Where to play in Colorado's best mountain towns.
Boxed in by the breathtaking peaks of the San Juans, Telluride is an enclave revered as much for its scenic majesty as its historic lore and recreational opportunities. It suggests the kind of rugged romance that inspires epic road trips and wistful song lyrics (thank you, Tim McGraw). A 6.5-hour drive from Denver, the mining-turned-ski town is remote enough to escape massive tourist influx, but accessible enough to warrant a long weekend for Front Rangers. A sleek gondola system links Telluride’s historic Old West–style town—just six by 12 blocks—to the upscale resort town of Mountain Village, with 2,000 acres of pristine skiing in between. Leave your car parked at the hotel and explore Telluride on foot. Or skis. Or snowshoes. Or gondola….
SKI A local favorite, Gold Hill’s double-blacks are steep and stacked with powder—a dream after a big storm—and will shoot you through glades that will challenge any weekend warrior. The aptly named See Forever traverse runs down the spine of the mountain just inside the ski boundary; the jaw-dropping views off this ridge stretch all the way to Utah, and the easy cruising makes for plenty of spots to stop and pose. At any point, dip off into the glades on your left—which range from double-blue to double-black—to spice things up.
STAY A night at the rustically elegant Hotel Telluride puts you just out of the way of the hubbub, but in walking distance to downtown (199 N. Cornet St., thehoteltelluride.com, starting at $289). The Wildwood Canyon Inn, a cozy bed-and-breakfast, is a quaint, low-key alternative to Telluride’s glitzy larger hotels (627 W. Colorado Ave., wildwoodcanyoninn.com, starting at $209). For the ultimate in five-star luxury, book a room at the ski-in/ski-out Capella Telluride in Mountain Village and pamper yourself (568 Mountain Village Blvd., capellatelluride.com, starting at $295).
EAT A cozy steakhouse adjoining Telluride’s oldest hotel, the New Sheridan Chop House is renowned for its service and prime cuts of beef (233 W. Colorado Ave., newsheridan.com). Sidle up to the counter at La Cocina de Luz and order a Mexican feast made from scratch with organic, local ingredients, including traditional handmade tortillas (123 E. Colorado Ave., lacocinatelluride.com). Magnificent views at the swanky Allred’s make for unrivaled ambience, and the contemporary American cuisine—from Colorado lamb chops to the crawfish and mussel pot—isn’t bad, either (Gondola Station Saint Sophia, tellurideskiresort.com).
DRINK Last Dollar Saloon—known locally as “The Buck”—is an exposed-brick, tin-ceiling watering hole that has been an après-ski destination for decades (100 E. Colorado Ave., lastdollarsaloon.com). The Historic New Sheridan Bar hasn’t changed since 1895; the mahogany wood panels and hand-carved bar make for a warm, homey end to a cold winter’s day (231 W. Colorado Ave., newsheridan.com).
SHOP Ladies, hit Scarpe for designer denim, flirty frocks, sassy boots, and all-around adorable clothing finds that say mountain hamlet hottie (250 E. Pacific Ave., shopscarpe.com). World travelers will appreciate Picaya, a home-goods store with everything from exotic Indonesian statues to local cookbooks to Tibetan mala bead necklaces (101 W. Colorado Ave., picaya.com). Don’t skip over Between the Covers Bookstore and Cafe—it’s the prime market for a memento of your trip to Telluride or an obscure map detailing the region (224 W. Colorado Ave., between-the-covers.com).
BUY IN Houses in Historic Telluride start at $575,000 (vintage two-bedroom) and reach $1.3 million and way up (newer three-bedrooms). Victorians with three or four bedrooms will set you back at least $1 million. In the Mountain Village, condos start at $330,000 and reach up to $5 million; estates start at $2 million.
DON'T MISS After an epic day in the San Juan powder, relax at the spa—we like the Golden Door Spa at the Peaks Resort (135 Country Club Drive, thepeaksresort.com) and the Atmosphere Spa at the Camel’s Garden Hotel (250 W. San Juan, telluridespa.com). Under a starry night sky, families must go to the outdoor skating rink in Telluride Town Park (500 E. Colorado Ave., telluride-co.gov). Or, team up with Wintermoon Sled Dog Adventures to mush a dozen huskies into the snow-covered wilderness (970-729-0058).
