With more than two dozen ski resorts to its name and a reputation for lavish snowfall, Colorado could arguably be called the ski capital of America. But that leads one to wonder, what is the ski capital of Colorado?
From the world-class slopes of Vail Valley to the laid-back college town vibes of Durango, each of Colorado’s ski towns offers a memorable experience. To figure out what sets one town apart from the others, we turned to Vacasa’s regional experts to get their take on the best ski towns in Colorado.
Summit County: Colorado’s Playground
Summit County includes a handful of world-class ski resorts and several close-knit, yet distinct, towns with “unique characteristics,” according to Sara Worthen, Business Development (BD) Manager for the area. The region includes:
- Copper Mountain
Skiing in Summit County
Copper Mountain’s naturally-divided terrain makes it a great ski resort for beginners and families, since runs are grouped by difficulty, with the easiest runs on the western edge of the resort and the hardest on the eastern edge.
Keystone and Breckenridge both have plenty of difficult runs to appeal to experienced skiers, although Breckenridge has several green runs that take you right into the village. Breckenridge also boasts a highly walkable downtown and plenty of nightlife.
Summer Activities in Summit County
It’s a great place to try stand-up paddleboarding—according to Sara, some intrepid SUPers even do yoga on the lake!
Lake Dillon lies at the center of these mountain towns, making it a popular summertime destination for visitors throughout the county. It’s a great place to try stand-up paddleboarding—according to Sara, some intrepid SUPers even do yoga on the lake!
“A-Basin Ski Resort is a local favorite and is open until July,” Sara says. “The base is called ‘the beach’ so be sure to pack a cooler and dress for summer skiing.”
Music-lovers should be sure to check out the Dillon Amphitheater, which overlooks Lake Dillon and hosts concerts in the summer, many of which are free.
Summit County’s Best-Kept Secret
Sara says the best time to visit Summit County is in September, a.k.a. “shoulder season.”
“The leaves are changing, which is a beautiful sight, and the weather is warm during the day and cool at night—and it is so quiet,” Sara says. “Most of the restaurants serve two-for-ones and lodging rates are lower than peak season, so it is also a really affordable time to be here.”
Why Choose Summit County?
Summit County offers several world-class ski resorts within a relatively small area, Sara says, making it easy to ski several resorts in a weekend.
“We also have the free Summit Stage bus that everyone rides, making it easy to hop from one town to another without having a car,” Sara says.
Telluride: “Like Being in a Snowglobe”
According to BD Manager Mandy Leep, visiting Telluride is “like being in a snow globe.” Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, bisected by the San Miguel River, and full of beautiful old buildings that illustrate its rich history as a mining town, there’s no denying Telluride’s picture-perfect good looks. But locals and loyal vacationers alike know that there’s more to Telluride than a postcard-worthy exterior.
Skiing in Telluride
Mandy says Telluride offers something for skiers of all experience levels: “There are great ski schools and mellow terrain for the newbies. For the expert, Telluride has the best terrain by far! Think incredible ‘hike-to’ areas like Palmyra Peak, super steep pitches, challenging tree runs, stellar backcountry skiing (if you have your own avalanche gear)—and there’s amazing heli-skiing.”
There’s also no shortage of family-friendly activities, such as dinner sleigh rides, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, Nordic skiing, ice skating, and ski biking.
Summer Activities in Telluride
If you’re looking for a rush of adrenaline, Mandy suggests “the Via Ferrata, San Juan backcountry mountain biking hut trips from Telluride to Moab, or jeeping over the mountain passes going by ghost towns up in the high country.” For a more relaxing day trip, check out the Dunton Hot Springs.
Mandy also suggests hiking Mt. Wilson (a class 3 fourteener), stand-up paddleboarding or rafting on the San Miguel River, and checking out the local farmers market.
Telluride’s Best-Kept Secret
Mandy reveals that “there are no lift lines! Maybe one or two weeks a year, like Christmas, but on the regular there are never lift lines, which is a miracle these days.”
Telluride is also home to a herd of elk, which live just outside of town. The city owns the land and has no plans to develop it, so the elk won’t be evicted any time soon.
Why Choose Telluride?
“The people are warm and friendly, the restaurants are fantastic and will wow any foodie, and there’s loads of great shopping and spas,” says Mandy. There is also always entertainment in town like:
- Comedy shows
- The Fire Festival
- Live music
- Fashion shows
- The Sheridan Opera House
Steamboat Springs: Insular, Yet Welcoming
Steamboat Springs is farther away from Interstate 70 than some of Colorado’s other mountain towns, and has a large percentage of locals who live in the city year-round. Although this makes it feel more insular than bigger-name towns like Breckenridge and Vail, Steamboat Springs is very welcoming. Bobby Jones, the BD Manager for Steamboat Springs, says that the locals love to meet new people and tourists.
