Vail vs Telluride Ski Resort: Which Is Best for Ski Vacation?

by Simon Naylor | Published: September 12th, 2023 |  Best Ski Resorts

Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Vail and Telluride are two of Colorado's premier ski destinations. With incredible terrain, charming mountain villages, and plenty of activities off the slopes, it's no wonder why these resorts continue to top ski resort rankings year after year. So what are the differences at a glance?

Vail is larger and more family-friendly, while Telluride is less crowded with a more rustic Colorado vibe. Vail has more terrain, amenities, dining, and activities. Telluride offers a more laid-back experience with smaller crowds and quintessential Colorado charm.


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But with each resort offering its own unique experience, how do you decide which one is right for your next ski vacation? Let's dive in.

Vail vs Telluride: Which Ski Resort is the Best Option?

Aspect of the Resort Winner
For Beginner Skiers Vail
Snow Quality Vail
Ski Season Length Vail
Things to Do Off the Slopes Vail
Accommodation Options Vail
Easiest to Travel To Vail

The Skiing Experience

person in red jacket and blue pants riding on ski blades on snow covered ground during


As Colorado's largest single-mountain ski resort, Vail offers 5,289 skiable acres spread out over 7 legendary Back Bowls and 4 valleys. With 33 feet of annual snowfall on average, you can expect fresh powder all season long.

Vail has a vertical drop of 3,450 feet and a diverse mix of terrain catering to all ability levels. 31% of runs are rated beginner, 42% intermediate, and 27% are advanced/expert. Highlights include the long groomers off the Mountaintop Express lift like Simba and Born Free, and challenging mogul runs like Prima and Watea in the Back Bowls.

For freestylers, there are three terrain parks featuring rails, boxes, kickers, and superpipes. Family-friendly amenities like the ski school and village activities make Vail a world-class destination for all types of skiers - from beginner to expert and everything in between.

Aspect of the Resort Winner
For Advanced Skiers Telluride
Scenery Telluride
Least Busy and Most Relaxing Telluride
On Mountain Dining Options Telluride
Best Value for Money Telluride


Telluride offers over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain spread between two connecting mountains - Telluride Mountain and the exposures of the Palmyra Peak. With a 4,425-foot vertical drop, Telluride has some of the longest sustained fall lines in Colorado.


41% of the terrain is rated beginner/intermediate, while 59% is rated advanced to expert. Highlights include the plunging runs off Revelation Bowl like Boulevard and Spiral Stairs. For experts, the hike-to terrain off the Gold Hill Chutes and Black Iron Bowl will satisfy any adrenaline junkie.

Telluride has more steep and technical terrain than Vail. With less real estate to work with, the slopes can get more crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. Lift lines at the base can get long during peak times. For park riders, there are three terrain parks on Telluride Mountain.

Skiable Terrain5,289 acres
Vertical Drop3,450 ft
Base Elevation8,120 ft
Summit Elevation11,570 ft
Total Runs195
Green Circle Trails (Beginner)35 (18%)
Blue Square Trails (Intermediate) 57 (29%)
Black/ Double Black Diamond Trails (Expert)103 (53%)
Longest Run6.4 km
Terrain Parks2
Lift Operating Hours9:00 – 3:30
Night Skiing AvailableNo

The Vibe

Vail Village

With an alpine village feel, Vail Village exudes luxury, sophistication, and cosmopolitan flair. The pedestrian-only village is anchored by the iconic Covered Bridge spanning Gore Creek, leading to shops, restaurants, art galleries, and the ice skating rink.

Lively bars and upscale eateries line the cobblestone streets, many with outdoor patio seating and mountain views. Popular spots include the Tavern on the Square and Bully Ranch for American fare, and La Tour and Vin 48 for French cuisine and wine. With over 175 shops, the village offers high-end shopping as well as souvenirs and ski gear.

Nightlife ranges from intimate wine bars like Tap Room to popular clubs like Bol and Vendetta's. Large resort hotels like the Arrabelle and Four Seasons provide direct slope-side access. Staying in Vail Village places you in the heart of the action.

