minutes

Trust the six Olympians who choose to call Steamboat home—this Colorado ski town rocks. The 107-year-old, February Winter Carnival (complete with skijoring and ski jumping competitions) celebrates the history and heritage that colors this Yampa Valley town that’s never lost its local vibe. “Champagne powder” is a term that was coined here, so it’s no doubt the skiing doesn’t disappoint—especially when it comes to riding through the trees, which happens among ideally spaced, rime-covered aspens. When it’s all said and done, you can chill in the surrounding hot springs that have lured visitors here for more than a century.

Silverton Mountain

Skier riding down steep mountain at Silverton
Courtesy Silverton Mountain

If You’re Just Here to Shred

Distance from Denver: 6 hours, 33 minutes

No fancy base village, no spas, no oxygen bars—just serious big-mountain skiing with 1,819 acres of inbounds, one sole lift, and another 22,000 acres reachable by hike or helicopter at Silverton, one of only two Colorado ski resorts with heli-skiing. The numbers are impressive in themselves, but even more so when you learn tickets are capped at 80 skiers per day. Most of the season, guides point the way to the steep chutes, open bowls, and treeline runs. Even with the help, Silverton is only for advanced skiers. We recommend you spend the $179 for a heli drop—especially if you go from mid-March to mid-April when lift tickets are only $84.

Telluride Ski Resort

People fat tire biking through a valley with giant mountains in the background in snowy Telluride
Ryan Bonneau/Courtesy Visit Telluride

If You Want Views for Days

Distance from Denver: 6 hours, 10 minutes

Three peaks stand at more than 13,000 feet practically encircling picturesque Telluride. The historic downtown—with its Victorian buildings and cool bars, galleries, and shops—and the modern ski village are connected by a free gondola that shows off epic views on the way up and down. Anywhere you find yourself on the mountain yields jaw-dropping vistas. While most ski resorts claim to have something for everyone, Telluride truly delivers on that promise. People fat tire bike through trails along the Valley Floor, fish in the San Miguel River, snowmobile in the backcountry, and catch shows in the Telluride Arts District. But the town especially excels where it matters most: those humbling alpine scenes that draw us all to the mountains. For the best views, intermediate skiers can tackle the aptly named See Forever trail. Or, book yourself a stay at the gorgeous Tempter House, which clings to a cliff at 12,000 feet.

Winter Park Resort

Skiers glade skiing at Winter Park
Courtesy Winter Park Resort

If You’re a Weekend Warrior

Distance from Denver: 1 hour, 23 minutes

For Denverites (and those wise enough to catch a cheap flight into DIA on any given weekend), the best Colorado ski resorts’ news came a few years ago when the city restarted the Ski Train, which ran from 1940 to 2009. Now called the Winter Park Express Train, the scenic ride takes two hours, and completely bypasses the horrid I-70 weekend traffic. The train deposits you right at the entrance of Winter Park, which benefits from 3,000 acres on inbounds, stellar terrain, and reliable snow. Split up into seven zones, the mountain offers plenty of variety, though pros know Winter Park for its steep chutes, world-famous bumps, and some of the best mogul runs in the country. New lifts added in recent years makes it easier (and faster) to access all that amazing terrain, while programs like the Steep & Deep Camp give you the skills to take advantage of it all. The village itself is low-key with a laid-back, unpretentious vibe but plenty outfitted to satisfy après needs. Still, if you miss the glitz, it’s perfectly doable to take the train and be back in Denver in time for dinner.