Despite its reputation for glitz, Aspen has a dedicated local population that keeps this small town humming all year long. Of course, the town also boasts world-class shopping and dining, not to mention four ski mountains, more than 50 miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails—and is one heck of a winter wonderland. The bonus: Aspen is only three hours from Denver, and multiple mountains means there are never—and we do mean never—lift lines.
SKI Cruisers will worship the creamy slopes off the Sheer Bliss lift (Snowmass Mountain) for the spot-on fall lines and the high-speed quad. Experts should seek out Deep Temerity (Aspen Highlands), where 180 acres are ruled by steep tree skiing and powder stashes. Bump lovers should head for the Dumps (Aspen Mountain) where trails like Zaugg and Short Snort rattle knees. Beginners belong on the mild slopes of Buttermilk—where they can also watch X Games hopefuls testing out the insane half-pipe.
STAYThe Annabelle Inn is as cozy as it gets with elegant yet rustic furnishings, an outdoor fire pit, and a lobby featuring reclaimed barn wood (232 W. Main St., annabelleinn.com, starting at $99). Long the standard of luxury, the Little Nell delivers on every request—not the least of which is proximity to town and the slopes (675 E. Durant Ave., thelittlenell.com, starting at $410). The Viceroy Snowmass in Snowmass gets rave reviews for its slope-side location, posh rooms, and swanky bar (130 Wood Road, Snowmass Village, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com, starting at $225).
EAT Skiers in the know come off Aspen Mountain at lunchtime and head to Jour de Fête for baguette sandwiches (try the Andrew: pastrami and Swiss) and cozy soups (710 E. Durant Ave.). Families love Brunelleschi’s Dome Pizza for hearty Italian eats and crispy-crusted pizza—kids enjoy making their own pies with dough, sauce, and toppings (205 S. Mill St., zgpizza.com). Special occasions demand a reservation at Montagna, where James Beard–nominated chef Ryan Hardy showcases his artisanal cuisine in dishes ranging from cheeses made on his own farm to tender Colorado lamb shank (675 E. Durant Ave., thelittlenell.com).
DRINK The tequila list at the always-packed Jimmy’s is worth a visit—if you get hungry, order the fish tacos (205 S. Mill St., jimmysaspen.com). In 2008, two University of Colorado grads opened Aspen Brewing Company, where seven microbrews are now on tap. Stop by for a taste, and take home a growler of your favorite suds (320 E. Hopkins Ave., aspenbrewingcompany.com).
SHOP Locals and tourists flock to Pitkin County Dry Goods for clothing lines such as Alice + Olivia, Free People, and Aude (520 E. Cooper St., pitkincountydrygoods.com). Snap up some bargains at Twinkle, a children’s consignment shop with designer duds like Oilily and Burberry (533 E. Hopkins Ave., 970-925-7214). Music lovers will covet Two Old Hippies’ guitars, rock ’n’ roll paraphernalia, and collections of handbags, clothing, and handcrafted jewelry (111 S. Monarch St., twooldhippies.com).
BUY IN It’s hard to find a bargain in Aspen, but if there’s one to be had, it’s in the condo market where prices range from $499,000 (one-bedroom, one-bath pied-à-terre) to $735,000 (two-bedroom, two-bath). Remote log cabins with a little land go for $450,000, while gallant mansions in prestigious neighborhoods will run well into the millions.
DON'T MISS Stop by 212 Gallery for a glimpse of work by local artist Mark Cesark—what look like abstract paintings are actually the conglomeration of found metals (525 E. Cooper Ave., 212gallery.com). If you dig history, explore Aspen’s roots as a mining town by taking a tour deep inside the historic Smuggler Mine (110 Smuggler Mt. Road, 970-925-2049).
—Amanda M. Faison
Situated where the Rockies meet the high desert, Durango has seen many incarnations, from mining hub and ranching center to college town and year-round recreation destination. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to categorize: Breweries and hillbilly saloons sit next to wine bars and sleek lounges, and you’re just as likely to spot dreadlocked students as cowboy-hatted ranchers and GoreTex-clad yuppies. Here, everyone is welcome.
