The most scenic spots to ski or snowboard in Colorado

In the eternal race for powder turns, fast groomer laps or just family fun on the slopes, skiers and snowboarders often forget to look up and see the forest, not just the trees they’re trying not to ride into. Those views, of course, take in Colorado’s national forests, home to nearly every ski area in the state. Their soaring peaks, verdant valleys and amazing vistas make Colorado one of the prettiest states. And whether it’s up on the lift, at the top of the mountain, or even in town or in the village, every ski area has unique sights and scenic beauty.

To remind you to look up — and to snap some ski trip photos that capture the majesty of the Rocky Mountains — we’ve put together a list of some of the most scenic spots in ski country. Stop a moment at any one of them to snap that perfect picture to hang on your wall or make your Instagram followers drool.

Of course, if it’s snowing heavily you probably won’t be able to see 20 feet in front of you, much less the mountain vistas, so plan accordingly.

Top photo spots for beginner skiers:

Skywalker Trail at Monarch Mountain, January 2019. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Skywalker, Monarch Mountain

Perched on the Continental Divide, with one of the highest base elevations in Colorado, Monarch Mountain has plenty of spots for great photos. As is often the case, the best are from the top of the mountain. Ride the aptly-named Panorama lift and head left (there are no green runs to the right). Follow the flat, gentle Skywalker trail as it winds around past several steeper blue runs. From here in the middle of the Colorado Rockies you can see the San Juan, Elk and Sawatch ranges and even Pikes Peak, the only place in Colorado you can spy that famous mountain from a chairlift.

Top of the mountain at Ski Cooper, January 2020. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Top of the mountain, Cooper

This ski area near Leadville makes up for its small size with big views, and the best are from the top of the lifts at 11,757 feet. Colorado’s highest peaks, Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, dominate the view above the Arkansas River Valley. From the top of the 10th Mountain Division Chair ski down to the Piney Basin Triple Chair, which spills out at the summit of the hill. Most ways down from here are green or gentle blues.

Top of Red Lady Express, Crested Butte Mountain Resort

This resort in the town of the same name has a reputation for steep — often scarily steep — terrain, but you don’t have to be a double-diamond ripper to enjoy the stellar views of the mighty Elk Mountains. All the runs down from here are gentle, with some light blues if you decide to head skier’s left to the Teocalli Lift. Try not to get too distracted by the views as you descend.

Cliffhouse Restaurant, Buttermilk

The smallest of the four resorts in the Aspen area is known as a more family-friendly alternative to the larger ski areas, but you’ll still find great views from the balcony of the Cliffhouse Restaurant. As long as you don’t head skier’s right of the Tiehack Express chair, you’ll find an easy way down the mountain.

Eagles Nest, Vail Mountain

This massive resort can be intimidating for beginners, but you can still get up high on the mountain and have green trails for the descent. The easiest way to get here is to start your day at the Eagle Bahn Gondola (in Lionshead). The gondola spills you out right at the restaurant, which also has a deck with great views of the Gore Range. Beginners can then ski the trails Cub’s Way or Born Free for an easy way down the mountain.

Top photo spots for intermediate skiers:

Montezuma Bowl at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, May 2017. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Montezuma Bowl, Arapahoe Basin

With one of the highest base elevations in Colorado, and an upper mountain ringed on three sides by jagged peaks, A-Basin is a feast for the senses. For the best view, ride to the top of Lenawee Mountain Express chair and take the tow rope to the top of Montezuma Bowl. The mountains of Summit and Eagle counties dominate this amazing vista. While much of this terrain is rated black diamond, stick near the lift on the descent for easier terrain.

Ptarmigan Roost at Loveland Ski Area, May 2017. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Ptarmigan Roost, Loveland

There are few places at Colorado resorts that offer a place for lunch or a beer with a view like this. Most of the ski area is above timberline, so when it gets too cold and windy and you need a break, take Ptarmigan chair to this alpine outpost, which offers expansive views of the rolling Front Range peaks. When the sun’s shining the patio is one of the best places for a beer in ski country. All the runs down are rated blue or green.

