If you are planning a family ski trip to Colorado, you might be feeling overwhelmed by all of the options for different mountains, places to stay, lift tickets, oh, and that whole learning to ski thing!! I don’t want that to stop you though, because some of the best memories I have are from family ski trips!
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my family has made the 12 hour drive to Colorado to ski for a week. We’ve tried tons of different resorts over the years and have fallen in love with certain things about each one. Today, I wanted to unpack the differences in the 4 most popular resorts in Colorado to help in making the decision for your trip.
Things to Consider when picking a resort
Each mountain has its own pros and cons, depending on the type of trip you wanting. Before we dive into the breakdown of each specific mountain, let’s talk about the things you need to consider when choosing a resort.
Skiing Experience / Type
If you’ve never been skiing, this is an easy one to answer. You’ll want to choose a mountain with good runs for learning and beginners. If you’ve been once or twice and have a feel for it, this is a little tougher. Think about when you did ski and try and remember what your favorite runs were like. Trees? Open? Blues and greens? If you ski every year, you probably know exactly what you are looking for in a mountain.
Traveling with a group may also be a consideration for you. When my family goes we have about 20 skiers across 6 different skill levels. Choosing a mountain that works for all of us is important.
How much will you be skiing?
The next thing to ask is “how much will you actually be on the mountain??” If you are planning a week long vacation and only want to ski 3 or 4 days, you will want to choose a resort with plenty of events, shops, and restaurants.
Like I said, our group has a wide range of skiers. Some of us like to ski 7 days in a row and others like to get in 3 good days and then explore the town for the rest of the trip. If you are a first timer and you don’t know how to answer this question, I would say planning on skiing 3 days would be a safe bet.
What is your trip budget?
Like any other trip, one of the biggest things to consider is your budget. Think about what you value in a vacation: a fun town, nicer accommodations, better mountain, great food, etc. Once you have that, making a decision will be a lot easier!
In the next section, I’ll break down average lift ticket and lodging prices for each mountain.
Okay, now it’s time for the fun part, actually breaking down the pros and cons of each mountain. Of course, I can’t talk about every mountain in Colorado, so I picked the 4 most popular ones: Breckenridge, Vail, Copper, and Keystone.
I’ll list some of the specifics about each one, then tell you who I think it is perfect for. Don’t get sticker shock at the window prices on the lift tickets!! After I do the breakdown I’ll talk about ways to get lift tickets for cheaper. Let’s dive in…
Skiable Acres: 2908
Average Annual Snowfall: 366 inches
Lift Ticket Window Price: $180
Miles from Denver Airport: 104
When you think of a Colorado ski trip, there is a good chance you think of Breckenridge. As far as ski towns, Breck takes the cake every single time. It has darling restaurants, fun shops, ice sculpture events, things to do for kiddos, and more. Even if you go and never ski, you would enjoy your time here.
Because of its popularity, lodging is more expensive in Breckenridge and lift tickets are harder to find deals on.
As far as skiing, Breck is a flatter mountain with easier, shorter runs. You’ll find a lot of blues, greens, and easy blacks here. Finding runs in the trees, good back bowls, or longer runs here is difficult.
Who it’s perfect for
Breck is perfect for someone who wants a laid back ski trip in a darling town. If you are newer to skiing, you will be able to find some great runs here, but on the off days there will be plenty to do.
Skiable Acres: 5289 (3017 of these are in the back bowls)
Average Annual Snowfall: 360 inches
Lift Ticket Window Price: $209
Miles from Denver Airport: 121
I’ll try to not be biased here y’all, but fair warning, Vail is my favorite. 😉
When we talk about Vail, one thing needs to be clear: the skiing is the best part of this mountain. Vail is known for their back bowls, which make up over half of their skiable acres. They consistently get great snow and the runs here are long and epic.
The town of Vail is called Vail Village and while it is darling, it doesn’t compare to Breck. It would be great for taking one day to explore, if you were there for a week long trip.
Vail is amazing and they know it, so lodging and lift tickets are expensive. There are very few (if any) ways to get a lift ticket for less than $200 a day and the average hotel price on the mountain is over $600 a night.
Who it’s perfect for
Vail is perfect for advanced skiers who love moguls, powder, tree runs, and back bowls. If you ski here, you better like skiing, because that’s what you will be doing the most. Vail is great for someone who values good skiing regardless of price, and doesn’t care much about the ski town experience.
I know I said it was my favorite, and it is, which is probably making you wonder how this budget traveler justifies the money it takes to ski at Vail. Here’s the thing: I don’t. Well, not for a whole week anyways. When my family goes, only about 4 of us ski, we go from first to last chair, and we only go one day a year. This is where establishing your budget + what you value is put to use.
Skiable Acres: 2490
Average Annual Snowfall: 305 inches
Lift Ticket Window Price: $178
Miles from Denver Airport: 102
As far as we’ve found, Copper is the best all around mountain. It has a decent sized village in center with a few really fun bars, restaurants, and some cute shops.
As far as skiing goes, it is perfect for groups with skiers with various skill levels. There is a good amount of easier stuff for the beginners and a lot of fun runs for the more advanced skiers. The mountain is laid out such that all the green runs are on the west side, blue runs are in center, and black runs are on the east side. Cutting across the mountain is easy, if you are planning on meeting back up with your group midday for lunch.
Lift tickets at Copper have a steep window price, but it’s really easy to find good deals on them if your search before hand. Our family buys a 4 pack every year in April for around $200. Lodging at Copper is reasonable; typically we pay about $350 a night for a condo that holds 11 people.
Who it’s perfect for
Copper is perfect for anyone traveling in a big group or families who want to go skiing, but don’t want to break the bank. Because it has a little bit for everyone and is super reasonable, it’s the perfect place for a good ole fashion family ski trip.
Skiable Acres: 3148
Average Annual Snowfall: 235 inches
Lift Ticket Window Price: $160
Miles from Denver Airport: 101
Similar to Copper, Keystone is a great all around mountain. They have a small village below the mountain with some fun bars and restaurants and some shops!
Skiing wise, Keystone is really great for kiddos + people who love woods runs. Keystone has all sorts of little terrain parks, igloos, and fun runs for kids, so it would be a great option for families with littles. Their woods runs range from flat and easy to steep and difficult, all of which are really fun longer runs!
Finding deals on lift tickets for Keystone is possible, but not as easy as finding great prices for Copper. Price wise lodging is similar to Copper, but with fewer options for ski in ski out.
Who it’s perfect for
Keystone is perfect for families traveling with kiddos! As a kid, I remember being so excited on the days we would ski Keystone, because of all the fun things they have there. If you take your kids here, they are sure to have a ton of fun. If you are a beginner yourself, Keystone’s Schoolmarm run is one of the best places to learn.
How to Find Cheaper Lift Tickets
The easiest way to get a deal on lift tickets is to buy them early and in packs. Most ski resorts will offer some sort of discount for buying them 7+ days in advance and several resorts have discounted options for 4 or 5 day passes. The cheapest time to buy them is in April or May, the season before you plan on going. (That’s how we ski at Copper for 5 days for $210!)
Some stores, like REI or Costco, offer discounted tickets for their members. This is definitely worth checking out!
If you have kiddos, make sure to check with your resort about deals for kids. Some offer free kids lift tickets if their parents are skiing for 5 days. If you have a 5th grader, enroll them in the 5th Grade Passport program and they can ski for free at several resorts.
Talking about skiing gets me so excited for next season!! I’ve said it before, but our family ski trip is my favorite vacation every year! If you are planning on going on a trip, let me know in the comments! I would love to know which resort you are visiting! 🙂
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