SKI Durango Mountain Resort, also known as Purgatory, has long touted its family-friendly trails, but last year it opened a new 125-acre area, Legends, to attract experts. After entering the nicely spaced aspen glade, traverse left to find the best fall line and freshest tracks. On powder days, stay on the Needles Lift while everyone heads to the backside, and ski Styx, a rolling black diamond that gets tracked out last. Demon, a superhighway-wide groomer, is a good option for beginners, and intermediates love the flock of rolling blue squares off Chair 3.
STAY Right at the base of Durango Mountain Resort, the swanky two-year-old Purgatory Lodge has two- to four-bedroom condos with views of the mountains, gas fireplaces, granite counters, and flat-screen TVs (1 Skier Place, durangomountainresort.com, starting at $485). Downtown, the historic Strater Hotel has 93 rooms bedecked with rich curtains, Victorian furniture, and period wallpaper (699 Main Ave., straterhotel.com, starting at $104).
EAT The Olde Schoolhouse Cafe entices hungry skiers with its siren call of hot thin-crust pizza and free darts and pool (46778 Highway 550, 970-259-2257). Downtown, the new Golden Triangle serves satay, curries, and inventive cocktails in a metro-cool lounge (150 E. College Drive, 970-382-8424). For a taste of the area’s ranching heritage, wash down a grass-fed beef burger with an amber ale at the Durango Brewing Company (3000 Main Ave., 970-247-3396, durangobrewing.com).
DRINK Lady Falconburgh’s Barley Exchange stocks more than a dozen local beers among its 100 offerings (640 Main Ave., ladyfalconburgh.biz). Drink local and Old World wines while admiring locals’ abstract art at Eno, a wine bar and gallery (723 E. Second Ave., 970-385-0105).
SHOP Eight miles north of town, Honeyville sells local specialty honeys, as well as jams, chili, and beans (33633 Highway 550, honeyvillecolorado.com). Nearby, Appaloosa Trading Co.offers fun Western kitsch, like belt buckles, cowboy boots, and turquoise jewelry (501 Main Ave., appaloosadurango.com).
BUY IN Durango’s real estate market didn’t fall as sharply as other Western vacation towns, which makes it tough to find a deal. This year, median prices ran about $460,000 for a condo at the resort and $346,500 for a home in Durango, though a well-maintained Victorian in the historic district will cost you $500,000 and up.
DON'T MISS Evening is the best time to go to Trimble Hot Springs, when the southwestern sky turns out the stars, and deer and owls frequent the poolside pines (6475 County Road 203, trimblehotsprings.com). The Durango Discovery Museum, the long-awaited interactive children’s science center, is scheduled to open late fall in the renovated Powerhouse by the Animas River (1333 Camino del Rio, durangodiscovery.org).
Unlike some of the other I-70 corridor ski resorts, Breckenridge started out as an actual town: Founded just a few months after Denver in 1859, the mining center was a hub for gold until the inevitable crash in the late 19th century. Today, like both Telluride and Crested Butte, the town’s economy is centered on the ski resort, but local businesses haven’t been pushed out, in part because of the small town’s walkability: Park the car at the hotel, and you won’t need the keys until you head home.
SKI If you like your runs steep and cold, head up the chilly T-Bar or the Imperial Express Superchair—the highest lift in North America, just shy of 13,000 feet—to snag runs in the Horseshoe Bowl and North Bowl. The deepest snow falls in the glades off the 6-Chairand the E-Chair, but if it’s early season, beware the rocks and stumps. Finally, families will appreciate the blue square runs of Peak 7—younger kids can easily handle the groomers, while older kids can launch themselves off the tops of the undulating rollers.
STAY The Great Divide Lodge is a prime location for travelers on a budget—simple rooms start at $135—and is situated only two blocks from Main Street (550 Village Road, 970-547-5550). Couples looking for a quieter option should check out the B&Bs; we like the Abbett Placer Inn (205 S. French St., abbettplacer.com, prices start at $129) and the Fireside Inn (114 N. French St., firesideinn.com, starting at $103). If you insist on being a stone’s throw from the lifts, look into the Marriott’s Mountain Valley Lodge, which is also just steps from the dining and nightlife on Main Street (655 Columbine Road, marriott.com, starting at $169).
