6 of the best Colorado ski towns

Jul 16, 2020

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Best Colorado ski towns:

  • Aspen
  • Breckenridge
  • Crested Butte
  • Steamboat Springs
  • Telluride
  • Vail

Colorado speaks for itself. When you hear the state’s name, you probably think of the iconic Rocky Mountains and all they have to offer — must-visit national parks, endless trails and of course, epic skiing and boarding.

As one of the snowiest states in America, Colorado has always been an attractive destination for skiers. But a visit to one of these iconic ski towns that dot the map will have you coming back for more than just the skiing. In fact, these ski towns are just as fun — if not more — when you are off the mountain.

There’s not one particular thing that makes these towns so special, but a mixture of a bunch of little things — the easy-going attitude, the incomparable powdery snow, the snow globe like town centers, the food and drinks that always hit just right, the après ski culture… the list could go on. The bottom line is, there’s a lot of charm to love about these little towns that keeps people coming back year after year, even if they never strap on skis.

These are the best Colorado ski towns that you need to visit.

Related: 7 of our favorite Airbnb rentals in Colorado 

Aspen

Aspen skyline from an overlook in the winter (Photo by Jonathan Ross/Getty Images)
Aspen skyline from an overlook in the winter (Photo by Jonathan Ross/Getty Images)

If you prefer the finer things in life, Aspen may be right up your alley as its luxury storefronts tend to attract those from the jet setting crowd.

But don’t let the Gucci storefront fool you, Aspen is also known for being a cultural hub. So if you’re not a skier, you may enjoy a trip to the Aspen Art Museum or the annual Aspen Music Festival.

Related: How to save money on a trip to Aspen 

If skiing is what you are after, you’ll enjoy a variety of terrain to explore across four different mountains. Altogether, the Aspen area is made up of two main towns — Aspen and Snowmass Village. In Downtown Aspen, you’ll find over 200 storefronts ranging from high-end boutiques to luxury storefronts. Need some $25k art to take home with ya? Aspen’s got you covered. It also has a happening nightlife scene, if that’s your thing.

While you’re there, be sure and grab a “Aspen Crud”, this prohibition-era drink at J-Bar within Hotel Jerome is worth a stop. If you’re hungry, the burgers there aren’t bad either. Ajax Tavern is famous, slopeside and a way to get the amazing Little Nell food at a fraction of the cost.

You can find a cool vibe and vintage decor at the Aspen Public House, which serves “Colorado comfort food” within the Wheeler Opera House building in the heart of downtown Aspen.

Snowmass Village has a more low-key vibe where pubs are more the style. If you want to stay in Snowmass (which is actually one of the more family-friendly mountains in the area) using your points, the Westin Snowmass is a solid option. In Snowmass, an affordable hearty bowl of soup or chili awaits you at The Stew Point, which has been in operation since 1972.

If your visit to Aspen comes in the fall, you can’t miss a trip up to Maroon Bells to watch the aspen trees turn from green to golden.

Summer Hull / The Points Guy
Summer Hull / The Points Guy

A stay at the new W Aspen isn’t a bad idea either.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

How to get there

You can fly directly into Aspen (ASE) from a handful of U.S. airports. Just know the airport is notorious for cancellations and closures during winter weather. Otherwise, it’s nearly a four-hour drive from Denver International (DEN). Grand Junction (GCT) is another closer alternative than Denver that generally fairs better with winter weather than Aspen if you are looking for a safer bet.

Breckenridge

If you’ve ever been to Breckenridge, you’ll probably agree when I say it’s the perfect ski town for just about everyone.

Whether you’re a family, a couple or a group of friends — there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Not only is it a fun place to visit in the winter, but it’s also a great summer spot if you’re into hiking, biking, rafting or fishing.

Photo by Walter Bibikow/Getty Images.
Photo by Walter Bibikow/Getty Images.

Although the town of Breckenridge is the main area, skiers can easily enjoy three different resorts while visiting as Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone are all within driving distance of each other. In the winter, you can even take a short side-trip over to Dillon to enjoy an actual ice castle.

Your Marriott points can score you a stay at the Residence Inn Breckenridge from 40,000 – 60,000 points per night.

Related: Choosing the best ski pass for the year

Busy Breckenridge in early January (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Busy Breckenridge in early January (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

And while you may have ventured out to Breck for the skiing, you won’t be let down by the food and drink options. In fact, if you’re not much of a skier, you’ll still have lots of fun hopping down the happening Main Street.

Related: The best ski towns in the U.S.