Telluride Town

With colorful Victorian-era buildings lining the main street, Telluride exudes historic small-town charm. The pedestrian-friendly downtown offers boutique shops, art galleries, and casual eateries. Sample gourmet tacos at Tacos del Gnar or fried chicken at Butcher & Baker. Popular watering holes include the historic New Sheridan Bar and the rooftop bar at The Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Unlike Vail, most lodging options are located a short 10-15 minute gondola ride away from Telluride Village in Mountain Village. Accommodations range from luxurious hotels like Madeline Hotel and Inn at Lost Creek to condos and vacation rentals. With fewer dining and nightlife options, the vibe is more low-key than in Vail.

The Villages


white and brown house near green trees and mountain during daytime

Vail Village and Lionshead Village both offer direct access to the slopes and pulse at the heart of the resort.

Vail Village is the main hub located at the base of Vail Mountain. The pedestrian village has a European flair with chalet-style buildings, cobblestone streets, and lively plazas anchored by the iconic covered bridge. Visitors can shop, dine, and be entertained without needing to drive anywhere. Lodging options feature slope-side hotels and condos just steps from the main lifts.

Lionshead Village sits about 1 mile west of Vail Village, named after the distinct rock formation resembling a lion's head. Linked by a free shuttle, Lionshead offers more affordable lodging, shopping, and dining. The village features a skating rink, gondola access to Eagle's Nest, and the Adventure Ridge activities park.

Between the two base villages, visitors enjoy a lively and sophisticated alpine setting with amenities, dining, and entertainment just steps away. Vail gives you the European ski town experience without traveling overseas.


Telluride Town
Photo by Brendan Gray under CC BY-SA 2.0

Unlike Vail, Telluride's town and ski village are separated by a 10-minute gondola ride. The ride provides gorgeous views overlooking the town nestled in the canyon below.

The historic town of Telluride offers charming streets lined with colorful Victorian facades now housing trendy boutiques, art galleries, and casual eateries. Main Street and its adjoining alleys comprise a pedestrian-friendly downtown with no high-rise buildings in sight. With only 2,500 year-round residents, Telluride feels quintessentially small-town.

Mountain Village sits at the base of the ski area at over 9,500 feet above the town. The newer development has a more modern alpine village feel with upscale lodging, retail shops and restaurants. Most visitors stay in vacation rentals or hotels here for the ski-in ski-out access. While small, Mountain Village has enough dining and services to keep you entertained for your stay. The resort and town complement each other perfectly for an authentic Colorado experience.

Off-Mountain Activities

ApresSki drink 1


With endless options for recreation and entertainment, a visit to Vail extends far beyond the slopes. Popular activities include:

  • Adventure Ridge –family-friendly adventure park featuring snow tubing, zip lines, snow biking and more.
  • Epic Discovery – year-round activities like hiking trails, climbing walls, kids ziplines and rope courses centered around educational nature experiences.
  • Vail Nordic Center – cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on over 8 miles of scenic trails. Rentals and lessons are available.
  • Vail Nature Center – interactive exhibits and programs focused on the area's unique ecosystems.
  • Vail Athletic Club – huge fitness center with pools, climbing wall, classes, and more.
  • Spas – Indulge at luxury spas like the RockResorts Spa, Four Seasons Spa, or Allegria Spa.
  • Shopping & Galleries – browse the boutiques, art galleries, and souvenir shops lining the village streets.
  • Nightlife – après ski bars, intimate wine bars, live music venues, and late-night clubs provide non-stop evening fun.

With ski resorts like Beaver Creek just minutes away, the options for activities are virtually endless.


Telluride offers plenty of recreational opportunities beyond the slopes:

  • Mountain biking – in summer and fall, the resort transforms into a mountain biking mecca with countless miles of trails. Gondolas provide uphill access.
  • Hiking – take on some of Colorado's most scenic hikes on trails like Bear Creek Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Blue Lake.SNP
  • River rafting – ride the rapids of the San Miguel river or enjoy calmer floats. Several outfitters offer trips.
  • Golf – hit the links at the Telluride Golf Club, consistently rated one of America's top courses.
  • Hot springs – enjoy a relaxing soak at The Historic San Miguel River Hot Springs.
  • 4x4 tours – see the gorgeous high country around Telluride from an off-road vehicle.
  • Gondola rides – soak in panoramic views as you ride between Mountain Village and Telluride.
  • Spas – unwind after an active day at spots like Allreds, Allegria Spa, and The Peaks Resort & Spa.
  • Festivals – throughout the year, Telluride hosts world-class festivals covering topics from film to bluegrass music.
  • Shopping & Galleries – peruse the art galleries, boutiques and shops along main street in Telluride town.

