The North American product manager, Michael Brabin, is just back from a three week tour of some of the top US ski resorts. Here are his thoughts on what each resort has to offer along with some photos from his trip.
When you land at Denver airport you are already a mile high – you can join the club even if the plane is on the ground – and thanks to the high altitude Colorado is renowned for getting some of the best snow in the world. It also makes accessing the ski areas incredibly easy. You can forget the vertigo inducing switch back drives of the Alps as you weave up towards high elevation ski areas; here in Colorado resorts sit happily overlooking the I70 Interstate which follows the Great Divide past some of the best ski resorts in North America.
Winter Park Just 1.5 hours from Denver Airport (and only 5 turns later!) you arrive in Winter Park – not exactly difficult driving and a good starting point after a long haul flight. It actually is the one of the largest ski areas in Colorado – 30% bigger than the much better known Breckenridge and it gets more snow too. The $3 margaritas in Lime Bar in the newly built village at the base of the mountain helps get over jetlag – a real treat.
Breckenridge (with shopping)
The drive to Breckenridge from Winter Park should only take a couple of hours – if you are stupid enough to tell your better half about the outlet shopping en route then give yourself at least a day and pray that it doesn’t snow – which it will.
Breck, as it’s affectionately known, became a ski resort as the mining industry dried up and still retains its American town charm. At 3,000m drinking and lively bars should be banned, unfortunately they’re not – a Breckenridge hangover is not a nice experience but the skiing is too good to miss, especially when it’s just snowed. After spending the previous day in retail hell I feel more than justified getting stuck into some of the steep bowls while the girlfriend shows off her new “it’s so cheap I have to buy it” designer ski jacket on the cruisers.
The day spent here on the way to Vail just doesn’t do the resort justice, although lacking some of Breckenridge’s charm the ski mountain is on par with any of the previous resorts. I hit the jackpot with yet another powder day and, although I have used up all the brownie points in Breckenridge, I still manage to sneak off into the back bowls which are so easy to access and pretty much deserted. Within them I find the waiting point for the cat to take you up another part of Copper Bowl. After hanging around in an awkward I don’t want to ask British style, a local announced it would be an hours wait so I head off to ski more of the powder, who needs a cat here!
Vail is known as an upmarket ski resort, but it actually doesn’t have to be expensive – I stayed in the Evergreen Lodge which is in a great position close to the two main villages and really well priced given its location and high standard. 11 inches of snow fall over night and then the sun comes out and whilst my girlfriend asks me to get the grooming report from the front desk, I promptly leave to enjoy the best days skiing of my life. The back bowls here are literally endless, I make it to lunch skiing powder up to my waist and I haven’t even got to Blue Sky Basin. Locals tell me this is one of the best days this season and the atmosphere is incredible with people whooping off the chair lift as you make another fresh line below.
Vail’s rich, eccentric sister Beaver Creek is just a few minutes away, the resorts tag line is ‘not exactly roughing it’ and with immaculate grooming, only the best hotels and a perfectly designed village it really is something special. I need to top up my powder credits so treat myself and Clair to a spa and massage at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek – I come out feeling reborn and smelling of eucalyptus.
Although the scenery so far hasn’t been as spectacular as other places in the Rockies the drive to Aspen is jaw dropping, passing through Glenwood Canyon it is difficult to 100% concentrate on driving when rocky cliffs tower up 400m on both sides – this is the scenery you imagine driving on Route 66. I manage to find Rock FM which provides a fitting sound track.
Aspen Town is much larger than Breck with two distinct sides, on one side you have the ski shops, pubs and American restaurants for the snow aficionados but there is also the art shops, fine dining and wine bars for those out to be seen in Aspen, I go mainly for the former. With four resorts skiable on one pass there is great diversity on mountain too. Buttermilk is the beginners area and also has a huge park (host of the X Games) so is the one resort I miss, Snowmass Resort is larger than Winter Park and the only true all-round mountain there. Aspen and Highland Resorts lend themselves to good intermediates and above – Highlands Bowl is an infamous expert area accessed by a cat, this time there is no queue and I have to leave the girlfriend one last time! I jump on the back feeling pretty macho until a local kid, probably about 11, gets on with me – I ensure any photos do not have him in.
It’s hard to beat these Colorado resorts – each one is slightly different but the skiing is always phenomenal and there is always the option of popping off to other resorts, whether you drive or arrange a ski away day through our local Crystal Reps. The only downside to Colorado? If you are not of similar abilities and the snow is good (which is nearly always is) then don’t expect to see too much of the people you go with! No friends on a powder day – I’m pretty sure that’s law in Colorado.
Michael Brabin is the North America Product Manager at Crystal Ski. If you have any questions about any of these resorts or general queries about skiing in America please leave a comment below or join us on facebook.