Epic Colorado – The Epic Pass Takes You to Some Of Colorado’s Premier Resorts

December 9th, 2021
A magic day in Vail – this is what a ski trip is all about. Photo: Vail Resorts

Mountainwatch | Travel

For many Australians the first destination they head to for an overseas snow holiday is Colorado, and for good reason – it is without doubt one of the world’s best snow destinations.

Renowned for its quality snow, huge variety of resorts from big and luxurious to small and local, Colorado has something for everyone and its ski resorts are the pinnacle of service, amenities and quality snow. The resorts also offer a large choice of retail, après and dining and plenty of adventurous and family-oriented off-snow activities.

There are 28 resorts to choose from in Colorado, each with its own characteristics, but there are some standout, world-class resorts that are an unforgettable destination for a snow holiday. Many of those are Epic Pass members or partner resorts which gives pass holders access to some of the best ski destinations in North America, including the following Colorado resorts:

 

Bluebird pow day in Vail is an epic experience. Photo: Jack Affleck

Vail

Vail is not only the biggest resort in North America but has a well-deserved reputation as a must-ski destination. Labelled the “King of American ski resorts” by Forbes magazine, Vail is massive – 5289 acres of skiable terrain with 195 runs and 1000m vertical. It also has an annual snowfall average of 8.9metres and 300 days of sunshine each year! That sounds like a there is good chance of a few bluebird powder days each winter.

Located in Eagle County, just two hours west of Denver, Vail does get busy, particularly on weekends, but once the crowd disperses from the base on the frontside of the mountains there is plenty of room to move. Vail has three distinct areas – frontside, back bowls and Blue Sky Basin. The front side has a huge variety of tree-lined on piste runs, impeccably groomed slopes for intermediate and advanced skiers. It’s also where you’ll find the beginners areas.

 

This is what it is all about, Vail, at its best. Photo: @coh_photo

Vail’s vast terrain is accessed via 31 lifts, including two gondolas and three high-speed six seaters. The terrain breakdown is 18% beginner, 29% Intermediate and 53% advanced/expert and there are three terrain parks.

The Back Bowls are an off-piste heaven for advanced skiers and boarders, the seven open bowls draw in the snow during a storm and are the go-to on a powder day. Blue Sky Basin is the furthest in-bound area from Vail Village and has a backcountry feel with open meadows and gladed tree skiing.  Vail’s base is a high 2476m and the highest peak is 3527m which means the already exceptional, dry Colorado snow maintains its quality for days after a storm.

 

If you like ripping a few turns on piste, Vail’s groomed runs are flawless each morning. Photo: Vail Resorts

Off snow there is plenty of entertainment and the European-style village is complete with cobbled streets and a vast array of retail and après options.  The food choices cater to everyone and all sorts of budgets with plenty of burger joints, pizza and pub-style food through to fine dining restaurants offering cuisine and an experience you won’t forget.

 As for après, whether you’re after a quiet and cosy drink by a fire or energetic live music, Vail can provide. Our picks include, Tavern on the Square, just steps from the Eagle Bahn gondola in Lionshead, from which you can enjoy incredible mountain views from the patio year-round. Other notable mentions include cocktails from La Tour, Pizza at Vendetta’s and The Red Lion which describes itself as “the place to be after you ski…”

 

Vail has a lively apres scene with a huge choice of restaurants and bars.

Accommodation options span self-contained apartments, international hotels, B&Bs and European style chalets.  The accommodation stretches across the two main villages – Vail and Lionshead plus Golden Peak and Cascade Villages. Vail Village is at the heart of the accommodation, retail, food and après action; the Lionshead area will get you close to the skiing via a short walk to the Eagle Bahn gondola, chair 8 and Golden Peak is perfect and more subdued for families, being just a five-minute walk east of Vail Village.

