Vail vs. Aspen: A winter vacation comparison

Published Date: August 25, 2022

Rocky Mountains wit snow
When you’re planning a winter getaway, there’s nowhere quite like Colorado — and the ski resort towns of Vail and Aspen are two of the Centennial State’s most famous destinations for skiers. But how do you decide which one to visit (or where to set down vacation-home roots)? After all, they’re both nestled in the Rocky Mountains, they both get over 300 inches of snow each year, and they’re both world-class ski and snowboarding destinations. Here’s our quick rundown to help you decide. 

Why choose Vail 

For convenience

The town of Vail is just 100 miles from Denver, making it a convenient getaway for both Denver-area residents and travelers flying into Denver International Airport. You can drive yourself along scenic Interstate 70 into Vail, hire a driver or take a shuttle. American Airlines also operates flights between 14 U.S. cities and Eagle County Regional Airport, which is just 35 minutes west of Vail. Whatever transportation option you choose, it's easy to escape to Vail, even if only for a couple of days. 

To find ski runs for every level

Vail is the fourth-largest ski resort in North America, behind Whistler Blackcomb, Park City and Big Sky. It’s known for its seven-mile-wide back bowls and epic powder, but this mountain resort isn’t just for double black diamond skiers. There are over 5,000 acres to explore, with beginner, intermediate and advanced runs. And since the resort sits at an elevation of 11,570 feet, the ski season is blissfully long so you’ll have plenty of time to improve your skills. 

For a laid-back atmosphere

Compared to Aspen (and other winter resort towns), the vibe in Vail is decidedly laid-back. After a long day on the mountain, there’s no need to get all dressed up for dinner or an apres-ski cocktail. The dining scene in Vail has a little bit of everything, from casual diners and local coffee shops to fine dining restaurants. Vail’s hometown breweries are also a popular place to relax after a day in the snow or the shops. 

For a (slightly) more affordable vacation 

Simply put, it’s hard to find bargains in Colorado ski resorts, especially in the peak winter season. Accommodations and meals can be pricey, and you’ll pay a premium the closer you are to the resort itself. But savvy and spendthrift travelers can snag more affordable hotels or vacation rentals with a bit of advance planning. The spendy lift ticket though? There’s no getting around that. 

Why choose Aspen 

To avoid the crowds 

Because it’s farther from Denver (a roughly four-hour drive without traffic), Aspen is quite a bit less crowded than Vail. And since Aspen is home to four separate ski resorts, there’s room for everyone. Compared to Vail and other Colorado resort towns, in Aspen you may enjoy shorter lift lines, less crowded restaurants and emptier (heated) sidewalks. 

For variety in skiing 

Aspen’s four ski resorts are Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Aspen Mountain is the favorite of many locals, but it’s not beginner-friendly. In fact, there’s not a single beginner run on the mountain, and 65% of its runs are ranked advanced or expert. Aspen Highlands is also popular with intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders. Beginners tend to head to Buttermilk, which features plenty of well-groomed beginner runs. Snowmass is the largest of them all, with plenty of diverse terrain. It's perhaps best known for Long Shot, an incredible five-mile-long intermediate run that’ll leave your legs shaking. 

For mountain town charm 

Originally a silver mining town in the 1880s, Aspen is bursting with small-town charm and plenty of history. The Aspen Historical Society offers guided walking tours of the town’s landmarks, including the 130-year-old Wheeler Opera House and the iconic Hotel Jerome. Of course, plenty of Aspen’s charm can be absorbed just spending a snowy afternoon walking through town.  

To have an upscale experience 

Aspen has a chic, sophisticated feel, with plenty of luxury shopping, fine dining, five-star accommodations and the best après-ski scene, according to Conde Nast Traveler. While it only has roughly 6,600 year-round residents, in the winter Aspen becomes a see-and-be-seen destination for the wealthy and famous. Hollywood legends Jack Nicholson, Goldie Hawn and Kevin Costner all own second homes in Aspen. 

You can’t go wrong either way

Whether Vail or Aspen is more your style, there’s so much to love about winter in the Rocky Mountains. Find your dream second home in Vail or Aspen with Pacaso, and enjoy hassle-free co-ownership of your own mountain home. 

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Jen Lyons


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