Two of the most popular ski areas in Colorado are Breckenridge and Keystone. These two ski mountains are among the closest to Denver and are known for their varied terrain and family-friendly skiing. In the winter Breckenridge and Keystone are great for visitors that are looking for the quintessential Colorado ski experience. Both offer plenty of amenities for the traveler excited about a ski vacation.
However, there are some distinct differences that you should consider when comparing Breckenridge vs Keystone. These differences will allow you to select the best mountain town for your upcoming holiday.
Breckenridge is a quaint community that started as a rough-and-tumble mining town. Established in 1859, Breckenridge was once the location of much of the state’s placer mining activities. When the gold dried up, Breckenridge struggled, until the ski industry came along and revitalized the town. Today, Breckenridge is home to one of the largest ski resorts in Colorado. With 5 unique peaks and a huge variety of ski terrain, Breckenridge is a popular place to visit for out-of-towners and locals alike.
Not only is Breckenridge great in the winter, but you’ll find that it is also a fun spot to visit in the summer as well. Unlike many ski areas, the town of Breckenridge does not close down when the skiers are gone. You’ll find that Breckenridge is just as great in the summer as it is in the winter.
Keystone, on the other hand, is a traditional ski resort. When the resort was established, so were many of the amenities that you will find in the area. Keystone is highly popular with families that are looking for a ski area that is close to Denver and affordable. The ski area has a wide range of terrain, including the famous Schoolmarm run that cascades from the top of the mountain to the River Run base area.
The Keystone ski village offers plenty of places for visitors to stay and dine. However, many people also like to visit the neighboring town of Dillion for more dining options. One thing that you will notice when staying in Keystone is that much of the area lodging is condominiums. With full kitchens, condos are a great option if you aren’t keen on eating out for every meal. And, the proximity of Dillion with its grocery stores means that you can easily pick up supplies for your family’s favorite meals.
In this article, I will delve deeper into the differences between Breckenridge and Keystone. I’ll offer some answers to popular questions about the ski areas, and share my thoughts on the benefits of staying at both ski areas.
A Quick Overview & Comparison: Breckenridge vs Keystone
- A town and a ski area
- Lots of lodging and dining options
- Great for summer visitors
- Huge ski mountain with lots of terrain
- Lots of ski in/out lodging
- Great for large family gatherings
- Mountain terrain is great for more advanced skiers and riders
- Two fun ski village areas
Breckenridge vs Keystone: A Quick Guide to Choosing
Now that you know a little more about each ski area, I would like to give you a brief breakdown of what makes each a great place to visit.
Breckenridge Mini Guide
- Location Size – 6.047 square miles
- Population – 5,024
- Rainy Season – June – July
- High Season – December to April
- Top Sights – Breckenridge Ski Resort, Peak 8 Base Camp, Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge Nordic Center
- Major Airports – Eagle/Vail Regional Airport and Denver International Airport
Breckenridge is both a ski area and a vibrant mountain town. When you visit Breckenridge you get a great Colorado experience. The town is filled with restaurants, breweries, boutique shopping, and family-friendly activities. While many ski areas in Colorado have a village at their base area, Breckenridge ski area skips the village and utilizes the town instead.
If you are traveling to Breckenridge, you will be surprised to see that there are chairlifts that start in town. This is a great way to make parking and ski area access easier for visitors. It also allows you to end your day in one of the many fun apres ski bars.
Breckenridge offers visitors more than just a ski area. In the winter they have fun festivals like the annual ice carving competition and the summer art festival. Breckenridge is also a great spot to use as a central hub for both summer and winter activities.
Keystone Mini Guide
- Location Size – 41.44 square miles
- Population – 611
- Rainy Season – July-August
- High Season – February to March
- Top Sights – Alpenglow Stube, River Run Village, Keystone Resort
- Major Airports – Denver International Airport and Eagle County Airport
If you are coming to Colorado specifically to ski, but also want some great amenities from your ski area, Keystone is a great spot. This fantastic ski area is one of the closest to Denver and is a Colorado favorite.
One of the things that visitors really like about skiing at Keystone is that while it offers plenty of runs for beginners, the mountain is really geared towards intermediate and expert riders. For adults, this means you can spend the morning exploring all of the steeps and bumps while your kids get some turns in ski school.
When you meet up with your kids in the afternoon, you can all enjoy some great meals in the River Run Village. Keystone has a great shuttle system if you want to skip driving. Pick up the shuttle after a day on the slopes and head back to your rental condo. Most of the lodging in Keystone are rental condos. This is handy because dining is limited and can be very busy when the lifts close.
Keystone in the summer offers some fun activities and is also a great place to stop if you are looking for some amazing mountain biking terrain.
The 6 Key Differences Between Breckenridge or Keystone
Now that I’ve given you a little history and an overview of both Breckenridge and Keystone, I’d like to share some of the ways that these two ski areas differ. In this next section, I’ll give you 6 ways that Breckenridge and Keystone differ, and how they are best for different types of travelers.
Which Is Better for Activities?
Breckenridge is hands down the better of the two ski areas for activities. Because Breckenridge is a town and not just a ski area, you will find that there are plenty of things to do, besides hit the slopes.
In the winter, plan around the annual ice carving festival. This is one of the most popular things to see in Breckenridge during the winter. Ice carvers from around the world make magical creations using just blocks of ice. If you want something more active, and adult friendly in the winter check out the fat bike beer and distillery tour. This fun tour will take you through the snow-covered streets of Breckenridge in search of great beer and spirits.
In the summer, visitors to Breckenridge can enjoy the Summer Art Festival. For a more hands-on activity, try your hand at gold panning at the Country Boy Mine. The Country Boy Mine offers visitors a walk back in time when Breckenridge was a mining town, and gold supported the community.
Which Is More Family Friendly?
When it comes to a family friendly ski area, I really like Keystone. Sure, Keystone isn’t a town with all the frills. But, that is what really makes Keystone a great spot for families. When you travel with kids, sometimes it is just easier to have a few great options that everyone can enjoy. It really makes the daily effort of feeding and entertaining your crew easier.
With a free shuttle that travels around the ski area and all of its little lodging and dining areas, you never have to try to pile your kids in a car, or walk with them to a downtown area. Most of the restaurants in Keystone offer kid favorites like burgers, chicken tenders and pizza. One of my favorite spots in the River Run area is Pizza on the Run. This restaurant has some amazing pizza and a great relaxed atmosphere. Another great spot for families is Alpenglow Stubbe. This restaurant is located at the top of the River Run Gondola. It offers a fun evening dining experience that makes you feel like you are eating in a Swiss Chalet.
Keystone has one of the most popular ski schools in Colorado. Breckenridge is up there too, but outside of Winter Park, the next best place for kids to ski is Keystone.
Breckenridge is also a great spot for families, though with so many options, you may find it a bit of a challenge to get your family to decide on activities and restaurants. One of the best family-friendly spots in Breckenridge is the Beaver Run Village. Located at the base of the Beaver Run gondola, this little area is tucked away from the crowds of downtown Breckenridge. It has some great restaurants, and the Rocket Fizz candy store, one of the most fun candy stores in Breckenridge.
Which Is Better for a Romantic Getaway?
If what you are looking for is a romantic, adults-only, escape to the Colorado Rockies, then Breckenridge is where you want to go. Sure, this fun community offers a lot for families, but for grown-ups looking to reconnect and enjoy some romance, Breckenridge has lots to offer.
One of my favorite places to stay for adults is the Grand Timber Lodge. This resort with rental condos is tucked away from the crowds of the downtown area. One of the features of this resort that couples will love is the all-season outdoor heated pool. There is nothing more romantic than watching the snowfall while surrounded by warm water.
For a romantic evening in Breckenridge, start with drinks at Apres Handcrafted Libations. Here you’ll find some of Breckenridge’s best mixologists and unique cocktail offerings. After happy hour, head to Aurem Food and Wine. This upscale restaurant located in a Victorian cottage offers an intimate dining experience.
Which Has Better Lodging?
When it comes to great places to stay, Breckenridge is definitely the better choice. While Keystone has some nice places to stay, you just get a better variety of highly-rated lodging options in Breckenridge. You will find when you visit Breckenridge that many of the lodging options are condominiums or rental apartments. However, the great thing about Breckenridge is that you can also find amazing hotels near the ski resort that are also affordable.
For a great lodging option that gives you plenty of amenities, and is a little ways from town try the Mountain Thunder Lodge. If you want to enjoy the hustle and bustle of downtown Breckenridge, River Mountain Lodge is a great choice. Of course, not everyone wants a condo or apartment, so if you are looking for a convenient but highly-rated hotel in Breckenridge the Doubletree by Hilton at Peak 9 is a wonderful option.
Which Is Better for Restaurants & Eating Out?
