The Best Colorado Ski Towns

Newsroom Best Of Topics The Best Colorado Ski Towns

There’s more to a Colorado ski and snowboard vacation than skiing and snowboarding. Once the lifts stop rolling, it’s time to eat, drink and play the night away. Maybe even get some sleep. Colorado, more than any other state, has a plethora of cool ski towns at or relatively close to the ski lifts. So we’re coming to you with our list of the top Colorado ski towns.


The question of the best ski towns in Colorado depends on a lot of factors, and skiers, locals and travelers all have their own opinions. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, and what the term “best” means to you. Nonetheless, there are some Colorado ski towns that seem to rise above the rest. Keep reading for our list of the best ski towns in Colorado.

Aspen-Snowmass at night.
Aspen-Snowmass @Shutterstock


Aspen is famed as a playground for the rich and famous. The headliner, Aspen-Snowmass, is not only one of the best ski resorts in Colorado, but one of the best ski resorts in the world. However, you don’t need to be a millionaire to ski or ride Aspen Mountain. Take advantage of special packages, ski midweek or better yet, get an IKON Pass. Aspen became a ski resort in the 1940s, and has since made a name for itself as one of the top ski destinations in the world. You’ll seldom go wrong, if ever, at any of Aspen’s restaurants, and the après-ski and nightlife is just as iconic as you’d expect. If you’re looking for a more sedate family week in the Aspen area, plan to stay down the road in Snowmass, a ski village of its own.

Vail Village

Vail brings an entirely different vibe to the Colorado landscape. It’s equally high end, but with a special sophistication and European style to it. Vail Village has an Austrian Alps vibe and European architecture that you won’t just find anywhere. Once the sun goes down and the village lights come on, Vail Village makes for one of the most romantic strolls in the world of ski towns. Great restaurants and après-ski experiences abound. Garfinkel’s, in Lionshead Village, we recently called one of the best après-ski bars in America.


We can’t talk best Colorado ski destinations, and especially Vail, without discussing Beaver Creek, located west of Vail just 12 miles. Beaver Creek is another one of Colorado’s iconic, luxurious ski resorts, located just off I-70, and featuring 1,832 acres of skiing plus 3,340 vertical feet of descent. Beaver Creek Village is a ski town in and of itself, home to more than 40 in-resort and slopeside restaurants, bars and shops.


Breckenridge, home to Breckenridge Ski Resort, is the “Queen of the Colorado mining towns,” and retains much of its Victorian character in terms of weathered saloons and colorful old homes. Breck is a quintessential Colorado après town, loaded with restaurants, craft breweries and nightlife options. Treat yourself after a day on the slopes at Breckenridge Distillery, dubbed the “World’s Highest Distillery.” It’s a great spot for both après and dinner. For all of Aspen’s style and Vail’s sophistication, Breck is all-out fun.

Breckenridge ski town village.
©Sara Lococo/Breckenridge/Vail Resorts


Leadville, the nation’s highest city at 10,142 feet, is where to stay when you want the history vibe. A mining town with loads of history, Leadville epitomizes the Wild West. This is the place to stay when skiing at Cooper, which is a relaxed throwback of a ski area. It’s an amazing ride up Tennessee Pass from Minturn to Leadville and Cooper is on the way. You’ll drive right by Camp Hale where the famous 10th Mountain Division trained. A fun place to stay is at the Victorian-like Delaware Hotel in the heart of Leadville’s historic district.


Crested Butte

Crested Butte, dubbed “Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town,” is a wonderful place for strolling, shopping, eating and of course imbibing in après-ski. Located just three miles from Crested Butte Ski Resort, Crested Butte is a pedestrian-friendly town that is as welcoming as it gets. Among the dining favorites is The Slogar for southern hospitality and unforgettable skillet-fried chicken dinners. Crested Butte has a number of bed and breakfasts and lodges throughout town and the surrounding area. A free shuttle runs to the resort until midnight.

