How to Plan an Epic Colorado Ski Trip [Local Secrets]

by Ryan Nicholson | Last Updated:  November 12, 2019

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How to Plan an Epic Colorado Ski TripColorado is known for its world-famous ski seasons — and with good reason. Many of the state’s cities have been named the best travel destinations in the world.

And it’s always a big celebration in the state when ski season starts.

We’re sharing some epic secrets for planning your next Colorado ski trip without breaking the bank.

Whether you’re visiting from out of town, or you’ve lived in Colorado your whole life, these tips will help you make the most out of a ski trip in the Rockies.

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Where to ski in Colorado

Every resort has something special to offer. Some have high-quality, world-famous travel destination ski runs and some are smaller, more family-friendly, and more affordable.

Fun fact: Unlike some states like Utah, all the resorts in Colorado allow snowboarders.

If you’re skiing solo for the day or making a multi-day trip with the whole crew, each ski resort will be able to offer you something different.

colorado ski season secrets

Breckenridge: Colorado local’s love it

It’s true that local Colorado natives often go to Breckenridge to ski and enjoy the winter months. And there’s plenty to love about Breckenridge, from the small-town feel to the amazing trails and ski slopes.

Vail or Aspen: Top tourist destinations

Meanwhile, out of towners may want to hit up the most iconic and internationally known resorts like Vail Ski Resort or the Aspen Snowmass to get the full Colorado experience.

The skiing is epic and the resorts are posh. But these options may be a bit more expensive because they get so many visitors.

Winter Park or Steamboat Springs: Family and kid-friendly

If your crew is made up of kids and you’re looking for family-friendly ski resorts, check out Winter Park Resort and Steamboat Resort.

These areas are a bit more budget-friendly and have tons of additional activities available aside from skiing or snowboarding.

Go on a ski tour

Got a lot of time and want to soak up everything Colorado has to offer? Many resorts are within an hours’ distance of each other, so it would be a quick trip to mountain hop from one resort to another.

If you want to really learn what you like and don’t like about a ski experience, a “ski tour” can be a great way to explore lots of different slopes!

When does ski season start?

Ski season starts when Mother Nature decides, so there’s no official “start date” for ski season. Usually, ski season starts at the beginning of November and goes through April — and sometimes even into May or June.

At the time of this writing Keystone, Breckenridge, and Monarch Mountain are all open for ski season, with many more opening soon.

Because the weather conditions are different on each mountain, every resort will open on a different day. It can be a bit of a race to see which resort will start their season next, and many resorts brag about how early they will be open.

Keystone Resort is almost always at the front of the pack, and is known to be the first resort to open, as early as October! (In 2019, they started their season on October 12th.)

ski trip to colorado

Early ski season pros and cons

One thing to bear in mind about an early season opening is the amount of manufactured snow that covers large portions of the slopes. The trails and mountains are groomed with snow crawlers and plows, if not enough real snow has fallen yet.

If you’re looking for real snow, you may be disappointed. On the other hand, most (if not all) the runs that are open so early will be the “greens.”

Greens? Were talking about the level of difficulty for each ski trail (not golf). If you’re not a regular skier, here’s a quick rundown on the lingo!

So, choose your ski routes accordingly!

Avoid peak ski season and national holidays

Peak ski season is the most popular time for skiing, which is between late December and mid-March. During this time of year, you’ll find bigger crowds and usually higher prices.

Within the peak season, some days are particularly busy. The days between Christmas and New Years’, Martin Luther King Day (January 20th, 2020), and President’s Day (February 17th, 2020) are some of the busiest days on the slopes.

Many people from Colorado and nearby states will have these days off. Any extended weekend will be busy with people getting a long weekend of skiing in.

School spring breaks will also be popular times for families to hit the slopes. Not all schools have spring break at the same time so avoiding spring breaks can be a bit hit or miss.

If you’re an adult looking to avoid gaggles of waist-high skiers, we recommend avoiding the slopes through most of March.

You might expect that lift tickets and other expenses will be higher during peak season, but there are lots of other things may be higher too.

Prices may be higher off the slopes for accommodations, food, or entertainment in mountain towns where peak season skiers are staying, eating, and playing.

Visit less crowded ski slopes

If you want to avoid the crowds at more popular ski destinations, here are a few things to consider.

The closer a ski resort is to a major city, the larger the crowds will usually be. Especially when people travel from out of state or out of the country to ski in Colorado, they typically don’t want to spend their vacation driving.

If you’re willing to go a little further, you can spare yourself rubbing elbows with too many other skiers.

snowshoeing in colorado

When is the best time to ski in Colorado?

If you have the ability to avoid the holidays we’ve mentioned, and if it’s possible to ski on a weekday, you’ll hit peak powder with fewer crowds.

If hitting the powder is not the only appeal of a visit to these mountain resorts, consider booking your visit during “shoulder season.”

Shoulder season is very early in the season or very late in the season when snow is not guaranteed and may be more manufactured. This can be a great time to soak up the fun these mountain towns have to offer without the crowds and the high price tag.

Know off-peak seasons

Late November through the holidays in December is often considered the “early off-season”. And the “late off-season” can run from mid- to late March through the end of the season (usually in May).

