Trying to decide between Winter Park and Breckenridge for your next trip? We can help!
Generally, Breckenridge has the better town, atmosphere, entertainment, nightlife, history, and variety of accommodations while Winter Park is more resort-like, less crowded, and often a better choice for families with its many year-round activities. Skiing is great at both spots, with both excelling in different areas.
That’s the way-too-short answer. Whether you’re planning for winter skiing or some fun in the summer sun, there are a lot of things to consider before diving in and choosing one over the other.
We’ve built this guide chock-full of helpful info to help you determine exactly which of these destinations is the right fit for your perfect trip.
Before we get down to the core details, here’s some quick background on each location:
Winter Park is a municipality that was established by the city of Denver as a ski resort area in 1939. The popular Ski Train would transport locals from the capital city to the ski resort for weekend fun, until Alterra Mountain company renovated the train and reopened it in 2017. The town and village areas have undergone great renovations in the last couple decades, making this family-friendly ski destination even more popular.
Breckenridge got it’s start as a prospector’s haven during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush era early in the 19th century. The town was officially established in 1859 with just a few settlers and named for one of the gold mining leaders, Thomas Breckenridge. Today the historic town is home to over 4,000 residents and remains a staple tourist destination for skiers and non-skiers in the United States.
Best Village & Lifestyle: Breckenridge
Breckenridge is approximately two hours away from the Denver International Airport, making it equally convenient for travelers to access, but also for locals to daytrip pretty frequently. Given it’s ideal location and easy access, Breckenridge tends to stay very busy, especially during peak seasons. The village and slopes can get crowded at times, but this can be avoided if you travel during the slow seasons of late spring and early autumn.
A trip to Breckenridge is a trip to a quintessential Colorado mining town that grew into a world-class winter destination. There’s a ton of charm that’s totally different from what you’ll find at any of the country’s purpose-built ski resorts. This is made evident by the charming, picturesque Victorian-era buildings that still stand in the historic district.
Most of the amenities in Breckenridge, including dining, shopping and accommodations come in a wide range of environments and price levels. Breck offers everything from high-end experiences to cheaper, casual places that allow all kinds of travelers to participate in the fun. You’ve got a sea of options and you really don’t have to think twice about whether or not you’ll find something that fits your budget.
The general lifestyle of Breckenridge is pretty lively and fun, with residents who enjoy satire (as displayed in many of their events) and tourists who come to have a good time. The cool thing about Breck is that, unlike a lot of ski towns, it is a real municipality where full-time residents live, work, and play all year long. This creates a sense of comradery among the locals and the visitors alike.
Winter Park was purpose-built as a ski resort for weekend visitors, day-trippers and week-long vacationers. Unlike Breck, it’s got a very resort-like atmosphere that is ideal for many who are looking to have a hassle-free, or no-fuss ski vacation.
The newly updated ski train, the Winter Park Express, shuttles guests from Denver to Winter Park every weekend, making this another easily accessible destination. It’s just two hours from Denver International Airport, so there is usually a decent mix of locals along with travelers from around the country.
Inside the town, you’ll find several villages in the base areas along the bottom of the three mountain peaks that comprise Winter Park’s ski area. Each village has it’s own offering for dining and shopping, while the main accommodations will be found in Winter Park Village and the downtown area of Winter Park.
The overall atmosphere to expect while visiting Winter Park feels laidback and relaxing, while also offering a few late-night hotspots and casual hangouts mixed with upscale dining and lodging in select locations. Since Winter Park has very few permanent residents, most of the people you’ll encounter here will be short-term travelers and Colorado residents visiting from other towns.
Best Accommodations: Breckenridge
Breckenridge has a wide range of different accommodations which can suit very low budgets up to very high budgets. It’s most ideal for those looking to save a buck by crashing with a group in one rental location, or for families seeking a deal on great hotel rooms in an action-packed city. For the most part, you can expect to find decent options across the board in Breck.
Crystal Peak Lodge is one of the top signature properties on location for about $300 per night in the summer and up to $800 during ski season. It’s located at the base of Peak 7 with ski-in, ski-out benefits in a beautiful alpine lodge setting. Visitors love the stone fireplaces and private balconies here.
Mountain Thunder Lodge is another beautiful on-mountain hotel that will cost $400 per night in the summer, up to $700 per night in ski season. It has a more secluded feel, has a ski-in/”gondola-out” feature, and a free shuttle to Historic Main Street.
River Mountain Lodge signature property is ideally situated on the banks of the Blue River. It’s a little farther from the walkable areas of Breckenridge, but free transportation is offered and you’ll save money at $200 per night in the summer and around $400 per night during ski season.
