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The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Colorado Ski Resorts Carved in Historic Mining Towns

Updated: June 14, 2024

In 1858 prospectors flooded Colorado with hopes of striking it rich during the Gold Rush, kicking off a flurry of mining activity including the silver boom that lasted into the 1890s. As mining waned and mountain towns went into disarray, ski resorts became the new hope of economic prosperity, starting in the 1940s. Now people flock to the Centennial State in winter for the white gold that blankets the Rockies. Some of Colorado’s historic mining towns have turned into world-class ski resorts.

This is the ultimate insider’s guide to Colorado’s historic mining towns turned ski destinations. Jennifer Broome is an avid skier who spends a lot of time in the state’s mountain towns and is considered an expert on exploring Colorado. She shares where to stay, what runs to ski or ride, fun things to do off the slopes, where to après-ski and where to shop and eat in Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs and Telluride.

How to avoid altitude sickness in Colorado

Before you travel, here are a couple of tips for your ski vacation. Start drinking lots of water 48 hours before you get to your destination. Consider stopping in Denver for a night and stay at the brand-new AAA Three Diamond Hyatt Place Denver Pena Station near Denver International Airport, or stay at The Crawford Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond property, in the historic Union Station. Book a night in The Oxford Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond lodging, to stay in what is considered the “most historic grand hotel” in Denver, built in 1891. Staying in Denver will give you a night to acclimate to a mile high in elevation. If you’re drinking alcohol, follow the one-to-one rule of having a glass of water after every drink. If you begin to get a headache, start downing water because that’s usually the first sign of altitude sickness.

Ski Aspen alongside celebrities

Originally named Ute City by the miners who founded it in 1879, the town’s name changed to in 1880. Silver mining boomed in the area from Ashcroft to Aspen to Independence until 1893. Today, Aspen attracts celebrities, outdoors enthusiasts and history buffs. Some celebrities like Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are pretty low key. Other frequent celeb visitors like Mariah Carey and the Kardashians are a lot glitzier. I’ve run into celebrities like Judge Joe Brown, actor George Hamilton, Ramona Singer from Bravo’s "Real Housewives "series, celebrity chefs and well-known athletes. While it’s fun to spot celebrities, I go to Aspen Snowmass for its outdoor playground of four mountains and two towns nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Aspen hotels and other places to stay

Bask in the epitome of luxury and enjoy ski-in, ski-out access at The Little Nell, a AAA Five Diamond lodging. Touted as one of the top hotels in the world, The Little Nell is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season. Every aspect of The Little Nell oozes elegance, yet is comfortable and inviting, especially with its engaging and friendly staff. If you’re traveling with your pup, they pamper your pooch with a special pet menu and even a puppy jet lag kit to help your dog adjust to altitude. I love to grab a tea or glass of wine and relax by the two-sided fireplace in The Living Room just off The Little Nell’s lobby.Dating back to 1889, the AAA Four Diamond Hotel Jerome, An Auberge Resort, has a colorful history of guests from miners to movie stars. From floor to ceiling, every aspect of the building exudes history. The sophisticated rooms are filled with modern luxuries.For accommodations a little more affordable, stay at AAA Three Diamond The Limelight Hotel Aspen in Aspen or Snowmass. The oversized rooms are perfect for families. Order a sangria or whiskey flight to enjoy with a hand-tossed pizza as you listen to live music most nights in the lounges of both hotels during après-ski. The AAA Four Diamond Viceroy Snowmass has spectacular views and luxurious rooms if you want to stay in the heart of Snowmass Base Village.

Can skiers of all abilities ski Aspen?

At Aspen Snowmass you get four mountains, four unique ski or ride experiences and two cool towns. Aspen Mountain, called Ajax by locals, is known for its pitches, glades and powder stashes for the intermediate and expert skier. It’s often considered the most intimidating and most popular of the four mountains. Ski Ajax like a local and take a couple of runs then have breakfast at Bonnie’s mid-mountain.Snowmass is the most expansive of the four mountains. It’s known for wide-open, long intermediate groomed runs and is where you'll most likely get runs to yourself. There are spacious beginner runs as well as plenty of expert terrain. For an unparalleled view of the Maroon Bells, take some turns on High Pass run. My favorite run is Sneaky’s, which you can take over to Sam’s for lunch. Snowmass Village has recently undergone an extensive renovation. After time on the slopes, skate around the ice rink or let the kids tackle the climbing wall in the village.

Aspen Highlands combines the steeps of Ajax with the spacious runs of Snowmass. It’s the local's favorite, partly because of less crowds. There is no beginner terrain on this mountain. Do the 20-minute hike and drop into Highland Bowl for one of Colorado's most iconic ski experiences. I love doing laps on the blue runs of Prospector Gulch. For lunch, soak up the sunshine on the terrace of Cloud 9. It’s also the top spot for après-ski at Aspen Highlands.

Buttermilk has the most diverse terrain of the four mountains. It's great for beginners, yet it’s also the place where freestyle skiers and riders catch big air and hone their tricks. Buttermilk is home to X Games Aspen. Of the four mountains, it has the most beginner trails, including the Hideout, a learning area for kids. On this mountain, Cliffhouse should be your break spot. Uphilling is big in Aspen. Lots of locals skin up the mountain then ski down. Buttermilk is the best mountain to try it. You can get rentals at Four Mountain Sports or Ute Mountaineer. Tiehack is the best place to start and West Buttermilk is the easiest area to try skinning up the mountain.

