Trying to decide between Vail and Breckenridge for your next trip? We’ve got you covered!
Generally, Breckenridge is best for those looking for a cheaper trip and a casual, busy mountain town, while Vail is best for those who prefer a more sophisticated resort atmosphere. Vail is also a better choice for pure skiing, as it has better terrain. Both ski resorts are owned by the parent Vail Resorts company.
Breckenridge maintains an easy lifestyle with a focus on outdoor activity steeped in rich prospecting history of the Gold Rush era and makes a great all-around choice for a smaller budget.
Vail is purpose-built as a winter (and summer) haven for tourists, filled with European-inspired architecture, cobblestone streets and luxury brand hotels and shops. Travelers will love the intimate experience for a small group or special occasion.
Both towns have become world-famous for producing Olympic athletes while offering excellent ski terrain for everyone from beginners to experts. While many avid skiers will visit both of these locations at least once in their travels (especially since both are on the Epic Pass), we know it’s hard for many to choose between the two.
This guide will give you the breakdown you need of both destinations’ villages, skiing, weather, activities, accommodations, and lifestyle in order to help you choose which one best fits your preferences.
Best Village & Lifestyle: Draw
In Vail, non-skiers will appreciate the two main base areas with heated walkways, excellent shopping and dining options, along with beautiful luxury resort accommodations. Vail Village is set at the bottom of Vail Mountain and most travelers will compare it to walking the streets of a small European town center. There are many restaurants, cafes and small shops to entertain anyone for a full day when not on the mountain.
Lionshead Village is not too far from here, featuring an even more refined and luxurious atmosphere for a classier experience. Visitors say that the atmosphere is a little more relaxed and quiet on average in Lionshead than Vail Village, but both are only a shuttle away from the other. Lionshead is also the perfect spot for entering and exiting the mountain with the greatest of ease.
A stay in Breckenridge means you’re in for world-class skiing and accommodations. The atmosphere in Breck is outstanding, featuring a breezy walkable village base with loads of things to occupy your time off the slopes. While upscale entertainment and dining are readily available, Breckenridge tends to offer a bit of casual playfulness over refinement (reference the events section mentioned later in this guide).
Aside from outdoor snow sports, Breck’s Historic Main Street is the perfect destination for your vacation. There are lots of restaurants ranging from fast casual to fine dining, along with plenty of shopping (over 200 stores) featuring clothing, jewelry, art, home decor, sporting goods and more.
Breckenridge is steeped in old mining town history, so a weeklong visit to this town would be incomplete without an historical tour or cultural experience. Walking tours, afternoon tea tours, gold panning and even snowshoe tours on the mountain are available for guests seeking a bit of adventure with their history lesson.
If you prefer beauty over history, Vail will be the obvious choice in amenities and lifestyle for your vacation. But if you prefer a livelier and more casual trip, Breckenridge is the place to be.
Best Accommodations: Vail
We’ll mostly cover signature properties, as both locations have a range of options available for different budgets. Our estimated rates include two guests in the price; larger rooms for more guests will go up in price.
Vail visitors will enjoy the historic look and feel of the villages with modern amenities and accommodations, or they can choose to stay at on of Vail’s gorgeous on-mountain chalets. No matter what style of lodging you choose, Vail is sure to make the experience feel exquisite and unique. We’ll touch on two of Vail’s four signature properties:
The Arrabelle at Vail Square is one of the most distinctly gorgeous buildings in Lionshead Village. Ornately decorated inside and out, visitors will thrill at the convenient location near the Lionshead gondola with endless luxury amenities like the RockResort Spa and a heated pool. Summer rates will be around $450, while ski season rates will skyrocket to around $1000.
Austria Haus Hotel is an iconic Austrian Alps inspired chalet, featuring 25 well-appointed rooms with uniquely different designs and shapes. This boutique hotel prides itself on customer service with European flair. It’s located on the banks of Gore Creek within walking distance of Vail Village and offers complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea. Guests can expect summer rates to be around $450 and ski season rates to be about $700 per night.
Vail takes the cake in accommodations, though Breckenridge has it’s fair share of beautiful lodging. Vail was specifically built to be an alpine ski haven and the offerings available to skiers looking for exquisite accommodations will not disappoint.
