Best 4-5 day ski trip in (probably) Colorado in late March?
February 21, 2013 4:42 PM   Subscribe

3 coworkers want to plan a 4-5 day ski trip, probably to Colorado, in mid-to-late March. Convenience is key (we want to spend more time skiing and less time traveling), budget is roughly $1,000-$2,000 (including airfare, transit, lodging, ski/board+boot rentals, and lift tickets). Where do we go?

Possibly relevant:
  • We've only skied/boarded on the east coast/Europe before
  • We're average-strong skiers/snowboarders
  • Nightlife is less of a concern but a plus if it's there
  • We could be convinced to go elsewhere if you think we're going about this all wrong, Tremblant was tossed out as an alternative, but we'd kinda like to see what's all the fuss about this gorgeous powder and lack of ice on the west coast
Even more details:
- We were considering staying in Frisco based on some advice we read around the web, then skiing at Keystone, Copper, Breckenridge and/or Winter Park.
- We'd fly into Denver; might rent a car if needed/recommended.
- We thought about renting a small condo or home since the hotels looked pretty minimalistic.

All thoughts very much appreciated. Any questions, please ask me.

Thanks everyone!
posted by xiaolongbao to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
My folks usually do a West ski trip every year - they prefer Utah (flying into SLC) over Colorado for travel convenience and cost.
posted by domnit at 5:13 PM on February 21, 2013

It's been a few years since I was last out there, but we did something very similar to what you mentioned on our last trip to CO (cottage rental near Breckenridge, short trips to each of the other nearby resorts) and had a great 9-day trip. We found Breckenridge to be our favorite, and we ended up spending most of our time there after trying each of the others, but each resort had something unique to offer. Having said that, I'm going to second domnit's suggestion that you take a really good look at Utah before finalizing your plans.
posted by gimli at 5:35 PM on February 21, 2013

You will want a car I think to get from DIA to Frisco and then to the various ski areas. A few other ski areas to consider that are do-able from Frisco but a bit farther: Loveland Ski Area, Arapahoe Basin, and Vail.
posted by elmay at 5:55 PM on February 21, 2013

My sister and I stayed at the Hilton in Breckenridge and had a blast. It's ski in-ski out, and the rooms have a sitting area and a little kitchenette, which was great. It's a condo/timeshare deal, but we got it through American Airlines as part of a package. P.S. I've stayed at some AMAZING deals by getting the hotel through the airline.

The town has a lot of good restaurants, and the hotel has a firepit in the bar so it's nice just to hang out.

The hotel sponsored a saucer/sled run, and we had a ball with that.

The lift ticket we got allowed us to ski Vail, Copper and Keystone.

I still remember that as one of the BEST vacations I've ever had. And I was sick in the room from altitude for one day! (My sister was living in Albuquerque, so she didn't have any problems.)

Also, the ski rental place had eliptical skis, so BONUS!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 PM on February 21, 2013

Summit county will give you the most bang for your buck, with tremendous variety. Loveland and Arapahoe Basin are both day areas and are very high (base elev over 10,000 feet) so I wouldn't suggest them until you're well-acclimated.
We used to call Breckenridge "breckenflats", because, compared to other places, it didn't have much vertical. Ymmv, and they may have opened new terrain since I was last there.
Lastly, check out liftopuia for potential discounts in either Colorado or Utah.
When I lived in Denver you could always get discount lift tickets at King Soopers, a local grocery chain, so maybe check that out too.
Either place will be much higher altitude than you may be used to, so stay hydrated and go easy on the booze the first few days. If you get a sudden headache, feel dizzy, or nauseous while you're on the mountain, get to the bottom quickly and monitor your state. Those are all signs of altitude sickness, and should not be taken lightly. It even happens to locals (well, from Denver), so don't be embarrassed.
Have loads of fun!
posted by dbmcd at 6:14 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breck is the best to stay, I'd say. I mean, really, anywhere in Summit that you can find cheap lodging. If there's no snow, then Breckenridge, is a fine place to ski. And you could always drive the extra 45 minutes to Vail. If you want to do some backcountry after a nice dump, I suggest you go hike and hitchhike up Loveland Pass or Berthoud Pass. Forget the lifts if you have powder (and you're able to ski powder).
posted by nob'dy at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2013

So you can do this two ways. You can have a "vacation" where you stay in big resorty lodges, ski on holy-shit-this-is-what-real-snow-feels-like mountains, and overpay some giant ski-corp for the luxurious accommodations that you'll undoubtedly enjoy. You'll go to Breck (flat, tourist-infested shit) or Vail (amazing), or maybe Copper (it's okay) or Keystone (hit the back bowls). You can slum it and go to A-basin (cliff drop much?) or Mary Jane (oh how they've ruined you, but you still have the terrain). I've not skied Loveland, but hear it's worth skipping.