Things to do in Aspen other than skiing

The fun factor is off the charts in Aspen with activities ranging from outdoor adventure to cultural experiences. If you only pick one excursion, I’d snowshoe or cross-country ski to Pine Creek Cookhouse. The adventure starts from the Ghost Town of Ashcroft, a mining ghost town. It’s a fun way to work up an appetite then work off your gourmet lunch. You can also ride 1.5 miles in a horse-drawn sleigh to lunch or dinner. The Pine Creek smoked trout dip and buffalo momos, which are Nepalese dumplings, are two must-eats in my book.

Go on a two-hour guided snowshoe tour at the top of Aspen Mountain with a naturalist from Aspen Center of Environmental Studies (ACES). The tours are offered twice daily here and at Snowmass. Hone your bird-spotting skills during an outing with an ACES guide at Hallam Lake, or take a winter farm tour with ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch. Rent a fat tire bike at Ute City Cycles. Fat bikes have tires that are 4- to 5-inches wide to give you traction and stability on the snow. For an easy ride, cruise along the Rio Grande Trail in Aspen or the Ditch Trail in Snowmass. Smuggler Hunter Creek Loop and Independence Pass have more difficult terrain. If you have a need for speed, go snowmobiling on Independence Pass or to the Maroon Bells with T Lazy 7.

You can go fly fishing on the Roaring Fork River year-round. Mal Burks with Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale is a winter fishing specialist. His clients include celebrities, athletes and former presidents to novice no-names like me. You can also cast a line on a guided outing with Aspen Fly Fishing. Aspen Historical Society has multiple ways to explore Aspen’s rich history. Sit in on a cozy fireside chat at The Little Nell on Friday mornings. Take a historic tour of the Wheeler Opera House on Wednesday afternoons. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons you can take a history tour of Hotel Jerome.

Aspen’s best après-ski

Sip some of Aspen’s legendary libations like J-Bar’s Aspen Crud on a historic pub crawl with Aspen Historical Society on Thursday afternoons. The tour starts at Red Onion, a favorite après spot of locals and visitors. The brick-walled tavern has been serving up libations since 1892. It’s Aspen’s oldest restaurant and bar. Belly up to the bar in Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar like 10th Mountain Division soldiers or Hunter S. Thompson, the eccentric journalist and author who was a J-Bar regular. As you’re sipping your cocktail or eating a burger, notice the tin ceiling, chandeliers made from old bottles and the Chinese architecture design to the back of the bar. If the legendary bar is packed, slip into one of the intimate nooks of Hotel Jerome’s Living Room. If you’re hoping to spot celebrities, there’s a good chance you’ll see one enjoying live music or a DJ in Chair 9 in The Little Nell.On a beautiful day, nothing beats a glass of champagne with truffle fries on the terrace of . It’s the perfect spot to watch hotshots showing off as they ski or ride down the mountain. For a spectacular view of Aspen Mountain, head up to Wet Deck, the rooftop bar and pool at the W Aspen. Head down valley about 15 miles to Woody Creek Distillery, where you can take a tour and enjoy spirits in the tasting room.Enlighten your mind during après at The Aspen Institute, listening to world-renowned expert speakers on a variety of topics from politics to climate change to world affairs. Bestselling authors talk about their books in The Aspen’s Institute’s “Winter Words Author Series.” Take in the contemporary collection inside Aspen Art Museum, open until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; admission is free.

Aspen restaurants and shops

For a quick latte and muffin or bagel, stand in line with locals at Paradise Bakery & Café. In the Aspen Airport Business Center, stop in the French Pastry Café or Francesca's Empanadas. Both are tiny but the pastries and empanadas are wonderful. Fuel up for a ski day with oatmeal, buttermilk or corn griddle pancakes at Poppycock's Café. For a more leisurely breakfast, start your day with huevos rancheros or an omelet at Element 47 in The Little Nell. Woody Creek Tavern is a must for a fun lunch. The rustic tavern is famous for its tamales, margaritas and photo-plastered walls. The burgers are pretty darn good too. I can't go to Aspen and not eat in the bar at Matsuhisa, an upscale Japanese restaurant. Ask for the Adam roll and special rolls not on the menu. For a lively bar, Jimmy's, An American Restaurant & Bar is an Aspen institution. Sip one of their creative cocktails as you dine on their crab cakes. If you're craving a filet or ribeye, start with Lulu’s kale salad in swanky Steakhouse No. 316. After après or before a late-night dinner, enjoy world class music. Jazz artists like Curtis Stigers do intimate performances with pre-concert talks in Downstairs at The Little Nell, Velvet Buck at the St. Regis and The Collective in Snowmass Village. For late-night fun, catch popular musical acts and comedians at Belly Up.

In the sea of high-end boutiques, the one shop you must go to is Pitkin County Dry Goods. The iconic shop opened its door in 1969 and carries a wide variety of designers for men’s and women’s clothes, shoes, outerwear and jewelry. For western boots and hats, browse the huge selection at Kemo Sabe. If you’re seeking out hard-to-find international brands and comfy cashmere pieces, peruse Souchi Aspen. For outerwear to mountain chic home décor, stroll through Gorsuch. For unique ski brands, check out Performance Ski. Sweaty Betty, the London-based active wear line, carries everything from leggings to parkas in its Aspen store, one of the brand’s few free-standing shops in the United States. I love to browse the unusual finds in Daniels Antiques along with scouring the consignment shops like The Little Bird for high-end finds at discounted prices.