 

The Arrabelle Hotel, located in the heart of Vail at Vail Square

Mountain stats

  • – Elevation Top 3527m
  • – Elevation Bottom 2476m
  • – Vertical Drop 1,052 metres
  • – Skiable Terrain 2141ha
  • – Longest Run 4km
  • – Beginner 18%
  • – Intermediate 29%
  • – Advanced 53%
  • – Total Number of Trails 193
  • -Lifts: 31
  • – Terrain Parks: 3

 

 Breckenridge

Located just 2.5 hours west of Denver, Breckenridge is a popular resort, but it is big, with five peaks spanning 2,908 area and has something for all abilities and interests.  It has an unusually high base elevation of 2926m and a peak of 4266m, which makes for good quality snow, but if you’ve come from sea level Australia, be aware of altitude sickness (tips for a few nights in Denver to acclimatise are below).

 

Breckenridge is a huge resort with a variety of terrain from open alpine bowls to groomed runs for all standards. Photo. Breckenridge Tourism Office

Breckenridge offers incredible skiing and riding in the resort and an authentic mountain town, a combination that makes for a memorable ski holiday. Unlike purpose-built resort villages, Breck has a year-round community made up of “real locals and real characters” who live work and run businesses there and are keen to share their love of the town and mountain with visitors.

The skiing and riding at Breck are world class, the huge variety of terrain serviced by 34 lifts including 5 high-speed 6-seaters and six high-speed quads. That includes North America’s highest chairlift, the Imperial Empress, which takes you up to the high alpine bowls for unforgettable views and steeps.

 

Breckenridge has everything you need for an unforgettable ski holiday. Photo: Breckenridge Tourism Office

The terrain breakdown is 14% beginner, 31% intermediate, 19% advanced and 43% expert and there is something for everyone with manicured groomed runs to some rowdy off piste terrain. The five peaks – knows as Peaks 6,7,8, 9 and 10 – all have unique terrain and topography, with the main base area at the bottom of Peak 8.

An annual average snowfall of 10.7m and Breck’s high elevation ensures some epic powder days each season, perfect corduroy on the groomed runs and quality snow off piste for days after a storm.

 

Breck’s high altitude guarantees quality snow for days after a storm. Photo: Breckenridge Ski Resort

Breckenridge is renowned for its terrain parks and half pipe and has five parks for different levels, from intermediate to expert and the Freeway Park attracts elite level skiers and snowboarders from all over the world and is a go-to training location for a lot of pros.

The town of Breckenridge, founded in the 1850s, oozes western charm, the colourful Victorian architecture taking you back in time while it has a plethora of après, dining and retail options. There are over 59 restaurants in Breck catering to all tastes and budgets and the town has a vibrant arts district and there are a number of cultural events scheduled each year.

Breckenridge also has a lot to offer in the way of accommodation including economical options and a range of luxury accommodations, vacation homes, condos and hotels. Further up the mountain a number of ski-in/ski-out properties exist.

 

Breckenridge exudes charm and heritage. Photo: Breckenridge Tourism Office

Mountain Stats

  • – Elevation Top 3963m
  • – Elevation Bottom 2926m
  • – Vertical Drop 1,036 metres
  • – Skiable Terrain 954ha
  • – Longest Run 6km (3.5 miles)
  • – Beginner 14%
  • – Intermediate 31%
  • – Advanced 55%
  • – Total Number of Trails 155
  • – Terrain Parks 5

 

Telluride

While Telluride is not an Epic Pass member it is Epic Pass partner resort, giving Epic Pass holders seven days access at Telluride and the 50% discount on lift tickets after the first seven days.

Telluride is not only one of the most scenic resorts in Colorado it is also one of the most unique, set in a box canyon surrounded by the towering peaks of the San Juan mountains – a range that has the highest concentration of 13000- and 14000-foot peaks in North America. The views from the peaks are spectacular and reminiscent of the European Alps.

 

The San Jaun range provides a spectacular backdrop in Telluride. Photo: Visit Telluride

It also has two distinct centres, the old town of Telluride which was originally a mining town that exudes Victorian era charm and the purpose-built ski-in ski-out on-mountain village. Most of the retail, bar and restaurant options are in town, but the two are connected by a free 13-minute gondola ride so heading out and about is easy if you’re staying in the Mountain Village.