Winter Park is unique in that you have two designated and distinct areas where you can spend your vacation. If you want to be close to the mountain and score a great ski-in/ski-out accommodation, you’ll want to stay in the Village. If you prefer to be in the center of the action and closer to the restaurants and shops, you should plan to stay in Town. Either way, you’ll be a short driving distance away from the other so you don’t miss out on any of the fun.
If you choose the Village, one of the best places to stay is Winter Park Mountain Lodge. It’s right on the slopes and provides an awesome view of Winter Park Resort by day and delicious dining or relaxing spa packages by night. It’s also got a big variety of room styles to choose from, like standard hotel rooms and family-style suites. In addition to this, they offer free wifi and shuttles to town so you can enjoy the rest that Winter Park has to offer. Pricing usually begins around $145 per night.
If you prefer the town, we recommend checking in to Gravity Haus, which offers modern amenities right in the heart of downtown Winter Park. Rooms have several different sleeping styles, including trundle beds, bunk beds, double queens and catwalk mattresses to give your group the most comfortable night together under one roof. There’s also a lounge in the lobby to hang in before dining at one of the many surrounding restaurants, along with a fitness center and hot tub. Pricing can range anywhere from $235 to $500 per night.
Best Snow: Breckenridge
Snow reports can obviously vary from year to year, but historically Breckenridge receives the most on average and usually has a longer season than Winter Park. If you’re skiing in the peak months of January, February and March, there won’t be a huge difference in snow pack between these two – the main difference will be noticed in early November and late April.
Breckenridge gets about 366″ of snowfall annually and, in addition to having this higher annual snowfall, Breckenridge also has a higher summit elevation of 12,988ft compared to Park City’s 10,026″ off the Wasatch Back of the Rocky Mountains.
Breck can also blow snow across 600 acres on days when natural snowfall didn’t happen as planned. It’s considered one of the sunniest resorts in Colorado, seeing more “blue bird” days than most other resorts around the state. Despite the sun, the cold temperatures keep the snow for a long period of time, giving Breck one of the longest ski seasons of the year with great late season conditions through April.
Winter Park receives 326″ of snow on average each year and maintains a relatively predictable season year after year. The summit elevation of 12,060ft is nearly 1,000ft lower than that of Breckenridge, and while it doesn’t make a huge difference, it does gives Breck the upper hand for keeping snow longer.
The snow quality is on par with what is expected at most Colorado ski resorts – picture that fresh, puffy powder atop a deep snow pack. This fluffy terrain really helps to keep a smooth ride for beginners and makes a great base for experts as they traverse the terrain parks.
Best Terrain: Winter Park
Winter Park is consistently ranked one of the top resorts in Colorado, and in all of North America. The terrain spreads across seven major areas totaling over 3,000 skiable acres, but also opens up to over 700,000 acres of public land that’s ripe for adventuring. Less advanced skiers will want to stick to the groomers though, and there’s no limit to the fun that can be had in the designated sections for each ski level.
The top areas for skiing in Winter Park include Winter Park Mountain, Mary Jane and Vasquez Ridge. Each has it’s own unique offerings, so we’ll cover them in detail to give you a good idea of what the resort includes:
- Winter Park Mountain is best for family-friendly activity with evenly spaced greens and blues across the mountain. It has a great lift and trail system, though some have complained that they aren’t as efficient as what you’d find in Breckenridge, giving you more time between runs on occasion.
- Mary Jane is best known for it’s world-class mogul runs, tree line runs, terrain parks and more. This is definitely an expert’s paradise and is well-equipped for those who came to have a great time with fun jumps and steep trails. Parsenn Bowl is an extension of the Mary Jane area.
- Vasquez Ridge has a little more to offer with Vasquez Cirque backcountry terrain, Eagle Wind glade and more terrain parks. It’s the farthest from the village and will take longer to reach, but is worth it for a day of shredding new areas.
Breckenridge resort is not quite as big as Winter Park, but it’s extremely well-balanced by type and ability level. Breck has 2,908 acres of skiable terrain and the longest run in the state of Colorado at 3.5 miles long. There are multiple terrain parks that feature halfpipes, varying rails, jump lines and boxes.
Whether you’re looking for long corduroy groomers, glades, or terrain parks, you’ve got plenty of options at Breckenridge. The large network gondola system can get you to each part of the resort – but be well-advised to read the maps in order to stay on course!
Beginners will have the easiest time on Peak 9, where they have a designated area for learning and ski school. Intermediate and advanced skiers will enjoy the many suitable runs for all levels of skiers, including a 3,398 vertical drop, a 22′ superpipe and 187 different trails to experience.