Breckenridge offers multiple peaks of pure skiing gold

In 1859, prospectors found gold along the Blue River and the town of was founded. It quickly turned into a boom town filled with saloons, brothels and gold seekers. In 1887, two prospectors unearthed “Tom’s Baby,” a 13.5-pound gold nugget, the largest piece of gold ever found in the state. The boomtown went bust as its population dwindled to 393 in 1960. The following year, Breckenridge Ski Area opened on Peak 8. The ski resort now covers five peaks and is home to the highest ski lift in North America. The Imperial Express Superchair takes skiers and snowboarders up to 12,840 feet high on Peak 8. I spend a lot of time in “Breck” and am always amazed at the treasures I continue to discover on and off the slopes.

Breckenridge hotels and other places to stay

For ski-in, ski-out luxury, stay in the brand-new Grand Colorado on Peak 8 at the base of the peak. The AAA Three Diamond Residence Inn by Marriott Breckenridge is in a great location in town and if you soak in the heated pool, you’re treated to an amazing view of the ski resort. For a slightly more remote stay, book a room at AAA Three Diamond The Lodge at Breckenridge. In addition to 45 guest rooms, they also have two private homes you can rent. I’ve stayed several times in one of the homes and it’s perfect for families or small groups. Situated on a forested cliff on Boreas Pass, The Lodge has arguably the best view of Breckenridge Ski Resort. Gravity Haus is a brand-new property open at the base of Peak 9 this ski season. It’s sleek minimal meets modern adventurer in design. In addition to being in a prime location in town, Gravity Haus offers backcountry excursions for guests. They have budget and mid-range room options.

Can skiers of all abilities ski Breckenridge?

You have five peaks to explore at Breckenridge. Peak 6 is intermediate to expert above tree-line bowl skiing. I get giddy with laughter as I ski down Bliss run in the center. Peak 7 is my favorite peak because of the blue run rollers. Peak 8 has ski runs for all levels and some of the best terrain park action in the ski world. Watch the pros catch mega air on the 18-foot halfpipe, jumps, rails and boxes of Freeway terrain park. Peak 9 has a variety of terrain, but is known for its expansive beginner area, including two small terrain parks along with Ripperoo’s Forest and Haunted Forest, two tree runs for kids. Peak 10 is all black diamond runs. Try Centennial if it’s your first time on Peak 10, which also has lots of bump runs for those who love to take on moguls. The best place to find powder stashes even days after a snowstorm is Whale’s Tail. Explore it or other expert terrain with Breck Guides so you can ski or ride with a pro. Other must-do ski runs for experts are the Lake Chutes, which start at nearly 13,000 feet high and Wonderland run on Peak 6, the prime area to find powder stashes.

After you’ve worked up an appetite for lunch, the chili at TenMile Station is the best chili I’ve eaten at a ski resort. On a beautiful day, sit outside at one of the picnic tables. Warm up with a hot chocolate or steamy bowl of ramen at the Overlook on Peak 9. With floor-to-ceiling windows, Pioneer Crossing at the top of Peak 7 is the best spot for lunch with a view.

Things to do in Breckenridge other than skiing

For giggles galore, grab a snow saucer or sled and head over to Carter Park. No skis or boards are allowed on the small hill that’s just for sledding. Snowball fights and making snow angels are bound to happen too. Whether you’re a novice or expert cross-country or skate skier, you can find a gold mine of terrain at Breckenridge Nordic Center, just a couple minutes from Main Street. Snowshoe or ski to Hallelujah Hut. For wide-open meadow skiing, head to Gold Run Nordic Center at Breckenridge Golf Course. Escape into the forest and work up a sweat snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to mining relics. Take the Gold Run Trail to see Jessie Mill.If you want to explore farther, head up to Prescott Ghost Town where you get treated to a spectacular view of Breckenridge and the Ten Mile Range. Another snowshoe adventure is to Sallie Barber Mine in French Gulch. The 2.8-mile round-trip snowshoe takes you to a mine that produced rich zinc ore from the late 1800s to 1909. The trail stays above 10,000 feet so don’t be surprised if you get a little winded. If you need a break from snow, head underground at Country Boy Mine, where it stays 45 degrees year-round. Trade your beanie for a hardhat as you walk 1,000 feet into a gold mine on a 45-minute guided tour. It’s a great way to learn about Breckenridge’s mining history in a mine dating back to 1887.

If you’re an adrenaline junkie and dog lover, my all-time favorite winter adventure is for you. At Good Times Adventures you get to yell “mush, mush” to a team of eight dogs as you drive a dogsled. The guided tour covers six miles in the Swan River Valley. You get a chance to drive and ride in the sled along with riding in the snowmobile-pulled sleigh watching others take their turns driving the sled. Good Times also offers snowmobile tours to satisfy your need for speed as you traverse through the pine trees, revving it full throttle in open meadows. On a 2-hour tour, snowmobile up to 11,585 feet on the Continental Divide.

If you need a little Zen time, take a meditative moment at Meta Yoga. The yoga studio is a local’s favorite to move through sun salutations with a great view of Breckenridge Ski Resort. Indulge with a massage at Infinity Spa at the Grand Colorado on Peak 8. Soak in the warm waters of the grotto after your treatment for an extra dose of relaxation and rejuvenation. Take in some history on your ski vacation on a Breckenridge Heritage Alliance tours. They offer a plethora of ghost, mine, saloon and history tours. Take the 90-minute “Walk Through History Tour” in Breckenridge’s National Historic District. It’s a great way to learn about Breck’s famous gunslingers, socialites and architecture.

