Ski enthusiast Andrew Dent discovers why families should be ‘taking it to the roof’ and heading to the Colorado Rockies for their annual ski holiday
For most UK families, the option of skiing in Europe is ingrained. But is it time to spread your wings, leave the Alps behind and head to the massive peaks of the Colorado Rockies?
Well, it has just become a whole lot easier and cheaper. Norwegian Airlines has launched a direct service from London Gatwick to Denver for less than £400 per head. With a flight time of around nine hours, it’s a commitment, but believe me, when you get there it’s worth it. The terrain, scale of the ski fields and the friendly American customer service make this a very different experience to anything you have had in Europe.
There are a couple of things that might concern a parent when committing to a ski holiday in Colorado: jet lag and altitude. Let’s tackle altitude. There is no getting over it, these peaks are high – Denver is known as the ‘mile high city’ for obvious reasons. Many of the mountain towns are at around 3,000m (the height of the top of the highest European resorts). It takes some time to acclimatise, so don’t rush it. Ease in with a gentle first day or so, and don’t do what your author did and attempt a backcountry hike on day one.
As for jet lag, Colorado is a good seven hours behind the UK. However, Norwegian’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners are fitted out with enforced hulls, which enables them to pressurise the cabin more – markedly reducing the effects of jet lag.
Colorado has a vast array of ski options, from the mega resorts of Vail and Breckenridge to the smaller old mining towns such as Telluride and Crested Butte. There is the luxurious and celebrity end with Aspen, and more affordable options such as Winter Park.
Our first stop was Copper Mountain – perhaps a lesser-known resort for UK skiers, though Copper has long been a favourite with US families and Denver weekenders. It is a mere 90 minutes up the I-70 highway from Denver International Airport and is some 30 minutes closer than its better-known (and more pricey) neighbour Vail.
Copper is a purpose-built resort with lodging that is, as they call it in these parts, is all condo-style.
Think massive apartment-like rooms with open kitchens, dining areas and lounges, and all a short stroll or bus ride from the slopes. This style of accommodation is great for a family on a budget. Not only is it cheaper than hotels, it allows you to self-cater, helping you to keep down the costs and also the calorie count – there are only so many burgers and fries you want the kids to consume.
On the mountain itself there’s a huge variety of runs to suit all abilities. The lower slopes are perfect for beginners, but when you get up top there’s plenty to keep the advanced skier happy. This is where most of the world’s national ski teams come for pre- season practice, so you aren’t short of a steep slope.
Copper is also famous for its off-mountain activities. Woodward, an action-sports camp, is a crazy mecca for kids of all ages who have a penchant for jumping, twisting or rolling around. Woodward has its roots in gymnastics, and is well known in the skateboarding world. Over the past 10 years it has opened centres in mountain towns and focused on freestyle ski and snowboarding.
I was extremely proud of myself by the end of our trip there, when I’d mastered a 180-degree twist from the second highest platform – a mere three metres below where 10-year-olds were nailing 360s. But hey, they’re too young to feel the fear!
There is also a newly opened gravity ‘coaster’, which is an outdoor, through-the-trees experience. It is fun for all the family and provides just enough thrills to make you want to do it again.
Tubing is another fun activity, where the kids jump into a tube (or a series of attached tubes) and go sliding off down the mountain – it’s like a waterpark, but on ice.
Copper was a pleasant surprise and I would highly recommend it for a week. With further lift expansions announced for 2019, this place is only going to get better.
Our next stop was the globally famous Aspen resort. The Aspen ski area is in fact made up of four different mountains – Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. The mountains are a four- hour drive from Denver, and are what’s known as a ‘destination resort’. This means no pesky weekend or day-trippers, which at the time I was there seemed to mean literally no people at all – anywhere. It is the most civilised skiing experience you can imagine.
Snowmass is by far the largest of the mountains and is perfectly family-friendly, a truly magical ski resort. The terrain is some of the best I’ve ever skied. It is perfect set up for all levels of skier and there’s a selection of ways down from each lift. Even from the very top (12,500ft) there’s an easy beginner’s trail down. So you can give the kids the sense of achievement and thrill of going to the ‘roof ’, without worrying about how they get down.
This being a part of the Aspen resort, everything here works perfectly, and the staff are probably the most polite and friendly folks you’re ever likely to meet.
The ski school is known as the Treehouse – it’s a vast facility that caters for all ages. They take babies from six months, to be looked after by fully qualified child carers. As the kids get older, the fun dials up, as do the facilities. Within three or four days, your four- year-old will be skiing greens. By the end of the week, you’d better watch out, as they will be whizzing along.
It’s expensive, of course, like most things in Aspen. But at $200 per day it’s properly worth it to give your kids a great platform to develop from.
There’s plenty of accommodation in Snowmass and it’s cheaper than in Aspen town itself, which is a mere 15-minute drive away. The Viceroy Hotel is the best on the mountain. A large, slope-side hotel, it provides a luxurious base for your week. The rooms are large and well fitted out with kitchenettes and coffee-making facilities. Most rooms are interconnecting, which is perfect for older kids.
The hotel hosts a Four Mountain Sports ski-hire shop –you can get all your gear right there, and the ski valet – yes, you read that correctly – will take your equipment right to the slope for you. All you have to do is lock in and you’re off. No ‘dad moments’ of carrying three pairs of skis on your shoulders. Make sure you get breakfast included in your rate; it is superb, and will set the whole family up for the day.
Snowmass Mountain is enough for any family for a whole week, but your ski pass means you can ski any one of the four mountains, so you might as well. This is where Aspen excels again – you can simply leave your gear with the ski concierge in one place and it will turn up as if by magic at the next mountain in the morning. Pretty awesome, as they say in these parts.
So what do the other three mountains hold? Buttermilk is the beginner’s mountain, and you won’t find much in the way of black runs here. It is, however, the home of the X Games and has a world-leading competition-size snow park. So if you have a half-piper or a freestyle boarder in the family, you might want to bring them here.
Aspen Highlands is the mountain that gives you access to the backcountry skiing, specifically the famous Highland Bowl. This is terrain that will scratch the itch of any expert skier.
Then you have Aspen Mountain itself, or Ajax as the locals call it. It’s a small but mighty mountain that rises steeply from the town that shares its name. The skiing isn’t appropriate for beginners and you won’t see many families here, but it is certainly worth making the effort to ski it for a day. The views are stunning, the terrain steep and the lift lines non-existent.
One of the fun things to do with the family is to search out the various ‘shrines’ that have been put together by fans. Many are easy to access just off the slopes – we found ones for John Denver, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and The Grateful Dead.
While Americans don’t really do après- ski, the town of Aspen is worth exploring. As well as a few high-end boutiques, there are plenty of accessible dining and drinking options. In terms of hotels, you can make your eyes water at the prices of The Little Nell, but I’d recommend The Limelight Hotel, which has large rooms and a good pool, and is a short walk from the ski lifts.
All in all, Colorado is a must-do for any keen skiing family. I guarantee the kids will love you for it, and that it will be one of your greatest family adventures ever.
Norwegian flies three times a week from London Gatwick to Denver International Airport, from £340 return
Where to stay
The Limelight Hotel, Aspen Deluxe two Queen rooms from £283 per night.
Viceroy Snowmass One-bedroom residence from £627 per night.
Doubles from £144 and two-bedrooms suites from £191 per night
For more information, visit coloradoski.com