Vail vs. Aspen: Choosing Your Perfect Colorado Winter Getaway

Stephanie Kroll

When planning a winter getaway, few destinations can rival the charm and allure of Colorado’s ski resort towns. Among the most famous are Vail and Aspen, both nestled in the Rocky Mountains and known for their world-class skiing and snowboarding. But how do you decide which one to visit or where to set down vacation-home roots? Here’s a quick rundown to help you choose between these two iconic destinations.

Why Choose Vail

For Convenience

Vail’s proximity to Denver makes it a highly convenient option for both Denver-area residents and travelers flying into Denver International Airport. Located just 100 miles from Denver, Vail is easily accessible via a scenic drive along Interstate 70, by hiring a driver, or taking a shuttle. Additionally, American Airlines operates flights between 14 U.S. cities and Eagle County Regional Airport, just 35 minutes west of Vail. This convenience makes Vail an ideal escape, even for a quick weekend trip.

To Find Ski Runs for Every Level

As the fourth-largest ski resort in North America, Vail offers over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, catering to all skill levels. Known for its seven-mile-wide back bowls and epic powder, Vail provides a diverse range of beginner, intermediate, and advanced runs. With an elevation of 11,570 feet, the ski season is delightfully long, giving you plenty of time to enjoy and improve your skills.

For a Laid-Back Atmosphere

Vail exudes a laid-back vibe, especially compared to Aspen. After a day on the mountain, there’s no need to dress up for dinner or an après-ski cocktail. Vail’s dining scene includes casual diners, local coffee shops, and fine dining restaurants, as well as hometown breweries perfect for relaxing after a day in the snow or shops. Vail's vibe is much more Switzerland feeling than Aspen's silver mining Victorian era Western cowboy vibes. 

For a (Slightly) More Affordable Vacation

While it’s true that ski resorts in Colorado can be pricey, savvy travelers can find more affordable hotels or vacation rentals in Vail with some advance planning. Although lift tickets remain expensive, overall costs can be managed to make Vail a more budget-friendly option compared to other high-end ski destinations.

Why Choose Aspen

To Avoid the Crowds

Aspen’s distance from Denver (approximately a four-hour drive) results in fewer crowds compared to Vail. Aspen is home to four separate ski resorts—Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass—providing plenty of space for everyone. This translates to shorter lift lines, less crowded restaurants, and more peaceful, heated sidewalks. If you are trying to get untracked powder days all day long, Aspen is the place to do it, since it is NOT a day trip by car from Denver. Aspen is much more remote and harder to get to from major cities. Aspen is only accessible by car via Highway 82 and I-70 in the winter when Independence Pass is closed, 

For Variety in Skiing

Aspen offers a diverse range of skiing options across its four resorts. Aspen Mountain, favored by locals, is not beginner-friendly, with 65% of its runs ranked advanced or expert. Aspen Highlands also caters to intermediate and advanced skiers. Beginners can enjoy the well-groomed runs at Buttermilk, while Snowmass, the largest of the four, offers varied terrain and the famed Long Shot, a five-mile intermediate run that’s sure to challenge your legs. Whether you are a beginning, intermediate, advanced, or expert skier or snowboarder, Aspen has a mountain for you. 

For Mountain Town Charm

Aspen’s history as a silver mining town in the 1880s lends it a unique small-town charm. The Aspen Historical Society offers guided walking tours of the town’s landmarks, such as the 130-year-old Wheeler Opera House and the iconic Hotel Jerome. Strolling through Aspen’s snowy streets, you’ll feel the town’s rich history and welcoming atmosphere. Aspen has more Western character than Vail does. 

To Have an Upscale Experience

Aspen is known for its chic, sophisticated feel, with luxury shopping, fine dining, five-star accommodations, and a vibrant après-ski scene. Despite its small year-round population of approximately 6,600 residents, Aspen attracts a see-and-be-seen crowd in the winter, including celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Goldie Hawn, and Kevin Costner, who all own second homes here.

Down Valley Options

If Aspen isn't your vibe but you love the Roaring Fork Valley, Aspen has many unique surrounding mountain towns with character including Snowmass Village, Old Snowmass, Woody Creek, Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. So unlike Vail which consists of ONLY the Vail Valley, Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley has much more to offer than Vail when it comes to having more things to do as well as additional micro communities, if Aspen isn't quite your scene. 

You Can’t Go Wrong Either Way

When deciding between Aspen and Vail for property ownership or vacationing, it’s important to consider the unique experiences each offers. Aspen is ideal for those seeking a tranquil, upscale retreat with rich cultural history, while Vail caters to those looking for convenience, a laid-back atmosphere, and diverse skiing options. Ultimately, your choice will depend on your personal preferences and the type of vacation experience you seek. Both mountain towns are fabulous places to live year round, but especially in the summer or winter. 

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. Embrace the winter wonderland that awaits you in Colorado’s premier ski destinations.

Looking for a short or long term luxury rental or to buy or sell property in Aspen or the Roaring Fork Valley? Reach out to our real estate team, Avant Garde Aspen, and it would be our pleasure to assist you in your home journey. Looking to land in Vail instead? Reach out to us and we can connect you with our go-to Vail agents in our real estate agent referral network. 

Work With Us

Contact the real estate team at Avant Garde Aspen to sell your property, buy luxury ski property, and browse resort homes for sale in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley.