Are you planning a ski trip to Colorado, but you can’t decide between Aspen and Breckenridge?
This is a common dilemma, but don’t worry! I’ve got advice for you!
I’m an avid skier who lived in Colorado for years, and I know each resort like the back of my hand. So step aside, biased travel guides. I’m sharing everything you need to know when comparing Aspen and Breckenridge.
- General Thoughts: Aspen vs. Breckenridge
- Mountain Stats Comparison: Aspen Snowmass vs. Breckenridge
- General Terrain Comparison
- Ski Towns: Aspen, CO vs Breckenridge, CO
- Snow at Aspen vs. Breckenridge
- Final Thoughts
General Thoughts: Aspen vs. Breckenridge
Aspen and Breck are two of the most well-known resorts in Colorado, but each has a very different character.
Here’s the quick, big picture:
- If you’re budget conscious or looking for a hugely popular mountain with one of the coolest ski towns in the country, you’d probably love Breckenridge.
- If you are willing to splurge, you enjoy your ski trips a little more luxurious, or you are willing to travel a bit longer to get somewhere more secluded, Aspen is your spot.
These days, it’s also worth noting that Breckenridge is included in Vail’s Epic Pass, while Aspen is on the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes.
Here are my personal ratings for Aspen and Breckenridge, pulled from my rankings page of all the 26+ ski resorts I’ve ever visited:
wdt_ID Ski Resort Ovr. Rating Beg. Int. Adv. Expert Trees Bowls Crowds Snow Ski Town 1
Obviously, I’m a little biased towards Aspen. So, we’ll focus the rest of the article on the details that will help you decide which of these two resorts is best for YOU, not me. 🙂
Mountain Stats Comparison: Aspen Snowmass vs. Breckenridge
|1||Size||5,500 acres||2,908 acres|
|2||Vertical||4,406 ft.||3,398 ft.|
|4||Average Snowfall||295 inches||300+ inches|
|5||Summit Elevation||12,510 ft.||12,998 ft.|
|6||Base Elevation||8,000 ft.||9,600 ft.|
Mountain-wise, the biggest difference between these two places is their size.
Aspen is nearly twice the size of Breckenridge, although it’s worth noting that the “Aspen” ski resort actually consists of four separate mountains, each one anywhere from 5-20 minutes from each other. They’re all connected by a free shuttle, and one lift ticket grants you access to all four mountains in a day.
This is obviously different from Breckenridge, which is one continuous mountain.
General Terrain Comparison
There are three main differences between the ski runs at Aspen vs. Breckenridge:
1. Breckenridge has a lot more above-the-tree, high alpine bowl skiing.
Across it’s four mountains, Aspen really only has two wide-open bowls, and neither one is very easy to get to. (The Cirque at the Aspen Snowmass mountain requires two lifts to get to, one of which is a slow T-Bar, and the Highland Bowl at the Aspen Highlands mountain requires a 30+ minute hike.)
Breckenridge, by comparison, has more high-alpine skiing than almost anywhere in the country. You can find four different bowls, each easily reachable by your choice of three difference chairlifts.
2. Aspen has more overall terrain.
Breckenridge is large, but Aspen is massive. Aspen has nearly twice as much skiable acreage as Breckenridge.
3. Aspen is more spread out.
As previous mentioned, Aspen’s four mountains each require a shuttle/bus/car ride if you want to ski them in the same day.
That said, you may not need to. The single Aspen Snowmass mountain, for example, is larger than Breckenridge. (3,362 acres vs. 2,908 acres)
Size isn’t everything though, so we’ll next compare ski terrain by ability level.
Breckenridge has more beginner terrain than Aspen.
Breckenridge has two chairlifts dedicated entirely to beginners, plus a few other easier ways down from higher up the mountain. This means that beginner skiers can explore and experience a good chunk of the Breckenridge resort.
Aspen is also a great place for beginners, but they will be much more limited. Aspen only has one beginner chairlift across all of its mountains, and two of the four mountains have exactly zero green runs.
The trade off is that Aspen’s beginner area is a little less busy than Breckenridge’s beginner areas, which can make learning the sport much more enjoyable.
Both Breck and Aspen have incredible intermediate terrain – among the best anywhere – so you can’t go wrong.
The main difference might be the type of intermediate terrain.
Aspen, and in particular, Aspen Snowmass, excels at having my personal favorite blue groomers of nearly anywhere I’ve ever skied. If you’re looking for wide open, uncrowded slopes to let the skis fly, Snowmass is the undisputed champ.
On the other hand, Breckenridge does have some awesome blue groomers, but maybe the best part of its intermediate terrain is the approachable, high elevation bowl skiing. Almost nowhere else can intermediates ascend into the clouds and above the treeline, and then tackle big, wide open bowls like at Breck. It’s a big mountain feel that’s usually reserved for death defying advanced and expert stuff, but Breck nails it with the blues.
Both mountains are great in this department, but I actually think true advanced (not expert) skiers/riders may have more to play with at Breckenridge.
You see, Breckenridge has more Black Diamond terrain than first appears, mostly because the resort has a habit of embellishing their trail ratings. Many of the mountain’s double blacks runs are really just blacks – almost all the stuff off Imperial Express is advanced terrain, not expert as the map suggests, and the same usually goes for Horseshoe Bowl.
On the other hand, if you look at Aspen’s trail maps and notice a big jump between the amount of blue and double black terrain, with very few single blacks in between, you’d be correct. Aspen’s mountains are a much steeper mountain overall than Breck, so the terrain tends to go from zero to a hundred real quick.
Aspen may have the edge for Expert terrain, mainly due to its variety.
Aspen’s big expert attraction is the Aspen Highlands bowl, which legitimately has some of the steepest terrain in Colorado. Traynor Ridge at Aspen Mountain and The Cirque at Aspen Highlands also offer a decent mix of true double-black terrain.
Breckenridge has less expert terrain than its trail map first leads on, since a lot of their double black runs ski more like single blacks. However, there is some true expert stuff that’s hike-able from the peaks.
Both ski resorts are located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and Colorado’s famous ski country, but Aspen and Breckenridge are still about a 3 hour’s drive apart:
Ease of Access
Breckenridge is easier for most people to get to. Breck is about an hour and a half from downtown Denver or just about 2 hours from Denver International Airport.
By comparison, Aspen is much deeper into the Colorado mountains. It’s at least 3.5 hours from downtown Denver or about 4+ hours from the Denver airport
Of course, Aspen is famous for its little regional airport that sees more private jet traffic than just about anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, I’m pretty far from experiencing that lifestyle, so like the rest of us 99 percenters, I can only share my peasant-like experiences connecting to Aspen through Denver. And with that, comes a Maroon Bells-sized warning that Aspen’s airport is one of the most delay and cancellation-prone skiing airports in the country.
Ski Towns: Aspen, CO vs Breckenridge, CO
Aspen, CO and Breckenridge, CO are two of the best ski towns in America, but for different reasons.
Aspen has a reputation as one of the most luxurious ski towns in the world, and it’s well deserved. Expect to find endless high-end shopping, fine dining restaurants, and more. If you prefer to shop Prada and eat caviar in between your ski outings, Aspen is the place… This is a true millionaire and billionaire’s playground. The big trade off it’s that Aspen is legitimately one of the most expensive places on earth, so us poor non-billionaires may get a little sticker shock.
(More budget conscious visitors could focus their time near Aspen Snowmass, where the options are relatively more affordable and down to earth. But either way, expect to spend more at Aspen than a similar trip to Breckenridge.)
By comparison, Breckenridge is a historic mining town turned ski town. Its main streets are packed with authentic character and historic charm. Imagine old western facades mixed with newer condos, restaurants, and bars. The town itself feels a little less “secluded” than isolated Aspen, and Breckenridge is clearly more trafficked by both Denver day trippers and permanent Breckenridge locals. In either case, this is still a fantastic place that will give you a true ski town experience.
If the last section didn’t make it obvious, the big off-mountain difference between a trip to Breck vs. a trip to Aspen is the price tag.
While both mountains have eye-popping ticket prices these days, it’s everywhere else that Aspen is so much pricier. Lodging is the big one – Aspen is some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, so budget lodging is almost nonexistent. (In my experience, hotels near Aspen are about twice as expensive as hotels near Breckenridge.)
Likewise, finding cheap meals in Aspen doesn’t really happen, whereas Breckenridge has a lot more casual dining.
Mountain Vibe & Atmosphere
The vibe at both mountains is that of an undeniable “mega resort.” These are huge mountains with tons of infrastructure and high speed chairlifts all over the place.
The biggest difference is in the subtle atmosphere.
Breckenridge has the vibe of a popular resort, and it’s filled with lots of vacationing families, young adults ready to shred, and Denver day trippers.
Aspen is a little quieter, and you get the sense the average skier is a well-off vacationer who’s settled in for an extended stay.
Both mountains will make your jaw drop, thanks to some stunning locations in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
Personally, I’m partial to the remote expanse that is Aspen’s landscape. It feels like all you can see for miles and miles are endless mountain peaks, and the mountains themselves look a little steeper and more dramatic than the ones around Breckenridge and the rest of the resorts closer to Denver.
Don’t get me wrong though, the views at both areas will take your breath away, so you really can’t go wrong.
Snow at Aspen vs. Breckenridge
Snowfall is pretty similar between these two resorts, with Breckenridge possibly being the slight winner, if we’re splitting hairs. (And we are!)
Breckenridge averages around 300 inches of snow per year. That’s slightly more than two of the main Aspen areas. Aspen Mountain and Highlands each average about 250 inches of snow per year, although Aspen Snowmass’s 300 inches is mostly on par with Breckenridge.
No matter which area you choose, you can rest assured that the very high elevations of these spots helps ensure whatever snow they receive stays nice and and fresh. In fact, these are among the highest elevation resorts in all of North America, with Breckenridge topping out at a whopping 12,800 feet, and Aspen not far behind at around 11,800 feet.
Aspen is less crowded than Breckenridge.
That’s for a few reasons:
- Aspen is about twice as far from Denver as Breckenridge, so you get a lot less day trippers from the metro.
- Breckenridge allows unlimited ski days with the purchase of an Epic Pass, whereas Aspen limits attendance even for Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective pass holders.
- Aspen is crazy expensive.
In fact, Breckenridge is one of the most visited ski resorts in the country. Thankfully, the mountain has a pretty impressive lift infrastructure that moves people around, but you should prepare yourself for some lines, either way.
wdt_ID Ski Resort Ovr. Rating Beg. Int. Adv. Expert Trees Bowls Crowds Snow Ski Town 1
So there you have it, two of the best ski resorts in the country.
Personally, Aspen might be my favorite ski resort anywhere, but that’s mostly because I really enjoy the style of skiing found at Snowmass and Highlands. (Although I know many people who like Breckenridge’s skiing even more.) I’m also very crowd-averse, so the relatively quieter atmosphere found at Aspen is a huge tie-breaker for me.
However, the cost of a trip to Aspen is brutal, and I do prefer Breckenridge’s more down to earth ski town compared to the flashiness found at Aspen.
Which ski resort you’ll like better probably just depends on what you prefer on your ski trips. Hopefully this article provdied enough details to help you make that decision!
Happy skiiing, either way! You can’t go wrong at these awesome resorts!