Vail and Breckenridge are two hugely popular ski resorts near Denver, Colorado but they both offer pretty different experiences and will suit different skiers and snowboarders.
In this article I’ll directly compare them in the following categories:
- Skiable Terrain and Experience
- Snow Quality and Weather
- Ski Season Dates
- Village and Bases
- On-Mountain Dining
- Location and Getting There
- Ski Schools
- Lift Ticket and Equipment Rental Prices
Vail vs Breckenridge Ski Resorts
Vail is a much larger ski resort compared to Breckenridge with 5289 acres of skiable terrain compared to 2908 acres. Vail is better for beginners and is usually less crowded. However, Breckenridge is excellent for advanced skiers and is significantly cheaper than Vail.
|Aspect of the Resort||Best Resort|
|Largest Ski Area||Vail|
|For Beginner Skiers||Vail|
|For Intermediate Skiers||Vail|
|For Advanced Skiers||Breckenridge|
|Best Snow Quality||Breckenridge|
|Best On-Mountain Dining||Breckenridge|
|Easiest to Travel To||Vail|
|Cheapest Lift Tickets||Breckenridge|
Skiing Terrain and Experience
Vail has a much larger ski area compared to Breckenridge with 5,289 acres of skiable terrain compared to 2,908 acres. The runs are longer in Vail so both mountains have a similar amount of trails with Vail having 195 and Breckenridge having 187.
In terms of the difficulty, both mountains have a fairly similar split of beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert terrain, with the focus being on the more difficult terrain on both mountains.
- For Beginners: Vail has more easy terrain and is more suitable for beginners compared to Breckenridge which is really geared towards skiers with more experience.
- For Intermediates: again Vail is considerably larger compared to Breckenridge, and hence will provide more skiable terrain for intermediate level riders.
- For Experts: Breckenridge is the best resort if you’re an advanced skier or snowboarder looking for a challenge. It has excellent black diamond trails and typically attracts more experienced riders.
If park skiing or snowboarding is your thing then you’ll prefer Breckenridge. It has 5 award-winning terrain parks whereas vail only has 2 parks.
Breckenridge and Vail will both get very busy on the weekends and during the holiday season, however Breck usually has the worst queues and feels the most crowded since it has a lot of skiers and far less space and fewer lifts.
Unfortunately, neither Breckenridge nor Vail offer any night skiing.
Please see the table below for a full comparison of the Vail and Telluride mountain statistics.
|Skiable Terrain||5,289 acres||2,908 acres|
|Vertical Drop||3,450 ft||3,398 ft|
|Base Elevation||8,120 ft||9,600 ft|
|Summit Elevation||11,570 ft||12,998 ft|
|Green Circle Trails (Beginner)||18%||14%|
|Blue Square Trails (Intermediate)||29%||31%|
|Black/ Double Black Diamond Trails (Expert)||53%||55%|
|Longest Run||6.4 km||5.6 km|
|Lift Operating Hours||9:00 – 3:30||9:00 – 4:00|
|Night Skiing Available||No||No|
Snow Quality and Weather
Both Breckenridge and Vail have excellent snow reliability.
Roughly 40% of Vail’s terrain faces north which means the snow is well preserved into spring. Breck only has about 20% north-facing terrain, however its higher elevation means the snow quality still remains high.
The snow quality is fairly comparable for both resorts throughout the ski season, but Breckenridge has the edge towards the very end of the season in April.
|Month||Temperature in Vail||Temperature in Breckenridge||Snowfall in Vail||Snowfall in Breckenridge|
|November||-7.2°C (19°F)||-7.9°C (17.7°F)||24″||30″|
|December||-11.9°C (10.5°F)||-12.9°C (9°F)||56″||60″|
|January||-11.1°C (12°F)||-12.1°C (10.1°F)||50″||57″|
|February||-9.8°C (14.4°F)||-11.1°C (12°F)||49″||57″|
|March||-5.7°C (21.8°F)||-7.0°C (19.3°F)||45″||60″|
|April||-1.9°C (28.5°F)||-3.2°C (26.3°F)||24″||36″|
Ski Season Length and Dates
Breckenridge has a significantly longer ski season compared to Vail. Vail and Breckenridge usually open in mid-November, with Breckenridge sometimes opening a week or so earlier. Breck also stays until late-May whereas Vail typically closes in mid-late April.
Check out the table below for the previous ski season dates.
|Season||Vail Opened||Breckenridge Opened||Vail Closed||Breckenridge Closed|
|22/23*||11th Nov||11th Nov||24th Apr||30th May|
|21/22||12th Nov||12th Nov||1st May||15th May|
|20/21||20th Nov||13th Nov||18th Apr||23rd May|
|19/20||15th Nov||5th Nov||14th Mar||14th Mar|
|18/19||14th Nov||7th Nov||21st Apr||27th May|
Village and Base Areas
Vail and Breckenridge offer quite different experiences off the slopes.
Vail is a huge resort which has a European vibe and two main villages: Vail Village and Lionshead Village. It has a bustling atmosphere with over 80 dining locations, 3 spas and plenty of shops. You are also only around 20 minutes away from Beaver Creek resort if you’re looking for even more to do.
On the other hand, Breckenridge doesn’t have a village but is instead located in Breckenridge town (roughly a 15 minute drive away) which has plenty of history and charm. It also feels quite busy and has lots of restaurants, nightlife and shops on offer. You’ll still get plenty of restaurants at the Breckenridge mountain base too.