EAT For breakfast, grab a hot bagel and egg sandwich at the Cool River Coffee House and eat it on the way to the lift (325 S. Main St., 970-453-1716). Come happy hour, gear-clad skiers and boarders head to Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant for $1 tacos and $5 pitchers of PBR (600 S. Park Ave., micasamexicanrestaurant.com). For hearty Italian pastas and pizzas for the family, dig in at Giampietro Pasta & Pizza (100 N. Main St., giampietropizza.com).
DRINK Built in 1879, the Gold Pan Saloon feels like an old Western bar—all wood and whiskey—until, that is, the cover band or DJ takes the corner stage and gets everyone dancing (103 N. Main St., 970-453-5499). For a more laid-back evening, head to Breckenridge Brewery, and run through samples of microbrews—we love the boozy 471 IPA (600 S. Main St., breckbrew.com).
SHOP For outdoor gear beyond the standard skiing/snowboarding stuff—think Telemark, Randonee, and even splitboards—head to Mountain Outfitters, which carries just about any piece of backcountry gear you’ll need (112 S. Ridge St., mtnoutfitters.com). If the thousands of acres of beetle-kill lodgepole pines upset you on your drive up, head to the Beetlekill Blues to shop for cool, blue-stained furniture made from the trees (10 Farmers Lane, Suites 1 and 2, 970-453-7100). Bribe the little ones for good behavior by promising a stop at Mary’s Mountain Cookies, which features homemade, decadent, and massive quarter-pound cookies—we love the “chocolate avalanche,” a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with chocolate frosting in the middle (128 S. Main St., marysmountaincookies.com).
BUY IN A two-bedroom ski-in/ski-out condo in Breckenridge will set you back a minimum of $500,000, while the pretty, in-town historic Victorians start at around $800,000. Multigenerational trophy homes—the kind of place the family magnate brings the whole family to for ski holidays—go for $1 million and up.
DON'T MISS The nutty Ullr Fest—named after the Norse god of winter—brings a brigade of floats to Main Street for the craziest winter parade you’ll ever see (January 9–15). If your kids go crazy for Frosty, catch artists carving frozen works of art out of 20-ton blocks of snow at the International Snow Sculpture Championships (January 25–February 6). To escape the resort’s crowds, head into the backcountry for dog sledding or snowmobiling with Good Times Adventures (6061 Tiger Road, snowmobilecolorado.com).
Steamboat’s ski area may be massive—2,965 acres, 3,668 vertical feet, and 349 annual inches of snowfall—but the town still feels small. And real—locals have been skiing the area since the first families homesteaded in the Yampa Valley in the mid-19th century. But passion for community runs even deeper: Steamboat Springs’ relative remoteness (a three-hour drive from Denver) has strengthened bonds among neighbors and allowed this pioneer town to preserve its unique character. Real cowboys live here, rubbing elbows with Olympic athletes and mountain-raised kids who zip through Steamboat’s famous glades as naturally as streams flowing around stones.
SKI On powder days, savvy locals hit the runs off Four Points first: It serves Twister, Nelson’s Run, and similar runs that generally hold plush, wind-sheltered snow. On nippy days, warm up on Sunshine Area—its east-facing slopes are some of the first to catch the rays. End your day on Ted’s Ridge, where soft snow awaits along the edges, even after noon.
STAY Two-bedroom, affordable family-size rooms at Hotel Bristol start at $159 (917 Lincoln Ave., steamboathotelbristol.com). Couples should try the upscale Mariposa Lodge, a ranch-style B&B on a quiet downtown side street (855 Grand St., steamboatmariposa.com starting at $139). For condos of all sizes and rates, contact Mountain Resorts (steamboatspringsvacations.com).
EAT Hit Freshies for veggie-laden omelets, surprisingly light Benedicts, and Steamboat’s best Bloody Mary (595 S. Lincoln Ave., freshiessteamboat.com). Pop into Chocolate Soup Pastry Café for fresh soups, gourmet sandwiches, and—of course—chocolate confections such as truffles and dipped macaroons (2300 Mt. Werner Circle, C-1, chocolatesoupcafe.com). For a dinner splurge, try Bistro C.V. for top-tier, sustainable edibles such as white-truffle gnocchi with ramps and oyster mushrooms, and a grilled romaine salad that locals adore (345 Lincoln Ave., bistrocv.com).
