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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Four Day Colorado Ski Trip - Affordable Travel and the Epic Pass

By the time March rolled around, we were feeling fried.  My business picked up, Adam was working a lot of overtime, and we had survived the childcare less month of February.  Plain and simple...we needed to get away.  We hadn't been on an airplane since before the pandemic and we were desperate to get away for any amount of time.  While a lot of our friends headed south for sunshine, we planned an entirely different getaway.  Our 2020 ski season was cut short due to the pandemic, and winter 2021... I was very very pregnant. And so, this was our first year back on skis. We bought the Epic Pass to make sure we got out there and used it and it worked.  We spent four days in Colorado, three days skiing in the most perfect warm and sunny spring skiing conditions. It was long enough to recharge but not too long away from our one year old.  It was the perfect amount of time to enjoy a ski weekend without going insanely overbudget on an expensive trip. We were so happy to come home to our baby and our dogs, and both agreed these were some of our best ski days yet. We returned home perfectly windburned and happily recharged. 


For the 2021/2022 season, the Epic passes were discounted and we bought them early at the cheapest rate they are offered.  We bought season passes for $534 each and when you think about how much lift tickets are these days, it's an insanely good deal.  For local New England mountains, our pass covers Mount Snow, Okemo and Stowe.  Due to a lack of babysitters (aka our parents being away the month of February) we didn't get as much local skiing in as we wanted.  We skied two days at Okemo and three days in Colorado and this pass was key to us getting on the slopes. Not only was it a huge discount, but it forced us to get out there and use our pass. We probably wouldn't have booked this trip without it. Let's do the math.

Vail Day Pass (Weekend): $240
Beaver Creek Day Pass (Weekend): $240
Breckenridge Day Pass (Weekend): $220
Okemo Day Pass (Weekend): $130 (x2) 

$960 dollars of lift tickets. Plus free wax/tune and discounts at all the cafeterias. Parents also told us that the savings on ski school and lodging make this pass the only affordable option. Even only skiing 5 days, we saved $430 each.  I know the passes make the mountains a bit more crowded but they are truly an "affordable" way to ski all winter long. No shelling out $200 a day, one upfront cost and you get to skip the ticket lines and jump right on the lift.  

Affordable Travel

If you know me, you know affordable travel is the way I like to travel and what I preach. It allows you to see so much more of the world when you stick to a budget on your trips.  It's all fun and games to watch influencers share their gifted trip to the fancy lodge at the base of the ski mountain but it's unrealistic for most middle-class couples and families. This trip was affordable because we used our credit card points to book flights, utilized family for airport pickups and drop off, instead of a hotel we rented a studio with a kitchen on AirBnb to cook and prep meals, we used Turo car sharing for a rental car instead of an airport rental agency, and skied with our Epic discounted passes. We enjoyed an amazing ski trip at some of the best resorts out in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado without breaking the bank. 

If you want to enjoy a trip without shelling out money left and right, avoid a hotel and find something on Airbnb with a kitchen. The food cost of a trip is always more significant than anyone budgets for. If you had to eat out three meals a day, you are easily going to spend over $100 a day on food, and that's being conservative. By making breakfast most mornings and making lunch every day, we avoided busy lodges, unhealthy options, and expensive mountain meals. I had hardboiled eggs and yogurt for the morning, granola bars for snacks, and sandwiches packed in my ski bag every day we skied. No waiting for tables or for food, we enjoyed the perfect spring weather outside with a view every day for lunch.  We even made dinner at the Airbnb one night and made a pre-dinner cheese plate on our last night. When we wanted to splurge on vacation, we stopped in the lodge for a hot cocoa or grabbed an appetizer at a restaurant after skiing. 

Buying our Epic passes early in the season, saving credit card points for flights and using Turo for a car rental also saved us hundreds of dollars. If you truly want to stick to a budget, pack some extra patience and utilize the free shuttles from town for parking (parking at all of the mountains really adds up). Avoid the shops and really prioritize where you want to spend your money. 