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, the downtown base for Steamboat Resort, is an authentic cowboy town claiming the nickname “Ski Town USA.” If beer is your thing, this place is heaven with three breweries and a beer tub (yes, really). If your taste turns to harder pours, a tap room at Lincoln Street Whiskey Co. will please your palate. The Old Town Pub hosts regular Colorado band jams and there are plenty of shops, too. All this and the Yampa River flowing through the heart of it all. Also in Steamboat, Howelsen Hill Ski Area is Colorado’s oldest continuously operated ski area, since 1915, and has the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America. For a truly unique Steamboat experience, don’t miss a soak at Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs view in winter with bathers, Steamboat Springs, CO.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs filled with winter bathers, Steamboat Springs, Colorado ©Shutterstock

Pagosa Springs

Self-described as Colorado’s Best-Kept Secret, Pagosa Springs is a unique Colorado town that’s swimming in adventures. After a day skiing Wolf Creek on a deep powder day, your legs will be yearning for a dip in hot springs. Enter Pagosa Springs, located 24 miles from Wolf Creek, where skiers can soak in a variety of hot springs, including the Mother Spring, the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring. The Springs Resort and Spa in downtown Pagosa Springs includes 25 pools along the San Juan River, ranging in temperature from pleasant cool dips to hot. The town of Pagosa Springs itself is dotted with craft breweries, several great restaurants and quaint shops.

Glenwood Springs

The hot springs theme continues in Colorado with Glenwood Springs, where visitors have been coming here for more than 130 years. It’s home to the world’s largest hot springs pool, which comes in nicely after a day on the slopes. The oldest tourist attraction in Colorado, Glenwood Springs is centrally located between Aspen and Vail, and home to Sunlight Mountain Resort. Lift tickets at Sunlight Mountain Resort are significantly lower than many of Colorado’s bigger resorts, plus there’s free parking and no lift lines. However, if you want to ski a day at one of the big resorts, Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen are all about an hour away.


A former Victorian mining town, Telluride is tucked in a box canyon surrounded by towering peaks. The gondola rises directly out of the historic district and features inspiring views and access to Telluride’s epic slopes. Telluride Mountain Resort is home to 2,000 skiable acres and 4,425 feet of vertical drop, and because of its location, you won’t have the crowds as ski resorts closer to Denver. Telluride’s Old West town is fun to explore, and features down-to-earth restaurants serving up world-class fare. A separate mountain village offers even more options.

Telluride in a snowstorm.
©Ryan Bonneau/Visit Telluride

Winter Park

Winter Park is home to Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort, Winter Park Resort. It doesn’t have quite the name recognition as Colorado’s major ski resorts, like Aspen or Vail, but that’s exactly what makes Winter Park such a great, affordable destination. Additionally, Winter Park is just 65 miles from Denver, making it much more convenient than many ski resorts in Colorado. While Winter Park is considered Colorado’s original ski destination, the town itself is one of Colorado’s newest towns, just incorporated in 1978. Here, there’s more of a local’s vibe. Nonetheless, a number of boutique accommodations can be found throughout town. If you’re a beginner, or traveling with family, check out Granby Ranch, just 20 miles north.

Frequently asked questions about Colorado’s ski towns

Is Breckenridge better than Aspen?

The two Colorado ski towns, located about 100 miles apart, have one key element in common: They are both former mining towns turned ski towns. Both towns boomed from silver-lead conglomerate (Breckenridge) and silver ore (Aspen). Breckenridge today has a Victorian feel as the second round of mining booms in the 1800s brought a much more sophisticated group of people to town at that time. Breckenridge still feels like a throwback in many ways, with a more old west vibe and eating, drinking and lodging options that are more reasonable than Aspen. Aspen, on the other hand, while it hasn’t totally forsaken its Western past, has a more sophisticated style where you can expect far more upscale lodging, shopping, restaurants and bars.

Breckenridge is a smaller and easier town to navigate and more family-friendly in general. However, Aspen offers more variety with its four ski resorts. Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Aspen Snowmass, and Buttermilk each offer distinctly different ski experiences. Breckenridge is a closer drive from Denver at approximately two hours, depending on traffic and conditions, whereas Aspen has a regional in-town airport, but is a three and a half hour drive from Denver.

Where do the rich people ski in Colorado?