Skiing in Steamboat Springs
According to Bobby, Steamboat Springs is “a family-friendly ski resort that appeals to anyone from experts and side country enthusiasts to newbies.” The resort has more than 3,000 skiable acres and 165 runs, all covered in dry and fluffy “champagne powder” snow.
Summer Activities In Steamboat Springs
Tubing the Yampa River is considered a must-do summer activity, and there are plenty of stops along the way, including parks, restaurants, and bars. Steamboat Springs is also home to the Yampa River Botanic Park, the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, the All Arts Festival, and dozens more activities.
Steamboat Springs’ Best-Kept Secret
Come for the laid-back atmosphere, stay for the crawfish green chili grits, the Hungarian beef goulash, and the peanut butter panini.
“T-Bar is an old ski patrol shack turned dive bar that is only open in the winter,” Bobby says. It’s ski-in/ski-out, located just off of the green Right-O-Way run. T-Bar bills itself as a “5-star dive bar”—come for the laid-back atmosphere, stay for the crawfish green chili grits, the Hungarian beef goulash, and the peanut butter panini.
Why Choose Steamboat Springs?
“You should choose Steamboat over other ski towns for our tree skiing and minimal lift lines,” Bobby says. What more could you ask for?
Durango: The Ultimate Summer Tourist Town
“Durango is a high desert town on the southern edge of the San Juan Mountains—not a typical high altitude ski town,” says Ben Carlson, Durango BD. “Our location gives us warmer weather and access to Mesa Verde National Park and Southeastern Utah canyon country.”
Skiing in Durango
“We have a different ski area scenario than other areas,” Ben says. “We have Purgatory Resort 25 miles north of Durango, which is great for families, beginners, intermediates, and locals who want easy, close-to-town turns. Silverton Mountain Ski Area, 55 miles north of Durango, has one chair lift and accesses expert, backcountry-type terrain. It is the opposite of Purgatory. Wolf Creek Ski Area (85 miles east, outside Pagosa Springs) gets the most snow in Colorado and is famous for its laid-back vibe.”
Summer Activities in Durango
Durango has many of the same summer activities as other mountain towns, such as mountain biking, rafting, horseback riding, and fishing, but two things are unique to the area: the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Mesa Verde National Park. The railroad runs between Durango and Silverton and provides scenic views of the San Juan Mountains, while Mesa Verde National Park offers guided tours of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.
Durango’s Best-Kept Secret
Experienced skiers and snowboarders can’t do much better than guided snowcat skiing in the San Juan Mountains north of Silverton. Perfect for powderhounds and backcountry terrain enthusiasts alike, cat skiing is a challenging but unforgettable addition to any Durango vacation.
Why Choose Durango?
Durango is less expensive than other mountain towns on this list, and has, in Ben’s words, “better, warmer weather.”
Vail Valley: European Charm Meets Family Fun
Vail Valley boasts not one, but two, ski towns: Vail and Avon. Ten miles is all that separates Vail Ski Resort and Beaver Creek Resort, making it easy to hit both in a weekend, regardless of where in the valley you’re staying.
Skiing in Vail Valley
According to BD Manager Audrey Powell, Vail Ski Resort is “every skier’s dream,” with everything from beginner ski areas to back bowls to expert terrain. “Beaver Creek offers one of the best ski schools in the world and is a great family resort. This is bound to be your family’s favorite ski destination,” Audrey says.
Summer Activities in Vail Valley
Vail’s “newest summer experience” is Epic Discovery, an outdoor playground featuring adventure courses, a mountain coaster, ziplines, and more. Vail also features the Bravo Music Festival and the Vail International Dance Festival. Avon has a charming footpath that runs alongside the Eagle River.
Vail Valley’s Best-Kept Secret
Every day at 3 p.m., Beaver Creek’s “cookie chefs” serve up platters of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies at the base of Centennial Chair. It’s the perfect way to end a long day on the slopes.
Why Choose Vail Valley
“Vail is a sophisticated international destination, with back bowls, fine dining, public transportation, shopping, and something for everyone,” Audrey says. “Beaver Creek features art galleries, the Vilar Performing Arts Center, and a pick-up shuttle service from all home rentals.”
Whether you’re looking for a close-knit ski community or the best Colorado summer vacation spot, it’s clear that each of these mountain towns has something special to offer. Perhaps the best way to figure out which of these destinations is the best ski town in Colorado is to visit them all yourself!
Featured photo courtesy of Zach Dischner
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