Planning a Ski trip to Colorado and undecided where to stay? Well, you’re not the only one… but don’t worry I’ve broken down a few key components to help with your decision. We decided to take our first family Ski/Snowboard trip out west and wanted to visit some of the most well-known resorts in Colorado within a reasonable price range.
Growing up in Michigan we have taken many trips up north to ski. There are decent ski hills and runs up north but nothing compared to Colorado. We were in complete and utter awe while visiting Colorado for our first time. Runs taking 30+ minutes to get to the bottom, 4 feet of fresh powder laying over the runs, 3.5 mile long runs, and 360 degree views of mountains everywhere you look. The ski towns and atmosphere is the icing on the cake, if you are considering skiing in Colorado then I highly recommend making the trip, you wont regret it.
Wondering what city to go to? Where to Ski? Well I spent a lot of time researching the towns, accommodations, hotels vs airbnb, ski resorts, slopes, amount of lifts and trails each resort has, and best food and drinks around town.
We decided for our first trip out west we had to go to the famous city of Breckenridge. We actually split our time between Breckenridge and Keystone, I will say Vail was a top contender but a little over budget, especially during the week of Christmas.
Breckenridge vs Keystone: Summary
In summary, Breckenridge is best for families, skiers of all levels, and those who prefer a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. Keystone is best for those who prefer pure skiing and dont care as much about the extra activities or town.
If you want to experience the full “Out West” or “Skiing in the Rockies” experience then you have to check out Breckenridge. Breckenridge is one of the most well known ski resorts in the United States and there is a reason for it.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time there because we would ski most of the day and explore the town at night. If you are one who likes to stroll around town, window shop at boutiques, or enjoy a cup of coffee around the fire, then Breckenridge is for you.
Breckenridge gives off a warm, cozy, vintage ski town vibe; like something you would see in the movies.
Full disclaimer: we visited in December 2020 and they did not have as much snow as they usually have and most restaurants were not open for sit down dining due to covid. However, we made the best of it and loved the lively atmosphere.
Downtown Breckenridge was lit up with Christmas decorations at every corner, giving off all the Hallmark movie feels. If you need a day off from the slopes then I recommend exploring Breckenridge. The town has various boutiques, souvenir stores, food and dessert trucks, coffee shops, and firepits to sit back and relax.
- Lively downtown atmosphere
- Wider ski runs for all levels
- Various food and restaurant options
- Larger crowds
- Chairlifts at the base of the mountain can have longer lines and wait times
Keystone is a smaller town but the resort still had the “vintage” or “Hallmark” movie feel. In the city shopping center they have a large Christmas tree decorated and multiple fireplaces going throughout the day and night.
The ski resort and slopes feel different than Breckenridge because Breckenridge is wider and you can see multiple peaks from the base, but Keystone is a little different as the mountain goes back. When we first arrived we only saw a few runs at the face/front of the mountain and it felt “smaller” compared to Breck.
However, once we started skiing at Keystone we went back to the other peaks “behind” the mountain and absolutely loved it. Skiing the runs at the Outback Bowl was the most fun I have ever had snowboarding and skiing with my family.
For instance, the 3rd day we skied we were skiing in fresh powder up to our knees, it was breathtaking, exhilarating, and exhausting all at the same time.
- Variety of tree and backcountry skiing
- Runs are not as wide and steeper
- Smaller downtown area, less to do after ski hours
Best Views of Colorado
The best views from the top of the mountain: Keystone.
Standing at the top of the mountain, 12,000 ft above sea level was absolutely breathtaking. I will say we did get lucky and had a few days where the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Experience the top of the mountain when the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky. The cool thing about Keystone is if you go to the back bowl (The Outback Bowl) on a clear day then you can see Breckenridge Ski Resort off in the distance.
The best views from the town and looking at the mountain: Breckenridge. We stayed at the bottom of peak 9. It was not ski in/ski out but it was a 5-10 minute walk to the bottom of the Quicksilver lift. Breckenridge also offers a bus and shuttle system that will pick you up outside of your condo entrance.
Hit the Slopes: Beginners to Advanced
The best skiing or place for beginners: Breckenridge
Breckenridge has a variety of terrain and runs, offering something for beginners to novice. My family ranges from beginners/intermediate to experts. Half of us ski, half of us snowboard, and some of us do both.
We have some who prefer to stay on the green and blue runs while the daredevils crave double black diamonds. We try to find resorts and runs for all of us so we can spend time together on the slopes.
After skiing multiple days at Breckenridge and Keystone we felt that Breckenridge had more to offer in terms of green runs, blues, blacks, and double black diamonds. They offer wider runs that are not as steep. Most families enjoy when you have various options, you can take a blue run, black diamond, or terrain park, and all meet up together at the bottom.
Breckenridge is more “family friendly” as some of the runs at Keystone were labeled green but felt more like blues. After much debate we decided that we enjoyed skiing at Keystone better and had more fun.
There were a few runs at Keystone, specifically the Outback Bowl that we skied through the trees for hours. I consider myself an intermediate skier and I was able to manage through the trees even though they were labeled as a black diamond.
There was so much fresh powder when we were there that if you wanted to slow down or stop you could just plop down in 4 feet of powder. If you enjoy or crave tree skiing then I highly recommend checking out Wildfire and Wolverine Black Diamond runs at Keystone.
Lifts and Gondolas
Breckenridge has 34 lifts and 1 gondola. The BreckConnect Gondola connects you from town and the Breckenridge Station to the Base of Peak 8. Breckenridge Station is a great place to park your car, take a shuttle, or bus if you are staying outside of Breck. From there you can take the BreckConnect Gondola to the base of Peak 8. Note- this Gondola only goes to the base of the mountain and back to town, not to the top of the skil hill.
Keystone has 21 lifts and 2 gondolas. One gondola is at the base of the mountain and will take you to the top where you can either ride down the front face of the mountain or get on another gondola to some of the back bowls on the other side of the mountain.
Know Before You Go
A few things you must know and do in each town.
- Dine in an Igloo:
These have become popular due to covid so if your group wants to dine in an igloo then most places require a reservation made 2-3 weeks ahead of time
- Shuttle System:
Each town offers a unique shuttle system so if you want to save on parking, or get picked up outside your condo then this is worth asking about to research depending on your location.
- Altitude Sickness:
Altitude sickness is a real thing and can affect any age and gender. It typically occurs when you travel to heights your body is not used to, most of the time it will take place when you hit an elevation about 8,000 feet.
- Lift Tickets: Epic Pass
Regardless of what ski resort you go to (Breckenridge or Keystone) they are both covered by the Epic Pass. The Epic Pass offers multi day passes or season passes. During our stay we got the 5-day pass and skied 2 days at Breckenridge, took a day off and then 3 days at Keystone. The Epic pass covers multiple resorts in Colorado so research before you go in case you want to hop around.