Vail and Breckenridge are two of the most popular ski resorts in Colorado. Which is the better choice for a ski break and why?
Getting to Vail and Breckenridge
Breckenridge ski resort is a little closer to Denver than Vail at around 80 miles in distance. The route from the city is the same for both ski destinations: up I-70 west of the city until the town of Frisco in Summit County. Traffic for Breckenridge turns off to the south here for the short drive to the ski resort.
Vail is a little further away in neighbouring Eagle County and is located directly on I-70 around 100 miles away from Denver. The regional airport at Eagle is a possible alternative: 35 miles to the west of Vail.
Denver Airport is located to the east of the city and is just over 100 miles from downtown Breckenridge and 120 miles from Vail village. There are regular private shuttle services to both ski resorts from Denver Airport during ski season.
Comparing Vail and Breckenridge
Ski infrastructure at Vail and Breckenridge
The two Colorado ski resorts are only around 40 miles from one another, so it is hardly surprising that the statistics about their location and elevation are not too different.
Breckenridge ski resort is around 1500 feet higher in altitude at both the base and the highest point of the ski area, although the total vertical is pretty similar. The altitude advantage should mean that the likelihood of powder is greater and it should last longer, but then Vail ski slopes face in a greater variety of directions.
The big difference in the two comes in the amount of skiable terrain, with Vail and its Back Bowls offering a substantially larger amount of in-bounds terrain. The number of ski lifts and trails are pretty similar however, with Breckenridge having a slight edge when it comes to terrain parks for the boarders and freestylers.
Ski resort accommodation at Vail and Breckenridge
Vail ski accommodation
Vail Resort’s atmosphere is more similar to a European ski resort and accommodation uses a Bavarian-style 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
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Breckenridge ski accommodation
The atmosphere at Breckenridge is a little different. It is a former mining town which dates from the days of the Colorado gold rush and the historic downtown area is not far from the lifts and ski area. It is renowned for its apres-ski and nightlife and there is a free ski bus service which links some outlying areas to the ski lifts.
Check accommodation availability at Breckenridge
The search box below will show accommodation availability if you enter your proposed dates of stay in Breckenridge. 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.
Skiing at Vail and Breckenridge
Both Vail and Breckenridge are 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 (great for visitors to Vail) and at Keystone ski resort (much closer to Breckenridge). There is also an Epic Local Pass, which gives unrestricted access to Breckenridge during the season, as well as Keystone. (Access to Beaver Creek and Vail is only available outside holiday periods on this pass.)
Skiing for beginners at Vail and Breckenridge
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.
Peak 8 and Peak 9 are the places to go at Breckenridge when it comes to beginner terrain. Either can be easily reached from the town or from other slopes. (The ski area at Breckenridge has five peaks, each with different characteristics.)
The QuickSilver SuperChair on Peak 9 leads onto the Silverthorne run, known as one of the better beginner runs in the Rockies, while those with more confidence may want to try the Colorado SuperChair on Peak 8. A short blue (intermediate) section at the start offers access to a number of green (beginner) runs, including the Sawmill trail which is a long traverse over to the base of Peak 9.
Intermediate skiing at Vail and Breckenridge
Both Vail and Breckenridge are awesome ski resorts for the intermediate skier, with plenty of terrain to enjoy.
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.
Many consider the grading of the ski runs at Breckenridge is on the easy side (meaning improving skiers at one level can probably manage some of the easier runs at the next level.)
There are intermediate runs all over the ski area, but the best peaks at Breckenridge are probably Peaks 6, 7 and 9, with a wide variety of trails at that level.
Advanced and expert skiing at Vail and Breckenridge
The expert skiers at Vail tend to head for the legendary Back Bowls and the best snow after a winter storm. The Back Bowls are, however, not that much of a secret and those aiming for first tracks will find there is plenty of competition early in the morning.
An alternative to open powder runs can be found at Blue Sky Basin off the Skyline Express chairlift with some great tree skiing on either side of the lift. Or there are some challenging bump runs on the front side and the Northwoods Express chair offers the steepest run in the resort with Prima Cornice.
Advanced skiing at Breckenridge can be found on piste with a good collection of advanced trails off Peak 10’s Falcon SuperChair. Those who are looking for something a little more challenging might like to head over to the Imperial Express SuperChair and Horseshoe Bowl T-bar which open up a whole host of black and double-black diamond slopes and chutes above the treeline.