Insider tips for a Colorado ski trip

Colorado is the epicentre for skiing in the USA with 32 ski resorts – 12 of them big drawcards for international visitors. Here are some of the best.

First stop Denver

There are several reasons why it is a good idea to spend a couple of days in the Mile High City before you hit the mountains. The first is that it is literally a mile high, which helps you acclimatise for those resorts that soar up and over the 2000 metre mark. Another reason is that Denver is a sensational city. It surprises on so many fronts. It has world-class street art, magnificent art galleries and museums, exceptional food, a very healthy craft beer trail and a lively music scene. Home to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is carved in stunning country in the foothills overlooking the city, a good tip is to check the Red Rocks website to see which bands are playing when you will be in town and book ahead to nab your rocky seats. Denver is a very friendly city that is walkable and rideable, with kilometres of bike tracks to explore.

And hey, being the gateway city to so many incredible ski resorts doesn’t hurt.

The seven resorts I have strapped on skis at in Colorado all have amazing terrain, facilities, accommodation and dining, and all have their own personalities. Here’s my take on all of them.

Aspen Snowmass

Aspen, Aspen Snowmass, Colorado, Ski Colorado

Aspen after a snow storm. Pic by Jeremy Swanson

Aspen was arguably the first resort in the USA to proactively target the Australian market, and did so to great effect. We quickly became – and still are – their number one international market. So what do we love about it? We love that there are four resorts under the Aspen Snowmass banner. Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain and, 20 minutes away, Snowmass, which is bigger than the other three combined. Experts love the steep terrain on Aspen Mountain which rears up directly behind the town, and Aspen Highlands, which is known for its bowl. Diehards trudge up the ridgeline and then drop over the edge to ride the steep walls. Buttermilk caters for beginners but also has some delicious intermediate runs, and then there is Snowmass, which has the most ski-in, ski-out accommodation and a diverse range of runs. Then of course there is the town itself, with its square grid streets lit by fairy lights in winter and offering a range of western and outdoor shops as well as designer boutiques and restaurants. To get your first taste of Aspen, hang out at the J Bar at Hotel Jerome, which encapsulates Aspen with its history, restoration, service and its stories.

Dine, drink and do in Aspen

Do book well ahead for lunch at Cloud Nine at Aspen Highlands – it is more like a party than lunch with people dancing on the tables – in their ski boots.

Do go and check out the Aspen Art Museum – designed by Shigeru Ban.

Do like the locals do and shop at the consignment stores – Susie’s Limited Consignment store is a favourite. Aspenites are focused on recycling, reusing, respecting and supporting – more on that later.

Do dine at places like Ellina, Element 47 at The Little Nell, Matsuhisa and Meat and Cheese.

Do drink at the J Bar at the historic Hotel Jerome, Bad Harriet with its speakeasy style blended with elegance, or have a flight of vodkas at The Marble Bar at the Hyatt Residences.

Do stay at The Little Nell, The Gant, The Limelight (in Aspen or at Snowmass) or grab an apartment through Frias Properties.

Do pause a moment at the John Denver Sanctuary by the Roaring Fork River

Do head out to Pine Creek Tavern by horse drawn sleigh for lunch

Do visit Woody Creek Tavern for a hit of Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia

Do check out Kevin Costner’s Independence Estate – you can now rent the 170-acre property or get married on it – sadly not to Kevin.

Hotel Jerome, Aspen, Aspen Snowmass, Colorad

Hotel Jerome is part of the fibre of Aspen.

Turned on by Telluride

Telluride, Colorado, Ski Telluride, Telluride Ski Resort

Telluride’s Main Street

Oh be still my beating heart; if Telluride was a man I’d have an affair with it. When you read stories on the most beautiful ski resorts in the world, Telluride is inevitably near or at the top, and deservedly so. The twin towns, Telluride in the box canyon at the base, and Mountain Village up and over the ridge by gondola, are fringed by outrageously spectacular peaks, many over 14,000 feet (Coloradans call them ‘14ers’. Telluride has a mining history and its designated National Historic District is a pretty palate of pastels in Victorian-style. Mountain Village, linked to the old town via a free gondola, is the hub of the ski resort, and has a swag of luxurious condos, mountain homes and hotels. No matter where you stay, you have easy access to 810 hectares of wonderful terrain that makes the heart sing and the eyes savour. There are 17 lifts that link the various areas, with the Revelation chairlift the highest, up at an eye-watering 3813 metres. You can ski or snowboard from the top of the lift all the way down to the town, before heading all the way up and doing it again, and again in an intoxicating blur of beauty.

Dine, drink and do in Telluride

Do go snowmobiling to the old ghost town of Alta.