Know Before You Go 

Colorado ski mountains do not offer free on mountain parking. If you want to park near the mountain, it's expensive and the lots fill up quick. We got to Beaver Creek 30 minutes before the lift started spinning and the on-mountain parking was already full. Each mountain does offer a free option typically involving a shuttle from town. This was the one area we were okay with splurging on and we paid for parking at every resort.  I share different parking options for each resort, sharing the full day weekday/weekend or peak fee for each mountain. 

Getting There

Train to downtown Denver

Once you get off the plane, you quickly realize the airport is a little ways outside the city.  Typically, you can pick up your rental car at the airport of take a shuttle to a satellite location.  We went with Turo for our vehicle (all about it below) and they offer a few options including a car drop off right at the airport or taking an uber to the car for an added fee. Both of these options are expensive so instead, once we landed at the Denver airport, we decided to take the train.  The University of Colorado A-line costs $10.50 each person for the day, leaves right from the airport and takes you to Union Station downtown. The 23-mile/37 minute ride leaves every 15 minutes from the airport by the Westin Hotel and you can buy a ticket right at the station. 

Car Sharing - Turo

With the 2021 chip shortage, rental car companies started selling off their rental cars while the used car market was hot. In turn, the price of rentals went through the roof and the average cost to rent a 4 wheel vehicle was going to cost us about $150 a day in Denver. To make matters worse, you don't get to pick the exact car you would like and getting a 4 wheel drive option is more expensive and can feel like pulling teeth. 4 wheel drive is not an option for the journey from Denver to Frisco and the ski mountains (it's mandatory). Turo allowed us to pick the exact car we wanted at a discounted price.  It's like Airbnb for cars and you deal with an app and a person and their personal vehicle. No rental counter, no lines, it's insanely easy and a much cheaper option.  From Union Station, we took a quick Uber ride to our car which was parked in a random parking lot the owner had decided on.  We never even saw him and he left the keys in the backseat. You use the app to take pictures of the vehicle and odometer, noting any damage and the vehicle's mileage and fuel tank. We verified that our normal car insurance covered this type of rental agreement and didn't need to purchase any additional insurance.  The only limitation we had was an 800-mile limit for the trip which we didn't even come close to. The truck was perfect for getting us to the mountains in a no-fuss way.  Once we were done, we ran through a car wash, fueled up the car, and left it right where we found it.  It was my first experience with Turo but I can't recommend it enough if you want to know exactly what car you are renting and for a discounted price. 

Getting to the Mountains 

Once you left the airport and grabbed your car, the adventure isn't over yet.  The mountains are about an hour+ outside the city and you need to do a bit of planning to avoid traffic and winding up in a ditch along I-70. Four-wheel drive is mandatory as your make your way west across I-70.  We landed in a snow storm and we cautiously headed west towards Frisco. We saw no less than 5 vehicles crashed into the ditch or flipped over on the side of I-70, serving as a reminder that mother nature and this highway do not care about your check-in window or dinner reservations. You drive up over Vail pass and careen back down the 2 lane highway alongside tractor-trailers with their flashers on. A third lane opens up for a fee when the famous Denver Weekender traffic hits. With so many mountains concentrated in one area, the weekender traffic to and from Denver can be a nightmare and the hourish drive to Frisco can take the entire evening. I-70 is also known to shut down when wintry conditions set in. Make sure you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, check the weather before you go, and try to avoid Friday/Sunday weekend travel windows. 

The Mountains

Staying in Frisco

The beauty of skiing in Colorado is the number of mountains you have access to within a short drive.  Frisco was centrally located to the three mountains we wanted to ski on our pass, Vail (30-minute drive west), Beaver Creek (45-minute drive further west), and Breckenridge (15-
minute drive south). I wrote all about Frisco last time I visited on our Girls Trip.  You can find lodging info in all of these resort towns but Frisco was the perfect launching point and a quiet place to stay. We rented a studio apartment on Airbnb that was right off the main street. From here, we could walk to shops and restaurants and enjoy just how quiet this little mountain town is. We had a condo with a hot tub and had just enough room to relax and prep a few meals.  Every morning, we put together breakfast and made sandwiches for our ski day.  There is a grocery store right in town and just about anything else you could need (ski rentals, gift shops, restaurants, coffee shops, etc).   

