After a long and tiring (but exciting) ski season in Colorado it is officially the end. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the snow is melting. Summer will be here soon enough. Luckily, we feel like we got a full season's worth of skiing in - and not just at our home resort of Crested Butte - where we have been holed up for the past couple of months - but at many of the best resorts Colorado has to offer.
While we didn’t get to explore every ski resort in Colorado (there are 30+ in the state) we were lucky enough to be able to see a lot of them. And as the season started to wind down we began to reexamine each resort and decide which ones were the best.
Now this list splits the resorts up into specific categories, with our absolute favorite one at the very end. So if you are curious about our views on the many different ski resorts in Colorado - keep reading.
Best for Beginners: Breckenridge
There is a joke we kept hearing over and over again when talking about this scenic resort. It went like this: “You know what they call Breck? ... flat.” Now while this might be a bit of an over exaggeration - there is plenty of steep terrain - in truth, Breck is actually pretty flat. Which is a great thing for people learning to ski or people trying to up their confidence.
We went there twice: once early in the season when I (Madalyne) was not very good at skiing. It was freezing that day (about 1 degree and windy) but it was also practically empty. So I got the confidence to do a couple of blue runs (medium difficulty) and it actually felt really good. The blues and the greens at Breck are great for learning on - they are flat, open and easy to maneuver.
The second time we went to Breck it was a lot warmer. We also were much better skiers. So we decided to go to the high lifts and try out some of the resorts black and double black terrain. And man was it fun. The snow was great, the scenery was beautiful and the runs were challenging but still really exciting and fun.
So if you are looking for a resort with a great mix of beginner friendly and more challenging stuff then Breckenridge is the place to go.
Runs we highly recommend include the bowl of Peak 6 (Bliss is fun), anything off 6 Chair (Lobo and Hombre are great) and Blackhawk, a double black off Falcon SuperChair that is a great way to challenge your mogul skiing abilities. For runs that are a little less challenging, Claimjumper (or Clamjumper, which we also saw it called) and Monte Cristo are great fun, and relatively easy.
Learn more about Breckenridge here.
Best for Powder: Monarch
Living in Crested Butte meant you skied solely at Crested Butte Mountain Resort - or at least we thought. Then we heard about this little independent ski resort up in the mountains (the other mountains) that sounded like a good time. Plus tickets were cheap ($59). So on one of our day offs we made the hour and a half drive to Monarch Mountain and honestly, that day kind of changed our skiing lives.
It was like a whole other type of skiing. After a couple of glorious runs, our legs were sore but our smiles were wide. We finally began to understand the whole idea of “chasing powder.”
Besides the great snow conditions, Monarch Mountain is also well located (right on the Continental Divide, about 30-40 minutes from the hopping town of Salida), independent - which is a big draw for us - and less busy than many other resorts.
While the resort is relatively small, it packs a whole lot of punch. From the wide open bowls, to the deep powder, to the amazing hike-to terrain in Mirkwood, Monarch Mountain is definitely a resort worth adding to your must-ski list (especially after a big winter storm).
Some runs we highly recommend include taking on Mirkwood, which includes a 20-30 minute hike, but the powder and tree runs are just magical, Outback, an open black in one of the bowls, and the trees that lie just below the Mirkwood climb (they don’t have a name, but you can get to them if you start on Ramble On and then head straight to the trees).
Learn more about Monarch Mountain here.
Best for Views: Telluride
If you want just drop dead gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains you are skiing in, then Telluride is the place to go.
Honestly, Telluride is a great resort all around: great ski conditions, challenging terrain, plenty of restaurants on and off the mountain, and best of all, they have a gondola (only half joking). Telluride has a lot of things going for it, not least of all its amazing panoramic views of the nearby San Juan Mountains (home to six 14,000 foot mountains). That view is only magnified once you head to the higher lifts, namely the Prospect Lift (and especially the Black Iron Bowl), Revelation Lift, Apex Lift and the Plunge Lift - all four of which top out at over 11,500 feet. From that height you feel like you are on top of a mountain - which you somewhat are - with only other high, alpine peaks as company. In truth, sometimes stepping off those lifts made us feel a bit uneasy on our skis.
If you are looking for a real mountain skiing adventure, we recommend heading to the Black Iron Bowl area. It does require a bit of hiking, length depending entirely on you, but the fact that you will likely have the mountainside to yourself is 100% worth it. Other recommendations include the Revelation Bowl (which rests at an insane 12,000+ feet!) and the very scenic See Forever run (a nice blue with stunning views).
Learn more about Telluride here.
Best for Extremes: Crested Butte
We are definitely a bit biased when it comes to our home resort. But ask anyone, if you want to test your metal head to Crested Butte (or CB as we locals call it ;).
CB is a tough mountain. Every run, no matter the rating (green, blue, etc. ) is just that bit more challenging on the Butte. This was something we had heard before but it wasn’t until we actually went to other resorts that we realized it was definitely true - what would be a blue at other resorts is our greens (looking at you Mineral Point).
But what makes Crested Butte so great for people who are pretty well versed in skiing are their Extremes (note: CB has no regular double black diamond runs, it goes straight from black diamond to extreme double black). This includes famous runs such as the Last Steep, the Teocalli Bowl, the Headwall, even the Peak (which looks very similar to Mt. Crumpet in The Grinch). And let's not forget Rambo, the steepest cut run in North America.
If you want to test your skiing skills and have a true mountain adventure then CB is the place to go. Just remember, we also have rocks - lots of rocks - so be prepared for a bit of crunch and slide as you make your way down the mountain.
