Searching for something else than the usual ski resorts in Austria, Switzerland or South Tyrol? We might have just the right thing for you. We tested seven ski areas in Colorado, which turned out to be an unforgettable ski trip.
During the first part of our journey, we explored the Mile High City of Denver and went on a ride in North America's highest lift. We skied down the legendary Birds of Prey trail and the Back Bowls of Vail. In the second part, we traveled on to Telluride.
>> Part one of our Colorado ski trip!
Telluride: America's Coolest Ski Town
The closer we got to Telluride, the more we were amazed. When we reached Main Street, we just had to stop and take a picture of what we were seeing. Main Street, surrounded by bars and saloons, seemed to lead straight towards a vertical rock face at the end of the valley. We jumped out of the car to absorb the panoramic view and the atmosphere on Main Street. Turning our eyes south, we could already see the steep slopes that awaited us here.
We unpacked our skis and headed toward the Telluride/Mountain Village Gondola. The lift connects the old mining town Telluride with the new Mountain Village, which contains many hotels built exclusively for ski tourism. Below the gondola we could make out well-known ski runs, such as North Chute, Stumper or O'Reilly's, winding down the steep slopes on the North side. From the top station, we could overlook the whole ski area. With a height of 4,008 meters (13,150 feet), Palmyra Peak in the south towered above the entire resort (If you're planning on skiing down from there, you'll have to walk up quite a bit).
At the top station we met Tom Watkinson, who has spent most of his life in Telluride. Suntanned and with a smile on his face, he told us: “I know you Europeans prefer sliding down groomed runs but here in Telluride, we've got something better”. My wife wasn't so happy about this at first. As soon as we started gliding across the soft, thigh-deep snow, however, that tension turned into pure joy.
After several powder runs around the Gold Hill Express, our legs were burning and Tom finally showed some compassion: “Okay, we can ski some groomers now. I want to show you a cool place to soak in the sun.” The place he meant was Gorrono Ranch, an old farm in midst of the ski resort, above Mountain Village. The ranch, which can be booked for weddings in summer, provides skiers with an excellent view of the San Juan Mountains.
Our tip: With a space of more than 810 hectares (2,000 acres) and almost 150 runs, Telluride offers a huge variety of opportunities. Nearly 60% of runs are designed for beginners and intermediate skiers. The slopes marked green and blue are found around Sunshine Express and Village Express. More experienced winter sports fans will find their challenge up at the Revelation Bowl or Black Iron Bowl. With a length of 7.4 kilometers (4.6 miles), the green-marked Galloping Goose is the resort's longest run, stretching from the Prospect Express Lift to Meadows Area near Mountain Village.
>> More information on the Telluride ski area
Wagner Custom: German Skis Made in the USA
After resting for a while at Gorrono Ranch, Tom took us down to Mountain Village. Visibly proud, he told us that Telluride even had its own ski brand. When we got to Wagner Custom Skis, we felt more like we were standing in a design studio than a ski factory. Behind the counter we were greeted by Pete Wagner, founder of the ski manufacturing company. He doesn't look like a typical freerider, more like an inventor or an engineer. “Welcome to Wagner Custom Skis” he says cheerfully and begins to tell us his story.
Pete studied computer science (“That explains our first impression”, we thought) and began his career manufacturing custom-made golf clubs for professionals. Using sensors, he measured the golfers' physical characteristics as well as their swing behavior. This way, he was able to create the ideal golf club for each individual customer. Pete eventually noticed that his true passion was skiing. He moved to Telluride, looking to transfer his idea to the world of winter sport and make custom skis.
Pete proudly told us about his German heritage and that he was aware of the connection the name 'Wagner' has with craftsmanship in Germany. According to him, the best skis – after his own, of course – are made in Germany.
Modern Cowboys: A Ride on the Snowmobile
After we said good-bye to Pete, Tom gave us one last tip: “You have to try snowmobiling”, he said before heading down the slope for the night. We heeded his advice and booked a guided snowmobile tour the next morning. Driving around the wilderness of the San Juan Mountains was an incredible experience. At times, we felt like we were somewhere out in Alaska. Only the occasional abandoned mountain ranch reminded us of the civilization close-by.
Crested Butte: Colorado's Snow Hole
After all the excitement in Telluride, leaving the town was really hard for us. We had heard about snowstorms though, which had apparently passed us in the North during the last few days.
Crested Butte was up next on our Colorado tour. The village is located almost exactly in the state's center and has always been Colorado's “snow hole”. A fact that had us very excited on our way north. Despite all we had heard, we were still amazed. After we passed Gunnison, the snow walls surrounding us got higher and higher. The wind blew the fresh powder snow onto the road, and without our 4WD we would have been hopelessly stuck.