The other way is to give up the resorty stuff, rent a serious SUV as an insurance policy, and go to Aspen. It is out of your budget, and the drive is definitely longer. But it's amazing. You can stay at the St. Moritz hostel, eat ramen, and hike to the top of Aspen bowl where your mind will be BLOWN away. And there's nice restaurants that you can gaze into as you watch rich people eat their $30 burgers. I choose this option, but I've spent so much time in Summit County that I feel like I've seen it all... and I'm still chasing the bluebird 20" pow day I had at Aspen Bowl.

Summit County is the easier of the two, and you can slum it there, too. If you do, at least take a day trip to Vail. And hit those Keystone back bowls. (the one to the left, especially.) You can even ride a SNOW CAT! But the locals just hike.
posted by john the fourth at 7:27 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Airbnb has blossomed in Aspen/Snowmass. Some great places to stay at remarkable prices. Just make sure you buy your ticket at least a week in advance online.
posted by mmdei at 12:02 AM on February 22, 2013

Also, please don't follow the above advice and backcountry ski via Loveland or Berthoud Pass. You really need experience, someone who knows the easy routes out, and training with a beacon, shovel, and probe. My friends and I had to rescue a skiier on Berthoud Pass who was skiing alone and broke his leg. It took 9 hours and he nearly lost his life because the SAR folks couldn't get snowmobiles anywhere near us (and moving a dude with his tib-fib broken on a jerry-rigged snowboard sled in 2 ft. deep powder is not exactly a fast process).

Stick to the resorts. They are plenty mind-blowing for an east-coaster. I was raised at Vernon Valley and could not believe what Colorado had to offer!

And do rent the car. Whatever you decide, you need the car!
posted by john the fourth at 6:37 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

My advice is to figure out your flights and ground transportation first to sort out what money you have left to spend on lift tickets, rentals, lodging and food. Keep in mind that the Summit County Colorado resorts are 2+ hours away from the Denver airport. Shuttle companies do exist but for three people I bet that is pretty much a wash in terms of renting a car. Plus staying centrally and traveling to do different resorts is far more manageable via a car.

Driving to Aspen is going to be 4-5 hours and there is a smaller airport near there but that generally means higher airfares (especially if you are coming from the East coast).

Other places you might consider that have Great to good airport/airfare situations:
Salt Lake City has the closest big mountain skiing to a major US city (with a major US airport). Airfare is often very reasonable and you could be at a ski resort in less than an hour. This being a major city there are lots of non-lux, non-resort places to stay that help keep your costs low.
Reno is the closest airport for the Lake Tahoe resorts. Reno airfares can often be had for a reasonable rate. The ski resorts ring the lake so you'd likely need a car but that would also allow you to access AirBnB/VRBO type places that abound around the lake.
Big Sky Montana is another place that you might check into. It has the big mountain that you want and it is somewhat of a hidden gem which keeps costs and crowds down. The downside is the smaller airports which have a way of driving up cost. You may however be able to make that up in cheaper accommodations.

In any case....I bet you'll have fun where ever you go.
posted by mmascolino at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2013

Thanks everyone who responded. Sadly, we couldn't get it together for this year - the plan was admittedly a bit ambitious timewise - but we're doing some local trips and have earmarked Frisco as a base for next year. The Hilton at Breckenridge also caught my eye in particular, if we wanted to contain to Breck.

Much appreciated, y'all!
posted by xiaolongbao at 12:12 PM on March 11, 2013

Oh, and also thank you for the numerous Utah suggestions. It's next on our list, anticipate another Utah-specific question next year or the year after ;-)!
posted by xiaolongbao at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2013

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