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Colorado's Top 5 Ski Resorts of '09

Updated on December 10, 2009

Top 5 Ski Resorts in Colorado

To me, Colorado is a Mecca for skier’s and snowboarders. The snow is phenomenal, the mountains are enormous, and the resorts are exceptional. After skiing in many states around the country, there is no question that Colorado is THE destination for skiers and boarders.  Living in Colorado, I have realized that there is a lot of debate to which resort reigns supreme. Everyone I talk to has a different favorite resorts for different reasons. So my choices for the top 5 resorts are in no way a reflection of everyone. However I think you’ll see my choices in plenty of other peoples top five lists. Before I dive into my choices, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a skier living in Colorado. I have been skiing on and off for about 12 years . I tend to stick to the hard blues and some blacks while staying away from the moguls. While I don’t ride the terrain parks, I have plenty of friends who do so I will definitely be taking that into consideration. So here we go.

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#5 - Keystone

I have been to Keystone many times. Mainly because it is the closest good resort near Denver. However, I think it definitely deserves to be at the bottom of the list. The location is amazing in relation to Denver.  The skiing is pretty good with a wide variety of terrain. Their best feature is called Area 51. Area 51 is their terrain park which I think is the best park in the State. However, there are a lot of downsides to the resort.

            First, they do not make it easy to get from the parking lot to the mountain. It is quite a long walk through the parking lot and through the village. Second, most of the slopes are very narrow which I am not too big a fan of. Finally, the weather is not so good compared to Breckenridge, which is only a couple exits away.  

            If you are going to stay at Keystone, you have plenty to choose from. There are tons of condominiums situated right near the slope; however some of them require a good walk through the town (can get tiring with your ski boots and equipment). Most of the condominiums are situated around the Keystone village, which is small but nice with heated streets, many restaurants and bars, and even a fire pit to sit around and warm up.  Their lodging, which I have found to be a little more affordable than other resorts in Colorado, definitely makes their resort a destination for many visitors.

            Keystone is a solid resort, but I believe it definitely deserves the spot at #5.

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#4 - Beaver Creek

A perfect family resort. Beaver Creek is the perfect place for a fun, relaxing ski trip. This resort was not made for the extreme skier, however Vail is only a few minutes away if you wanted to get away from the family and shred some powder. Beaver Creek is probably best known for nice, manageable, well-groomed slopes. While there may not be too big of a difference, i've always considered Beaver Creek to be the nicer, pricier alternative to Vail. I’ve always seen it as where the wealthier families would take their vacations. However, I have never been disappointed with the snow at Beaver Creek and would recommend it to anyone.

            If you’re looking to stay on the mountain there are a few good choices to choose from. First, you could stay at the new Ritz Carlton, Bachelors Gulch. Secluded in its own section of the mountain, this hotel has one of the nicest accommodations you can find. You could also choose to rent a condominium in the center village where there are more family activities, shopping, ski rental shops, and dining to choose from. Finally, you can choose to stay at the Arrowhead Village that is on the far east side with a few restaurants and homes that are available for vacation rentals.

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#3 - Snowmass

Snowmass is another one of those resorts that people can’t stop talking about.  With 3,000 acres of skiing it is one of the largest resorts in Colorado. With a great selection of family friendly terrain and also a lot of very extreme terrain, Snowmass will leave no one disappointed. Furthermore it has a massive new town that just got completed this season.

            There are a few reasons why Snowmass was ranked number 3 though. First, it is very far away from Denver (around 4 hours). While there is an airport in aspen, which is only 20 minutes away, it is quite expensive to fly into. Second, Snowmass and Aspen are very expensive areas to stay. I do know that no ski resorts are cheap, but aspen tops the list for the cost of living.

            For this resort, I would suggest spending the extra money to stay on the mountain. While the resort says that Snowmass is about 5 or 10 miles from Aspen, which is true, it can take a good 15 or 20 minutes to get to Snowmass from Aspen. Also, with so much snow coming down, in my opinion I would rather spend the extra money to be able to walk over to the slopes. If you are staying off of the mountain, there is a free shuttle that goes between Aspen and Snowmass.