The short and snarky answer is that rich people can ski wherever they want to ski. Still, for those who don’t care as much about lift ticket prices and hotel rates, they predominantly ski at Aspen Snowmass, Vail, Beaver Creek, and Telluride. The skiers and riders here don’t mind paying for the luxury they find in lodging and dining, while the skiing and riding is some of the best in the world. Aspen is now the most expensive ski town in America in terms of real estate, and only one of four ski destinations in the world where some homes consistently sell in the neighborhood of $25 million.

Beaver Creek ice skating at night.
©Jack Affleck/Beaver Creek Resort

Beaver Creek’s luxurious amenities sets it apart from other Colorado resorts with amenities like escalators between the village and the chairlift. You’ll also find many upscale dining options in the small resort village. The Beav, as some call it, is considered the quieter side of the Vail Valley.

Vail lives up to its legendary reputation as one of the very best ski resorts in the world. Vail Mountain is massive – the largest ski resort in Colorado – with more than 5,000 skiable acres of terrain, catering to all skill levels and adds an extra dose of pleasure in its legendary back bowls. The feel of Vail Village from the very beginning has been Bavarian-styled, and that’s found in some of the restaurants, where Austrian and German fare is commonly available. If you want to stick to the European theme, spend your vacation at the Sonnenalp, a German-style hotel that combines elements of the Old West with a traditional European ski town.

Telluride is where the Wild West meets modern luxury. Telluride is not only a popular holiday hot spot for celebrities worldwide, but it’s also home for many celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Murray, Jessica Biel and others. Yet Telluride still maintains much of its old west charm.

What is the most popular ski town in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains?

Colorado’s Sawatch Range is home to a number of great ski towns. Central Colorado’s Sawatch Range includes Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the second and third tallest peaks in the United States, and boasts 15 peaks over 14,000 feet. Towns along the range include Vail, Aspen, Gunnison, Minturn, Leadville and Buena Vista. Southern Sawatch contains the largest section of the Continental Divide and is home to 4 of the range’s “14ers” – Mount Princeton, Mount Antero, Mount Shavano and Tabegauche Peak. It is where Monarch Pass traverses the range at the Monarch Ski Resort. The Sawatch Range extends 80 miles near Vail, south to the town of Saguache (the alternate spelling of Sawatch) in the San Luis Valley. The range is broken down into the northern, central, and southern regions.

Which is better? Vail or Aspen?

Colorado’s skiing is renowned all across the globe, and Vail and Aspen Snowmass are two of its most well-known resorts. Both are known for hosting globally televised World Cup races, while Vail is a two-time host of the World Alpine Skiing Championships. Aspen is a town with a rich history dating back to the Silver Rush in the 1870s, while its status as a ski resort dates back to the “ski resort” rush of the 1940s. Vail was built in the 1960s when the returning 10th Mountain Division veterans wanted it to resemble a European ski town in the Alps.

Both Aspen and Vail have villages with fine dining restaurants, boutique shopping, and lively après-ski and nightlife that attract similar types of affluent international travelers. Vail, however, adds many Denver-area skiers on weekends because of its easy access off I-70. Many upscale hotels and condos are available in Vail, including a Ritz-Carlton and many other luxurious accommodations. Aspen has a number of historic landmark hotels that come with their own particular flairs, such as the Jerome and The Little Nell. The celebrity-chef restaurants in Aspen are somewhat better known, with Aspen attracting skiers who are also foodies.

Which ski town is the best?

It’s a toss-up and personal preference, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Vail and Aspen are at the top of many lists of the best Colorado ski towns. However, many skiers would choose the resorts just off I-70 before hitting Vail Pass, where the choices include Breckenridge, Copper Mt., Keystone,  Arapahoe Basin and Loveland. Others might pick the casual, more remote Wild West atmosphere of Crested Butte, the far-flung Telluride or the cowboy flair of Steamboat. Colorado has too many bests to choose one for all. Truthfully, you can’t go wrong in any of Colorado’s great ski towns.

And what about the best ski resorts in Colorado? Well that, like the best ski towns in Colorado, is subjective. Check out OnTheSnow’s top-rated Colorado ski resorts.

Header Photo: ©Vail Resorts

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