Breckenridge‘s 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. This lodge has a more secluded feel and proclaims the ski-in/”gondola-out” feature as one of the top reasons to book here. Guests will enjoy the free shuttle to town, along with the on-site pool and multiple hot tubs for relaxing.
Lastly, the River Mountain Lodge signature property is ideally situated on the banks of the Blue River. There are lots of options for room sizes here and there’s a bar and lounge area in the lobby. 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.
The ski season begins in November and December for these little towns and they attract the most tourists between February and March when the snowpack is at it’s fluffiest on the mountainside. In addition to skiing, there are loads of different winter sports and activities that can be enjoyed in both locations.
Best Snow: Breckenridge
Breckenridge skiing was officially offered in 1961 when the very first ski runs were cut into Peak 8 of Tenmile Range. More ski runs were cut over the next few decades, giving Breckenridge a total of five different peaks with varying runs to choose from. On average, Breck will get around 308″ of snowfall in a year.
They can also blow snow across 600 acres on days when natural snowfall didn’t happen as planned. Breckenridge is 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.
Vail comes close to Breck in annual snowfall total, receiving at least 246″ of snow each year. It’s also got great late season conditions, but will typically close the ski season about a month before Breck. Though Vail has almost double the amount of skiable acres over Breckenridge, it’s snow making capabilities only covers 500 acres of groomed runs.
Best Terrain: Vail
Vail is considered one of the classiest, most upscale ski resorts in the US, drawing thousands from all over the world to it’s beautiful slopes. It’s got an 11,250′ summit with over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain making it the largest ski resort in Colorado. The resort is great for intermediate to expert skiers who will love the seven back bowls, the Blue Sky Basin and back country glades.
The most notable area in Vail is the China Bowl, which is the third largest ski area in North America. There are loads of different options for extreme skiing at their Golden Peak and Avanti sections, including multiple jumps, boxes, rails, jibs, berms, snow features and a mini-pipe.
Breckenridge Ski Resort boasts one of Colorado’s larger ski areas with 2,908 acres of skiable terrain, a summit elevation of 12,998′, and the longest run in the state at 3.5 miles long (most resorts have 2 mile long runs). Breck’s terrain parks include a halfpipe, varying rails, jump lines and boxes.
There are also 1,400 acres of groomers on the mountain, 25 acres of terrain parks, and over 1,000 acres of bowls. There are suitable runs for all levels of skiers, including a 3,398 vertical drop, a 22′ superpipe and 187 different trails to experience.
Best for Beginners: Vail
Vail has almost double the terrain that Breckenridge offers, estimating about 18% of the runs suitable for beginners. This gives beginning skiers optimal space for starting out and more terrain to chose from. Most runs will be located on the front side, with about 1,655 acres to explore, while the intermediate and expert skiers will prefer the back bowls with over 3,000 acres of terrain.
Beginners will even get to enjoy Gopher Hill and first-timer friendly moguls at Practice Parkway, which is very accommodating to skiers who are still finding their footing. More advanced skiers will enjoy the terrain parks like Chaos Canyon and Lodgepole for more challenging obstacles.
Lessons start at $259+ and will include discounts on lift tickets and ski rentals, along with world-class instruction from expert coaches. Those who prefer to try other activities on the mountain can sign up for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow biking or ice skating.
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.
Breck is also filled with plenty of intermediate runs on the remaining peaks, making it a nice option for those who are just coming out of the beginner phase and want to challenge themselves with a few steeper trails. 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.
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. For those who want a break from skiing or prefer not to go at all, Breck has plenty of other activities to choose from, including Nordic skiing or snowshoeing, sledding, or fat biking for blood-pumping outdoor fun.
Best Apres Ski & Nightlife: Draw
Breckenridge apres ski is highly celebrated with over 100 bars and restaurants to choose from. 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.
Vail is famous for apres ski and encourages guests and residents alike to take part in the town tradition of drinking around town after your day on the slopes. On the mountain, try Los Amigos for Mexican food and fun cocktails or Garfinkel’s for a beautiful deck view of the slopes and a classic sports bar vibe.