Though smaller than Vail, visitors won't run out of things to do off the slopes in Telluride. The resort balances ski amenities with its own unique small mountain town charm with plenty on offer.

Dining Options

Food On The Table With Two People Having Wine


With over 200 restaurants and bars, Vail offers extensive dining options that span casual bites to fine dining. Slopeside restaurants feature ski-in, ski-out access for lunch breaks.

Popular spots include:

  • Upscale : Sweet Basil, La Tour, Grouse Mountain Grill
  • Casual: Big Bear Bistro, Blue Moose Pizza, Mountain Standard
  • Apres Ski: Pepi's Bar & Grill, Vendetta's, Tap Room

Vail Village and Lionshead offer the most dining variety and nightlife, but options like Game Creek Restaurant at the top of Vail Mountain, Buffalo's at Mid-Vail, and Two Elk at the China Bowl base provide tasty meals right on the slopes.

Though dining in Vail doesn't come cheap, the quality of the cuisine from renowned chefs generally matches the price tag. Visitors looking for inexpensive eats can find more affordable (but still delicious) tacos, pizza and pub food if they venture beyond the villages a bit. With so many options, there's truly a restaurant for every palette and budget.


Though small in size, Telluride offers a satisfying variety of dining options in both the town and Mountain Village. Options range from vegetarian-friendly cafes to steakhouses with extensive wine lists.

Popular spots include:

  • Upscale: 221 South Oak, Allreds, La Marmotte
  • Casual: Brown Dog Pizza, Butcher & Baker, Rustico
  • Apres Ski: Smugglers Brewpub, New Sheridan Bar

Unlike Vail where you'll find slopeside dining, most restaurants are clustered in Telluride Town or Mountain Village. The quality rivals what you'll find in Vail, but with fewer options, securing reservations further in advance is more critical during peak times.

For a small Colorado town, Telluride hits well above its weight class when it comes to culinary experiences - just don't expect the sheer volume of choices you'd find in Vail. The limited options are part of Telluride's intimate mountain charm.

Family Friendliness

Vail - A Kid-Centric Mountain Paradise

Vail pulls out all the stops when it comes to catering to families and kids. Wide groomers like Promenade and Golden Peak offer gentle terrain perfect for beginner skiers and riders. Ski school starts at age 3 with specialized programs to build skills progressively.

Family activities like tubing, ziplining and snow biking at Adventure Ridge provide hours of entertainment. Ice skating rinks in both villages and guided nature tours through Epic Discovery give the whole family plenty to do together off the slopes as well.

With many lodging and dining options tailored for children, Vail makes it easy for parents too. The resort exudes a lively, family-friendly vibe from top to bottom.


Telluride - A Classy Town with Adult Appeal

Telluride has a more sophisticated, grown-up feel. While ski school for tykes starts at 3, the town gives off more of an adult-oriented vibe. The terrain skews towards intermediate and advanced as well, with a limited selection of easy beginner runs serviced by just a couple of short lifts.

For teens and experienced young skiers, Telluride has appeal, but parents of novice kids may find the resort lacking in comparison to Vail. The charming Mountain Village and Telluride Town feel cultured and refined, but not nearly as family-centric.

The Verdict

Vail edges out Telluride when it comes to catering to kids and beginners.


car snow


Located under 2 hours west of Denver, Vail enjoys excellent accessibility and convenience for travelers. Three airports provide quick access:

  • Eagle County Regional Airport – 35 mins away, offers nonstop flights to major US cities
  • Denver International Airport – 2 hours away, a major hub and one of the largest airports in the world
  • Vail/Beaver Creek Helitrans Airport – 8 mins away, a heli airport offering direct flights into the mountains from Denver

Colorado highways I-70 and E-470 provide easy ground transportation, while shuttles and rental car agencies are plentiful. Numerous hotels, restaurants and services available in nearby towns.