Some of our favorite runs on CB are the aforementioned Last Steep and the Teocalli Bowl, as well as Black Eagle (a nice blue), North Pass (in the always empty Gold Link area) and the beautiful Paradise Bowl (if you want views, go there).
Learn more about Crested Butte here.
Best for those Extra Amenities: Beaver Creek
We didn’t really know what to expect from Beaver Creek. We knew it had a reputation as being one of the more expensive resorts in Colorado, so we went in expecting things to feel really different (more glamorous?) than other resorts we visited. In truth, it didn’t feel that much different than say, Crested Butte or Breckenridge. So why did we put it as the top choice for extra amenities? Well it comes down to the things that are important at a resort that aren’t skiing. This includes transportation, ease of access, food, scenery, atmosphere, etc.
Beaver Creek checks all of those boxes, and it checks them handedly. It is easy to get to the ski resort and major lifts - either by bus (there is plenty of parking), or by walking to the various lower lifts that will then take you to the mountain, it is easy to get to the resort in general (it is an easy 2 hour drive from Denver on I-70, without traffic at least), there are plenty of restaurants on and around the mountain, the scenery is just as good as many other resorts (besides maybe Telluride and CB), and it had - at least when we were there - a nice easy going atmosphere (we went on a Wednesday btw). In truth, the mountain has plenty of great runs that, though not extremely challenging, still are lots of fun.
And here is one more thing to think about (though this was something that might only pertain to us and other vanlifers). Beaver Creek had really nice weather when we were there, something we heard is often more common than at other resorts (also see Telluride and CB). We were able to car camp about 15 minutes away without any problems, and without freezing - and this was the middle of January!
While we wouldn’t say Beaver Creek was our favorite resort, it definitely kept us smiling and having a great time all day. There are plenty of runs for every type of skier, it has all those extra things you want out of a ski resort, and it is easy to get to and around (a huge, but underrated, plus).
Some of our favorite runs at Beaver Creek were Coyote Glade (a nice blue tree run), Larkspur, Tomahawk and Springtooth.
Learn more about Beaver Creek here.
Best Overall: Wolf Creek
It is kind of funny, but we weren’t planning to go to Wolf Creek at all this season. But after a last minute change of plans we found ourselves with an open weekend, and Wolf Creek found itself getting a couple of feet of fresh powder.
Wolf Creek Ski Area is another independent ski resort, and similar to Monarch Mountain, it is also located on a high mountain pass - in this case - Wolf Creek Pass. And for some reason, due to geographical location or just dumb luck, it often sees the most amount of snow of any ski resort in the state. We had only heard about it in passing, but after visiting it the first time (we ended up going twice), we quickly became its unofficial spokesperson (I literally told a person to go to Wolf Creek while checking in them in for skiing at Crested Butte…).
The snow, the location, the mountain itself are all absolutely amazing. And the best part - even on one of the best days of the season (according to many locals we met there on that said day) it still wasn’t crazy busy. We have waited in line for ski lifts for over an hour, on mediocre ski days no less, so to head to Wolf Creek on an amazing powder day and have to wait in line for max 10 minutes felt like heaven on Earth.
If you like tree runs go to Wolf Creek. If you like skiing in fresh powder, go to Wolf Creek. If you like tearing down blacks and double blacks without any worry of getting injured (due to the aforementioned powder) go to Wolf Creek. Honestly, if you want to feel like you are backcountry skiing without all the avalanche danger (and the uphill grind) go to Wolf Creek. We promise it is worth the long drive to the far southwestern corner of Colorado.
And as if it couldn’t get any better, Wolf Creek is also located about 40 minutes from Pagosa Springs, which is home to various hot springs (we greatly enjoyed the free ones in the river) and nice restaurants (read more about Pagosa Springs here).
Honestly, we cannot speak highly enough about Wolf Creek. The skiing is excellent, everyone is very nice, it never feels crowded and the views are wonderful (when you can see them). We have spoken more than once about the idea that if we were ever going to do another ski-focused winter in Colorado we would do it close to Wolf Creek. It is that freakin good.
Some of our favorite runs at Wolf Creek were Boundary Bowl (an easy hike-to area), Alberta Face, any and all of the tree runs off Bonanza Chairlift, the Numbered Chutes off Coyote Park Trail and the Waterfall Area (which is where we did our first double black extreme run). In truth, Wolf Creek shines because it really feels like a free-for-all in terms of skiing: there are very few groomed trails and it really is a make your own adventure kind of thing. You honestly can’t go wrong no matter where you ski.
Learn more about Wolf Creek Ski Area here.
In the beginning of the season, we weren’t the best skiers (I personally could barely ski down a green without falling). But after months of skiing (and falling, and sliding, and yard-sale-ing) we really honed our skills and were soon confident enough to take on more extreme and challenging terrain. This allowed us to experience almost all of the runs at every resort we went to. From the scenic rolling blues at Breckenridge, to the powder-packed bowls at Monarch, to the fear-of-heights inducing open runs at Telluride, to the actual Extremes at Crested Butte, to the groomed trails at Beaver Creek, to finally some of the best tree runs in Colorado at Wolf Creek.
All of these resorts are great in their own way, and while we still think Wolf Creek is our favorite and one of the best in the state, we would recommend exploring all of these resorts, as well as others not on this list (looking at you Cooper, Copper and Steamboat).
These choices are entirely our own and might be completely wrong in the eyes of some other skiers. And that is okay. In the end, no matter where you ski, a day outside - and a day out skiing on the mountain - is a good day.
Note: sorry for the not always great quality photos - it can be tough to capture the beauty and excitement of skiing when it is whiteout conditions and your hands are freezing. Luckily, we not only got photos but also sweet video of actually skiing at these resorts. Check it out at Luke's Laps.