Aspen Snowmass — Photo courtesy of Chase Jarvis for Aspen Snowmass
Snowmass is what Johnny Mathis was thinking about when he wrote "Winter Wonderland." Part of the Aspen Skiing Company group, Snowmass covers 3,128 acres with the most vertical feet of skiing in the U.S. But while the site is famous for its black-diamond runs where World Cups have been won, Snowmass is also one of the most family-friendly resorts with loads of places to stay, activities like live music and campfire sessions in the evenings, and a hot après-ski scene.
Loveland Ski Resort
Thanks to a sophisticated snowmaking system, Loveland is one of the earliest to open and latest to close of the Colorado ski season. Despite its high peaks and steep runs, this resort, just 53 miles from Denver, is also beginner-friendly. Loveland Valley is a separate area tailor-made for non-pros with its own lift, teachers and nursery slopes. Advanced skiers and snowboarders, on the other hand, will appreciate the free snowcat skiing across the Continental Divide and 46-percent slopes.
Telluride — Photo courtesy of Telluride Inside
Telluride delivers on the two major factors that make for a superb resort experience: terrain and creature comforts. Here you get amenities along with solid runs and better prices than you find in the more touristy spots like Vail or Aspen. Two towns, the Wild West jewel box of Telluride proper, and the Disney-fied Mountain Village, offer restaurants, shops, hotels, condos and, in the case of Mountain Village, even heated sidewalks. The terrains range from a four-mile beginner slope (with incredible views), to a 2,000 vertical drop accessible via a modest 1.5-hour hike.
Not only is Wolf Creek the snowiest (it gets an average of 465 inches of powder a year) and blessed with some of the least-crowded slopes, it’s also affordable. Located halfway between the small towns South Fork and Pagosa Springs, Wolf Creek doesn’t have much by way of fancy lodges or big-resort amenities, but what it lacks in swank, it makes up for in slopes. Nearly all 1,600 acres of it are skiable. Consider staying at the cozy Fireside Cabins in Pagosa Springs–15 log cabins with Western touches–or The Springs Resort, where you can unwind in steamy mineral waters.
Copper Mountain — Photo courtesy of Copper Mountain
Aspiring ski bunnies start here. Copper Mountain offers more than 10 classes, ranging from kids to beginner adults to those hoping to take the sport to the big leagues. There’s also a free beginner’s tips tent and a slightly sloped area blocked off for more advanced skiers. For those who still can’t handle the slopes, there’s a tubing hill (four lanes with curves and jumps) and an ice skating rink. Frequent skiers can benefit from Copper’s Powder-to-Pillow deal, in which you can prepay for four to eight hotel stays throughout the season for a limited rate. Perfect for those days when your legs are jello and you can’t fathom the thought of driving home.
Home to the tallest skiable mountain in the state, with a peak of 13,847 feet, Silverton remains unexpectedly and blissfully low-key. Here the average annual snowfall (400 inches) almost outnumbers the daily visitors (capped at 475). There are no groomed runs or cut trails here–just unspoiled, old-school slopes with one lift, minimal frills and an experts-only policy. (Meaning, first-timers this is not your spot.) The resort also offers heli-hiking for those wanting to access the additional 22,000 acres of backcountry terrain.
Winter Park Resort
Winter Park is the oldest continually run resort in the state and features “Seven Territories,” ranging from “chill” to “challenging.” Winter Resort is the most laid-back with groomed trails and the Ski + Ride School. Parsenn Bowl climbs into intermediate territory and is home to the country’s highest six-passenger chairlift, which offers incredible 360-degree views. And the Cirque sits near the top of the 3,060-feet mountain with double-black diamond terrain and a stomach-flipping 2,060 vertical drop. In 2013, Winter Park debuted its Cirque Sled, which saves daring skiers the hike up to Cirque for $20.
One Ski Hill Place — Photo courtesy of One Ski Hill Place
After Vail, Breck as locals call it, is the most-visited ski resort in the country, and it's easy to see why. The town's picturesque architecture and preserved mining-town roots offer the charm and Instagram-wow factor, while its five peaks deliver on terrains for all levels. It's the ideal spot for mixed-crowds with nearly 200 trails to keep sport aficionados busy and hundreds of boutiques, restaurants and drink spots like Breckenridge Distillery to appeal to the see-and-be-seen types. Last year, Breck added a new mountain section with double black and EX (extreme) chutes and a new luxe hotel, One Ski Hill Place, complete with a bowling alley and a gondola service to the quaint downtown.
Purgatory Mountain Resort
Don't be scared off by the name, Purgatory in Durango, Colorado, is one of the coolest ski spots in the state. Thrill-seekers love that most of its runs are outfitted for night skiing, while families love the abundance of kid-friendly amenities like a tubing hill, horse-drawn sleigh rides and a ski school. For lodging, look to the resort's privately-owned studios, condos and town homes, which are individually owned and no two are alike. Most have full kitchens and some even have hot tubs and concierge services. For food and drink revelry, choose between three restaurants on the mountain and six locales in the village.
Lake City Ski Hill
Another hidden spots in Southwest Colorado, Lake City is all about primitive skiing. No fancy lodges, no scene, no heated side walks. Just a warming hut at the base with hot cocoa and one lift that carries visitors to the top of four easy-to-navigate runs. As far as prices go, it doesn't get much more affordable than this old-fashioned ski destination, where a family of four can ski for around $44 a day. Opened in 1966, Lake City is one of the last remaining community ski hills in the state, and it carries on modestly in stark contrast to the mega resorts of late.