Colorado is a top ski destination for families.

Skiing in Colorado

The rugged slopes of the Rocky Mountains are blanketed with snow, and once again, the world has begun to invade Colorado.

Drawn by world-class ski resorts, visitors come from around the globe to swish down the slopes of the Rockies.

But often they miss the “real” Colorado.

In my mind, there are two sides to my native state. There is the Colorado in which I was born — friendly, down-to-earth, in love with the outdoors, filled with the gorgeous scenery of the Rocky Mountains, and most of all, bargain-conscious.

And there is the Colorado that the rest of the world knows.

Favorite Colorado Ski Resorts

The “other” Colorado, found in chic ski towns like Vail, Aspen and Beaver Creek, is filled with expensive resorts, Hollywood stars, high-end restaurants and, of course, gorgeous scenery.

This widely advertised version of my home state is lovely and well worth the visit. However, it can be expensive for those looking for a bargain.

Sure, there is a lot to see and experience in places like Aspen and Vail, but if that’s all you saw on your visit to Colorado’s ski slopes, then you would be missing out — and your wallet would feel a whole lot lighter.

There is a whole other Colorado to be discovered.

Things You Should Know 

First, though, there are some things you should know about your skiing vacation.

Regardless of whether you drive or fly into Colorado, don’t immediately head for the hills. Keep our elevation in mind, and consider acclimating in Denver for a day or two.

Colorado’s capital is at 5,280 feet (1609 m) — it’s not called the “ Mile-High City” for nothing — but it’s a lot lower than the 10,000-foot (3048 m) elevations of the ski resorts.

Every year, mountain clinics see hundreds of cases of altitude sickness. This malady is characterized by headache, fatigue and dizziness, and frankly, it’s not a fun way to spend your holiday.

Doctors recommend that you take a day or two to acclimate to our thin air before heading up into the high county, so why not take a day or two to explore Denver?

Visiting Denver

Shopping along the 16th Street Mall in Denver. Photo by Steve Crecelius/Visit Denver
Shopping along the 16th Street Mall in Denver. Photo by Steve Crecelius/Visit Denver

As the capital of Colorado, Denver is the state’s biggest city. Our lifestyle is a curious blend of the state’s western roots, easy-going manner and love of the outdoors.

The metro area has more than 2.5 million residents, so you’re likely to find whatever suits your fancy. The population is young and sporty, and the streets are wide and clean.

Although the region is known for its great skiing, few know that Denver receives more than 300 days of sunshine each year. So, chances are, the sun will be shining in a deep blue Colorado sky during your visit.

The hottest spot in town is LoDo (lower downtown). You’ll find the place hopping with micro-breweries, cafés, restaurants and pubs.

My favorite all-time place for people-watching is “The Market” on Larimer Street. All types of folks come in here for coffee and dessert.

After a day or two in Denver, your body is ready to head to the slopes. We have more than 20 words to describe our snow, and ski conditions are tracked religiously. (“Champagne powder” is the crème de la crème of snow conditions.)

Winter Park Ski Resort

A fresh foot of powder at Winter Park Ski Resort in Colorado. Flickr/Greg Younger
A fresh foot of powder at Winter Park Ski Resort in Colorado. Flickr/Greg Younger

There are dozens of ski resorts from which to choose. Winter Park is one of the most popular resorts with Coloradans, as it’s just  66 miles from Denver.

If Winter Park is crowded, ski over to Mary Jane, which is included in the price of your Winter Park ticket.

This mountain, named for a popular “lady of the evening” who lived here a century ago, rarely has long lift lines and offers excellent skiing for those above beginner levels.

The best value at Winter Park is undeniably the Galloping Goose, a slow-moving lift for beginners located at the base of Mary Jane.

For just a few dollars, the lift provides all-day access to a gentle-sloping hill just perfect for learning to ski or board. Ages five and under are free.

What to Do in Winter Park

Colorado is a top ski destination for families.
Colorado is a top ski destination for families.

Accommodations are easy to find in Winter Park and in the nearby towns of Granby and Fraser, where the rates are even better. If you tire of skiing, there is a lot to do here.

Try snow tubing at Fraser Tubing Hill or go to Grand Adventures, which offers dog sledding, snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Cross-country skiing is available at Latigo Ranch, a western dude ranch in nearby Kremmling.

Latigo is also open to the public for hearty lunches. Here is perhaps the biggest insider secret: You don’t have to pay the listed retail price for ski lift tickets.

Instead, buy discount lift tickets for many resorts in Denver at grocers like King Soopers or ski outfitter Christy Sports.

Discounts vary, depending on the time of year. Children are less expensive, of course. And during the spring months of March and April, children sometimes ski free. Check the website of each resort for details.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Steamboat Springs, Colorado, at an elevation of 7,000 feet, has a strong skiing tradition and a Western heritage that stretches back a century.

There are numerous other ski resorts within two hours of Denver, but if you’re willing to drive a bit, head for Steamboat, another local favorite.

Tucked away in the secluded Yampa Valley 160 miles (257 km) from Denver, this laid-back town of 10,000 treasures its western heritage, so don’t be surprised to see skiers in cowboy hats.

Skiing is in the blood here; Steamboat Springs has produced more than 50 Olympic skiing champions.

If budget is your chief concern, try Ski Cooper or Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort. Ski Cooper bills itself as the “friendliest” and the most “affordable family ski resort.”

Located 100 miles (160 km) from Denver in the San Isabel National Forest, Ski Cooper is a good option for those who want to escape the crowds.

You can stay in the nearby former mining town of Leadville, which is a unique experience all its own.

Sunlight Mountain Resort

Sunlight Mountain Resort may not be huge, but it’s one of the most affordable resorts in the state. Best of all, it’s near the town of Glenwood Springs.

Coloradans flock to this mountain town year-round to soak in the large natural hot springs. The accommodation options in Glenwood are not on the high-end, but the hot springs make up for the lack of luxury.

There is something wonderful about sitting in a steaming spring in the quiet night, watching the snowflakes fall. What better way to relax after a hard day of skiing?

Now that you know these things, go enjoy the real Colorado – my compliments.

Just remember, if any of the locals asks how you learned these insider secrets, please don’t mention my name. And remember, you never read this article.

If You Ski in Colorado

How to Avoid High-Altitude Sickness

* Take time to acclimate at lower elevations before heading to the high country.

* Drink lots of water (dehydration occurs quickly at high elevations).

* Eat foods high in carbohydrates.

* Take it easy the first few days.

* If you still encounter symptoms of high altitude sickness, such as headaches, nausea, or dizziness, go down to lower elevation for several days to acclimate.

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Janna Graber
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  1. I’m a neighbor in Nebraska, and have been pleasantly surprised at the affordability and convenience of Keystone, CO. Great skiing, friendly people, close to Silverthorn shopping and restaurants, and best of all, cheaper than Winter Park and Ski Cooper (really), which are mentioned on this list. Highly recommended…