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#2 - Breckenridge

To me, Breckenridge is a better location for the Coloradoans looking for the day trip. It is a phenomenal place. Only an hour and a half from Denver, Breckenridge shows all of the attributes of a world class resort while still keeping the old fashioned “ski town” feel. My favorite thing about Breckenridge is the layout of the slopes. Breckenridge has very wide, open runs that allow you to let go and have some fun. They have fantastic areas for beginners, great intermediate terrain, and very challenging but fun backcountry bowls. With their 28 lifts and 1 Gondola, which takes you from the parking lot strait to the slopes, Breckenridge has a little something for everyone.

            Off the slopes, Breckenridge has a great town. Unlike the other resorts, Breckenridge’s town has been around since the 1800’s and still keeps that charming old town feel. With tons of bars and great restaurants, this town will keep you busy at night.

            For a great lunch, check out Rasta Pasta for some different but delicious specialties like the Tortellini Jamaica-Mon with fresh grapes, pineapples and bananas. For dinner, check out the Breckenridge brewery. They are best known for their award winning micro brews which I must say are my favorite Colorado beers. For a little after dinner relaxing you can head to the O2 lounge, an oxygen bar with different flavors and nice comfortable couches to help you relax.

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#1 - Vail

If anyone has ever been skiing in Colorado, or anywhere for that matter, they know about Vail. Vail is the biggest ski resort in North American. It is truly a massive resort.  The New York Times says that “Vail is not only the biggest and the most popular snow sports destination in the United States, it is an American institution” (Pennington). There is really nothing that compares to Vail. It is a massive resort, with terrain for any skier of any level.  Whether you want easy greens, hard blues, double black bowls, fresh powder, terrain park, or even a beginner’s bunny slope, Vail has more of it than anywhere else. You could easily spend 2 or 3 days on the mountain without doing the same run twice. The massive size also makes it a nice park even during the busy season because there are so many lifts (31). There are three different sections of the resort to ski or board. You can go to the front side of the mountain, the backside bowls, or over to the relatively new blue sky basin area for a great variety of blues and blacks.

            As far as off the mountain activities go, Vail is superb. There is a town right off of the slopes with anything you would need or want. Condos are everywhere with lifts that go to some of the communities from the slopes.  There is also a great nightlife with a bunch of après ski bars and restaurants. For my money, be it that it costs a lot of money, Vail is best in class.

            Because Vail is such a large resort, let me give you some tips on how to maximize your fun. First, when you’re skiing, I would spend a lot of time around Blue Sky Basin. This area provides a great number of blue runs and some blacks that will rock your world. Also it tends to be a little less crowded than the front of the mountain where you have to ski around beginners and ski school groups. For some good dinner which wont break the bank, head to the blue moose pizzeria right in the center of Vail Village. They offer a great selection of pizza at a relatively modest price.  Finally, when you buy a Vail lift ticket, you can use it at Beaver Creek, which is just a couple miles away. If somehow you get bored on Vail Mountain, this gives you some more options for good skiing.

Which is your favorite

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    • profile image

      Jamie J. Rothschild 6 years ago

      There are many factors that make a ski resort stand out and put its place in a list.

      I like how you detailed, some from your personal experience, how each ski resort made it to the list.

      Being a skier, I prefer ski resorts with nice mogul runs that's why I consider this list my personal favorite:

      Most of the ski resorts in the list are from Colorado.

    • profile image

      skivacation 6 years ago

      I strongly agree with your list. There are more great ski vacation destinations in Colorado that I discovered through this:

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 8 years ago

      This is a great list, thanks!

    • profile image

      producertravis 8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this, I plan on getting to Colorado sometime this winter since I couldn't last year! Funny, Vail was my intended destination last year. Plan on hitting it wide open this year!

    • LibTechSnowboards profile image

      LibTechSnowboards 8 years ago from Anywhere the snow is falling

      No Steamboat? I use to instruct a Steamboat and had one of the best season ever there. But seriously, I think you will have a good time anywhere in Colorado.

    • dsturgeon profile image

      dsturgeon 9 years ago

      That’s definitely true about the San Juan. If I were to make a list based purely on the ones I really like it would go:  Vail, Crested Butte, Silverton, Steamboat, and Breck. But there is something to be said about the convenience and amenities of places like Keystone for their Terrain Park, and Beaver Creek for the family appeal. I definitely agree that if your looking for smaller crowds, Telluride and CB are a better choice. Thanks for the input Dan!

    • Camping Dan profile image

      Camping Dan 9 years ago

      I have always preferred Telluride, there are fewer skiers and I never stand in lift lines no matter how good the powder is. Crested Butte is also great. The San Juan mountains are just steeper and have better character to me than the peaks on the front range.