Breckenridge’s best après-ski

When you’re ready to relax on a sun-drenched patio, ski or ride into the base of Peak 8. TBar is lively and a great place for people watching with a view of the slopes. It’s also close to the gondola if you want to ride back into downtown instead of skiing down. You’re also just steps away from the Gold Runner Coaster. You and the kids can zoom along 2,500 feet of track around and through a snow-covered forest.In town, Long’s Saloon opened in 1861 and over the years changed its name to The Gold Pan Saloon. The bar claims to have the “longest continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi.” Swap ski stories over beers or spirits just as thirsty miners would have in the late 1800s. Right next door is a spot for wine lovers. Relax with a wine flight or enjoy a glass on tap at Carboy Winery’s tasting room. There may be white tablecloths at Briar Rose Chophouse & Saloon, but with taxidermy-filled walls and a tin ceiling, it holds on to its Wild West style. For a cocktail with a kick order the White Flame. Blackberry Briar is a favorite too. Sip a margarita out of a canteen at Canteen Tap House and Tavern. Pair it with chips and queso fundido or one of their flatbreads. For a heartier meal, order a burger or the four-cheese grilled cheese.For pub grub in this mountain town, sip an Avalanche Amber Ale or Breck Lager at Breckenridge Brewery as you chow down on agave shrimp, spicy beer-battered fried pickles or a burger. Once a small brewpub, Breckenridge Brewery is one of the most successful craft beer producers in the country. Duck off of Main Street for après in ’s cute red cottage. During their Twist(ed) Hour enjoy $5 and $6 appetizer deals. Try the house-cut Breck Fries and smoked trout dip. Broken Compass Brewing Company is the locals’ go-to spot for beer. Brews like Ginger Pale Ale and Snow Blind Double IPA are creative and adventurous. Broken Compass even has a free shuttle between downtown and the brewery about 2.5 miles away.

Head to the highest distillery in the world for craft cocktails. Breckenridge Distillery sits at 9,600 feet. Let your spirted après roll right into a culinary adventure for dinner. The brussels sprouts are a must. The Motherload Tavern and Burke and Riley’s Irish Pub are two more great options for après or late night.

Breckenridge restaurants and shops

Pop into Clint’s Bakery and Deli for a coffee and bagel sandwich. The Starbucks in Breckenridge is considered one of the most unique in the world because it’s in a yellow house that used to be the mayor’s home. Indulge with the orange Kahlua French toast at BoLD. It’s worth every calorie. Scarf down one of their benedicts or biscuit dishes before you hit the slopes. For an upscale breakfast or brunch, enjoy avocado toast or huevos rancheros at Doma 1898. For a light lunch, enjoy a salad at Blue River Bistro. Doma and Blue River are also great dinner options.For the healthiest fare in town for breakfast or lunch, head to in a historic yellow house on Lincoln Avenue. My favorites here are the breakfast tacos and Mona’s hi-protein power sandwich. For a margarita and good Mexican comfort food, Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant & Cantina is the place. If you’re craving spicy Asian food, Bangkok Happy Bowl Thai Bistro and Bar is where to go. Green curry chicken, pad kapow and pad Thai are three dishes you should order. Mountain Flying Fish is my favorite for sushi in Breck. It’s very popular with locals and tourists alike so do not be surprised if there’s an hour wait. Let the kids play video games while you relax with a beer at Downstairs at Eric's. It’s been a family favorite for years and the pizzas are delicious. Giampietro is the place for really good Italian comfort food. The calamari and stuffed shells are two of my favorites. Sip a great glass of wine paired with the tri-colored tortilla crusted trout at Relish. The eatery has an upscale wine bar feel to it. For a romantic dinner, head over to Hearthstone. The restaurant in a home dating back to the late 1800s is known for their hand-cut steaks. Their beets carpaccio and ginger sea scallops are outstanding too. There’s almost always a line at Crêpes a la Cart. Sweet or savory, the crepes are worth standing in line for at the cart on South Main Street.

The more than 200 shops in downtown Breck turn me into a shopaholic. I’m always amazed at the fashionista finds in this mountain town. My new favorite is the tiny boutique Maggie Pond in Main Street Station. Sister stores Ruby Jane and Valley Girl are always on trend for fashion and home décor. Goods is where Colorado meets LA style, especially with their selection of shoes, boots and hats. Mountain Goat is for the outdoors lover and the place to find what I call Rocky Mountain cool: stylish yet functional pieces like fleece pullovers, jackets and sweaters. Peruse the eclectic collection of antiques, clothes and unique home décor at Marigolds Farmhouse Funk and Junk. Wade through the “junk” to find your treasures in this funky shop. For leather goods, shop Belvidere and Hern. You’ll find one-of-a-kind trucker hats, mountain-themed jewelry and unique paper goods in Magical Scraps.

Crested Butte is one cool ski town

Originally a supply camp for silver mines in the 1870s, ended up being one of the most productive coal mining towns in the 1880s and 1890s. The coal era ended in 1952 with the close of the Big Mine. A ski area opened on Crested Butte Mountain in 1962 and grew to today’s resort town of Mt. Crested Butte. The Butte often gets buried in feet of snow as the storms roll through. It’s a no-frills ski town that’s off the beaten path. You could call it a cowboy town with a free spirit. Because of the well-preserved homes, businesses and shops from the mining era, Crested Butte’s downtown is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District. I love the quirky blend of artsy meets ranchland ruggedness meets outdoor adventure of this cool ski town.

