Where to Play, Sip and Stay in 5 Colorado Ski Towns
Ski areas are a treasure trove of activities both on and off the slopes.
Ski areas are a treasure trove of activities both on and off the slopes.
Colorado’s high country is where the sun shines bright and you’re free to laugh and play the day away. However, as all winter die-hards know, it’s après ski and memorable nights with friends and family in the lodge that make for a special vacation. Check out these suggested combinations for your next Colorado adventure.
Steamboat Springs radiates with Western hospitality and charm. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more friendly and powder-obsessed town, ideal for living life at a slower pace.
Play: Grizzle-T Dog & Sled Works offers a hands-on dog sledding experience like none other, where bellowing “mush!” has a direct impact. Rather than taking a back seat to Iditarod specialists, you’ll be trained to drive your own sled for a two-hour backcountry expedition. Afterward, spend quality time with your Alaskan Husky teammates and snack on cookies and brownies. Read more about dog sledding in Colorado.
Sip: Join locals at Storm Peak Brewing's two in-town locations for the bounty that flows from their 20-barrel brew house. Perennial favorites are always on tap, but keep an eye out for seasonal specialties and tasty experiments.
Stay: Two things that make any ski day better are a delicious breakfast and a hot tub to ease sore muscles. At Chalet Val d’Isere, you’ll find both along with all the elegance you’d expect a mountainside inn to offer. Watch the Steamboat gondola as you dine on scrumptious homemade breakfasts. Recharge between meals with in-room baskets of chocolates, cookies and fruits. Or, sip a mug of tea by the crackling fireplace as you ponder whether life gets better than this.
Breckenridge’s identity has transformed since the boomtown mining days of the 1800s. What’s remained are historic mementos refurbished into hotels, warming huts and eateries for spirited winter enthusiasts.
Play: At the base of Breckenridge Resort, the Breckenridge Nordic Center offers snowshoe trails that lead to three historic cabins functioning as modest warming huts. Pack a lunch and hop on the Beaver Meadows Trail to Josie’s Cabin, a historic miner’s cabin named after an 1800s woman who lived in the structure with her husband and four children. Enjoy your meal in the cabin and take in the sweeping views of Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve.
Sip: Snag a spot at the Gold Pan Saloon on Main Street, which — according to legend — got its start as Long's Saloon in 1861. Just a tent structure in its early days, the permanent Gold Pan building was built in 1879 and has been slinging stiff drinks ever since. Choose from a variety of bloody marys ranging from mild to super spicy, or stop by to recap your day on the slopes over daily specials and happy hour throughout the week.
Stay: Two blocks off Main Street and just a hop, skip and jump from the gondola is the cherished Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast. This humble inn located in Breckenridge’s historic district offers traditional bed-and-breakfast-style rooms or dormitory accommodations, meaning it’s one of the most affordable places to stay in town.
Vail knows how to go big or go home. As one of the most well-known resorts in the country, high-end living is embraced here with vigor.
Play: Experience the sense of wonderment that Sun Down Bowl beholds. As you trek your way into the bowl, towering inclines engulf and astound. Skiers, who from afar look like mere ants, funnel down steep pitches to a dipsy-doodle cat track that ends at the lift. The east-facing side of the bowl (while more difficult) is the ultimate grade of steepness, and there’s more than enough elbow room to play, fall and test your limits.
Sip: Back-to-basics deliciousness is the theme at Mountain Standard, where dishes like Colorado lamb sirloin and Rocky Mountain trout are prepared over an open-wood fire to enhance natural flavors. For après ski, sip on The Charter: Rittenhouse rye, Dolin dry vermouth, grilled pineapple, cinnamon and vanilla.
Stay: Setting the bar high, the luxurious European-inspired Four Seasons features a ski concierge that stuffs guests with fresh muffins and coffee while their skis are tuned and boots are warmed. Fireplaces in every room set a relaxing mood for resting those mogul-worn legs in the afternoon. Guests are also privy to a large and steamy outdoor pool, sauna and five-star spa.
Durangoans are the ultimate outdoor opportunists. As a result, the town’s laid-back vibe makes visiting here a relaxing and gratifying experience that will make you wish you lived here year-round.
Play: Locals will use any excuse to play hooky on a bluebird day and you’ll see why once you make your own tracks at Purgatory, just 25 miles north of Durango. Known for an ideal balance between beginner, intermediate and expert runs, the southwestern San Juan Mountains framing the terrain are breathtakingly jagged and crisp. The best views are from Dante’s Backside Bistro under the Grizzly Left. Enjoy lunch and try to identify a few of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners in the not-so-far distance.
Sip: A Colorado vacation isn’t quite complete without taste testing a new brew. Ska Brewing is known for their quirky, comic-inspired branding and ability to produce new takes on staple beers, like the light and refreshing Mexican Logger. After touring the brewery, go next door to The Container for more beers and food truck-style fare. Thursdays feature live music and $3 pints.
Stay: True to Durango’s culture, the Rochester Hotel is homegrown, humble and historically quirky. Originally built in 1892, each room’s décor pays homage to a Western filmed in the Durango area, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “City Slickers” and “How the West Was Won.”
Frisco & Beyond
The town of Frisco is perfectly situated between some of Colorado’s most popular ski resorts: Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and locals’ favorite Arapahoe Basin.
Play: A good option for those indecisive families out there is Frisco Adventure Park. Kids can spend the day on the tubing hill, or skiing and riding the bunny hill. Others may be inclined to explore the Nordic center’s wide-open cross-country and snowshoeing trails. Frisco’s historic downtown is only a short drive or shuttle stop away from the adventure park, ideal for those wanting to take it easy and stroll along Main Street.
Sip: Good ol’ Southern fare is hard to come by in the Rockies, but The Lost Cajun on Main Street is surprisingly the most happening restaurant in town. Swap stories from the tubing hill over freshly fried and powdered beignets paired with a warm café au lait. If you don’t have the acquired taste for chicory coffee, try Louisiana’s Abita beers instead.
Stay: In Frisco, condominiums are the way to go. Rental companies will help you with reservations (there are plenty to choose from), but Mt. Victoria Lodge’s condos have all the amenities of home and are just one block off Main Street. Nearby Safeway and Whole Foods grocery stores help keep the kitchen cabinets stocked for family meals.
Discover more Fun Colorado Après Ski Spots, brush up on the state's Best Ski Resorts for Families, Find the Colorado Ski Trip for You and Check Out the Sleep Somewhere Cool Blog.