A few of our personal favorites include:

  • The Canteen is a great spot for catching up with friends over some yummy comfort food and tasty drinks. Guests have the option of eating indoors or gathering around a fire-pit on the front deck. The location is also worth noting as it’s not too far from the gondola that leads to the resort and it’s also a great starting point if you want to hop around to the other bars and restaurants on Main Street.  It’s an all around great place for food, drinks, vibes and location.
  • Robbie’s Tavern is conveniently located slope side at the base of Peak 8 at Breckenridge, making it the perfect place to go in between runs. If you get lucky with a nice day, the bar window often opens up to the deck so you can enjoy a refreshing drink while taking in the crisp mountain air.
  • The Gold Pan is the oldest operating bar west of Mississippi and there’s a reason it’s withstood the test of time — it’s pretty darn good. It’s also located on the main drag, which means you can hop around to other places while checking out the beautiful Main Street.
  • Empire Burger is a good, casual joint when you want to fill up with some comfort food.
  • Hearthstone is an option when you want a more upscale meal within a historic home that dates back to the 1800’s. Here you’ll find not only Colorado lamb and a beef filet, but also charred octopus, spicy salmon latke and other ‘elevated’ options for when you need a break from burgers.
  • Breckenridge Distillery awaits when you want a stiff drink that was blended with Rocky Mountain snowmelt. Dubbed the “world’s highest distillery”, this spot has both a tasting room and restaurant.

Related: Renting a house for 22 in Breckenridge for less than hotels

How to get there

Not only does Breckenridge offer a little bit for everyone, but it’s also one of the easiest Colorado ski resorts to get to from Denver. At just a little under two hours away from Denver International (DEN) during decent weather and traffic, you can easily hop on one of the daily shuttles or rent a car to make your way down I-70. Just be sure you have the right equipment in case of snow.

Ski Breckenridge (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Ski Breckenridge (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Crested Butte

If you want to escape the crowds and spend your days on the mountain, Crested Butte a.k.a. “Colorado’s last great ski town”, is the place to go.

(Photo courtesy of stockphoto52/Getty Images)
(Photo courtesy of stockphoto52/Getty Images)

This little ski town with a mining history is home to some of the most diverse terrain (and vibrant wildflowers) in the state, making it perfect for beginners and experts alike. Crested Butte is also notoriously less crowded than its counterparts, meaning there’s a good chance you can enjoy untouched powder while you’re there.

When you’re not on the slopes, be sure to explore the charming town itself. Elk Avenue is the main drag where you’ll find a variety of colorfully painted storefronts to shop at or dine in.

Related: Planning your ski trip with points and miles

How to get there

Crested Butte is four hours away from the Denver crowds by car. While the drive there is quite scenic, you may run into some issues with notoriously unpredictable weather.

If you’re not comfortable driving through snowstorms, the easiest way to get there could be flying into Crested Butte’s closest airport, Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUC). However, don’t expect flights to operate on schedule during snow either. This regional airport is served by both American and United Airlines and there are only nonstop flights from Houston, Dallas and Denver. That means you’ll most likely connect in Denver if you’re coming from elsewhere.

Steamboat Springs

Photo by Mengzhonghua Photography/Getty Images.
Photo by Mengzhonghua Photography/Getty Images.

If you’re looking for a laid-back, Old West feel then head to Steamboat Springs where the town’s history of ranchers and cowboys is still very evident.

If you’re a skier, you’ll be interested to know that Steamboat is regarded as having the best tree skiing in Colorado. Not to mention, it’s also known as Ski Town U.S.A. as it’s produced more winter Olympians of any other town. And if you prefer the outdoors after the weather’s warmed up, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails to explore as well as activities to do on and along the Yampa River, which runs through town.

The elevation here is also much lower than some of the other towns on this list, so if you’re prone to altitude sickness then this is definitely something to consider.

When you’re not on the slopes, however, you’ll want to head to Lincoln Avenue a.k.a. Main Street Steamboat. This is where you’ll get the iconic view of the mountain along with some good eats. Plus, you can snag some inexpensive ski rentals on Lincoln Ave. For example, Ski Haus offers low rates as well as a free shuttle to and from the shop.

(Photo courtesy of Shawn OConnor/Getty Images)
(Photo courtesy of Shawn OConnor/Getty Images)

Steamboat has lodging options regardless of your hotel loyalty or budget. For example, you can stay slope-side at the Marriott Bonvoy Category 5 Sheraton Steamboat Resort for 30,000 – 40,000 points per night.

Or, you can also stay a short bus ride away from the slopes. After all, most other hotels and vacation rentals in the Steamboat area are served by a complimentary ski shuttle. The Homewood Suites by Hilton Steamboat Springs on the outskirts of town can be a great option if you’re looking for a room with a kitchen that’s a one-minute walk from a bus stop, courtesy of your Hilton points.

Related: How to enjoy a ski resort vacation as a non-skier

How to get there

You have two main options when it comes to getting to Steamboat Springs. Option one is to fly into Denver (DEN) and then take a shuttle or drive to Steamboat, which is just over three hours away.

The other option is to fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport (HDN), which has direct flights from 14 major U.S. airports like Los Angeles (LAX), Houston (IAH) and Washington-Dulles (IAD). The perk of the latter is that Steamboat offers free night skiing on your day of arrival, all you have to do is show your boarding pass.

Telluride

Some would say we’ve saved the best for last.

