Colorado Ski Area
Located within an easy two to three hour transfer of Denver, the resorts of Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Arapahoe Basin offer arguably the best skiing in the USA. Situated high in the Rocky Mountains the cold climate delivers not only massive amounts of pristine powder, but an average of 300 days of sunshine per year.
While there's plenty of off piste to enjoy, Colorado is where they perfected the art of piste bashing. Meticulous grooming of the piste (or trails as the Americans call them) in this area is done to a standard by which all other resorts judge themselves. While the mountains aren't as sprawling and big as the European Alps, they still offer enough skiing to keep regulars interested for decades. You'd be well recommended to try at least a couple of the resorts, and you can do this with your standard Colorado Pass. This single lift pass will allow you access to each of the four world class resorts, plus there's the temptation to take a longer holiday and pick up the Epic Season Pass, valid all winter for Heavenly and Keystone as well, all for little more than the cost of a six day lift pass! A two week holiday is really the best way to take advantage of all Colorado has to offer, that way you've got time to acclimatise to the relatively high altitude of the towns and resorts.
Each of the towns have a unique and charming character, and offer an incredible array of bars and restaurants, as well as boutiques, galleries, cafes and other distractions for those rest days on your ski holiday.
Ski Resorts in Colorado - The Epic Pass
Breckenridge grew out of the Gold Rush of the 1800's and today retains much of its Victorian charm. With more than 350 historically valuable houses, Breckenridge really wins visitors over with its old world style. Even though rooted in the past, Breckenridge has always been at the forefront of providing the best modern on-mountain experience for snow enthusiasts: the first high speed quad chairlift was opened here; the first dual-loading six seat chairlift in the US; the first Colorado resort to allow snowboarding. Today the lift system links four mountain peaks with the terrain getting more challenging the higher up you go. Lower slopes on Peaks 8, 9 and 10 are perfect Greens with easy access to the town, mid-mountain is intermediate Blue heaven especially on Peak 7, while the top of Peaks 7, 8 and 10 have a dizzying selection of Black and Double Black runs to really the challenge the best. For refueling there's a good choice of on-mountain day lodges, with the local Buffallo Chili being a specialty.
Vail. Small name, big resort. The largest ski resort in the US is an amazing place to ski, certainly one for your must-do list. The mountain has a mild side and a wild side, both all the better for a recent US$175 million upgrade. The Front Side is brilliantly laid out for groups of different standards who can all ride the same lift then take their choice of runs ranging from Green to Double Black, before meeting back at the bottom. The Back Side is almost exclusively a Black Diamond zone, a heaven-on-earth of off piste bowls that are more often than not blanketed in powder. It's a massive area, meaning that there's no more than four skiers per acre even on the busiest day! And The Back Bowls account for only 30% of Vail's terrain, which spans a width of seven miles! Three terrain parks will keep skiers and boarders challenged, although most will be content with the natural terrain's obstacles, especially in The Back Bowls. Vail is probably the best resort in the world for non-skiers, with so many things going on in the bustling town you're really spoilt for choice.
Beaver Creek is the glamour model of the Colorado ski area. Born in 1980, the resort is sophisticated, luxurious and does everything in fine style. Designed to provide western hospitality with European finesse, the village of Beaver Creek is modelled on the finest in The Alps: St Moritz, Cortina, St Anton. There's escalators rather than steps, the sidewalks are heated and clear of snow and ice and the hotels are amongst the best you'll find anywhere in the world. While not as big a mountain as nearby sister Vail, Beaver Creek still has more than enough for a week long ski holiday, from the dedicated beginners area Strawberry Fields to Grouse Mountain's challenging Blacks. All this over an impressive 4000'+ of vertical.
Arapahoe Basin, or A Basin to her friends, has the highest skiable terrain in all of North America. This is a mountain biased towards the more experienced and adventurous, with quite a bit of extreme terrain which can only be reached by hiking - there is, after all, only seven lifts. The Montezuma Bowl, known for epic terrain, is providing lift access to 339 of the 468 acres of skiable terrain by the construction of the Leitner-Poma Beavers chairlift! Throw in the snowfall stats and your friends will be green with envy: more than 340 inches per year on average.
While a hire car allows the ultimate freedom to enjoy the Colarado ski area, there are shuttle busses that run between all of them all if you don't fancy driving.
Ski Resorts in Colorado - The Aspen Ski Area
Considered to be one of the most glamourous ski towns in the world, Aspen Snowmass doesn't only draw the rich and famous to its charming streets. This ski area is famed for steeps, bumps, perfectly groomed piste, powder, no crowds, no queues, a quaint town....what doesn't this place have?