Sometimes, seasons can run really long. In fact, as we write this in 2019, we have had several very long seasons recently.

Last year, Breckenridge was open through the 4th of July!

Basically, if it is fall or spring and NOT officially winter, consider it an off season or shoulder season.

Choose the right time to go skiing

Colorado is the most popular state in the nation to visit for skiing and is a world renowned skiing destination. Weekend trips, or weeklong trips are popular, so you may not be able to snag incredible deals for these packages.

But a weekday trip can still save you a ton. If you’re willing to travel a bit further afield than the most popular tourist destinations, you’ll find less traffic, lower food and accommodation costs, and smaller crowds in general.

A weekday ski trip will usually have lower costs of ski or snowboard lessons too!

winter park ski season

How to save on lift tickets or passes

One of the biggest expenditures when hoping to ski Colorado’s awesome slopes are the prices of lift tickets. Here are some tips from locals on how to save big on skiing tickets or season passes.

Compare the Ikon Pass & Epic Pass

During the year, there are several ski passes you can purchase that will save you money if you ski in Colorado often. The two best known passes are the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass. Both ski passes include ski access to multiple ski resorts in Colorado (and elsewhere in North America and Europe!).

The Ikon Pass includes Copper Mountain and Winter Park, which are usually less crowded than the major resorts.

The Epic Pass includes spots like Breckenridge and Vail. The earlier you buy passes before the ski season starts, the more money you can save!

Buy tickets in advance

Even if you don’t have a pass, you can still save by buying your lift tickets online in advance of your trip on the website of the resort where you’ll be visiting.

Save big with all-inclusive ski packages

You may also consider buying an all-inclusive ski package to save money on the bundle. You’ll get all your big ticket costs included, like lift tickets, equipment rentals, lodging, and even lessons for one price.

Check your local grocery store

Want to pick up some last-minute lift tickets for a spontaneous ski trip? Stop by a local King Soopers or Safeway to purchase discounted lift tickets on your way to the slopes.

Keep your eye out for a Groupon

Another great way to save money on your trip is to check out coupon websites like Groupon for deals on other aspects of your trip.

You won’t necessarily save you on lift tickets, but you might find some sweet deals on hotel accommodations, ski or snowboard equipment rentals, or even car rentals.

Whether you need wheels while visiting from out of state, or you’d like a 4-wheel vehicle for your snowy trek into the mountains, renting a car can be a smart addition to your trip!

colorado ski gear

Get the best deals on ski and snowboard gear

There is no shortage of places to buy ski gear here in Colorado! You can get all the gear you need at ski and snowboard shops around the state.

But if you aren’t looking to buy all your riding gear at one time, there are also lots of rental options.

Plan ahead with Christy Sports

Started here in Colorado in the 50’s, Christy Sports is the largest winter specialty sports retailer in the country. You can count on quality equipment rentals and for purchase, and many native Coloradoans grew up going to Christy for gear.

Around April every year, Christy Sports will host a giant end of season sale on all their gear and equipment. This can be a great place to pick up all the essentials or upgrade your current gear.

Pro tip: Christy is also a great place to get patio furniture. Who knew?

Check out local ski and snowboard shops

While you’re in town, check out the local gear shops. Some of them may offer discounts on last year’s models or discontinued items. This means you can snag some really great deals!

In fact, before Carrie moved to Colorado, she visited a local ski shop that was going out of business and grabbed her very first snowboard — a limited edition Burton board.

Rent your gear online from the resort

When you book your stay at your resort, go ahead and reserve your gear online in advance. You can pick it up the night before you want to ski.

Sometimes you can book your gear through your resort or through a local ski shop in town. Rentals can fill up fast, so book your gear as early as you can to make sure you have what you need when you hit the slopes.

Don’t buy ski or snowboard gear at the resort

If you’re looking to own your gear and want to get exactly what you want, you may want to buy your equipment in Denver or somewhere out of the mountains.

In bigger cities that are near the mountains (but not in them), you can find cheaper gear and a wider selection at the larger retail stores in big cities.

Shop at Uniqlo for budget-friendly ski accessories

For all your winter apparel needs, we highly recommend Uniqlo in Denver! Uniqlo is the perfect place to find high-tech ski clothing, undergarments, and other skiing accessories at super affordable prices.

Everything you find at Uniqlo is high quality, will last you a long time, and keep you very warm while you carve that powder.

Find Uniqlo at the 16th Street Mall in Denver.

Ski for free by being a Ski Bum

Want to get paid to ski for free? If you’re looking to really improve your skills, you can get paid to ski for free by working at a resort for the season!

This is a great option for single people, bachelors, or recent college grads who want to tear up the slopes and make a little money doing it.

And, you’ll have the best commute ever.

Now that you are armed with these epic ski season secrets, it’s time to get out there and plan your next ski adventure.

Ryan Nicholson is a homegrown born and raised Colorado native. Being a rare unicorn to have grown up in CO, he has a unique perspective on the changes here and knows all the hidden spots to get outside in this state. Ryan's a classically French trained chef so he LOVES to try new foods and places to eat. When he's not experimenting in the kitchen or working as a personal chef along the Front Range, he loves to get outdoors and away from it all hiking, camping and backpacking.