By Kelley McMillan
Navigating a new resort can be overwhelming.
No need to worry, we’ve got you covered.
From where to park to the best slopeside dining, here’s the 411 on Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Vail—some of the best skiing in the country.
Vail’s 5,289 acres of world-class terrain, exquisite on-mountain dining, and quaint European-inspired base village make it a true destination ski resort.
But before you step foot in this winter wonderland, purchase ski lessons and lift tickets online to get the best deals.
Keep in mind that your Vail ticket works at its three sister resorts—Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek—plus Arapahoe Basin—and vice versa, as long as you buy a three-day pass or longer.
When you’re ready to ski, head to Vail Village and park in the main garage for $25 a day.
Alternatively, an extensive network of complimentary buses make stops throughout the Vail Valley and drop off at the stop in front of the parking garage.
From there, it’s about a five-minute walk through town to Gondola One at the base of Vail Mountain, where you’ll also find the lift ticket and ski school offices.
Vail is massive, and a great option for skiers unfamiliar with the area is a complimentary two-hour tour that leaves from the Mid-Vail Ski School (atop Gondola One) and the Game Creek desk (adjacent to the Eagle Bahn gondola at the Lionshead base) each day at 10:30 a.m.
When you need a break, head to The 10th, located at Mid Vail.
Combining fine dining with a spectacular mountain setting, The 10th makes for a great (and central) lunch, après, or meeting spot.
Order a Super Snuggler (cocoa with Godiva liqueur and Rumplemintz) and soak in the stunning views of the Gore Mountain range.
This is living the life.
Gondola One continues running long after the trails close so you can stay as long as you like and hop back on for a ride back to Vail Village.
With unparalleled customer service (think resort ambassadors passing out Kleenex for blustery days and frozen noses), cruise-y groomers, and gladed steeps, Beaver Creek has something for everyone.
With so much to do, it’s best to get up and at ’em by 8:30 a.m., when the lifts start spinning.
For the easiest access to the slopes, park at the Villa Montane or Ford Hall lots in Beaver Creek Village (a full day costs $33.)
For complimentary parking, try the Bear Lot, just west of the main entrance to Beaver Creek.
A free shuttle runs every 10 minutes from the lower lots to the village and on to the slopes.
Once in the village, grab a coffee and a quick snack at Starbucks before heading next store to the lift ticket and ski school offices, where you can sign up for lessons, and buy and pick up previously purchased lift passes.
Then head to the bottom of Centennial Lift to meet up with your instructor or jump on the lift, which will zip you to mid-mountain.
From there, anything is possible—warm up with a cup of cocoa at Spruce Saddle (also a good mid-mountain meeting point) or schuss down green, blue, or black runs.
Another option? Try a complimentary Women’s Tour led by a ski school ambassador.
Held Tuesday through Friday at 10 a.m. throughout the winter, a female ambassador hosts a ladies-only group to share technique tips and the mountain’s secret stashes.
At day’s end, head to the Hyatt at the base of the mountain to enjoy complimentary s’mores (great for kids) and cocktails around outdoor fire pits.
There’s no better way to top off a day at the Beav.
With its charming Victorian village and five peaks that offer terrain for all abilities, Breckenridge should be on every skier’s bucket list.
And, it’s for just that reason, plus its close proximity to the Front Range, that Breckenridge is a popular destination.
So, we suggest you do the bulk of your planning before you leave home.
Hop online at Breckenridge.com to find the best deals on everything from lift tickets to ski lessons to lodging.
Once you’ve made the pilgrimage to Breck, here’s what a perfect day should look like: Park the car at Breckenridge Station ($12 Friday through Sunday and peak holiday times; $5 Monday through Thursday) and jump on the Breck Connect gondola.
(You can also take a complimentary shuttle to the gondola from many stops in town or park at the free Airport Road satellite lot and shuttle in.)
Get off at the base of Peak Seven and head to Sevens restaurant (just to your right as you step off the gondy) for a round of chocolate chip pancakes.
After breakfast, beginners should get back on the gondola, which will take you to the base of Peak Eight; from there you can explore some easy green and blue cruisers on Peaks Eight and Nine.
Intermediates and experts should beeline to Peak Six: blissful new bowl terrain that Breck opened in 2013.
To get there, take Independence chair to the top of Peak Seven.
Then cruise down Monte Cristo to the Zendo chair.
From the top of Zendo, jump on the Kensho chair.
Once you’ve made it to the Peak Six summit, hit the Elysian Fields’ beautiful bowl skiing or hike to Serenity Bowl for some black diamond thrills.
Experts, don’t forget to make your way to the Imperial Express lift (from the top of Independence Chair, head skier’s right to the T-bar which will pull you up to the Imperial) for bragging rights—with a summit at 12,840 feet, it’s the highest operating lift in North America.
When the lifts close at 4 p.m., head into town and tip back some cocktails at Après Handcrafted Libations on Breck’s Main Street.
Complimentary shuttles leave from all of the mountain’s base areas and serve a variety of locations in town.
From learn-to-ski zones to snow tubing at Kidtopia, Keystone was made for families.
There’s even a special package to get families on the mountain: Book two nights of lodging at Keystone and kids under 12 ski free.
For the best deals, purchase tickets and book ski school lessons in advance.
Lessons meet at the Ski and Ride Schools at River Run and Mountain House, home to Camp Keystone, which features a new 24-foot slide that zips kids from inside onto to the snow.
For a great family day on the slopes, park for free at the River Run Base Area lot and grab a wagon from the corral (first come, first served) to haul everyone’s gear across the street, through the village, and to the snow.
Start with a quick doughnut and coffee from the Miner’s Cart, a food truck located next to the River Run Gondola.
Then head to the School Yard, a designated Family Ski Run that showcases different specialty features to help skiers of all abilities develop new skills.
Come lunchtime, take the River Run Gondola to the top of Dercum Mountain and grab lunch at the Summit House before heading over to Kidtopia, the largest snow fort in the world.
There, you’ll find slides, mazes, and awesome family programming—think ice cream sundae making, face painting, and fort building.
At day’s end, make your way to the Last Lift Bar in the Mountain House, which offers a kid’s après every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, featuring an ice cream sundae bar for kids and deals on tipples for adults.
If that’s not enough skiing for you, Keystone offers some of the best night skiing in the country, which is usually available until 8 p.m. (be sure to check the schedule) and included with any day lift ticket.
Head to the River Run Gondola or the Peru Express lift to make turns after the sun goes down.