Top of Bonanza Chair at Wolf Creek Ski Area, December 2018. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Top of Bonanza Chair, Wolf Creek

This family-owned southern Colorado ski area is known for deep powder — it averages 450 inches a year — but when the ripping is done take some time to enjoy the views. From the top of Bonanza Chair, the San Juan Mountains seem to spread out for eternity to the north and west.

Sundeck, Aspen Mountain

Looking for a swanky lunch with a splendid view? The top of Aspen Mountain has a 5-star restaurant with 5-star views of the Elk Mountains. Dine inside when the weather is nasty or out in the sunshine after the storm. Beware, there are no trails rated green to get you down from here (or, for that matter, anywhere on the mountain).

Powderhouse at Purgatory ski resort, February 2019. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Powderhouse, Purgatory Resort

The dramatic Needles, a subrange of the San Juan Mountains, fill the horizon from this bar and restaurant on the mountain. It’s just a short ski down from lifts 1 or 2 to the Powderhouse. Don’t imbibe too many drinks, though, because most of the runs down to the base area from here are steep.

Top photo spots for expert skiers:

Top of Blue Sky Basin, Vail

If you’ve managed to work your way to remote Blue Sky Basin — several miles from where you left your car — take a break and soak in the views of the Sawatch Mountains to the west, a vision dominated by Mount of the Holy Cross, a famed peak that is hard to see from any road.

Union Peak, Copper Mountain ski area, December 2018. (R. Scott Rappold, Special to The Denver Post)

Union Peak, Copper Mountain

The mighty Gore Range dominates the view from the front side, but as you get higher on the mountain the Rockies unfold before you in every direction. For a 360-degree panorama, take Rendezvous Chair to the Mountain Chief tow rope and take a short hike to the summit. If the hike doesn’t take your breath away, the view might.

Highlands Bowl, Aspen Highlands

Locals cherish this high-alpine bowl for the skiing, and the fact the grueling hike to get there means it takes much longer to get tracked out. If you’re up for the hike, be sure to take a few minutes to gaze in awe at the sight of the famous Maroon Bells. Plus, you’ll want to step aside to let the locals fly by you as you trudge up the hillside. The hike begins at the top of Deep Temerity and Loge Peak chairs.

Parsenn Bowl, Winter Park

The upper part of this huge resort is a playground of wide-open tundra, dominated by the view of the Indian Peaks and other Front Range mountains. You’re not far from Denver but it feels like another world. Ride the Panoramic Express Chair to the top of the resort for this unforgettable view.

Top of Imperial Express Chair, Breckenridge

Billed as the highest chairlift in North America when it opened in 2005, this ride spills you out at 12,840 feet, so high the town looks like a train-set model. Locals debate whether this area has the best skiing — conditions can be windswept and the temperature deadly cold at this elevation — but there’s no doubt it offers the best view on the mountain. You can see most of Summit County and the Front Range mountains from way up here.

Top photo spots for non-skiers:

Colorado Avenue, Telluride

You don’t have to get up on the mountain to appreciate the beauty that is the western San Juans, mountains so dramatic they’ve been nicknamed the “American Alps.” The image of downtown Telluride, flanked by massive, snow-covered cliffs and box canyons, is one of the most iconic in the West. If the family is skiing but you aren’t, wander the charming downtown and take lots of pictures.

Howelsen Hill, Steamboat Springs

One of the oldest ski areas in Colorado, this small hill in the heart of Steamboat Springs has trained more Olympic athletes than any other. At night in winter you can come out and marvel at the young skiers fearlessly jumping hundreds of feet in the air. Don’t forget your camera because it’s a sight to behold.

Colorado Snowsports Museum, Vail

Take a walk into ski history at this museum just a couple blocks from the lifts. Photo opportunities abound.

Saphire Point Overlook

On Swan Mountain Road between Breckenridge and Keystone, this overlook above Lake Dillon offers a great location for mountain photography. The .6-mile trail is usually passable without snow gear and offers a panoramic view of the lake, towered over by the Gore and Front Range mountains.

Loveland Pass

The highest year-round mountain pass in Colorado is a great place to visit and hike around — as its own destination or when the rest of the family is skiing Loveland or Arapahoe Basin. The views of peaks in every direction rival those skiers see from the chairlifts. Keep in mind that “year-round” is relative, as the pass often closes for hours or days during winter storms.

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