Aspen vs Vail

Aspen and Vail ski resorts are two of the most popular ski destinations in Colorado. Read on to find out which one is more suitable for your ski break.

Getting to Aspen and Vail

The town of Vail is closer to Denver International Airport than Aspen. Getting to both ski resorts involves taking I-70 west of Denver through to Frisco. Vail is located in Eagle county a little further down I-70 and around 120 miles from the airport and about 100 miles from the city of Denver.

Visitors to Aspen continue on the I-70 to Glenwood Springs before turning south to Snowmass Village or Aspen itself. Aspen is situated in Pitkin county around 220 miles west of the airport at Denver and just under 200 miles from the city.

There are regular private shuttle services to both ski resorts from both the city and Denver Airport during ski season.

Both ski resorts also have smaller airports nearby (with the risk of closure in bad weather). Eagle County Airport is near Vail and Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is near Aspen.

Comparing Aspen and Vail

Vail and Aspen ski statistics
Vail and Aspen ski statistics at a glance

Ski infrastructure at Aspen and Vail

When it comes to the size of the ski resorts, the acreage seems quite similar. But this hides a fundamental difference between the two ski areas, as Vail is renowned for the terrain in its Back Bowls which are all connected by ski lifts. Aspen-Snowmass, however, consists of four separate mountains with very distinct characters unconnected to one another by ski lift (although there are regular ski bus services).

As far as altitude goes, Aspen is the higher of the two ski resorts and has a bigger vertical drop. The fact of the four separate ski mountains also means that Aspen has many more ski trails and lifts than Vail. Of course, many skiers and boarders may prefer the convenience of the interlinked runs and lift system at Vail, even if the totals are smaller.

Ski resort lodging at Aspen and Vail

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two Colorado ski destinations is that Vail has more of a Euro-style ski village atmosphere, while Aspen is the classic American ski town.

Aspen ski accommodation

The skiing at Aspen Mountain (previously known as Ajax) rises directly from the outskirts of Aspen itself, while the other three ski areas can be reached by ski shuttle bus from downtown. Aspen, as an established and somewhat trendy ski destination, has a good variety of lodging available.

As an alternative, there are options at the base of Snowmass, the largest of the Aspen ski areas, eight miles away from downtown Aspen

Check accommodation availability at Aspen

The search box below will show lodging availability if you enter your proposed dates of stay in Aspen. If you like the look of any accommodation click on it and you will be taken to the booking page where you can choose your preferred room type and view additional information about the property. On the resort booking page you can also filter the results by price range, number of guests, star rating and amenities offered.

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Vail ski accommodation

The lodging at Vail uses a southern German village architectural theme. It is split into two different main settlements: Vail Village and Lionshead Village, both along the banks of Gore Creek between the main interstate and the skiing. The two villages have connecting walking trails but there are also resort shuttle buses available.

Check accommodation availability at Vail

Looking for accommodations near Vail? Use the search box below to enter your travel dates and you will get an overview of available accommodation options. Click on the accommodation you like and you will be taken to the booking page where you can choose your preferred room type and view additional information about the property. On the resort booking page you can also filter the results by price range, number of guests, star rating and amenities offered.

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Skiing at Aspen and Vail

Vail has its own lift ticket system and is also part of the Epic Pass lift ticket association run by Vail Resorts. The Epic Pass option gives a choice of a season ticket (in effect, a multi-day lift pass) or the Epic Day Pass. The full Epic Pass also offers the option of skiing at Beaver Creek.

Aspen Snowmass has its own lift pass covering all four Aspen ski mountains and is also part of the Ikon and Mountain Collective lift pass groups, which entitle holders to limited days of skiing at the Aspen ski area.

Ski slope percentages per ability level in Aspen and Vail

Beginner skiing at Aspen and Vail

At first glance, the proportion of ski trails dedicated to beginner skiers at Aspen seems extremely limited. But, because the skiing at Aspen is split over four mountains, one of them is set up as an ideal location for beginner levels and small children.

A good third of the trails at Buttermilk Mountain are perfect for those learning to ski and many of the intermediate runs (another 40 per cent) are suitable for those moving up from the beginner level.

Those who have never been on skis before will do best in Vail to start with ski school and the lifts over at Gopher Hill just at the edge of the Golden Peak base area. The next stage is going up the mountain, either to the green runs off the Sourdough Express lift or the Eagle’s Nest area reached by the Eagle Bahn gondola. Both are good options for further exploration.

Intermediate skiing at Aspen and Vail

Intermediate skiers can choose from any of Aspen’s four ski mountains and be confident that they will get a good day on the slopes. As mentioned above, Buttermilk Mountain is probably the best for more hesitant intermediate skiers, while the other three areas have plenty of scope for those looking to improve their skills.

Skiing at Aspen-Snowmass
© Aspen-Snowmass | Harrison Buck

Intermediate skiers at Vail can try the long top-to-bottom trails on the front side off the Eagle Bahn gondola and, further over and up the mountain, a concentration of blue trails off the Mountaintop Express chairlift. China Bowl over the back is also renowned for its intermediate skiing.

Advanced and expert skiing at Aspen and Vail

Both Aspen and Vail are ideal destinations for the advanced and expert skier, with testing bump runs, tree skiing and open bowls.

Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands are probably the best locations for those looking for massive moguls while Snowmass has a variety of tree skiing and steep challenging terrain.

Expert skiers at Vail usually head for the famed Back Bowls with the best snow following a winter storm. The Back Bowls, however, aren’t exactly a well-kept secret, and those who want to get first tracks in the morning will find that there is a lot of competition.

Blue Sky Basin, located off the Skyline Express chairlift, offers excellent tree skiing on both sides of the lift as an alternative to the open powder routes. Alternately, the front side has some difficult bump runs, and the resort’s steepest run, Prima Cornice, is accessed by the Northwoods Express chair.