DRINK After the lifts stop running, Slopeside Grill is mobbed with beer-quaffing sunbathers soaking in the scene from plastic chairs arrayed on the snow—you’ll want to join them (1855 Ski Time Square, Torian Plum Plaza, slopesidegrill.com). Downtown, hit the 4 to 5:30 p.m. happy hour at Mahogany Ridge for $2 locally brewed beers (like the tasty Alpenglow Ale), half-price drinks, and $1 tapas that include crab tostadas and mango-Brie phyllo cups (435 Lincoln Ave., 970-879-3773).
SHOP Modern mountain men hit Zirkel Trading for Mountain Khakis, Filson wool vests, and Jhane Barnes button-downs (703 Lincoln Ave., B-102, zirkeltrading.com). Get local gear at BAP!, including Big Agnes (tents and sleeping bags), Honey Stinger energy bars, BAP! fleece, and Smart Wool base layers and socks (735 Oak St., bwear.com).
BUY IN Luxury condos at Howelsen Place put owners in the heart of downtown for $315,000 to $2 million (skitownlifestyleproperties.com). Or live slopeside, at One Steamboat Place, a sumptuous new base area development located steps away from the gondola and priced at $370,000 (for fractional ownership) to $3.9 million (onesteamboatplace.com).
DON'T MISS Adored by everyone, Strawberry Park Hot Springs is worth the 20-minute drive on a gnarly road—in winter, you’ll need four-wheel drive or chains ($10 per person, strawberryhotsprings.com). Rent cross-country skis at Ski Haus and head up to Rabbit Ears Pass, where nonmotorized trails weave through evergreens and snowfields (1457 Pine Grove Road, skihaussteamboat.com).
Tucked in the Gunnison Valley, this old-school mining town has a split personality. Crested Butte is where the tight-knit locals live on compact streets loaded with Victorians. At the base of the ski resort is the historic town’s alter ego, Mount Crested Butte, home to the much-newer ski village and lodging. Crested Butte is one place where you’d do best to quietly blend in, as the hard-charging locals aren’t fond of flashy tourists. As for the slopes, the skiing is targeted toward experts (think super steep and super narrow), so beginners might be wise to look elsewhere.
SKI Sun-chasing intermediates should start the morning off basking in the light of East River Lift on Black Eagle Run; in the afternoon, ride the Twister Lift for gorgeous bumps. Experts will find epic terrain packed into the nooks and crannies—for sure hits, take the North Face Poma Lift and ski the trees next to Teocalli Bowl. At the bottom, hike up about 10 minutes and hang a right, and sidestep out to Spellbound and Third Bowl for a bonus round. Just be careful and watch for the cliffs. Seriously.
STAY Rooms at the slope-side Elevation Hotel and Spa start at $275; if you’re looking for a hotel with modern amenities, it’s the finest place in town (500 Gothic Road, elevationhotelandspa.com). Crested Butte is loaded with beautiful homes that have been converted into cute B&B’s; we like the downtown locations of The Ruby of Crested Butte (624 Gothic Ave., therubyofcrestedbutte.com, starting at $149) and the Purple Mountain B&B and Spa (714 Gothic Ave., purplemountainlodge.com, starting at $119).
EAT Avalanche Bar & Grill offers hearty breakfast skillets and juicy burgers for lunch and dinner (15 Emmons Road, avalanchebarandgrill.com). For an upscale meal, try the exquisite tapas at Django’s Restaurant and Wine Bar in Mountaineer Square (620 Gothic Road, djangos.us).
DRINK Originally a rustic miner’s home, the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin was transformed in 2008 into a dark, modern lair with house-infused liquors, custom cocktails, and a comfy lounge area (309 Third St., thedogwoodcocktailcabin.com). The Princess Wine Bar offers live music nightly alongside the gorgeous wood bar and a cozy fireplace (218 Elk Ave., 970-349-0210).