Aspen-Snowmass

Skiers partying at Cloud Nine in Aspen
Courtesy Cloud 9 Alpine Bistro/Facebook

If You Want to Après Like a Rockstar

Distance from Denver: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Aspen Mountain Resort has long been a basecamp for ritzy, high energy skiers. But now neighboring Snowmass is catching up, since starting a $600 million base project that’s added an ice skating rink, top-quality restaurants and bars, and eco-friendly lodging. Fortunately, you don’t have to pick between the two: they operate as one giant resort and have a free shuttle that transports guests between Snowmass and Ajax (as the mountain is called locally), as well as the two other ski areas that make up this winter playground with a collective 5,500 acres to rip—all accessible with one lift ticket. Here, you can après any which way you wish: Ski right into a Champagne-fueled party at Cloud 9, go for a five-star spa treatment at the Viceroy Snowmass, dance late-night at The Belly Up, take shotskis at The Red Onion, do it up at the new W’s rooftop WET Deck, or glide to a dinner under the full moon at the top of Buttermilk Mountain.

Beaver Creek Resort

Pines lodge at dusk from the distance surrounded by mountains and trees with snow
Courtesy The Pines Lodge, a Rock Resort

If You’re into the Finer Things

Distance from Denver: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Beaver Creek was specifically built to deliver superb ski vacations. Plenty has been written about the free afternoon treats, the heated sidewalks, the bevy of ski-in/ski-out luxe resorts [Pines Lodge (pictured), Chateau Beaver Creek, and Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch are favorites], and famed ski school. But what undeservedly gets less attention is the skiing, which is as top-shelf as the rest of the offerings. And it keeps getting better. In the past few seasons, the resort has debuted hundreds of acres of learning areas with innovative features and gondola access; and another 200-acre area is planned for next season. That’s in addition to the existing lift-accessible, backcountry-style terrain and technical chutes and glades that are always practically desolate. You’ll pony up a pretty penny, but for the plushest of trips, you can’t beat the top-of-the-world Trapper’s Cabin set at 9,500 feet with a private chef and hot tub in a four-bedroom lodge where you can ski right to the door.

Arapahoe Basin Ski & Snowboard Area

Skiers in chicken and bunny costume riding life at Arapahoe Basin
Courtesy Arapahoe Basin Ski & Snowboard Area

If You’re into the Steep and Cheap

Distance from Denver: 32 minutes

Fun is the name of the game at this small resort, opened in 1946 by ski industry legends. Back then, A-Bay didn’t have much more than a rope tow. Amenities are still skimp, with a handful of A-frame buildings that hold a few restaurants, a ski school, and a kids’ center. Still, The Legend is the local-favorite among Colorado ski resorts. The mountain isn’t expansive but what it lacks in frills, it makes up for in expert terrain and the most butterfly-inducing steeps and chutes in the state. Often the first Colorado resort to open, the resort draws a cool crowd of serious skiers drawn to the epically long season (often from October to June or July) and friendly prices (as little as $63—including a voucher for the famed bacon bloody Mary from the Black Mountain Lodge Bar—when you book in advance). Still, A-Bay is perhaps even better known for the rowdy parking lot tailgates that form at “The Beach.” After April, it’s common to see skiers done their tropical finest—including swimsuits, flamingo pool floats, and full-body shark costumes.

Wolf Creek Ski Area

Skier riding down mountain toward rime covered trees at Wolf Creek
Christi Bode/ Courtesy Wolf Creek Ski Area

If You Like Mom-and-Pop Spots

Distance from Denver: 4 hours, 28 minutes

Averaging the most snow in Colorado with 430 inches annually, Wolf Creek is a powderhound’s heaven. Storms are frequent, and thanks to the slim crowds and high elevation, stashes last for days. People who love Wolf Creek brag that the ski area recalls the golden days of skiing when lift tickets were cheap, lines were nonexistent, and base villages were sparse but inviting. Members of the Pitcher family (they’ve owned the resort since the ‘70s) are usually on site running the snowcats, managing the ski patrol, or slinging tickets. The main part of the mountain is small, with about 600 acres of mostly beginner and intermediate runs and seven lifts. But, it’s the hike-to-terrain that’ll get you hooked. Areas like the 11,900-foot Alberta Peak are bucket-list-worthy for its 360 views of the San Juan Mountains. Back at the base, you won’t find any lodging, but Pagosa Springs is only 30 minutes away with resorts that have hot springs, ideal to soak away any soreness before getting back at it the next day.