The Resorts - Overview 

These three resorts are impressive and awesome in their own different ways.  Breckenridge is the tallest with a summit elevation of 12,998 feet and the tallest chairlift in North America. Vail is next at 11,570 feet and Beaver Creek is just under that at 11,440 feet. Vail is the biggest by far with 5,317 total skiable acres.  The back bowls alone are 3,017 acres and cover more than Beaver Creek (2,082 acres) and Breckenridge (2,908).  To put this in New England comparison, Okemo has 667 acres of skiable terrain. Vail more than doubles the terrain at Beaver Creek. Vail has more skiable terrain than Breckenridge and Beaver Creek combined.  Vail was our favorite as the sheer size, the white open powdery back bowls and glades cannot be beaten.  Beaver Creek made second on my list - I loved the steeps and longer terrain at Beaver Creek and loved the end of day riding at Arrowhead. Breckenridge was a blast but a different mountain in just how wide it is. The runs didn't feel as long and it helps to know your way around the mountain as it takes some planning to get from Peak 6 to Peak 10.  


Vail gave me one of my top 3 ski days to date. It snowed the night before and we hit the slopes on an abnormally quiet Friday, thanks to post St. Paddy's Day celebrations and March Madness.  The front side of Vail is fine but the Legendary Back Bowls of Vail are exactly that.  They are open and filled with soft powdery snow. There is some amazing tree skiing and the views are incredible as you make your way through this insane topography. China Bowl did not disappoint and we both agreed Vail was our favorite. The village of Vail is also as quaint as can be and you can come to Colorado to experience a "European village with bavarian flair". We parked at one of the lots that was a 5-10 minute walk to the base. See my 2019 post about the mountain.

Mountain Stats

Total Skiable Terrain: 5,317 Acres (2,141 H)
Front Side: 1,655 Acres
Back Bowls: 3,017 Acres
Blue Sky Basin: 645 Acres
Trails: 195 Lifts: 31
Longest Run: Riva Ridge - 4 miles (6.4 km)
Average Annual Snowfall: 354 inches (899 cm)
Base Elevation 8,120 ft. /2,476 m. 
Peak Elevation 11,570 ft. /3,527 m.


Vail Village and Lionshead: $30
Free satellite parking through town with a transit option (details here)

Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek had me at escalators and Cookie Hour. It has that Deer Valley uppity vibe and as you walk by the Ritz Carlton and the insane mega-mansions that lay at the end of "homeowner access only" trails. Beaver Creek is big and on a Saturday, we never waited in lift lines (single line is always helpful). We started out the day on the western side of the mountain by the Birds of Prey lift. After some exhausting double black bumps, we made our way to the middle of the mountain and farther east to my favorite spot on the mountain. Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead were quiet but full of some fun blues and blacks. It's tucked away down mega-mansions lane and it's a lovely place to ski for the day. Make your way back to Lift 6 for Cookie time at 3pm. Chefs in white coats come out with warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and it was the best surprise on my first trip to BC. It's the new standard for how I want to end every ski day, waistline be damned. See my 2019 post about the mountain.

Mountain Stats

Base Elevation: 8,100 ft (2,469 m)
Summit Elevation: 11,440 ft (3,488 m)
Vertical Rise: 3,340 ft (1,018 m)
Number of Trails: 167
Number of Lifts: 24
Average Annual Snowfall: 325 in (826 cm)
Skiable Acreage: 2,082 acres (843 hectares)
Longest Run: Centennial at 2.75 miles (4.43 km)


We parked in the lower lots (the Elk Lot, the on-mountain lots were full) and took the shuttle up to the base area. 

Bear Lot and Elk Lot are placed at the resort’s eastern and western entrances - a free shuttle runs you to the baselodge. They offer 1 hour of free parking and a flat daily parking rate of only $10 (free after 1). 

Villa Montane Garage and Ford Hall Parking Garage (7 AM to 10 PM). They are just steps from the Centennial Express Lift $35 for 4+ hours (up to 3 hours free if arriving after 3pm) 

Free - village of Avon and take a shuttle in from town (more info here). 