Which you’ll prefer really depends on what vibe you’re after.
If you want a fully fledged resort with everything at your fingertips, you’ll love Vail. However, if you prefer to stay in a historical town and don’t mind the short travel to the slopes, you’ll enjoy Breckenridge.
Here are some YouTube video tours of each location so you can get a feel for them.
On Mountain Dining
Breckenridge has much better on-mountain dining compared to Vail. Vail only has two locations which are both self-service, and most of the dining is located at the base. Breckenridge has 4 self-service options and a table service restaurant on the mountain and plenty of other locations at the base.
Here are summaries of the on-mountain dining available at each location.
Vail On-Mountain Dining
|The Coop||Self-Service||Casual American||$-$$|
|Talon’s Deck Outdoor Grill||Self-Service||Classic American||$$|
Breckenridge On-Mountain Dining
|Pioneer Crossing||Self-Service||Grill and Latin American||$$|
|Broken Spoke Bar||Self-Service||Drinks Only||$|
|The Overlook||Table Service||Grill and Asian||$$-$$$|
In Vail you can stay in either of the two villages or in the ski-in-ski-out accommodation. There’s plenty of choice but it is all fairly expensive.
In Breckenridge you can either stay in one of the ski-in-ski-out lodges/ hotels or if you’re looking for a less expensive option you can stay in the local town which is about a 15-minute drive away.
Average cost of accommodation for 2 adults in January per night:
- Vail: $275-$1000
- Breckenridge: $200-$750
Locations and Getting There
Vail and Breckenridge are both located in Colorado, near Denver and are roughly an hour away from each other by car. Breckenridge is south-east of Vail.
Here’s some information regarding the location of each resort and how to get there.
The closest regional airport to Vail and Breckenridge is Eagle County Regional Airport. However, the closest international airport is Denver.
Transfer Time from Eagle Regional Airport:
- Vail: 40 minutes
- Breckenridge: 1 hour 30 minutes
Transfer Time from Denver International Airport:
- Vail: 2 hours
- Breckenridge: 2 hours
Breckenridge base offers free parking, unlike Vail which charges $30 per day. However, it is usually easier to find a nearby parking space in Vail compared to Breckenridge. Overnight parking costs $5-$10 in Breckenridge and $25-$50 in Vail (depending on how close you need to be to the village).
Breckenridge and Vail both take a similar amount of time to get to by car from major locations in Colorado.
|Location||Drive Time to Vail||Drive Time to Breckenridge|
|Denver||1 hour 30 mins||1 hour 45 mins|
|Colorado Springs||2 hours 30 mins||2 hours 15 mins|
|Boulder||2 hours||2 hours|
|Fort Collins||2 hours 45 mins||2 hours 45 mins|
Proximity to Other Ski Resorts
Vail is closer to most major ski resorts in Colorado compared to Breckenridge such as Beaver Creek, Steamboat, Aspen Snowmass and Copper Mountain. The only resort Breckenridge is closer to is Keystone.
|Location||Drive Time to Vail||Drive Time to Breckenridge|
|Beaver Creek Ski Resort||20 mins||1 hour 10 mins|
|Keystone Ski Resort||45 mins||35 mins|
|Steamboat Ski Resort||1 hour 50 mins||2 hours 20 mins|
|Aspen/ Snowmass Ski Resort||2 hours||2 hours 30 mins|
|Copper Mountain||25 mins||35 mins|
Vail and Breckenridge both offer private and group lessons for all ages and abilities. The ski school lessons are slightly cheaper on average in Breckenridge compared to Vail, except of the half-day children’s group lessons.
Here’s a table summarising the types and prices of lessons on offer.
|Child Group (Half Day)||$210||$230|
|Child Group (Full Day)||$315-$408||$285-$360|
|Adult Group (Half Day)||$185||$160|
|Adult Group (Full Day)||$248||$195-$210|
|Private All Ages (Half Day)||$855 (for 1-6 people)||$805 (1-6 people)|
|Private All Ages (Full Day)||$1180 (for 1-6 people)||$1065 (1-6 people)|
Costs are based on the most recent ski season at the time of writing and are subject to change. Please check the resort websites for up to date prices. Prices are in US dollars.
Tickets and Rentals
Lift tickets are significantly cheaper at Breckenridge compared to Vail.
Example cost for 2 x adults and 2 x children (weekend)
Vail = $834
Breckenridge = $558
Skiing and snowboarding equipment prices are fairly similar but marginally cheaper at Breckenridge for certain equipment.
Please see the tables below for more information to help you plan your trip.
|Ticket Price Day Lift||Vail||Breckenridge|
|Equipment Rental (Daily)||Vail||Breckenridge|
|Premium Package (Skis, Poles, Boots)||$66||$66|
|Basic Package (Skis, Poles, Boots)||$50||$46|
|Junior Package (Skis, Poles, Boots)||$37||$37|
Costs are based on the most recent ski season at the time of writing and are subject to change. Based on daily rates when buying in-advance online (better value for money offers are available when booking for multiple days). Please check the resort websites for up to date prices. Prices are in US dollars.
Which Resort is Best?
It really depends what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for.
If you want to visit a huge ski resort with a bustling village then you’ll love Vail. It also does a better job at handling the crowds and is better for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders.
However, if you want the best value for money in terms of tickets, lessons and accommodation and have more skiing experience then Breckenridge is an excellent choice. It’s also great if you prefer to stay in a more authentic, historical town rather than a more commercialised village.
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