Crested Butte hotels and other places to stay

There are three great options to stay in the village at Mt. Crested Butte. You can book a condo or hotel room at AAA Three Diamond The Lodge at Mountaineer Square to be in the heart of the base area and just 100 yards from the Red Lady lift. AAA Three Diamond The Grand Lodge is a little farther from the lift but does have the Wildflower Spa and is directly across from the main transit center so you can easily catch a free shuttle into downtown. AAA Three Diamond Elevation Hotel & Spa is in a prime slope-side location and also has a full-service spa. For a more budget-friendly option that’s also historic, stay at Forest Queen Hotel on Elk Street in town. In 1881 it was part of the town’s red-light district with a saloon downstairs and brothel upstairs. Today there are seven rooms for overnight accommodations and Coal Creek Grill occupies the downstairs. Try their venison Bolognese or herb-crusted ruby trout.

Can skiers of all abilities ski Crested Butte?

When I ski the Butte, I immediately head to Paradise Bowl to get in on some of its powder. Once it starts to get crowded, I’ll take off to do laps on the blue runs off of the newly upgraded Teocalli lift. For a black diamond run, Twister is my favorite, mainly because it takes you to Uley’s Cabin. For beginner and easy terrain, you’ll find it right off the Red Lady Express lift. Crested Butte is known for its extreme terrain. It’s one of the places where big-mountain skiing started and is home to one of the longest running extreme skiing competitions. My heart raced just watching the gutsy freeski athletes take on ultra-gnarly terrain in the competition held annually in late February. A great way to explore Crested Butte’s extreme terrain is to go with one of the knowledgeable CB Steep Guides. You can ski with an Olympian and take a private lesson with big mountain freeskiing legend Wendy Fisher. “Earn your turns” and burn a ton of calories by skiing uphill. There are a couple of routes open before and after lifts runs and one route open all day for uphilling.

For a leisurely lunch, dine in Uley’s Cabin. It’s named after Uley Scheer, a moonshine bootlegger and county jail cook in the 1880s. The cuisine is mountain fare with a French-inspired flare. On a beautiful day, bask in the sunshine at the Umbrella Bar at Ten Peaks or sip a bacon bloody Mary at Paradise Warming House.

Things to do in Crested Butte other than skiing

Kids will love the bungee trampolines and 28-foot climbing pinnacle in the Adventure Park in the base area. It’s next to Butte 66 restaurant so parents can enjoy a drink and bite to eat while the kids expend extra energy. Get an adrenaline rush as you zip on five ziplines ranging from 120 to 400 feet. Winter zipline tours are offered at 1 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Clip into a pair of skinny skis and go classic or skate skiing through the valley, aspen groves and pine forests on 55 kilometers of trails at the Crested Butte Nordic Center. Kids 16 and under along with seniors 70 and over get to ski at the Nordic center for free. Trade your skis for snowshoes and head out on one of the ungroomed trails in Brush Creek or Washington Gulch to truly experience the many feet of snow Crested Butte gets every winter.

Gothic Valley is another area to explore on snowshoes, fat bike or Nordic skis. The town of Gothic was completely abandoned after the crash of the silver market. Today scientists do research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory there. Snowmobiles are forbidden around Gothic but there are plenty of other areas you can go on a tour or snowmobile on your own. Combine speed and scenery with Action Adventures on a 3-hour snowmobiling tour in Crested Butte’s backcountry. A stroll along Elk Avenue to take in the Victorian-style architecture of the historic buildings is a must. Explore Crested Butte’s creative district. Take a self-guided public art tour and enjoy the whimsical benches and other interesting art installations throughout town.

Crested Butte’s best après-ski

Avalanche Bar and Grill is a sports bar kind of joint in the base area. Wash down your avalanche wings, southwestern chicken rolls or sweet potato waffle fries with one of their beers on draft. Iron Horse Tap is a great option for local beers and bar bites. Downtown Crested Butte has several unique places for après. Kick back with an Elk Avenue Brewing Company draft beer and some pub grub in Eldo Brewpub. To sip while you shop, slip into the Princess Wine Bar. Enjoy a glass of wine and find something unique for your home in the Princess Western Design Company. This wine bar and design studio also has a great selection of cognacs and single malt scotches. Drink some award-winning rum at Montanya Distillers. Tour the distillery or just sip one of their Montanya martinis in the tasting room. Warm up with one of their steaming hot cocktails like the Elixir or Winter Tea. For nibbles, order the warm hand-cut chips, zucchini corn fritters or warm lump crab and sausage dip. The Dogwood is an old miner’s shack remodeled into a cocktail cabin. It’s funky, fun and usually packed. They infuse their own spirits for their unique cocktails. I’m partial to the refreshing Rosebud cocktail made with rose water, strawberries, vodka and bubbles. For something bolder, try a Thor’s Hammer or Up in Smoke cocktail. Nibble on roasted rosemary spiced nuts or indulge with the blue cheese fondue. For an après that can easily roll into dinner, pull up a bar stool at the Wooden Nickel. Crested Butte’s oldest saloon is also a steakhouse. The tavern was originally built around 1880. It’s been some sort of tavern ever since, except during Prohibition when it was a pool hall. The conch fritters are a must for après or as an appetizer for dinner.

