_BreakthroughOnSkis.com __Ski Travel: Colorado


from the
Unofficial Guide
to Skiing in the West


Why ski Colorado? I live here, so I’m prejudiced - spoiled, too. But my life as a ski writer takes me away from these mountains, my adopted home mountains, for weeks and months at a time every winter. And still I’m always excited to get home and get out on these slopes again. In more than 20 years of living here, I haven’t run out of reasons to love Colorado skiing.

Of course, it starts with the snow. I’m the first to admit that Colorado holds no monopoly on light, dry, white stuff. Partisans of Utah claim their snow is deeper, drier; aficionados of New Mexican nieve swear it’s the lightest of all; locals in the northern Rockies claim that their dry snow falls more frequently and piles up higher. And so it goes. But if Colorado snow is not absolutely unique here in the Rockies, it is still a small miracle - the stuff of which skiers’ dreams are made. Not only does Colorado snow fall from the sky as fluff, as true powder, but lowering temperatures after a storm will often dry it out even further. Snow here sometimes gets lighter and drier a day after it’s fallen. In skiers’ terms, this translates into less resistance, less friction, less work to turn and slide. It’s as though one’s skis are always better waxed on Colorado slopes. Untracked powder snow in Colorado is for play not penance, an invitation with no strings attached; and when it’s groomed and packed down into pistes, this stuff becomes a sort of Teflon velvet where our modern skis can perform to 110 percent of their design potential. Then too, Colorado is not just a Rocky Mountain state; it is definitely part of the southern Rockies. And that means slightly warmer winter temperatures, slightly more sunshine, and more blue skies. It is the high altitude as much as or more than winter cold that keeps our snow so light and dry.

this photo: Vail by night, one of the twin capitals of Colorado skiing

photo at top of page: taking the quad out of China Bowl, Vail

both photos © Linde Waidhofer

But that’s just the beginning. As important as its snow, but surely more unique, are Colorado’s ski towns. The resort flavor of Colorado skiing is unlike anything you can find elsewhere. One could easily say that what distinguishes Colorado from other ski regions in our country is not the number of great ski areas, but the number of great ski resorts. I’m not splitting hairs. A ski area is a mountain equipped for skiing, period. A ski resort offers far more than just skiing. Ideally, life at the bottom of the mountain must be as intriguing and as intoxicating as turns on the hill. A great ski resort has to offer more than strip development, motel-style or minimalist condo lodging, and endless parking lots. And the majority of Colorado ski areas are real “resorts” in this sense. The very best ski resorts of all are actually true villages, true ski towns - mountain communities where the whole rhythm and fabric of life, the atmosphere in the streets, the focus and passion of locals as well as visitors, are inextricably tied to skiing. Where everyone, visitor and local, in some way or another, lives the ski life. Great ski towns are easy to find in the Alps; they are all too rare in the United States, and most of those we have are in Colorado.

Some readers may already be wondering where they’ll find the best skiing, the best ski mountain, the best ski town. I lived for 21 years in one Colorado ski town, Telluride - a place I fell in love at first sight and still adore, but which I wouldn’t dare claim was the best. Every good ski resort is somebody’s favorite. The special quality of light, snow, friends you’re skiing with, your own state of mind and body - all this makes one day, one place, one memory the best. With any luck you’ll have numerous “best days” on Colorado slopes. So I’ll leave such ultimate judgments to you.

right and below: Aspen, the other "twin capital " of Colorado skiing

both photos © Burnham Arndt


But there is still a pecking order. If Colorado can be called the capital of American skiing, then it must be said that the twin capitals of Colorado skiing are Vail and Aspen. These two ski towns that set the standards by which other ski resorts are judged. Steamboat comes in a close third, and two other ski towns, Crested Butte and Telluride hold a special place in my affections, for their historic charm, their demanding skiing, and their still relatively hard-to-reach and remote locations.

And that’s just for starters. I wrote the section on the Southern Rockies for The Unofficial Guide to Skiing in the West--just released in a revised 3rd edition. For this latest edition I had the immense pleasure of skiing and re-skiing 16 major mountains. And I blush to admit I even left out a few smaller ones. The moral of this tale is simple enough, you won't run out of skiing stimulation in Colorado for years and years and years....

And in future editions of this site, I plan to share my reviews of favorite Colorado ski destinations. Stay tuned

_BreakthroughOnSkis.com __Ski Travel: Colorado
© Lito Tejada-Flores

The Unofficial Guide to Skiing in the West is published by Macmillan. The third edition has just been released (ISBN 0-02-863278-8). The book covers Colorado and the southern Rockies; Utah and the northern Rockies; plus California and the Pacific Northwest