The Ultimate Colorado Ski Road Trip

To say that Colorado is loaded with ski resorts would be a 14er-sized understatement—aka, massive! Within the Colorado Rockies are a whopping 25+ resorts! From the gems of Summit County to the steep-and-deep stalwarts along the Southern Colorado Powder Highway, here’s how to string along a handful of the best on a month-long road trip.

Starting in Denver—and then ending back in Denver some 1,000+ miles later—this ultimate powder-hound road trip(Opens in a new window) will take you on a circuitous, circumnavigatory loop throughout the Centennial State that strings together no less than 17 resorts.

Summit County

Only a couple hours up I-70 (depending on the traffic, of course!), Summit County offers a veritable smorgasbord of downright legendary snow skiing. With four world-class resorts to choose from—not to mention a few more more-than-worthy options just outside of county lines in Winter Park, Eldora, and Loveland—Summit County is a place where you can have your ski (and apres-ski) and eat it too.

Arapahoe Basin

They don’t call A-Basin(Opens in a new window) “The Legend” for nothing. This high-alpine resort is famous for having one of the longest seasons in Colorado as well as some of the highest ski resort elevations in the state with a base elevation at 10,520 feet. A-Basin also offers 1,428 acres of skiable terrain, accessed by 9 lifts and 147 trails. The Spine on the Pali lift is a favorite local run with steep, long lines and constantly replenished soft snow. The West Zuma Bowl is also a burly treat for experienced skiers.

Keystone Resort

If you’re looking for a more family-friendly Summit County ski resort, Keystone(Opens in a new window) is the spot. Located just 8 minutes from A-Basin, Keystone offers three mountains—Dercum Mountain, North Peak, the Outback—five bowls, and a distinctly European mountain town feel in the village of River Run. Keystone wins on ease and accessibility; it’s easy to get to from Denver, easy to get up the mountain, and easy to get down. And did we mention that Keystone was recently named one of the Top 10 Most kid-Friendly US Ski Resorts by Forbes?

Breckenridge

Located smack on the back doorstep of the town of Breckendridge, Breckenridge Ski Resort(Opens in a new window) is the fourth largest ski resort in Colorado and a truly world-class place to ski. Spread across five mountains—the five peaks that make up the southern half of the Tenmile Range—the terrain at Breck (all 3,000 acres of it) is as good as it gets. Highlights include: a highpoint of nearly 13,000 feet, the expansive Horseshoe Bowl nestled between peaks and ridges which is loaded with jump-turn opportunities, dozens of intermediate and black diamond runs, and one of the coziest (and rowdiest) ski towns in America.

Copper Mountain

As the crow flies, Copper Mountain is as close as it gets—you could practically have a yard sale wipeout on Breck’s Peak 6, and your skis and poles would end up at Copper! For drivers, it’s a slightly longer 30-minute drive through Frisco. Once you’re there, Copper Mountain(Opens in a new window) delivers the ski goods. In spades. For 50 years, this place has offered a deliriously robust mix of terrain: steeps, deeps, glades, bowls, bumps, and most importantly—huge vert. With 25 lifts and 2,465 acres of skiable terrain, arguably the best part about Copper is the rugged ethos. If you’re looking for an off-the-rails resort with off-the-beaten-path charm, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better resort.

Steamboat Springs

(Opens in a new window) Whiteout at Steamboat Ski Resort. Photo by John Matychuk(Opens in a new window)
It might feel like an unnecessary detour to drive two hours north, then two hours back, just for one ski resort. But this is Ski Town, USA we’re talkin’ about! In short, Steamboat Springs is worth the journey.

Steamboat Ski Resort

Home to 2,965 skiable acres, 170 named trails, and one of the premier half-pipes in North America, Steamboat Resort(Opens in a new window) is an impressive destination from a numbers standpoint. But that’s only half the story. The overall vibe is truly one of a kind, replete with: ultra-dry “Champagne” powder, cowboy spirit, nearby hot springs to soak bone-weary muscles, and some of the finest forested glades in the Mountain West. If you like tree-skiing, you’ll obsess over Steamboat.

Bonus: Howelsen Hill

Craving some night skiing with a side of Olympic flare? Howelsen Hill Ski Area(Opens in a new window), right on the edge of downtown Steamboat Springs, has sent more skiers to international competition than any other area in North America. It also boasts the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in the country. What’s more, Howelsen is the oldest continuously operating ski area in the continent. “Iconic” doesn’t even begin to describe this old-school vet.

Vail

(Opens in a new window) Bombing down at Vail Ski Resort. Photo by Glade Optics(Opens in a new window)
After your spur trip to Steamboat, it’s time to head south to the land of the spruce and pines: to Vail. Two resorts reside in the Vail area, both of which are must-hits along your Colorado ski road trip.

Beaver Creek Ski Resort

First up, right off I-70, Beaver Creek(Opens in a new window) is where luxury and adrenaline collide. Come for the luxe amenities, exquisite restaurants, spas, and daily hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Stay for the seriously good skiing. There’s a reason some of the world’s fastest pros make Beaver Creek their only U.S. stop every season on the World Cup Alpine Ski tour. The dizzying pitch of black and double black runs off of the Birds of Prey chairlift launch downhill racers to speeds of 80 mph and are fair game for whoever is brave enough to venture down. But fear not, beginners and intermediate skiers! Beaver Creek also boasts an expansive web of perfectly groomed cruising runs (60 percent of the mountain, in fact!).