Crested Butte restaurants and shops

My go-to for coffee in Crested Butte is Camp 4 Coffee. They have two locations in town, but my favorite is the licensed plated cabin in downtown. The coffee beans are roasted by hand in small batches. For a comfort food breakfast or lunch, go to . Try one of their “scromelettes,” which are a blend of scrambled eggs and an omelet served over potatoes. They only do burgers and fries at Crested Butte Burger Company in the base area of Mt. Crested Butte. It’s easy access whether you’re enjoying a day on or off the slopes. For a fine dining mountain adventure, wrap up in blankets under a star-filled sky as a team of horses whisks you up the mountain on a sleigh ride to Uley’s Cabin for a five-course French-inspired dinner. Reservations are required. It’s no secret that The Secret Stash has the best pizza in town. It’s popular and the pies live up to the hype. Their Notorious F.I.G. creation won the World Champion Pizza Challenge. Order the butternut squash risotto or braised pork shoulder and ricotta gnocchi at Sunflower Crested Butte. If you’re wanting noodles or Thai curry, dine at Ryce Asian Bistro. If you’re really hungry, try their “Fourteener” piled high with chicken, shrimp, beef, scallops and vegetables.

Elk Avenue is lined with independently owned boutiques, galleries, and cafes. Snag some mountain lifestyle clothing at the Mountain Store. From socks to outerwear, they have a large selection of comfortable clothes for men and women. For clothes and jewelry with a bohemian flair, pop into Milky Way. You can’t miss the contemporary boutique in a bright yellow historic building. For trendy finds, browse the racks in Lavish. Get some new headwear at Alley Hats. Pooh’s Corner is a fabulous shop to find everything from games to clothes for kids. Grab a good read, game or puzzle in Townie Books, a cozy independent bookstore. Along with cute boutiques, there are amazing art galleries scattered throughout downtown. Zacchariah Zypp and Co. is where you can get a Crested Butte lapis lazuli, a gemstone first discovered in the Blue Wrinkle Mine near Crested Butte in 1939. My favorite shop is Paragon Art Gallery. It’s an artist cooperative filled with unique finds made by fourteen local artists. It’s my go-to shop to get a handmade piece from Crested Butte for a gift or just as a gift to myself.

Traverse the ‘champagne powder’ of Steamboat Springs

To the Yampatika Ute and Arapaho Indians, the area was sacred for the healing properties of its mineral springs. According to legend, it got its name because a French fur trapper thought the mineral spring flowing alongside the Yampa River chugged like a steamboat. In the late 1800s the rugged ranching region attracted pioneers hoping to strike it rich in the coal and gold mines. The white gold, or snow, is different in Steamboat Springs. It’s dubbed “champagne powder,” a phrase coined by local rancher Joe McElory in the 1950s because the ultra-dry consistency of the snow tickles your face like bubbly. I love this cowboy town also known as Ski Town, U.S.A. because it is home to more Olympians than any other town in North America and you can even ski with a few of them.

Steamboat Springs hotels and other places to stay

My favorite place to stay when skiing “The Boat” is AAA Three Diamond Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas. The suites, condos and villas are ski-in, ski-out in Mountain Village. The best budget option is a historical one. Rabbit Ears Motel is in a prime location in downtown Steamboat Springs. You can’t miss the neon pink cartoon-like rabbit out front of the hotel since 1952. Whether staying in Mountain Village or downtown, free shuttles run frequently between the two.

Can skiers of all abilities ski Steamboat Springs?

If you’ve ever wanted to ski with an Olympian, Steamboat is the place to do it. I always try to jump in on the almost daily “Ski with Billy Kidd.” He was the first American male to medal in alpine skiing winning the silver in 1964. Check the sign at the top of the new high-speed gondola to see if Billy is skiing. I guarantee he’ll make you feel like an Olympian, just like he makes me feel like superstar skier Lindsay Vonn. If you want to learn how to tackle the bumps, ski with two-time Olympian and bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael. His wife, Caroline, a two-time Olympian, gave me one of the best ski tips I’ve ever gotten. At the top of a run or if you encounter intimidating terrain, just focus on one turn at a time, instead of the whole run. It’s a tip I’ve used over and over on the slopes. For beginners, you’ll find a plethora of green runs off of Christie Peak Express lift. For experts, black diamond Rolex is an iconic run along with dropping in from the top of Storm Peak and skiing the chutes of Christmas Tree Bowl. I love taking advantage of the morning sun and doing laps on runs like Tomahawk and High Noon off of the Sunshine Express lift. I’ve found powder stashes on Baby Powder every time I’ve skied the intermediate run.

For a leisurely lunch with spectacular valley views, ski over to Hazie's in Four Points Lodge. Indulge with their lobster mac and cheese, Kobe beef burger or smoked salmon croque madame. You can also enjoy a casual lunch at Stoker in Thunderhead Lodge at the top of the gondola. Order their grilled bacon mac ‘n cheese melt. You can ski off the calories. If you’d rather eat on the go, look for the Taco Beast, a snowcat food truck. For lunchtime locations, follow @TacoBeastSBT on Twitter.

There are two runs that make my perfect ski day. I hit both either after lunch, or after a hot chocolate warm-up break. Buddy’s Run was named after Steamboat native and ski icon Buddy Werner. To me, this intermediate blue run has it all. It starts steep then ends wide open, so you get the leg burn then get to just cruise as a reward. I almost always end a ski day at Steamboat with a final run on Heavenly Daze. The view from this steep intermediate run is, well, heavenly.

Things to do in Steamboat Springs other than skiing

These are my five favorite things to do off the slopes in Steamboat. Get up early and take a hot air balloon ride with Wild West Balloon Adventures. You’ll experience an inversion, where the temperature is warmer aloft than on the ground. The views of the snow-covered Yampa Valley are nothing short of breathtaking.

Just a few minutes from downtown is a 280-foot waterfall. Take a short quarter-of-a-mile snow-packed hike to Fish Creek Falls. You might even catch some ice climbers in action.