Travelers from across the globe can get to Vail with minimal fuss, making it one of the most convenient ski resorts to access.


Telluride's remote location presents some additional logistical challenges for travelers. Visitors flying in will likely connect through Denver to reach two potential airports:

  • Telluride Regional Airport – located one hour from town, offers limited regional connections on smaller planes. Prone to closures due to weather.
  • Montrose Regional Airport – a more reliable option located 1.5 hours from Telluride. Offers connections to major hubs like Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and more.

Driving to Telluride requires a good 8+ hour haul from Denver or other major cities. Rental cars or shuttles are needed to get to town, as public transportation options are limited. Services are also more sparse in the surrounding towns.

Season Dates


With one of the longest ski seasons in North America, Vail is open from mid-November through mid-April. The typical opening and closing dates are:

  • Opening Day - Mid/Late November
  • Closing Day - Mid/Late April
Young Man Skier

Vail's early season is anchored by the opening of numerous high-speed lifts giving access to top-to-bottom skiing. Early snow combined with Vail's extensive snowmaking usually allows for great coverage and high lift count right off the bat. Late spring often brings warm sunny days and spring skiing conditions.

Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Spring Break see the most crowds. January through March offer fewer visitors and great snow conditions. Lift ticket prices follow demand, rising over the holidays then dipping during the off-peak times.


Telluride's shorter season runs from late November through early April:

  • Opening Day - Late November/Early December
  • Closing Day - Early April

With a higher base elevation than Vail, Telluride's lower slopes often rely more on natural snow versus snowmaking. The top lifts and terrain may open first before the lower mountain fills in. Late spring weather warms up quicker in Telluride as well.

Christmas-New Year's, President's Day weekend and

Telluride's shorter season runs from late November through early April:

  • Opening Day - Late November/Early December
  • Closing Day - Early April

With a higher base elevation than Vail, Telluride's lower slopes often rely more on natural snow versus snowmaking. The top lifts and terrain may open first before the lower mountain fills in. Late spring weather warms up quicker in Telluride as well.

Christmas-New Year's, President's Day weekend and Spring Break see the most visitors. To enjoy the charming town without crowds, target late January through February. Lift ticket rates fluctuate with demand just like Vail.

For the longest ski season and best early/late season conditions, Vail's snowmaking and high elevation win out over Telluride. But once both resorts are 100% open, the skiing is excellent.

Vail Skiing 2
Photo by jrm353 licensed under CC BY 2.0

Frequently Asked Questions

Which resort has better terrain?

Vail is larger with 5,289 skiable acres, while Telluride has over 2,000 acres. Both offer great advanced and expert terrain, but Vail has more beginner and intermediate runs. Telluride's terrain is steeper on average.

Which resort has better snow?

Snowfall is reliable at both, but Vail sees 33 feet annually on average compared to 23 feet at Telluride. Vail's snowmaking capabilities also help ensure good coverage early and late season.

Which village has a better vibe?

Vail has a lively, cosmopolitan vibe with luxury shops and dining. Telluride offers more rustic Colorado charm with a quainter village.

How do the villages compare?

Vail has two base villages, Vail Village and Lionshead Village, right at the mountain base. Telluride's town and Mountain Village are connected by a free gondola.

Which resort has more dining options?

Vail has over 200 restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining. Telluride's dining scene is smaller but very high quality.

Which resort is more family friendly?

Vail, with its ski school programs, gentle terrain, activities, and amenities tailored for families.

Which resort is easier to get to?

Vail, with direct flights into Eagle County Airport plus shuttle access from Denver. Telluride is more remote.

How do their ski seasons compare?

Vail is open from mid-November through mid-April. Telluride opens late November and closes early April.

Which resort is more expensive?

Lift tickets are cheaper at Telluride. Lodging costs can be comparable, though Vail has more luxury options that drive up prices.

How do I decide between Vail vs Telluride?

Choose Vail for more ski terrain, amenities, dining and family options. Choose Telluride for a less crowded, more laid-back Colorado vibe.

Is there nightlife in the villages?

Yes, both Vail and Telluride offer bars, clubs, music venues and more. Vail's nightlife scene is larger and livelier.

What other activities are available off the slopes?

Both offer plenty of activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, spas, shopping, hiking in summer, and more.