Vail Ski Resort

Vail Ski Resort(Opens in a new window) is consistently ranked as one of the best ski resorts in the world. With more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain and 195 trails, Vail is not only the largest ski resort in Colorado by skiable acres, it’s also home to some downright Heruclean ski runs. The famous Back Bowls are loaded with big, beefy downhills. Poppyfields, in China Bowl, offers an endless blanket of white. Riva Ridge is Lindsey Vonn’s all-time favorite ski run. And this is just barely scratching the powdery surface. When you’re done hitting the slopes for the day, be sure to check out Vail Village—a picturesque European-style destination with plenty of shopping and world-class apres-dining options.

Aspen

(Opens in a new window) Four mountains for the price of one stop, Aspen is a must. Photo by Joshua Sukoff(Opens in a new window)
In world-famous Aspen, you get four world-class ski resorts for the price of one stop. Each one is of acclaimed status, and a veritable notch in any skier’s ski boot.

Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort

Larger than the three other Aspen mountains combined, Snowmass(Opens in a new window) has it all: wide-open groomers, powder-filled glades and gullies, steep backcountry-like runs, the works. Add in the fact that 95% of the mountain is ski-in ski-out, and it’s easy to see why this 3,339 sacre resort is a must for any Colorado ski road trip. For intermediate skiers, nearly half of Snowmass’ terrain is marked as a blue square.

Aspen Mountain Ski Resort

Want to ski closer to Aspen proper? It doesn’t get much more convenient than Aspen Mountain(Opens in a new window). “Town mountain” or “Ajax”, as it’s affectionately called, sprouts directly above Main Street (well every street, really) like a 3,267 ft tall beanstalk, and offers a glorious mix of rip-roaring ways back down. A local’s mountain, a small yet mighty mountain, a glade-filled mountain, whichever lens you want to view Aspen Mountain through, this much is clear: it offers a kaleidoscope of fun.

Aspen Highlands Ski Resort

Come for Highland Bowl… stay for Highland Bowl. This legendary peak tops out at 12,392 feet and offers 18 named lines all pitched at 35-48 degrees, making them some of the steepest descents in Colorado. To get there? You won’t be taking some luxe gondola. Oh no — you’ll be trudging up one foot or skin at a time. All 782 vertical feet from the top of the Loge Peak lift. It’s not easy. But it’s easily some of the most memorable skiing(Opens in a new window) in the world.

Buttermilk Ski Resort

For a 180 degree change of pace, Buttermilk is considered the easiest skiing mountain in the Aspen area. It’s a playground of greens and blues. It’s perfect for kids and beginners. In an ironic twist of fate, it’s also perfect for some of the world’s best X Games athletes. That’s right, Buttermilk might be the best beginner skiing in Colorado. But it’s also home to an iconic terrain park, replete with a 22-foot superpipe and the site of the ESPN Winter X Games. So, whether you’re a Jekyll or a Hyde type of skier, Buttermilk can deliver the goods.

Southern Colorado Powder Highway

(Opens in a new window) A cold one at Purgatory Resort. Photo by Andy Brazil(Opens in a new window)
Along this off-the-beaten-path stretch of Southern Colorado, no less than five rugged ski resorts beckon. In truth, you could limit your Colorado ski road trip to this section alone and have enough powder-filled memories to last a lifetime. But where’s the fun in that?

Telluride Ski Resort

At 2,000 acres, Telluride(Opens in a new window) is the biggest resort on the Southern Colorado Powder Highway (yet still less than half the size of Vail). Revelation Bowl is a powdery open expanse with views into the Bear Creek drainage. The Gold Hill Chutes offer some steep terrain with 1,900 vertical feet of descent. And Black Iron Bowl has open glades and steep chutes. But the crown jewel of Telluride skiing is Palmyra Peak. This looming 13,320-foot summit has some of the most remarkable inbounds terrain in Colorado. But be prepared: it’s a nearly two-hour hike to the entrance of the steep couloir off the summit.

Purgatory Ski Resort

After switching its name to Durango Mountain Resort for 15 years, Purgatory(Opens in a new window) reclaimed its original moniker a few years ago. These days, Purgatory maintains its no frills, old-school vibe paired with stair-steep terrain to keep you on your toes. It’s a refreshing throwback to ski days of yore and holds special esteem for still being a great place to ski without breaking the bank.

Wolf Creek Ski Area

One word: snow. LOTS of it. Wolf Creek(Opens in a new window) boasts more of the white stuff than any other resort in Colorado, with 430 inches of light fluff each season. In addition to powder, Wolf Creek also has a distinctly welcoming hometown feel. The vibe is chill, yet the terrain is anything but sedate with wide open groomers, steep trees, and great hike-to terrain that yields sweet rewards without too much sweat.

Monarch Mountain

Is Monarch Mountain Colorado’s best-kept secret? It very well might be. This small, homey mountain is similar to Wolf Creek in that it’s a veritable snow globe. Monarch’s position on the Continental Divide creates “orographic lifting”, where moisture gets pushed up and squeezed out over the ski area. In other words, it can be dumping at Monarch and not snowing anywhere else. Can’t ask for much more than that!

Crested Butte

It’s fitting that the final stop on your grand Colorado ski tour takes you to "Colorado's last great ski town." And Crested Butte(Opens in a new window) definitely lives up to the name. Extreme terrain is what it’s all about here. Some of the double-black runs vie for the steepest terrain in Colorado. So, it’s no wonder competitions like the US Extreme Skiing Championships and the X Games take place in Crested Butte. And the town itself is no slouch in the apres-ski department either.

After Crested Butte, it’s time to head home. Your Colorado ski road trip wasn’t a short sojourn by any stretch. It wasn’t a cake walk either. But boy was it worth it.

Written by Ry Glover for Matcha in partnership with Osprey Packs.

Featured image provided by John Salzarulo(Opens in a new window)