Telluride is the picture-perfect ski town that you’ve dreamed of — think mountain peaks reaching into the sky, pine trees perfectly blanketed in snow and a charming town waiting at the base of it all.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

There’s two main sections in Telluride — there’s the original town of Telluride that sits in a box canyon, has tons of independent restaurants, shops and architectural history dating back to the 1800’s mining boom. Or there’s Mountain Village, which is newer and located up the mountain. Both are easily accessible to and from each other via a free gondola.

Related: Top 10 things to do in Telluride

View from the Telluride gondola (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
View from the Telluride gondola (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

While you are in Telluride, be sure and grab a meal at Siam if you are at all into Asian cuisine. If you are seeking vegan, vegetarian or simply a warm, hearty meal, head to 221 South Oak.

View from the Telluride gondola (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

A post-ski drink at ‘there’ bar (yes, that’s the name) is a lot of fun (but go early, it fills up). Brunch or drinks at the historic New Sheridan hotel on the main street in town is always a great idea, as is a top of the mountain meal and glass of wine at Alpino Vino — though note that spot is only accessible on skis or boards.

Related: One perfect ski day in Telluride

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
there bar (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

If you make the trip, you can’t go wrong staying within walking distance of it all at the charming Dunton Town House, which makes you feel like you are staying with a close friend — a close friend who puts out a great breakfast spread and is one block from the gondola.

Dunton Town House (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Dunton Town House (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

How to get there

Telluride tends to be more difficult (and expensive) to get to than other Colorado ski towns. As a result, it has a more exclusive and luxe feel to it. In fact, it wouldn’t be unheard of if you spotted a celebrity or two as this is a hot spot for the stars, especially during the annual film festival.

With Denver more than six hours away by vehicle and thanks to unpredictable mountain weather, it’s by far quickest to fly into Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) if you are feeling lucky that your flight will operate as scheduled. Or select Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) if you want a better chance of an on-time arrival during the winter season as the weather has to be all but perfect to land in Telluride.

Telluride Tex Airport. Photo courtesy of Telluride Tex Airport.
Telluride Tex Airport. Photo courtesy of Telluride Tex Airport.

During the winter season, you can fly direct to one of the regional airports from just 10 major U.S. airports. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a connection in Denver (DEN) before arriving in Telluride.

Related: Flying (almost) private (almost) to Telluride and back: A review of Boutique Air 

Vail

Vail is a family-friendly ski town with a variety of activities to choose from whether it be skiing, sledding, ice skating or eating.

Vail Village (Photo courtesy of Adventure_Photo/Getty Images)
Vail Village (Photo courtesy of Adventure_Photo/Getty Images)

Skiers and snowboarders won’t run out of places to explore with over 5,000 acres of terrain that range from fun beginner slopes and trails to seven back bowls. The three main base areas, however, are Lions Head, Gold Peak and The Village.

Beaver Creek
Beaver Creek is only a 20-minute drive from Vail. (Photo by Liz Hund/The Points Guy)

The town itself has a very Bavarian feel to it with its wood-framed architecture and brick-paved streets. Overall, it’s got a very similar feel to Breckenridge, but you’ll find that things tend to be a bit more costly at Vail. If you’re looking for an affordable meal in Vail, head to Moose Pizza which even has a $5 lunch special but really fills up at peak meal times. Otherwise, don’t miss a dinner at Almresi, which will make you feel as if you have been transported to the Swiss Alps, even if only for a couple of hours.

(Photo courtesy of Almresi)
(Photo courtesy of Almresi)

Related: How to plan a more affordable trip to Vail

Another fun spot to consider while in Vail Villiage is Red Lion, which at this point is a legitimate Vail institution dating back to 1963. Here you’ll find a guaranteed apres ski party, music, beer and fun … along with food such as chili, burgers and more. Another Vail institution is Sweet Basil, which has been around since the late 1970’s and is another one of the Colorado-style fancy joints with lamb, halibut and filet type entrees.

When choosing a place to lay your head, you’ve got options in Vail. In the heart of the action, you have the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort in Lionshead near the Eagle Bahn Gondola. This hotel goes for 50,000 – 70,000 Marriott points per night.

Vail Marriott (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Vail Marriott (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

A recently renovated lodging option is the Grand Hyatt Vail (formerly known as the Hotel Talisa Vail). This property is not quite in the thick of it as much as the Marriott, but it is a nice ski-in and out hotel, as long as your group has some ski experience. It will set you back 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

Related: How to maximize the World of Hyatt

How to get there

Vail is just past Breckenridge, putting it under two hours away from Denver. You will probably find the most affordable and direct flights into Denver, but you can also fly directly into Vail/Eagle Airport (EGE) on American, Delta, United, and Air Canada from select U.S. airports including Los Angeles, New York and Miami. Eagle is still vulnerable to winter weather but often fares better than Aspen.

Additional reporting by Summer Hull and Scott Mayerowitz

Featured photo by Blaine Harrington III/Getty Images.

 

 

 

 

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