Aspen is actually four ski areas: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk, all no more than 12 miles apart and linked by free shuttle buses that run almost bumper-to-bumper they're so frequent. Like most of the Colorado Rockies, there's an abundance of snow, averaging more than 300 inches per season. For Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands this means loads of magnificent back country skiing, easilly accessed by short hikes or better still in the comfort of a snowcat. The Highlands area in particular offers some of the best and steepest in-bounds back country skiing in North America, and a great selection of steeps and bumps as well.
Snowmass and Buttermilk are ideal for families and those still building their experience and style. Long, perfectly groomed cruisers that roll gently back to the village are the ideal place to build skills, but if you're more interested in park-life, Buttermilk has the perfect thing: an Olympic standard half pipe which is 18 feet deep, has a 22 foot transition and 500 feet of perfect downhill pitch. Combined with an excellent terrain park, it's hardly surprising that Buttermilk is now home ot the ESPN Winter X Games.
Other Ski Resorts in Colorado
Winter Park is the closest resort to Denver which makes it busier than average on weekends, but it's really quiet on weekdays. Recent development has seen some slow-queueing areas really improve thanks to the addition of six-seater high speed chairlifts, and a total lift count of 25 efficiently links the five distinct mountain areas really well. Oh yes, this is a big resort - don't be confused by the 'Park' in the name! Even though Winter Park has the greatest snow record in Colorado (averaging 327 inches per year, and sometimes even topping 410 inches!), the resort has invested in plenty of snow cannons to guarantee a November opening each season.
Steamboat takes its reputation as a legendary powder resort very seriously indeed, with part of its registered trademark being 'Champagne Powder'. Recent investement of over US$30 million has seen a great improvement in lift infrastructure as well as improvements to the base village's shops and restaurants. Skiing and boarding is nothing short of brilliant for beginners and intermediates, with long cruisy runs groomed to perfection allowing skill and confidence to develop quickly. For the more advanced, it's all about the pow and the trees. Gladed skiing in Steamboat is second to none. The old cattle town of Steamboat is a short ride away by free shuttle bus, and gives visitors the chance to mingle with the locals in what is essentiall still a genuine western town.
Copper Mountain is another resort which has benefited from major investment over the last few years. It's always been a great mountain, offering terrain for all standards naturally seperated by the three mountains' layout, but now it has a village base to live up to the standard of its neighbours. Quite lofty at 3750m, this is a resort that rewards gentle acclimitisation. The altitude guarantees consistant snowfalls and cold temperatures to keep it pristine. Copper is quite a well-kept secret amongst UK holiday makers, being a super easy 90 minute transfer from Denver along the I-70 freeway which then exits right into the resort. No windy mountain roads here!
Ski Holidays in Colorado
There's a handful of catered chalets available in Breckenridge, otherwise you can expect a very comfortable standard of self-catered accommodation, be it in a condo or stand alone lodge/chalet. There's a range of hotels from cheap and cheerful 2-3 Stars right up to the most luxurious, full servcie 5 Stars. Best access is in the Peak 9 area, where there's some great ski-in ski-out properties.
Vail's ski holiday accommodation is an amazing choice of hotels, condo's and lodges, with prices increasing as locations get closer to the lifts in the town.
Beaver Creek's most desirable - and expensive - accommodation options are in the village itself, but cheaper options can be found in the other on-mountain villages of Bachelor Gulch or Arrowhead Village. Like most Colarado ski resorts, accommodation is either hotels or condos'.
Arapahoe Basin is best accessed as a day trip from one of the other Colorado resorts.
Aspen is a town where you can really blow the budget on accommodation of the very highest standard - 5 Star hotels abound. Other accommodation ranges down to 3.5 Star, which by European standards are large, well equipped and really very comfortable. The best value tends to be apartments and condo's, while there's a small handful of catered chalets for those looking for a totally care-free ski holiday. If you're travelling with children it's a good idea to select your accommodation closest to the mountain you think you'll ski the most, because while the ski shuttles are very frequent, the journey can take 20 minutes or more first thing in the morning.
Winter Park is one of the best choices for a week long ski holiday from the UK. Direct flights from London to Denver, a 90 minute transfer and loads of beds within easy walking distance to the lifts make this a great choice if you want to get off a plane and on the slopes ASAP. The four catered chalets book-up early, but there's always a wide choice of lodges and hotels on a bed and breakfast basis plus the ever-popular self catered apartments and condo's.
Steamboat's accommodation is predominantly condo's, and with good value supermarkets aplenty you can eat like a king on a tight budget while sprawling in your luxurious apartment watching 100+ channels of rubbish TV on your wide screen. Does it get better than this?
All Copper Mountain accommodation is slopeside or mere steps away from the excellent shuttle bus stops. Exclusively owned and operated by the resort, the selection of apartments are excellent value for money, very comfortable and amazingly spacious.