The Outdoors,  Travel Guides

What You Need to Know Before Taking a Ski Trip to Colorado

Vail ski trip to Colorado

These days, it’s ski season in Colorado. Whether you’re planning your trip from Denver or coming in from out-of-town, these 10 tips will help to make your ski trip to Colorado resorts seamless. Rest assured that any guidance given here is from mistakes made and lessons learned. Overall, the most important advice I can give is to plan your ski trip to Colorado well in advance. The reason is that these trips can be extremely expensive on a whim. By purchasing passes, stays, transportation, and equipment ahead of time you can save a fortune. I remember being absolutely astonished by the price of this leisure activity and thinking, there is no way I can afford this. But my stubborn self stuck to it, and eventually, I learned ways to keep up the hobby on an average budget. 

1. Choose a Pass:

The cheapest and most efficient way to purchase a lift ticket for your ski trip to Colorado is to buy an Epic or Ikon pass. Although these passes can feel like a large upfront cost, they will quite literally save you hundreds of dollars. For example, let’s say that you plan to ski at Breckenridge on a holiday weekend. You can purchase a 3-day non-restricted Epic Pass for $350 or you can pay nearly $250/day when you arrive…see what I mean? 

  • The dates to buy the passes are limited based on quantity. Typically, they’re on sale from March to early December when the passes sell out. The earlier you buy, the cheaper the price. 
  • As an added bonus, these passes give you access to several resorts in Colorado, all over the country, and even international destinations. 
  • What pass you buy, depends on where you want to ski. Find out what resorts are offered on Epic and Ikon. IMPORTANT: be sure to check holiday weekend restrictions on passes. Also, some resorts have restricted access in general even if you buy the season pass. For example, if you buy the Epic Local Pass the number of days you have to spend at Beaver Creek and Vail are limited. Be sure to read the fine print! 
  • Both passes offer flexible payment plans.
  • Finally, both passes offer discounts on food, lodging, retail, lessons, and rentals. Not to mention buddy passes for friends and family who dragged their feet. Buddy passes typically take 20-25% off of a lift ticket price. The type of pass and when you buy depend on how many buddy passes you get for the season. 

2. Reserve your Rentals

Even if it’s the night before, reserving your skis ahead reduces your wait time and is always much cheaper. On a busy Saturday at places like Breckenridge, people can be quoted a 2-hour wait for walk-ins. The next order of business is to determine where to get your rentals. All of the major resorts in Colorado offer ski rentals. Picking up resort skis or boards at the bases is the most convenient option, but you can also rent skis off-base in Denver, the ski towns/villages, or another city along your route to the mountains. The benefits of this option are often lower rental prices, more inventory, and less competition. Christy Sports has locations all across Colorado if you want to pick them up before you get to the resort. If you’re heading to a resort off of I-70, you can look at towns like Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne for convenient pick-up on your route. 

3. Prepare for the Elevation Change

Some ski resorts are higher than others, with accessible parts of the mountains maxing out at around 13,000+ ft above sea level. That’s really high. When you’re up that high, not only are you closer to the sun (wear your sunscreen people), but there’s less oxygen and less pressure in the air. Mild symptoms of altitude sickness include fatigue, dehydration, and headaches. These symptoms can often be controlled by drinking about twice the amount of water you normally do and having Ibuprofen handy. I love to bring liquid IV on ski trips, especially for my midwestern visitors. You can read more about elevation adjustment and severe symptoms to look out for here

4. Avoid I-70 traffic

Trust me, taking that Thursday off and paying for an extra night will never be more worth it if you’re coming in for a weekend ski trip to Colorado. Friday night and Saturday mornings on 70 West are typically a nightmare and you should plan to be sitting in traffic for about 2 extra hours. A nice way to avoid taking extra time off to beat the traffic is to go to resorts that are not off of 70. Resorts like Winter Park, Eldora, Monarch Mountain, Crested Butte, or Wolf Creek. I also recommend making your trip during the weekdays if you can swing that to avoid crowds in general. 