Plus there’s 1,000 acres of bowls. Overall, Breck boasts 187 different trails that all athletic levels can experience.
Best for Beginners: Winter Park
Though there is roughly the same amount of beginner terrain at both Winter Park and Breckenridge, we give the upper hand to Winter Park for having less crowded slopes on average.
Winter Park, like most resorts, has a variety of classes to serve different age groups for kids, and also has adult group lessons and private lessons for all brackets. Half days for group lessons begin at $139 for the lowest price and full days go up to $264.
Private lessons get pretty pricey ranging from $450-$750 for the day, depending on your needs, ability level and length of time spent. While this is pretty steep in regards to standard lesson rates, the value of the lessons are a little better than those at Breck, especially if you’re a beginner.
Winter Park’s beginner terrain is all located at the base area, making it incredibly easy to get started for the first time. As you progress in confidence and ability, the runs get progressively more difficult as you go up the gondola system. However, there are a few green runs that extend the full length of the mountain, giving more hesitant skiers a chance to try a long run at a slow pace.
Breckenridge’s five peaks come equipped with different accommodations for various skier levels. Peak 9 has been dubbed the best for beginners, with flatter runs and plenty of variety down the mountain. It’s loaded with greens, so beginners won’t get bored skiing the exact same trail with every trip up the chairlift.
The wide variety of terrain means that Breckenridge gives you plenty of room to grow over the course of your trip. As soon as you’re ready to move on from the mildest green runs, there are a ton of easy-intermediate to bridge the gap between true greens to true blues.
However, Breck is the busiest ski resort in Colorado, so the slopes are almost guaranteed to be filled with people which can make the runs a little more intimidating for beginners. Also, they only estimate about 13% of the total runs are well-suited for beginners. Lessons start at $126 for adults and $200 for children. You’ll get premium access to ski lifts and discounts on lift tickets and rentals.
P.S. – We also love Steamboat Springs for beginners and families. Definitely take a look at our head-to-head comparison of Steamboat vs Breckenridge if that sounds more your speed!
Best Apres Ski & Nightlife: Breckenridge
Nightlife fun will depend on the kind of vacation you’re having or the group you’re traveling with. Generally speaking, Breckenridge is the better party town and therefore has better nightlife overall.
Breckenridge’s apres ski is awesome, with plenty of nightlife made up of everything from local dive bars to high-end tourist spots. A good representation of Breck’s liveliness comes every year during the town’s famous Ullr Fest. It’s essentially a giant party celebrating the Norse god of snow.
There are several on-mountain offerings available to ski right into as you end the day. On-mountain favorites include Robbie’s Tavern for curated wines and local beer and Coppertop for beautiful views and live music. Peak 9 is home to several popular hangouts, like Cabin Juice Elevated Eatery and Bar, featuring hand-crafted cocktails on the daily.
In town, you can get comfy at Rocky Mountain Underground’s backyard beer garden, or try the local apres hot spot, Quandary Grille – a steak house with 12 beers regularly on tap and great dinner specials to go with them. Breckenridge Distillery and Breckenridge Brewery, among a vast number of lively pubs and sophisticated bars, are also great options.
Winter Park has a significantly more relaxed atmosphere in general, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a few locations that promote a good time. There are a handful of great options to choose from to enjoy your apres ski excursion on the slopes or in town.
At the end of your ski day, slide into one of the on-mountain restaurants. Sunspot Mountaintop Lodge begins apres ski at 4pm till 7pm everyday, serving up tasty cocktails and beverages and offering live entertainment to complete the experience. During the day they even have a mimosa bar for you to order from in between runs. Lunch Rock is another great location on Mary Jane, giving patrons extraordinary views from their High Craft Bar.
In town you can visit Ullrs Tavern for a more lively party environment, which stays open till 2am. Locals and visitors alike will mingle in the hall while playing billiards, foosball and dancing the night away. For a more chill environment, try the Adventures Decanted wine bar with tasty charcuterie and cheese plates, or dine in Deno’s Mountain Bistro for delicious Italian-inspired dishes and beverages.
Best Weather: Draw
Breckenridge is gorgeous in the summer with average highs around 70°F and average lows around 35°F at night and on the highest peaks. Weather tends to be mild overall, with occasional rain showers and thunderstorms rolling in throughout the week. Storms will usually appear in the afternoon and trail off before sunset.
Winter Park only has a few days of rain predicted each month in the summer and maintains a pretty mild temperature of about 70° during the day and around 48° at night. You’ll notice it’s a bit hotter on average than it is at Breck, but as long as you dress accordingly, you’ll be fairly comfortable in either location.
