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Planning your first Colorado ski weekend

Steamboat - Larry Pierce - Burgess Creek Lift
Steamboat Resort – Larry Pierce 

If you’re putting together the details for your first Colorado ski weekend, you might find that the number of options can be a little intimidating. What time should you arrive? What do you need to pack? Which mountain should you choose? Where should you stay? Will there be anything to do when you’re not skiing? Luckily for you, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about planning your first Colorado ski weekend.

1. Kicking off the trip

If you’re a weekend warrior within driving distance, do your best to leave for work on Friday morning with the car already packed, and plan to leave for the mountain around noon on Friday. If you’re a weekend warrior who’s flying in, you should aim for a flight that lands in Colorado by mid-afternoon. That should give you time to get up to the slopes on Friday evening, check into your lodging, and get oriented to Colorado’s altitude and amazing views. If you’ve picked a mountain that offers night skiing, you might even get a few runs in before dinner on Friday night.  

2. What to pack

Figuring out what to pack for your first Colorado ski weekend doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Your packing list will depend heavily on if you’re driving or flying, and if you’re bringing your own gear or renting. But you should consider the following items:

  • Skis or snowboard, bindings, boots, and a helmet. These are the essentials for your time on the slopes, and leaving any of these things behind will make for a bad day. If you’re planning to rent, don’t worry about this part of the list – the folks at the rental shop will make sure you’re ready to go before you board the lift.
  • Mountain clothing, which includes a winter jacket, ski pants, gloves, and a warm hat. Some ski areas will have these items available for rent or purchase, but it’s important to call ahead and make sure if you’re not planning to bring your own. Check the forecast and plan to layer accordingly – You’ll need warmer layers for a powder day in mid-winter than you will for a sunny early or late-season ski weekend.
  • Sunscreen and chapstick – You don’t want to come home from your ski weekend with chapped lips and a goggle tan. (Or maybe you do – in which case, go crazy).
  • Something casual for dinners – Coloradans tend to sport jeans and flannels.
  • A bathing suit for the hotel hot tub.

How to pick the right ski area

Colorado is home to world-class ski resorts and independent ski hills alike, and you really can’t go wrong. There’s a lot to consider when you’re picking the destination for your first Colorado ski weekend. If you’re an advanced or expert skier or rider, you’ll want to consider a larger mountain with a higher proportion of black and double-black runs. If you’re a first-timer brand new to the snow, you’ll want to be sure you choose a mountain with ample offering for beginners. Are you a powder chaser or content to cruise groomers? Are you seeking a budget trip or a luxury vacation? These things should all be considered in choosing your ski area. 

Start by visiting the Colorado Ski Country resorts page to learn a little more about each ski area. If you have any questions, give the ski area a call – they’re happy to help. And ask around – There’s a good chance your next-door neighbor, Starbucks barista or least-favorite uncle has a “favorite ski trip to Colorado” story that they’re just bursting to tell again for the 15th time. Who knows, maybe they’ve got some good recommendations.

Where to stay

Colorado’s mountain towns are filled to the brim with wonderful lodging properties just waiting to show you the weekend of your life. Some ski resorts host their own on-mountain lodging, which means the chance to score a ski-in, ski-out property with unbelievable access to the mountain. For ski areas without mountain-owned lodging properties, there will be great hotels nearby, often ranging from quaint local bed & breakfasts to your favorite hotel chains.

When you’re choosing a lodging property for your first Colorado ski weekend, you’ll undoubtedly consider all the things you always do – price, convenience, amenities, loyalty points. I’ll add two considerations to your list. First, if you can, opt for a hotel that supplies a ride to the mountains. You don’t necessarily need a place that’s spitting distance from the slopes, but a shuttle bus can make all the difference. And second, make sure to stay someplace with a hot tub. Trust me, there’s nothing like a good soak in a hot tub after a long day of skiing.

What to do when you’re not on the slopes

There are dozens of great activities to do in Colorado’s mountain towns when you’re not skiing or snowboarding. Ride a mountain coaster, show off your ice skating skills, take a snowmobile tour or gorge yourself on world-class fine dining. The options are endless!

Kathryn Robinson is a native Floridian who transplanted to Colorado for graduate school and never looked back. She learned to ski for the first time in her early twenties and now she counts down the days until winter. When she’s not on the slopes, she’s working full-time in Denver, hiking, kayaking, or playing with her dog Riley.