I’ve been so excited by the prospect of moving our family to a Colorado ski town, I hopped on a plane to do some hands on research. Below are my first hand impressions of 3 of the most popular resort towns in all of Colorado.
So, what is the best Colorado ski town to live in? Aspen takes the spot for best Colorado ski town to live in. It has the perfect mix of historic charm and big mountain fun that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. It is tucked away off the beaten path and you’ll rarely see the crowds of other similar sized resorts.
I recently wrote a blog post on the top 7 ski resorts with k-12 public schools nearby for a purely selfish reason. See, my dream is to move to a true ski-in ski-out town and with kids in tow we will need to have schools close at hand as well. So, inspired by my previous blog post I knew I had to go to Colorado and take a closer look at my research subjects.
I jumped on a plane to Denver and set out determined to find our next possible hometown.
The plan was simple. Spend two nights in the Vail valley, Aspen and Steamboat Springs and try to get a feel for the “local” life. All 3 of these towns were featured in my original article so I was already quite familiar with them. I did however leave Telluride off of my itinerary for this trip even though it made my original list. It’s just too remote for my taste. I went to school in Durango very briefly and know that area pretty well already.
Here’s what I discovered on my ski town tour…
Vail Valley – Best Proximity To Major Metro
My first stop on the trip was to check out the Vail Valley so I got a hotel right in downtown Avon which is right at the base of Beaver Creek ski area as well.
The whole area felt a bit jumbled. There’s several small towns all interconnected which include Vail village, Avon, Beaver Creek and Edwards. There are several elementary schools sprinkled throughout but the primary middle and high school is located in Edwards. So, I spent a good amount of time looking at rentals and the local amenities in this area.
The highway was a bit of a downer as it snakes through this narrow valley. It gave the whole area more of a typical big city suburb feel. Yes, there are homes up the adjacent valleys and on the hill tops with great views but every time you go to town you’d feel like you were in ‘any town USA’.
The proximity to Denver can be seen as a huge plus but I don’t think it’s big enough of a positive to make up for the increased crowds and urbanization that has crept in.
Aspen/Snowmass Village – Views and Historic Charm
I spent a couple nights right in Snowmass Village and this area just blew me away, again! I visited here with my wife last summer and coming back this year just reaffirmed how much I love this place. A very short hike from my room in the village and I was up on the ridge trail with some of the best mountain views you will have anywhere in America.
The way Snowmass ski resort’s runs just pour right into the village and the homes blend into the aspen trees on the lower half of the mountain is truly picture perfect.
You are definitely separated from the hustle and bustle of Aspen proper which I think would be a good thing. The downside is proximity to the school. Which would probably be a solid 15 minutes or more during winter. Not really sure though because I have only visited this area in the summer. There is school bus service which would be new to our kids but could work perfectly.
Housing is the big issue here. It is far and few between with most homes being used as short term vacation rentals. We prefer to rent for a year to make sure the area is a good fit before we take the plunge and buy something.
Steamboat Springs – Most Bang For Your Buck
After a couple nights in Aspen I began my journey north to Steamboat Springs. I have heard nothing but positive things about this place in online discussion forums and from my family members who had visited recently. Everything about this place looked great on paper. Plenty of good and affordable housing options, phenomenal skiing and a great local community with lots of recreation and kids activities. So, I arrived with high hopes.
The fall colors were stunning as I arrived late afternoon into the valley but as I looked around all I could think was “where are the mountains?!”
One of the biggest reasons I would make the move to Colorado is for the constant stunning big mountain views that are possible in the rocky mountains. However, being in Steamboat felt more like driving into the northeastern United States with its gently rolling terrain. Call me strange but that was enough for me to cross this place off my list almost immediately.
I still had a blast and saw some beautiful sights (Strawberry Hot Springs was amazing!) but in the end… I need those big rocky mountain views!
And The Winner Is…
Aspen/Snowmass! There’s a reason billionaires and celebrities have homes in Aspen. It really is a magical place. You get the charm of an old Colorado town unspoiled by big box America. There’s no Walmart or Home Depot blurring the skyline. The first of four ski areas pours right into town and the crowds are nothing compared to Vail which can get outrageously crowded due to its proximity to Denver.
If you need access to more of your typical retail amenities you can find them up valley towards Glenwood Springs.
There are phenomenal public schools right in town and tons of activities for kids to do year round. There’s 3 different rec centers, ski programs, a library and endless mountain adventure out your backdoor. The real clincher for me is that Snowmass Village is about 5 miles from Aspen but is still apart of the Aspen school district. The home prices are more affordable in Snowmass Village as well.
Overall, it is very expensive but if you work hard at finding a more affordable place, they do exist. For us, it will mean buying or renting a smaller townhome or condo. But I think the trade offs are incredibly positive and worth it.
I’ll keep you all updated on our hunt for a rental home in Snowmass Village!
Related content: 7 Epic Ski Resorts With Ridiculously Convenient Public K-12 Schools
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.
David, great article and enjoyed your perspective and insight on the ski towns. My wife and our two 1yr old twins are looking to move to Colorado in about 3 years and are very interested in Durango. Curious what your thoughts are on living there with a family since you were there before?
Durango is a great little college town. I spent a few months there in college. In terms of whether a place is good for a young family or not… I highly recommend you visit and get a vacation rental for a week or two. Also, join as many community Facebook groups as possible so you can get a real feel for what activities are going on for the littles… then there’s the whole schooling situation, community rec programs etc. Two weeks should be the perfect amount of time to get to know the town and surrounding area. Good luck!