SHOP Locals love backcountry shop The Alpineer for its extensive selection of outdoor clothing and accessories (419 Sixth St., alpineer.com). Decades-old Zachariah Zypp Co. remains the go-to spot for authentic Western silver jewelry (317 Elk Ave., 970-349-5913). The town’s bus depot pulls double duty by also housing Paragon Gallery, a co-op with jewelry, art, and great home goods (132 Elk Ave., paragongallery.org).
BUY IN Updated Victorians or newer, Craftsman-style homes in the town of Crested Butte will start at $800,000; if you’re looking for a more ski-in/ski-out option, condos on Mount Crested Butte run about $500,000.
DON'T MISS Ever ogled the massive treads of a snowcat? Learn how to drive one at the Crested Butte Snowcat Driving Experience, with a one-on-one lesson from one of the mountain’s grooming guys (skicb.com). If that’s a little too hands-on, grab a cup of cocoa and hop on board for the Ice Bar Sleigh Ride Dinner—a snowcat ride to a four-course meal at Ulyes Cabin (skicb.com).
The biggest knock against Vail is the crowds—people swarm this resort in the winter. And with more than 3,450 vertical feet and 5,200 acres of some of the best skiing in North America, who’s to blame them? Our best advice is to try to keep your skiing at Vail confined to the weekdays; if you simply must go there on the weekend, avoid mid-mountain like the plague. In town, prepare thy pocketbook—Vail hasn’t gotten a reputation for luxury for nothing.
SKI The north facing Champagne Glade in Blue Sky Basin is a haven for strong intermediate skiers—the trees are tricky enough to be a challenge, but you’re not eating branches at every turn. If you’re not brave enough to jump off the Lover’s Leap cornice, grab a spot at a safe distance below to watch daredevils throwing flips and spins. Finally, if you want to flee the crowds, head to the Siberia Bowl, which is difficult to get to, but worth it for the empty, expert-only runs.
STAY In a town loaded with lodging options, the Vail Cascade stands apart: The ski-in/ski-out hotel doesn’t have a bad room in the place (1300 Westhaven Dr., vailcascade.com, starting at $109). We also dig the Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa, a boutique hotel with top-notch spa treatments (352 E. Meadow Dr., vailmountainlodge.com, rooms starting at $225).
EAT If you’re looking for a big slice of New York–style pizza, head to Vendetta’s; after midnight, you’ll have to fight your way through hungry crowds (291 Bridge St., vendettasvail.com). Ristorante Ti Amo is a low-key, old-school Italian restaurant. Head there early or late, or be ready to wait (40928 U.S. Hwy. 6, tiamovail.com). Diners looking for a more elegant option should book a table at Restaurant Kelly Liken—the eponymous restaurant of the Top Chef contestant—for a seasonal meal featuring Colorado’s finest ingredients (12 Vail Road, kellyliken.com).
DRINK The George pulls loads of happy hour enthusiasts for $4 you-call-its and $8.50 apps (232 E. Meadow Dr., entrance on Bridge St.). One of the most famous après-ski joints in the state is the rollicking Red Lion (304 Bridge St., theredlion.com).
SHOP Aficionados of European-style skiwear—think cashmere sweaters, shiny parkas, and fur-collared women’s jackets—will fall in love with the Gorsuch (263 E. Gore Creek Dr., gorsuch.com). Roxy is the spot for casual fashionistas, carrying a well-curated selection of brands from Hudson to Michael Stars (172 E. Gore Creek Dr., roxyvail.com). If you’re in need of makeup or skin products, head to Cos Bar (188 Gore Creek Dr., cosbar.com).
BUY IN Two-bedroom, two-bath condos in the middle of Vail Village start at a cool $1.3 million and put you in walking distance of the lifts. If you’re looking for brand-new luxury, check out the Ritz-Carlton Residences for both fractional and whole ownership options—a two-bedroom condo will set you back $1.8 million, while a six-bedroom Master of The Universe condo rings up at $9.2 million (theresidencesvail.com).
DON'T MISS When snow is blanketing the ground and falling softly from the sky, not much beats a horse-drawn sleigh ride at 4 Eagle Ranch (4098 Highway 131, Wolcott, 4eagleranch.com, reservations required). If you tire of the après-ski and dining scene, head down the road to Beaver Creek to catch a dance or classical music show at the Vilar Performing Arts Center (68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek, vilarpac.org).