In the village, locals love the Red Lion, which is one of Vail’s oldest entities, serving up draft beer and cocktails with live music. The Remedy is one of the top upscale apres ski experiences in Vail, delivering hand crafted cocktails at the stunning Four Seasons. For delicious wine and food, nothing hits the spot like everyone’s favorite Vendetta’s and Sweet Basil restaurants.
P.S. – If you’re looking at other local resorts, we also recently created a full traveler’s comparison of Breckenridge and Keystone.
Lots of people don’t realize that Colorado is just as popular in the Summer as it is in the Winter. As a matter of fact, July tends to be the busiest month of the year. Both towns will offer a plethora of fun outdoor activities, along with lots of entertainment to keep you occupied during the week.
Best Weather: Breckenridge
We give a slight edge to Breckenridge in the summer; average highs are 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.
Vail summers are slightly warmer with an average of 75°F for the high and a low of 40°F. Rainy days will come and go through the summer months, so it’s best to bring appropriate gear for your hiking excursions or walks around town. Weather won’t usually affect your activities, but it’s best to prepare in advance.
Best Activities: Draw
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 wildflower in full bloom. Waterfall trails are also worth the hike and Breck has miles of them.
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.
Vail has some surprisingly great activities for visitors to do in the Summer. Some of the most notable that differ from the usual hiking and biking include riding the Forest Flyer alpine coaster, exploring the botanical beauty of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, tubing at Epic Discovery, hiking with a llama through Paragon Guides or taking advantage of the whitewater rafting.
Vail has an excellent golf club that’s open to the public and has 18-holes, a driving range and a full-service golf shop. They also have many spas, yoga studios and salons to give you the ultimate relaxation experience on your vacation.
Vail also has a booming arts & culture scene with many shows and concerts happening throughout the year, local performances and live music at restaurants and bars, and museums and gardens you can visit for the enlightening experience. A touch of luxury is placed on each individual experience, which makes it all the more worth while for the visitor.
Best Events: Vail
Vail hosts many events throughout the year, so much so that tourists have come to know Vail as the event capital of Colorado. The GoPro Mountain Games are held annually in the first week of June. This is an event that has something for everyone, whether it be one of their various athletic competitions like running and rock climbing or playing lawn games with friends. The nights are typically ended with a fun community concert.
Taste of Vail is not only a popular food and wine festival in the Spring, it’s also an organization that takes pride in bringing superb food and beverage to light for all it’s guests. The organization holds multiple events throughout the year, with Taste of Vail being it’s largest and most well-attended. Over four days, attendees get to sample cuisine and wines from local chefs and restaurants.
Bravo! Vail is entirely centered around orchestra music and takes place in the months of June through August.
Breckenridge‘s winter Ullr Festival (a 10 day tribute to the Norse god, who controls the snow) and Snow Sculpture competitions are great fun for residents and visitors alike, along with the holiday activities that abound during the Christmas season.
Film Festival is one of the most popular events held in the year, celebrating the art of filmmaking and featuring many renowned and up-and-coming directors, producers and actors. It’s held every summer for 40 years and draws a huge crowd for the event.
The 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 merriment on this patriotic holiday. Also in the summer, Kingdom Days are a satirical celebration of Breckenridge’s past. Known as the “kingdom” of Colorado until officially incorporated as a US town in 1936, Breck residents recognize the town’s humble beginnings with fun games and races.
Both of these awesome ski towns have so much to offer visitors in both Winter and Summer that it’s difficult to choose between the two. Those who prefer the historical aspect, while also having loads of outdoor fun in the sun and the snow will love Breckenridge.
Our pick for the ultimate Colorado ski trip is Vail. Not only does Vail have beautiful Austrian Alps-inspired architecture and theming, it also has the largest skiable terrain by acreage in the state of Colorado. It may have higher prices on average, but the experience is worth it, especially since the villages won’t get nearly as busy as Breck will.
Summertime in Vail also brings plenty of different festivals and events, along with hiking, fly-fishing and rafting on the rivers and waterways. And the beautify of Lionshead Village paired with Vail Village and all its shops and restaurants are incomparable.