There are two options to soak your sore muscles after a day on the slopes. Old Town Hot Springs is in downtown Steamboat. It’s where the pioneers and miners soaked in the 1880s. Kids will love their two 230-foot water slides. For a more remote soaking experience, take a shuttle to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Relax in the stone-lined pools in a picturesque winter setting.

You can fly fish in winter. Sleep in or take some early morning turns, then head over to the Yampa River late morning or early afternoon to cast a line. Steamboat Flyfisher is owned by 4-time winter Olympian Johnny Spillane. They can even guide you on an ice-fishing outing.

To me there’s nothing more Steamboat than going on a trail ride. See what looks like “diamonds on the snow” as the ranch family patriarch and Olympian Ray Heid described the glistening winter wonderland during my trail ride with him at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch. The 1- to 2-hour horseback ride takes you through spectacular snowy scenery of open meadows and pristine forests in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

Steamboat Springs’ best après-ski

For après you can simply hang out at the base and enjoy the sips and music at Slopeside Grill or TBar. Paramount and Timber & Torch are two more great après options in the base area. Try to snag a seat in the bar at Truffle Pig. It’s the high-end spot for après. For a wine and whiskey après, pop into Rye in Torian Plum Plaza. Try a flight to sample some of their local and hard-to-find whiskeys. Double Diamonds Bar is a legendary watering hole in Steamboat. For après riverside, duck into Sunpie’s Bistro for tacos and bacon-wrapped jalapeños to go with a beer.

Steamboat Springs restaurants and shops

I can’t go to The Boat and not have breakfast at Creekside Café. Their benedicts are a must. Freshies is another great option for breakfast. In Mountain Village, the chilaquiles at Paramount are delicious and enough to split. The newest dinner hot spot is Joki for ramen and poke. For authentic pad Thai or curry, head to Mai Thai. For really good Italian comfort food, Mazzola’s is my favorite. This unpretentious restaurant opened in 1970 in a long, skinny basement. The pasta portions are huge and the pizzas are piled high with toppings. For an upscale dining experience along the Yampa River, Aurum is my go-to for elevated American cuisine. Sip on one of their creative cocktails and savor their crab cakes, grilled bison skewers, braised buffalo meatballs or pan-seared rainbow trout. For a unique Steamboat dining experience, book in advance a dinner sleigh ride at Saddleback Mountain.

Lincoln Avenue is filled with fun boutiques, outdoor apparel shops and art galleries. For beanies, trucker hats and fedoras, stop in Steamboat Hat Shop. If you’re looking for handmade jewelry and artisan treasures, browse the Steamboat Art Company. For one-of-a-kind geodes and museum-quality fossils stop in the Jewelry and Fossil Shop. Grab a great read and a coffee in Off the Beaten Path. Fashionistas will love Fringe Boutique. Their Instagram alone makes me want to shop their trendy yet affordable pieces. Kali’s is my other favorite for fabulous finds. The upscale boutique is a favorite of celebrities searching for unique pieces for red carpet events. When in Steamboat, you have to get some authentic western wear and the place to find it is F.M. Light and Sons. Founded in 1905, the family-run business is now in its fifth generation. From working ranch wear to sparkly rodeo get-ups, it’s the place to find Rockmount Ranch Wear snap western shirts, Stetson hats and Luchesse boots in Steamboat. On the way into Steamboat, you’ll likely see at least one of the historic yellow signs to shop F.M. Light.

Telluride is Colorado’s hidden gem

Telluride hotels and other places to stay

I’m a history buff so when in Telluride I usually stay in the historic downtown. I’ll stroll the streets admiring the architecture of the Victorian-style homes and commercial buildings. My favorite place to stay is AAA Three Diamond The Hotel Telluride. The boutique hotel with large guest rooms is mountain chic, combining cozy and elegant. In the late afternoon, someone has usually picked up the guitar by the fireplace and fills the lobby with music. For a resort with ski-in, ski-out access in Mountain Village, stay at AAA Three Diamond The Peaks Resort & Spa. If you’re a luxury seeker and want ski-in, ski-out access, AAA Four Diamond Madeline Hotel & Residences is designed with sleek mountain elegance. After a day on the slopes relax with a dip in the heated pool on the second story. The view of the surrounding peaks is breathtaking. AAA Four Diamond New Sheridan Hotel is where history meets luxury in downtown. It’s called “new” because the original hotel was destroyed by fire in 1894. The New Sheridan opened in 1895, dating back to Colorado’s mining days. There are only 26 rooms in Telluride’s oldest hotel.

Can skiers of all abilities ski Telluride?

The San Juan Mountains have been dubbed the American Alps because their jaggedness resembles the mountains of Switzerland. They also make for a different ski experience. The blue-black rated runs would easily be black runs at other ski resorts. My favorite run at Telluride is an iconic one. On a pretty day, you can see all the way to Utah’s La Sal Mountains, a little over a hundred miles away, from See Forever run. I’m a fan of doing lap runs on the blues in Prospect Bowl. Galloping Goose is a wonderful easy green run off of Prospect Express lift. From the top of that lift you get an incredible view of Wilson Peak, the peak on Coors Light labels, and yes, I’ve hiked to the top of that 14,023-foot mountain. There’s expansive beginner terrain near the base and lots of easy runs off of Sunshine Express lift. For expert skiers and riders, from Prospect Express lift, hike up to Palmyra Peak. The Gold Hill Chutes and Revelation Bowl are must-ski experiences for expert level too. Woosley Way is a double blue run that gets my heart racing but I’ll do it because it takes me to my favorite on-mountain dining spot.