Do dine at Alpino Vino on the mountain for its primo views and European flair.

Do ski or board down the Galloping Goose which is 7.4 kilometre long green (easy) run past some very swish homes

Do see a show at the historic Sheridan Opera House

Do have a drink at the New Sheridan Hotel

Do find the plaque that marks the spot where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank

Do the historic tour of the town. It is well worth it.

Do hike up to Palmyra Peak if you eat double black runs for lunch and have a penchant for chutes.

Do dine at Allred’s, View Restaurant, Rustico and Siam’s Talay Grille.

Do go ice skating up in the Mountain Village.

Do visit nearby Ouray for a soak in the hot springs.

Do stay at the Fairmont Heritage Place Franz Klammer Telluride, Lumiere, Mountain Lodge or the Hotel Madeline.

Telluride, Colorado, Colorado ski country, Visit USA

View from the gondola over the town of Telluride.

Vouching for Vail

People either love Vail, or they don’t. The founding resort in the now giant Vail Resorts, Vail is a little different to many other major ski resorts as it is located by the busy I-70 freeway. Denver locals love it as they can head out for the weekend for some turns, and some chill out time in the fairy-tale-like Vail Village. Even though there might be an influx of snow bunnies from the city on weekends, or on holidays, Vail is big enough to carry the extra load. It has over 2000 hectares of snowy playground, with the front side, the Blue Sky Basin and the seven –yep seven – beloved Back Bowls ensuring you can spread out and cut loose. Accommodation is in Vail Village, Lions Head Village and Golden Peak, all with lift (Golden Peak) or gondola (Vail and Lions Head) access.

Dine, drink and do in Vail

Do book dinner at Game Creek Cabin, which is accessed by gondola then snowcat.
Do stay at The Lodge at Vail, The Sebastian, the Four Seasons Resort, or if you don’t need to be in the centre of everything, the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa Avon.
Do experience Blue Sky Basin but don’t stay too long after lunch as you’ll get caught up in the ‘migration’.
Do ski a day or two at sister resort Beaver Creek
Do hurtle down the alpine coaster at Adventure Ridge
Do dine at Elway’s, The 10th, Sweet Basil and at Bōl, where you can combine dining and drinking with ten pin bowling in a fun atmosphere.
Do ski or board down Lindsey’s run, named after Olympic legend and Vail local Lindsey Vonn.

Saddle up at Steamboat

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Winter Carnival, ski and snowboard, Helen Hayes

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival. Credit Shannon Lukens

Steamboat is a delightful mix of ranch town and ski resort, along with a splash of hot spring for good measure. The town of Steamboat Springs had its first taste of skiing in 1915, when a Norwegian by the name of Carl Howelsen, built a ski jump right near the downtown area. He built it, and skiers and people did come, and are still coming, with the Howelsen Hill area still operating as a ski resort. A bigger resort was developed on nearby Storm mountain in the 1960s, and today skiers and snowboarders can frolic in 1200 hectares of terrain that has spawned 89 winter Olympians – the most of any resort in America. The most loved is Buddy Werner, who died in an avalanche in St Moritz at 28 years old. It took an act of parliament to change the name of the mountain in Steamboat from Storm to Werner, and more red tape had to be sliced through to allow for a statue of Buddy to be placed on Mount Werner (at the top of the Bar UE chair). The locals say it is a good omen to tap the top of Buddy’s head with your ski pole every time you go up there. You won’t need luck to have a great day, week or month at Steamboat. The skiing and snowboarding is excellent, the vibe is relaxed, there are restaurants around the resort or the short distance away in the town, and you can soak in a hot spring when your muscles are screaming from the overload of skiing and riding. There are around 150 springs in the area, and they have been luring visitors for centuries, including the Ute Indians who came to utilise the ‘medicine’ springs.

Dine, drink and do in Steamboat

Do tap Buddy’s Head before you ski down

Do sit and soak at Strawberry Park Hot Springs – a stunningly beautiful set up

Do go horse riding in the snow at Del’sTriangle 3 Ranch

Do try and go during the Steamboat Winter Festival in February for all kinds of fun events including skijoring – a rather wild activity where skiers are pulled along behind a galloping horse

Do dine at Hazie’s, Laundry and Café Diva

Do book in for Ragnar’s Sleigh Ride dinner, a five-course extravaganza

Do stay at One Steamboat Place right near the gondola, or book a luxurious home or condo through Moving Mountains

Do get your inner cowboy or girl on at F.M Light & Sons

Do ride the Outlaw Mountain Coaster for extra thrills

Do organise an instructor to really show you the ropes on the mountain