One of the great attractions of Telluride, other than the huge variety of terrain, is its off-the-beaten-track location and it is a long 7-hour drive from Denver and its uncrowded slopes and lack of lift lines are a welcoming result.  It receives a seasonal snowfall average of 785cms has a base of 2669m and a peak elevation (at the top of Palmyra peak) of 4060m, delivering a massive 1349m vertical and a leg-burning longest run of 7.4kms.

 

Telluride during a storm – “cold, dry-smoke” powder and Telluride’s incredible terrain combine for a skiing experience you will never forget. Photo: Telluride resort

Experienced skiers and snowboarders will find 41% of Telluride’s terrain is rated advanced/expert and includes a number of double black runs, chutes and some seriously steep in bound runs. The drop into Palmyra peak boasts a slope angle of 46 degrees that later ‘eases’ to an impressive 37 degrees.

Intermediate terrain covers 36% of the resort, including some nice glade skiing, while beginners can own the remaining 23% of the resort’s trails. Beginners and lower intermediates will find groomed trails stem from every chair, so they can access the highest peaks and experience the incredible views, something typically reserved for the experts. Telluride also boasts a modern, efficient lift infrastructure with 17 lifts including two gondolas, a chondola (a cross between a gondola and a chair lift) and five high-speed quads.

 

Telluride has a huge variety of terrain and long, long runs. Photo: Telluride Ski resort

Just as the mountains exude a European Alps like vibe, so too do Telluride’s restaurants. The smorgasbord of terrain is matched by the smorgasbord of food options. Within Telluride town itself, you can enjoy a pizza at the ‘Brown Dog’, a barbecue at ‘Oak BBQ’, tacos at ‘Taco del Gnar’ or a burger at ‘Steamies’.

As for getting between these fine establishments, you can wave goodbye to the rental car… the town is only eight by four blocks wide and best explored on foot.

The Mountain Village is very different to the historic feel of the town and here you’ll find a variety of luxe modern accommodation, from 5-star luxury hotels to ski-in/ski-out self-catered apartments, set amongst boutique shops and gourmet restaurants. Notable mentions would have to go to The Madeline Hotel, The Peaks and the aptly named Mountain Lodge, where slopeside convenience and hot-tubs meet.

 

Telluride as an impressive vertical of 1172 metres. Photo: Visit Telluride

Mountain Stats

  • – Elevation Top: 3831m
  • – Elevation Bottom: 2659m
  • – Vertical drop 1172m
  • – Skiable terrain:  2000 acres
  • – Longest runs: 7.4kms
  • – Beginner: 23%
  • – Intermediate: 36%
  • – Advanced: 41%
  • -Total Trails: 127-
  • – Lifts: 17
  • – Terrain parks 3

 

 

The Epic Pass also accesses KeystoneCrested Butte and Beaver Creek, three incredible Colorado resorts you should also add to your list – and a Colorado EPIC ski safari – that each have their own charm and personality to offer.

Keystone is located on the I70 highway in Summit County and is just 90-minutes from Denver. It is a family-friendly resort with plenty to offer skiers and snowboarders of all standards. It has it all from challenging off-piste terrain, perfectly groomed on-piste runs and excellent terrain parks. It is also known for its night skiing. The purpose-built resort has three base villages – River Run, Lakeside and Mountain House – which offer a variety of accommodation, food and retail.

 

Downtown Crested Butte after a mid-winter storm.

Crested Butte resort is located 3kms from the town of Crested Butte in southern Colorado, a historic mining town with Victoria era buildings turned boutique shops, restaurants, bars and even a rum distillery, that ooze charm. The resort has a great mix of terrain, including some legitimate “extreme” terrain and has hosted many freeriding events over the years. However, there is also plenty of mellower intermediate/advanced terrain within the resort’s 1527 acres and 18% of the terrain is classed beginner. Accommodation is available in the village at the base of the resort or in town and has a good mix of hotels and self-contained options.