Bon Vivant translates to “well living.” That’s exactly what you do sitting at this outdoor French bistro on the mountain. I usually plan a late lunch here, because I usually don’t want to leave after eating the decadent French onion soup with stone-ground mustard croutons smothered in brûléed Gruyere cheese. The sweeping views are stupendous, especially while sipping champagne at 11,220 feet above sea level on a bluebird day.

My other favorite on-mountain dining experience at Telluride is perched at 11,966 feet. Alpino Vino is North America’s highest fine-dining restaurant. Order the tomato gorgonzola bisque with a grilled cheese. The soup is so good I asked the chef for the recipe, after which he scurried off then returned with a handwritten recipe that he said “was 98 percent accurate.” You can also take an enclosed snow-coach to dinner at Alpino Vino for a five-course Italian meal.

Things to do in Telluride other than skiing

Explore some of the San Juan’s mining history by snowmobiling to Alta ghost town with Telluride Outfitters. On the two-hour tour you get to explore the historic mining camp and enjoy the beauty of the Alta Lakes area. I found this tour to be the perfect combination of history, scenery and adrenaline. Blend speed with pampering on their full-day snowmobiling tour to Dunton, where you get to enjoy a gourmet lunch and soak in natural hot springs. Rent a fat bike or snowshoes from Bootdoctors and explore the valley floor or some of the trails from Mountain Village. From town, look for experienced ice climbers on the 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls. It’s the longest free-falling waterfall in the state. The San Juans are one of the premier ice-climbing destinations in the world. If you want to try it, book a guided tour with Mountain Trip, Telluride Mountain Guides or San Juan Outdoor Adventures. For a snowshoe outing to a waterfall, take the Bear Creek Falls trail right from town. It’s 2.5 miles to the waterfall on a well-marked wooded trail. There are six Nordic skiing areas in or close to Telluride. Glide along the 10 kilometers of groomed Top-A-Ten Nordic Trails off of Lift 10 at Telluride Ski Resort. Cross-country ski at Trout Lake or Priest Lake. Telluride Nordic Association maintains the trails around these picturesque lakes that are about 15 minutes from Telluride. Learn about the town’s colorful past including its “popcorn alley” on a historic walking tour of downtown. Book a guided tour with Telluride Historical Museum to explore the National Historic Landmark District.

Telluride’s best après-ski

Straight from the slopes, head to in Mountain Village. On a bluebird day, the slope-side patio is packed. Nosh on their Tomboy chicken wings or San Juan nachos as you sip a Telluride Brewing beer or a mule in a copper mug. Sip some local spirits in Telluride Distillery’s tasting room in Mountain Village. Try their Chairlift Warmer Peppermint Schnapps.

Sample the local brews in the tasting room of Telluride Brewing Company. Try the Ski in Ski Stout, an oatmeal stout hopped with cocoa nibs. All of the beers have adventurous names. Sitting at 8,750 feet in elevation, it’s one of the highest microbreweries in the world. Just about every building along Colorado Avenue in Telluride is historic including Last Dollar Saloon, where you can belly up to their long bar. With over 60 brews, they have the largest beer selection in Telluride. Cornerhouse Grille is where locals go for après or late night. Order a burger or grilled cheese made your way with a side of house-cut fries in this bar housed in a historic home. Ski bums to A-list celebrities finagle for a bar stool in New Sheridan’s Historic Bar, one of the oldest bars in the west that dates back to 1895. It’s my favorite spot in town for people watching. For après with panoramic views, ride the gondola to Allred’s Restaurant. It’s the best place in Telluride to catch the alpenglow of sunset. Stay for dinner and nosh on elk striploin, Colorado lamb or the jumbo lump crab cake. Cap off a fabulous dinner with a Flatliner, Allred’s signature dessert coffee cocktail.

Telluride restaurants and shops

My favorite coffee joint in Telluride is the low-key yet eclectic Ghost Town Coffee. The avocado toasts and smoothies are perfect for a healthy start to the day. They make their own nut milks and baked goods. It’s also a specialty grocery store. For a sit-down breakfast head over to . The breakfast sandwiches are scrumptious and filling. My favorite is the spinach breakfast sandwich. The artisan pastries are delicious too. Grab a burger or barbeque sandwich at Oak. The fried okra and succotash are my picks for sides here. Oak is at the base of Peak 8 and near the gondola for easy access to keep skiing or riding after lunch.The hottest fine-dining experience is at Telluride’s newest restaurant, The National. The New Sheridan Chop House is a classic steak house. Their seafood selection is fabulous too. Start your fine dining experience with either their French onion soup or classic wedge salad. Thai restaurant Siam is hands down my favorite eatery in Telluride. From the springs to pad Thai, the food is consistently delicious. Siam has droves of fans, so expect a wait. When you’re craving pizza and casual dining, Brown Dog Pizza is it. From thin crust to Detroit-style, they have a variety of pizza styles for you to choose from. If you don’t want to leave the cozy comforts of your hotel or condo, they deliver.

Colorado Avenue in historic downtown is filled with unique boutiques and galleries. A must-shop spot for me is CashmereRED. Their cozy cashmere sweaters and scarves are perfect to stave off winter’s chill. Two Skirts and Society Telluride are two stylish and trendy boutiques. Black Bear Trading Company is the place for western wear and housewares. Hook is a fun home goods store. Grab one of their $2.50 Chocolove chocolate bars for a sweet treat. Pick up some Telluride gear at Telluride Trappings and Toggery. Locals call it just the Toggery and it’s Telluride’s longest-running clothing store. Zia Sun is filled with unique toys, board games and gifts. It’s also a great place to snag a Telluride souvenir.

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