Best Activities: Winter Park
Winter Park is actually chock full of fun summer activities in a family-friendly atmosphere. It’s got all of typical offerings that all Colorado towns have – fun hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, off-roading and tours. On the water, you can embark on a river rafting or sail boating or paddle boarding adventure. Plus, they’ve got multiple rental and recreation centers where you can take part in ATV treks, rock climbing, and hot air balloon excursions.
Some of the more unique things you’ll find in Winter Park include the alpine slide at Winter Park Resort – a 3,000ft ride with a 610ft drop! – along with the zipline and aerial adventures offered on the mountain. Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Snow Mountain Ranch offer zipline courses that range from 18 – 40 mph. Winter Park Adventure Quest has ropes courses, obstacle courses and climbing walls that the whole family will enjoy.
In addition to this, Winter Park is known for it’s excellent golf courses that surround the city. Granby Ranch, Grand Lake Golf Course, and Grand Elk Golf Course are great choices for a nice round of golf plus food and beverage at the club. Pole Creek is a league of it’s own with three different courses to choose from.
Most special of all activities is the Backcountry Huts & Yurts that can be found dotting the mountainside. These can be visited any time of year at your leisure. Cross country skiers and hikers alike can climb the trails to these little pieces of history, featuring the Broome Hut and High Lonesome Hut, which can both accommodate about 15 guests. Snow Mountain Ranch even has a yurt village, where each hut can be rented nightly.
Breckenridge has many different offerings throughout the summer that any outdoor enthusiast would love. From hiking and biking trails, to fly-fishing on Blue River and white water rafting, this mountain town has something for everybody to enjoy. Hiking is a local favorite and Flower Haven at Upper Straight Creek is a popular trail to take for viewing wildflowers in full bloom. Breckenridge also has miles of waterfall trails that are definitely worth the hike.
Golfing is another great past-time and Breck has the only Jack Nicklaus designed 27-hole course in the world. Exploring the town’s history and taking a ghost tour are also among Breckenridge’s fun daily activities for visitors. Boating, paddle boarding and kayaking are available on Breck’s lakes and rivers.
Another great suggestion for adventurous families is to try Epic Discovery at Breckenridge Resort. Summertime allows visitors to scale the naked mountain on ropes courses and ziplines. There’s even a mountain coaster and alpine slides during the warm months.
Best Events: Breckenridge
Breckenridge is known for taking a highly humorous approach to most of it’s events, making them fun for all ages at multiple points throughout the year. The most anticipated event of the Winter season is a 10 day tribute to a Norse god who controls the weather, called Ullr Festival. Snow Sculpture competitions and other various activities offer loads of fun and laughter for residents and visitors alike.
Film Festival is another big event which celebrates the art of filmmaking and features many renowned and up-and-coming directors, producers and actors. It’s been held every summer for 40 years and draws a huge crowd to town.
In the summer, Breck’s Fourth of July Parade is a local tradition that tourists will also greatly enjoy. Live music, fireworks, art festivals and family fun are all a part of the celebration on this patriotic holiday. Lastly, Breck hosts the annual Kingdom Days, which is a satirical celebration of the town’s past in the form of games and races. Breck is the self-proclaimed “kingdom” of Colorado, since it wasn’t officially incorporated as a US town until 1936.
Winter Park is more home to local events that don’t have a national draw. It has an annual rodeo each summer that spans the course of several weeks, called High Country Stampede Rodeo. Coloradans visit the town to enjoy traditional rodeo events like barrel racing and bull riding, along with delicious bbq and tasty desserts.
In addition to this big event, there are several art festivals and 5k charity runs throughout the year that require prior planning, reservations or sign-ups.
Like most towns across the United States, Winter Park likes to go big for St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day and Christmas. Christmas in the Park is one of the more magical times of year where families can enjoy the Christmas Parade and Pancake Festival, Torchlight Parades on Winter Park Mountain, and New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Between the two, we have to pick Breckenridge for most travelers. Not only does this fun ski town offer plenty of great terrain on the slopes, but the overall environment, accommodations and nightlife makes a more worthwhile trip. However, Winter Park has plenty to offer vacationers, especially if you’re looking for a better family-friendly environment.
Choose Breckenridge if you want to participate in some great events throughout the year, or simply want more options when it comes to nightlife, entertainment and things to do both on and off the slopes. Breck is a nice affordable option, but being so popular, it tends to draw a pretty large crowd.
Choose Winter Park if you want to avoid more of the crowd and prefer an atmosphere that’s more easygoing and relaxing when it comes to dining and recreation. The lesson programs for beginner skiers and snowboarders are highly recommended, plus the summertime activities make a great family vacation.