When we finally reached Crested Butte two hours later than planned, we entered a winter wonderland. Snow piles more than two meters (6.6 feet) high were all around the village, located 2,700 meters (8,860 feet) above sea level in the Elk Mountains. Snowflakes fell continuously from the thick clouds above us. Captivated by this atmosphere, we decided to explore Crested Butte on foot. When we reached our hotel in the evening, we were told that the lifts had closed due to the fresh snow and that we would have perfect powder snow when they reopened in the morning.
Our car was covered with about 40 centimeters (16 inches) of snow the next day but the lifts were open. What followed can only be described as skiing on top of a cloud. Fresh snow blew into our faces wherever we skied. Whether on the family slopes at the Red Lady Express lift or while tree skiing around the North Face lift, we were able to maneuver our skis effortlessly even down the steepest slope. The ride down from the mountaintop through the 'banana' and the 'funnel' was the only one we left out due to the strong wind. As we made our way through more fresh snow again the next day, we knew we had found it: the perfect Colorado champagne powder.
Our tip: Like a pyramid, Mt Crested Butte rises above East River Valley with its height of 3,704 meters (12,152 feet). Beginners will find several green runs at the Red Lady Express lift. If you're a little more experienced, check out the blue-marked runs around the East River and Paradise Express lifts. To get to the Back Bowls you'll have to take the Silver Queen Express or High Lift.
>> More information on the Crested Butte ski area
Crested Butte is a typical American ski town, where you'll search in vain for traffic lights, skyscrapers or big shopping malls. Instead, well-preserved false-front buildings shape the old miners' town. This doesn't mean the village doesn't have anything to offer though. Behind the facades you'll find charming restaurants, bars and cafes.
Copper Mountain: The Perfect Family Ski Resort
From Crested Butte we slowly started heading back towards Denver. Our next stop was Copper Mountain. The first thing we noticed when we looked at the map was the ski area's natural division. While the family-friendly slopes were found exclusively in the West, many Black Diamond and Double Diamond runs were located on the East slope. This way, beginners and more experienced skiers don't bother each other while skiing. Blue-marked runs can be found between the Super Bee and American Eagle lifts in the center and around the Timberline Express lift.
After a day on the ski slopes of Copper Mountain, we wanted to check out the Tubing Hill as well, which is located in the East Village next to Super Bee. You can travel to the top comfortably on the conveyor belt before sliding down one of the four lanes one a single or double tube.
Our tip: Copper Mountain is only 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Denver. Summit Express is a shuttle service that transports passengers between the airport in Denver and the ski resort several times per day. You can travel between the three parts of town (East Village, Center Village and West Village) by bus free of charge. So, if you're only going skiing in Copper Mountain, you can save yourself the time and money of renting a car.
>> More information on Copper Mountain ski resort
Winter Park: Overlooking the Continental Divide
Leaving Copper Mountain, we headed to our seventh and final destination, Winter Park. Its location at the Continental Divide and around 8 meters (26 feet)of snow per year give the area ideal snow conditions.
Winter Park is divided into seven different parts. In Winter Park Territory and Vasquez Ridge Territory, the more inexperienced skiers will find a large number of suitable green and blue runs. Advanced skiers can head out to Parsenn Bowl or Mary Jane Territory, where intermediate and demanding slopes are located. Skiing experts will want to test themselves at Eagle Wind and The Cirque Territory. Freestylers can get their money's worth at seven different terrain parks, found around Eskimo Express.
Our tip: You can travel from Denver to Winter Park by train. The Winter Park Express takes you directly from Denver Union Station to the ski resort. The train runs between January and March on Fridays and the weekend. As the connection is very popular, we advise you to book a ticket in advance.
>> Find out more about Winter Park ski resort
Overview: All Colorado Ski Areas We Visited
After two thrilling and eventful weeks, we had to leave Colorado and the Rockies with a heavy heart. We took wonderful memories with us, along with the certainty to return one day.
Finally, look below for an overview of all the ski areas we visited during our journey through Colorado, listed together with the most important information:
|Ski area||Number of lifts||Ski runs||2019/2020 season dates|
|Breckenridge||34||187||08.11.2019 - 25.05.2020|
|Beaver Creek||23||150||23.11.2019 - 12.04.2020|
|Vail||31||195||15.11.2019 - 19.04.2020|
|Telluride||17||148||28.11.2019 - 05.04.2020|
|Crested Butte||15||121||27.11.2019 - 12.04.2020|
|Copper Mountain||25||142||08.11.2019 - 19.04.2020|
|Winter Park||25||166||02.11.2019 - 26.04.2020|