If your life is downhill in winter, head to Colorado, where there’s a resort town for everybody, from old-fashioned ranch towns to modern ski in/out communities. You’ll even discover top amenities like skiing free with Olympic medalists or a hopping a ski train that gets you to the chairlift on time. Wondering where to begin? Consider this your Colorado ski town primer.
On the town Even though Aspen has earned a well-deserved reputation for expensive excesses and fancy fests, there still are affordable places to stay and eat. The entire town is walkable, including to the lifts right downtown.
Slopes Aspen can get crowded, especially on weekends. Savvy skiers head for Snowmass, where there are wide-open glades suitable for the better skier or rider, or to Aspen Highlands, featuring steeps and deeps for the more accomplished downhiller. The same lift ticket gives you access to both, as well as to the beginners mountain, Buttermilk. There are free shuttles between all three.
Pro tip Check out Big Burn snowfield at Snowmass. It’s a mile wide and a mile long, and never crowded.
On the town This is a manufactured modern ski village, with condos, hotels, restaurants and shops—and little else except a family-friendly ice skating rink in the village center and convenience to lifts.
Slopes There is an excellent children’s learning area with its own lift, plenty of challenging runs for the more accomplished, and silky smooth grooming in between. The Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch areas are usually less crowded, perhaps they offer only easy beginner terrain.
Pro tip Hit up the blues, blacks, double-blacks and glades off the Birds of Prey Express lift, with trails named for them, including Redtail, Peregrine and Golden Eagle.
On the town A charming gold mining town, peppered with restored Victorian buildings and newer ones built to look like them. Beware of the high altitude: “Breck” (as its called by visitors, never by residents) sits at 9,600 feet, and the slopes top out at around 13,000, so it’s not just the scenery that will leave you breathless.
Slopes There are five peaks, all numbered, all inter-connected, so you never have to ski the same run twice.
Pro tip Anything off the Beaver Run Super Chair, featuring an array of long groomers and bursts of powder-filled trees.
On the town Wrap it up, we’ll take Crested Butte home, for its picturesque and well-maintained historic buildings painted in candy cane colors. Eat in the Sherpa Café, run by Nepali transplants and their families, and visit Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum, located inside a former auto repair shop, to see the world’s largest elk antlers, shot by a hunter in the 1800s.
Slopes One of the largest areas on the mountain is the well-named Paradise Bowl. It’s pure heaven for its combination of wide-open bowl skiing, glades and rip-it-up groomers.
Pro tip We love Rachel’s Run, an open snowfield off Paradise Bowl.
On the town This is a real old cattle town, with super-wide streets to accommodate the herds that used to be driven through a century-plus ago. Be sure to visit one of the town’s natural mineral hot springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs has pools ranging in temperature from bathtub warm to call EMS!
Slopes The highlight of any visit here is skiing with Olympic legend Billy Kidd, who has traded in his trademark cowboy hat for a helmet. His slopeside patter and real coaching tips to improve your style are included in the price of your lift ticket.
Pro tip Ski anything off the Sunshine Express lift, which offers greens, blues and blacks in the sun most of the day (hence the lift name).
On the town Another old mining town with charming historic buildings and walkable streets. Instead of shuttle buses, there’s a gondola from downtown to mid-mountain, and it’s free year-round.
Slopes Even though more than half the resort is rated beginner and intermediate, there are plenty of heart-stopping steeps and powder fields and chutes, especially on Palmyra Peak.
Pro tip Galloping Goose, the longest groomed run on the mountain, featuring nearly five miles of non-stop smiles, is a must do!
On the town There is none. Town is just a string of hotels, restaurants and bars along the access road. This is a locals favorite and can be quite crowded on weekends, when folks arrive on the non-stop Amtrak Ski Train from Denver, which puts you mere steps from the slopes.
Slopes Avoid the crowds by heading to the Vasquez area, with its gentle wide-open groomers. Or, follow the adrenaline junkies to Mary Jane for steeps and powder.
Pro tip Definitely check out Sleeper, off the Super Glade Express lift on Mary Jane, for its wide-open intermediate trail and options to head off into the trees alongside.
On the town Vail has become an urban sprawl, with traffic jams that snarl even the free shuttle buses. Vail Village has the most expensive hotels and restaurants. Families, first-timers and the budget-conscious should opt for Lionshead Village, the Golden Peak, East Vail or West Vail “suburbs.”
Slopes Try to avoid Mid-Vail, where several high-speed lifts converge, making it feel like Times Square with skis and snowboards. Head instead to one or more of Vail’s eight back bowls and stay there until it’s time to go home.
Pro tip Our favorite run at Vail is Blue Ox, which ranges from a blue-black groomer when it’s been groomed, to a mogul-infested black when it hasn’t.
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