5. Prepare for your Trek to the Mountain

When looking for places to stay, pay attention to the distance from and transportation to ski resort bases. Obviously ski-in, ski-out is the most convenient option but can often cost a pretty penny. Most lodges and hotels that are off-base offer free shuttle services to the mountain. Typically, these shuttles run all day, but sometimes you have to call and arrange the pick-up time. Other options are to stay within a walkable distance of Gondolas or bring friends who aren’t skiing and can drop you off. Of course, you can also drive yourselves and park. All of this depends on what resort you’re skiing at. Some resorts are much more accessible and easy to navigate, while others take a bit more planning (cough cough Beaver Creek). 

6. You Don’t Need to Rent a Car

There are several forms of transportation from Denver and DIA if a rental car is not within your budget. If you’re in Denver and insecure about your car or driving in the mountains then this is also a great option for you!

  • Winter Park Express: The Winter Park Express leaves Union Station (in the heart of downtown Denver) every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7 a.m. from January 13th-March 26th. You’ll arrive in Winter Park by 9 a.m. and can then take the train back into Denver when the train departs at 4:30 pm. Tickets cost $34/per person for a one-way fare. 
  • Epic Mountain Express: Epic offers private and shared shuttle services from the airport or Denver to Keystone, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Vail, and Beaver Creek. Ticket prices depend on where you get picked up and where you’re headed and start at about $70/person each way, but you can also receive 20% off with your epic pass. These shuttles can take you directly to your lodging. 
  • Here are more mountain transportation options. 

7. Skip December Skiing and Opt for a Non-Holiday Weekend

The time you schedule your ski trip to Colorado is important. If you come in December, most resorts probably won’t have too much snow and a lot of the mountains won’t be open. Of course, this varies from year to year, and resort websites are typically pretty adept at keeping the snow report updated. While I don’t recommend December, all resorts in Colorado are open through March, and some even into April. March is still absolutely ski season out here. I also recommend coming on a non-holiday weekend to avoid crowds, traffic, and increased prices. MLK and Presidents Day are huge weekends for ski trips to Colorado for obvious reasons. Again, it might be worth it to just take some PTO. 

8. Yes, You Need a Helmet (and Other Gear)

Growing up in the midwest in the early 2000s meant that you were a nerd if you wore a helmet for any activity. I assure you that out here, all the cool kids wear helmets. When I first started skiing out here, I thought I could get away with strictly budget gear. Well, I learned my lesson. At the very least, buy nice ski gloves and socks to make your day on the mountain more bearable. I have Hestra Mittens (I can get away with the junior sizes for just $75) and recommend Smartwool socks. I used retailers like EVO, Backcountry, Steep and Cheap, and REI to buy most of my gear. Another tip, REI’s website offers used gear which is worth checking out for whatever you’re comfortable with. It seems like they really vet what they accept. 

9. Yes, Beginners Can Ski in Colorado

Many might argue that it’s actually easier to learn on a ski trip to Colorado with those long, wide-open, and gradual greens. Group lessons are often split between adults and children and are offered for full and half-day rates. You can also sign up for a private lesson, but those tend to be quite pricey. For your relationship’s sake, maybe don’t ask your partner to teach you…Rest assured that each resort has a “beginner” area with strictly beginner runs. I recommend checking out resort maps before you head out there! 

10. Non-skiers can Enjoy a Ski Trip to Colorado Too

Ski trips to Colorado are not exclusive to adventure seekers. The Colorado ski resorts offer luxurious mountain getaways for those seeking relaxation and comfort as well. I have gone with my boyfriend to enjoy the views and relax during our stay with a cup of coffee and my beanie while he skis. Beyond the incredible views, are other vacation amenities like spas, plenty of shopping and exploring in the ski towns, and incredible dining. Not to mention, other winter outdoor activities if you’re hoping to try something safe and new. I’ve taken 2 large groups filled with non-skiers who spent the entire weekend entertaining themselves while I was on the mountain. If you’re going with non-skiers, I recommend Breckenridge or Steamboat Springs as there are tons to do in the surrounding mountain towns! 

There are a lot of logistics involved when planning a ski trip to Colorado, but with this list of tips you have the tools to plan the most epic trip yet. The good news is that it is only early February, so there are plenty of ski weekends left in Colorado. Get to planning and happy skiing!

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