 

Beaver Creek Village. Photo: Jack Affleck

Beaver Creek is located 10 miles west of Vail and has a reputation for luxury and an excellent mix of terrain ranging from wide groomers to steeper, black diamond runs. It has an annual average of 790cms of snow there is plenty of variety across its 1832 acres with three distinct ski areas – Beaver Creek Mountain, Arrowhead and Grouse Mountain. Renowned for its premium ski-in ski out accommodation, the resort offers a mix of hotels, condos and larger free-standing houses.

 

Beaver Creek on a crisp, clear powder day last winter. Photo: Cody Downard

Denver – Perfect For a Stopover

A great way to break up your ski trip to Colorado and round out the holiday experience is to stop over in Denver for a few days. Known as The Mile High City due to its altitude, Denver provides a chance to acclimatise yourself to Colorado’s high altitude before heading to the resorts while also offering plenty to do and see.

Denver has a well-deserved reputation as a cultural hub with fine art galleries and museums and vibrant food and entertainment scenes.  Denver also embraces the outdoors and has a healthy sports heritage, beautiful parks and gardens, all enhanced by this vibrant city’s location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

 

Denver’s bustling Larimer Square. Photo: Nikki Rae

Here are just a few suggestions on  why you should stopover in Denver

Art: Denver Art Museum: While best known for its architecture and collection in native and western American art, the DAM holds many exhibitions during the year and is currently currently showing Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France, until 13 March 2022: See more than 100 paintings made between 1855 and 1913 in the first comprehensive examination of France’s stylistic impact on American painting of the period

Museum of Contemporary Art: The MCA Denver has a collection of contemporary pieces and displays that seek to create ‘understanding and dialogue about the art of our time’.

 

Love This City. Photo: Visit Denver

Dining: Some notable eateries: Safta at The Source Hotel, RiNo; The Denver Central Market; Rioja in Larimer Square; Mercantile Dining & Provision (owned by renowned farm-to-table chef Alex Seidel) as well as Snooze (for brunch) in Union Station; Linger – an eatuary (the place used to be a mortuary), Citizen Rail (for steak), Bistro Vendome

Craft Breweries– Denver is quite the place for après ski. There’re over 100 breweries, brew pubs and tap rooms in the metro area alone. Check out the Denver beer trail for a rundown on what is on offer.

Hotels: 

The Crawford Hotel, Union Station: Located within Denver’s historic Union Station, wake up in this beautifully converted hotel and step straight onto the platform for trains to Winter Park (select days of the week Jan-Mar) and directly to/from Denver International Airport in 37 minutes – the perfect location to enjoy the city while being close to transport for those planning a ski holiday without hiring a car.

 

The Rally Hotel in McGregor Square

New this year, The Rally Hotel: this new independent lifestyle hotel opened in spring 2021 as the keystone piece to the Mile High City’s hottest new development, McGregor Square. The Rally Hotel pays homage to baseball roots – taking its name from an age-old baseball superstition – and is located steps away from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. A rooftop-bridgeway pool looks out onto views of the Rocky Mountains.

Kimpton Hotel Born, LoDo Neighbourhood: Within Denver’s revitalised LoDo neighbourbood and close to Union Station, this hotel takes on an alpine luxury look and feel so you’re ready for the mountains, while being in close proximity to Denver’s bars, restaurants and shops to soak in the urban energy before heading to the mountains.

The Maven Hotel, LoDo Neighbourhood: Located centrally, The Maven is a boutique hotel at the historic Dairy Block which places you on the doorstep of a multitude of bars, restaurants and a bustling food market, Milk Market. A great stop off for foodies.

The Art Hotel: for those wanting to soak up Denver’s art and culture scene, the Art Hotel is next door to Denver Art Museum and even has a gallery of its own. Also close to the outdoor urban space at Cheesman Park.

 

 

For more information about Colorado’s winter destinations and experiences, visit Colorado.com.