If the Rocky Mountains are Colorado’s defining geographic feature, skiing and snowboarding must be its signature activities. Colorado is, after all, the No. 1 destination for skiing in the country and home to America's best ski resorts and ski vacations, plus it has one of the longest ski seasons around.
The state continually gets some of the best snow in the country and has a rich tradition of supporting innovation and development in skiing and snowboarding. Home to 28 resorts, Colorado offers some of the most epic trails and thrilling rides you’ll be able to find.
1. The Colorado Ski Season is Longer
Most years, Colorado resorts open earlier and stay open later in the season than anywhere else in the country. Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area usually compete to become the first North American resorts open each year, sometimes cranking up the lifts as early as Oct. 15.
How do they do it? High altitude plays a huge part in the early season advantage. Base elevation for both resorts is at about 11,000 feet above sea level. Also, a passion for making the ski season last as long as possible helps motivate crews to prepare ski runs and get the snow machines cranked up. When the rest of North America’s resorts have closed for the season, Arapahoe Basin is still going strong, with great conditions through late May and rideable snow as late as early July in some cases.
2. We Have Some of the Largest Resorts in the Country
If you’re having visions of thousands of uninterrupted acres blanketed in snow, you’ll love Colorado’s mega resort ski areas. Vail is by far the largest ski area in the state, measuring an incredible 7 miles wide with 193 trails stretched over 5,289 acres and offering 31 different ski lifts. Keystone covers three mountains and checks in at 3,148 acres with 20 ski lifts and 230 inches of annual snowfall. Next up is Snowmass with 3,132 skiable acres, 21 chairlifts and more than 300 inches of annual snowfall.
Other large resorts in Colorado include Winter Park (3,078 acres, which you can reach during winter from Denver via Amtrak's Winter Park Express train that's scheduled to run again in 2021/2022), Steamboat (2,965 acres), Copper Mountain (2,465 acres) and Breckenridge Ski Resort (2,358 acres). Plan a day of skiing at one of Colorado’s large ski areas and you’ll be getting as close to a pristine backcountry skiing experience as is possible without actually hiking into the wilderness. In fact, some days at these resorts will find more acres than skiers, giving everyone plenty of room to roam.
3. Smaller Resorts: We Treasure the Hidden Hotspots
Sometimes big isn’t better, which is why Colorado locals still love the small resorts just as much as the large ones. These parks offer great snow and plenty of space to perfect your skills.
Roomy slopes, manageable parking lots and lift lines, and a great variety of runs — including beginner-level slopes that won’t intimidate the budding skier and rider in your family — are part of what make these ski areas special. You’re only paying for what really matters: access to great snow.
Ski jumpers and beginning riders will love the historic Howelson Hill Ski Area with its Olympic-caliber ski jumps and manageable 15 trails. Ski Granby Ranch is also on the small side, but it has five chairlifts and 406 acres of terrain, making it the perfect place for family ski adventures with little ones. Wolf Creek Ski Area, with only seven lifts, is known for consistently having some of the best snow in Colorado, topping snowfall records year after year with an average of 465 inches annually. (Check out Colorado Skiing & Snowboarding: Hidden Hotspot Ski Areas)
4. Colorado Resorts Are Higher Than Anywhere Else
This is one category where Colorado flat-out dominates the competition. We have the highest lift-served terrain in the country, and some of our resorts approach 14,000 feet in elevation. So, what do you get with all that elevation? You get incredible snow, knee-buckling views that stretch as far as the eye can see, more vertical feet and longer trails (upwards of four miles in some cases). And we haven’t even mentioned the incredible terrain that results from our high-altitude environment. These are some of the most challenging steeps, chutes and mogul runs you’ll ever encounter.
5. There’s Fun for the Whole Family
You don’t have to strap on the skis or buckle yourself into a snowboard to have fun at Colorado’s ski resorts. With places to sled, skate, shop and snowshoe, there should be plenty to keep the whole family busy while you’re attacking that fierce double-black diamond. Steamboat Springs offers horse-drawn sleigh rides through picturesque countryside. At Beaver Creek Resort, you can ice skate on a frozen pond in the heart of an elegant ski village with views of the slopes to savor as you rest and sip a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
Another way to enjoy Colorado’s ski towns is to head to one of the excellent slopeside villages to indulge in some shopping, dining or fireside lounging. Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Telluride and Beaver Creek all offer high-end retail therapy for those who aren’t inclined toward snow.