We loved Peak 6. It's a fun little area on the eastern edge of the mountain, mostly blues, a few black runs. It's quiet with wide open bowls on the top and some fun flowy steep sections with a few options to swing through glades or bumps. Breckenridge has a lot of really fun fast blue runs but beware, you will have to share with the inexperienced skiers. You can also take the T-Bar to ski the open bowls and the peaks also have a "hike to" section where you can surely beat the crowds and beginners if you are willing to work for it. If you want to escape the crowds and stay within lift access, head to Peak 10 where single and double black only terrain keeps this area quiet and beginner free. The Gondola Lot is the easiest way to get to the mountain. A gondola takes you from the parking lot right up to a few different stops on the mountain. Don't make the mistake we did - they are sneaky about requiring you to pay for parking online BEFORE you head up the mountain (there is no tollhouse and we didn't see any signs requiring this strange "pay before you ski but there's no place to pay" option.

Mountain Stats

Total Ski/Ride Terrain: 2,908 acres / 1,177 hectares
Base Elevation: 9,600 feet / 2,926 meters
Summit Elevation: 12,998 feet / 3,963 meters
Vertical Rise: 3,398 feet / 1,036 meters
Longest Trail: Four O’Clock – 3.5 miles / 5.6 kilometers
Operating Since December 16, 1961


North and South Gondola (gondola to 7 or 8): $10/$20
Stables (walk to peak 7 or 8) $30/$35 
F Lot (walk to Peak 9): $40/$45
Beaver Run (walk to peak 9): $40/$45
Airport Road lot (shuttle): free, all-day, skier parking 

Where We Ate 

We packed lunch every day for the mountain, made dinner one night, and made breakfast two mornings. Here is where we ate the rest of the time.
Breakfast on Broadway (Englewood): We landed in Colorado and headed out to meet a friend for breakfast/lunch. We decided to skip the headache of parking downtown or finding a restaurant and met just outside the city.  The food was fantastic and we had an amazing breakfast catching up with an old friend and learning some tips for our trip.

Vinnys (Frisco): An amazing chef-owned farm-to-table style restaurant. Everything is made to order and the food takes a bit to prepare. It's not the place to come if you are tight on time. It is the place to come if you want to enjoy a high-quality meal. The view of the mountains is an added bonus. We had the asparagus bisque and the eggplant tower to start, followed by chicken wellington and a leg of lamb. The food was so fresh and fantastic and I can't recommend this place more.  

5th Avenue Grille (Frisco): For Adam's birthday, we had dinner at 5th Avenue Grille. It's a cute quaint little restaurant right downtown. Adam had a steak and I had this fantastic steak/shrimp/veggie soba noodle dish. Our food came out quick and we had a great meal here. 

Ollies Pub (Frisco): One day after skiing, we went here for an app which turned into two and we called that dinner. It's a great place for a beer and they are well known for their wings. We had wings and spinach artichoke dip and both definitely his the apres-ski spot. 

Breckenridge Brewery (Breckenridge): After skiing Breckenridge, we stopped for an app and a brew at the local Brewery. I had two tasty drafts and we ordered the Chicken Tinga and Agave Shrimp. Both were great and the perfect warm meal to end our ski trip.  

Columbine Cafe (Breckenridge): We decided to get to Breckenridge early Sunday Morning to get a good parking spot by the gondola. We parked early and went out for breakfast while we waited for the lifts to spin. It was down to earth no frills inside and the food was fast and fantastic. I ordered a breakfast burrito while Adam ordered a few pancakes. A delicious affordable breakfast before a big day on the slopes. 

We have all had the kind of trip that leaves us in sticker shock when we get home to our credit card bill or step on the scale. This trip... it was neither. There's something about planning a domestic trip in the land of adventure travel that really makes it all easy. We picked Colorado because the flights were direct and inexpensive. It was easy to find inexpensive lodging and we had access to more mountains on our pass than we had time to ski. We were consious of how much we spent yet never felt "restricted" as we made different choices financially. 

It's always my intention that someone can read one of my guides and think "that's attainable". You don't need to be a sponsored blogger on a gifted trip to experience some of the best ski mountains in the Rockies. It takes some strategic planning but you can do a lot more for a lot less than you think, I promise. As always, reach out ( if you have any questions or need any help planning your trip. 

Happy Skiing, 
Katie Wanders

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