Colorado has long held an affinity for Australians, maybe it’s our powder snow enthusiasm and laidback ways that still roll in hot to après hour.
Truth is, you can’t walk two feet in a Colorado ski resort on Australia Day without being offered an imported Tim Tam or vegemite toast and the flat white is now a year round thing in most mountain cafès.
While there’s less Aussie accents on the chairlifts in Colorado this season (hello, pandemic), when the Australian borders do reopen and we can travel again, it’s important to know which of Colorado’s 28 resorts is right for you.
So we’ve laid out all your best options below – all you need to do is pick which description suits you best and start getting excited.
You’ve spent every night of the last COVID year dreaming of sweet, sweet powder
Those in the know head straight to Wolf Creek. They get the most snow of any resort in Colorado, with an average of 430 inches every year of sweet, glorious powder. Just don’t tell anyone.
If you like your powder served with a side of cowboy town then hit up the deep pow of Steamboat, which has eighteen chairlifts and gondolas to choose from; they’re so confident with the quality of their Champagne Powder that they’ve trademarked it. When the lifts close, pick up a pair of hand crafter cowboy boots on the Main Street.
You say “go hard or go home” far too frequently
If you’re the kind that likes to go powder skiing down the steepest run possible, go for Silverton Mountain. Take the lift to a hundred percent double black, off-piste powder skiing and forget about the groomers, because there’s none to be found here. In fact, their motto is “all thrills, no frills” with no easy way down. This is lift accessed backcountry style terrain, so take a guide.
Or you can try Aspen Highlands where over 65% of the resort is double black, including incredible sections of gladed expert areas, and you can take the 45 minute hike to the famous Highlands Bowl for a steep and deep descent.
There’s also Copper Mountain, where Spalding Bowl offers endless double blacks. The runs here are clustered with like-leveled terrain, so you can do lap after lap of the steep stuff without needing to even look at a green run.
You’re charmed by the old-school
Go, go, go and don’t stop until you get to the gorgeous wild west town of Telluride, which you’ll adore exploring before heading to the incredible variety of terrain – hint, it’s big and there’s even heli skiing. Check out the “free box” on Main Street for locals who up-cycle, grab a coffee from the Cowboy Coffee caravan and ride the bio-fuelled free bus around town and the free gondola from downtown to Mountain Village.
It’s also worth checking out the cute-as-a-tiny button Howelsen Hill Ski Area at Steamboat Springs, which has been open since 1915, making it the oldest ski area in Colorado. Or Ski Cooper, known for being the former training site for the 10th Mountain Division, the legendary World War II ski troops who loved the powder of Colorado. The runs even follow some of the same paths used by soldiers who skied Europe’s mountain battlefields.
You want to explore the backcountry
Crested Butte is the perfect spot for you, not just because of the multi coloured town Main Street, but also for their backcountry guide program. Professional instructors teach would-be backcountry enthusiasts how to navigate safely and explore untouched powder – essential knowledge for anyone venturing into unknown territory in a new place.
Want a truly intrepid, no ski lifts, experience? Bluebird Backcountry launched last year on Whitely Peak and have moved this season to Bear Mountain. The ideal experience for all levels from mellow to steeps with 1200 acres of avalanche evaluated inbounds terrain to explore. Hire a guide and hit up an additional 3000 acres on Diamond Mountain.
You really want to go to Colorado but you’re a wee bit nervous that it’s too ‘hardcore’
Don’t be – there’s truly something for everyone. Practically all the resorts have perfect groomed runs to gain your confidence on and exceptional ski schools with world class instructors.
Keystone spoils beginners for choice with their learning areas, including plenty of ‘slow zone’ runs that keep things nice and mellow for those just finding their feet on the snow. But you won’t be missing out on any incredible views, with one of Keystone’s learning areas located over 11,500ft up.
There are also smaller ski areas where the unassuming vibes makes a really lovely ambiance for skiing and learning. Try Hesperus, an idyllic little winter escape; Kendall Mountain for intimacy and family-friendliness; or Purgatory Resort for a place that’s far less intimidating than its name.
You’re the first person to ski into après and the last person to stumble home
Aspen has your name all over it. Single-handedly one of the best après spots in North America, there are endless places to sink back a bevy in a socially distanced way, after exploring this winter playground. The champagne corks usually start popping by 1pm at famous Cloud Nine, and The Little Nell is the local’s pick for best wine bar vibes.
You want your first post-COVID holiday to be the boujiest thing this side of boujie town
You can’t go past Beaver Creek for ski-in, ski-out, next-level luxury. Chefs offer complimentary hot baked cookies at the base of the slope every afternoon and there’s even a heated covered escalator to take you to first lifts in the morning. Plus wine and snowshoe excursions to entertain you when you’re done with skiing for the day – it’s all an Instagram post waiting to happen.
You like to spend your ski days in the park, daydreaming of being a superstar
Hellooooo Buttermilk. Home of ESPN’s Winter X Games, this is where the likes of Olympians Shaun White and Scotty James have battled it out for snowboarding medals, along with many other legends.
When you’re done exploring the mountain, head over to Breckenridge; those in the know are all over the fact that the Olympic Slopestyle, halfpipe and big air skiers and boarders all train here. You’ll run into half of them on the old mining town’s Victorian style Main Street.
Then be sure to stop by Arapahoe Basin, which boasts North America’s highest elevation terrain park.
You’ve got littlies in tow
Perfect! While known as being one of the most famous resorts in the world with big terrain and big back bowls, Vail Mountain also happens to have the coolest kids zones, with fun ski runs through magical forests and cowboy western themed elements. A win-win for both grown-ups and littlies.
When it’s time to mix up the scenery, then the Tree House child care centre at Snowmass is so much fun that your children probably won’t want to leave. And neither will you.
You want to go where no other Aussies tend to ski
You’ll want to hang out in Denver, not just to acclimatise to altitude but because the city is so hot right now with dining precincts, gentrified industrial areas, museums, art galleries, stadiums and a ton of under the radar boutique ski resorts nearby.
Intrepid skiers can venture off the beaten mainstream path and try out local favorites like Echo Mountain Resort, affordable and open until 9pm for skiing under the stars. There’s also equal local favourite, Eldora Mountain Resort, which still offers up terrain to keep Aussies busy all day long.
Don’t forget Loveland down the i-70, which averages nearly 400 inches of snow every season, and sees few enough people that you’ll still find untracked snow several days after a storm; Monarch Mountain, beautifully laidback with 360-degree views of the Continental Divide; Powderhorn, with some of the best views to be found anywhere; or the old-school, family-first vibes of Ski Granby Ranch, where everyone gathers by the fire pit at the base of the mountain to unwind from the day with a hot chocolate in hand.
You love moguls
… are you okay, firstly? But alright, who are we to judge. Head straight to Winter Park, which was rated number one in North America for mogul skiing by Skiing Magazine. You can even jump on the Winter Park Express train straight from Denver’s uber hip Union Station. Expect a lounge car and floor to ceiling windows to take in those Rocky Mountain views.
You dream of post-ski hot springs
Hello Sunlight Mountain Resort! The affordable lift tickets and great mix of terrain are wonderful at this resort, but the major drawcard is its proximity to the world’s largest hot springs pool at Glenwood Hot Springs, which has been soothing weary muscles since 1888.
Steamboat is also home to Strawberry Park Hot Springs with steaming rock pools deep in the woods. So you can ski champagne powder then follow it up with a mineral soak.
Ready to get exploring? Discover Colorado here and plan ahead for when borders open.