While I love Keystone dining for families, when it comes to a more robust food scene, Breckenridge is hard to beat. Sure, you have lots of great family-friendly options in Breckenridge. One of my favorites is Downstairs at Eric’s, which has a really varied menu, kid-friendly options, and a huge tap list that is awesome for mom and dad. A locals favorite is the Motherload Tavern. This spot is known for its comfort foods that are perfect after a long day on the slopes. Certainly, you cannot go wrong with a great pizza. In Breckenridge, the best place to get pizza is Giampietro Pasta and Pizza.
Of course, no list of great restaurants would be complete without some upscale restaurants that offer unique culinary experiences. If you are looking for a nice dinner out Hearthstone is one of the best spots in Breckenridge. It is pricey but the food is outstanding. Another great spot is Ember. Ember is one of the newer restaurants in Breckenridge and it is making a statement with a unique menu and a commitment to give back to the community.
Which Is Easier to Get To?
Neither Breckenridge or Keystone is difficult to get to. In fact, they are not more than 15 minutes from each other. However, I think that Breckenridge, though a bit further from Denver, is easier to get to. Both Breckenridge and Keystone are located just a little ways off of I-70, and just over an hour drive from Denver. Both can be accessed by car or ski shuttle.
However, to get to Keystone, you have to navigate the Silverthorne/Dillon exchange which can be a bit hectic. The traffic at this interchange is often busy and it can take some patience to get through.
Breckenridge is located a short distance from Frisco, off of I-70. This interchange is relaxed and easy to navigate. The road to Breckenridge is a 4-lane highway that is well maintained in the winter, and offers pleasant views in the summer.
6 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Breckenridge or Keystone
When Should You Visit Breckenridge or Keystone?
Winter time is considered the high season for both Breckenridge and Keystone. If you are coming to Colorado to ski, visiting both of these ski areas from late December to early April is the best time.
With minimal summer time activities Keystone isn’t a great spot for summer visitors. However, if you are looking to visit the Colorado mountains in summer, Breckenridge is a fun summer spot from late May to early September.
For those that want to visit but are looking for more affordable lodging and smaller crowds, Breckenridge is a great option during the shoulder seasons. Try visiting between mid-April and late May or mid-September to early December.
Is Breckenridge or Keystone Better for Skiing?
I think that Breckenridge offers a more varied ski experience for visitors. Keystone is a good spot for families to ski. However, if you are looking for a mountain that has lots of runs for beginners, fun but challenging runs for intermediate skiers and riders, and amazing steeps, bumps and bowls for experts, Breckenridge is where you go. The great thing about Breckenridge is that the mountain has five unique peaks, each offering something a little different.
Keystone is a much smaller mountain, and many people really like that. You won’t feel like you are going to get lost or end up miles from your car when you ski at Keystone. The run options are pretty evenly mixed between beginner, intermediate, and expert at Keystone. This balanced design is why Keystone is a great place for families to ski.
Is Breckenridge or Keystone Better for Christmas?
If you are headed to the Colorado high country at Christmas time, you cannot miss Breckenridge. Even if you are skiing at Keystone, make the drive to Breckenridge. The town takes advantage of the historic buildings and cute Victorian homes for holiday decorations. When the snow is falling the town really looks like it came out of a picture.
Breckenridge also has a wide variety of stores if you need to finish up your holiday shopping. You will find well known brands, but also unique boutique stores. There are art galleries and stores that feature crafts and wares from locals.
Is Breckenridge or Keystone Better in Summer?
Breckenridge is a great place to visit in the summer. The town is full of activities and festivals. When the snow melts you can also take advantage of the summer recreational opportunities that the ski resort provides. When the runs are free of snow, they are criss-crossed with biking and hiking trails. You can spend hours on the mountain, exploring this fun ski area from another view.
Much of the lodging in Breckenridge also remains open during the summer. If you are staying at one of the resorts that is a bit further from town, you may have to take the shuttle to find dining. Many of the resort restaurants close for the summer, due to fewer staff.
Keystone is tough in the summer. Since most of the restaurants and stores are focused around the skiers and boarders you will find many closed for the summer. Lodging in Keystone in the summer is very affordable, and most places have ample availability. If you are looking for a low-key summer retreat, Keystone is a great spot. Dining options in the summer are found in just a short drive down the road in Dillion and Silverthorn.
Is Breckenridge or Keystone More Affordable?
Affordable is a matter of perspective when you are visiting any ski area or mountain town in Colorado. However, comparatively speaking, Keystone is the more affordable choice. You will find that across both seasons, lodging rates are a bit lower in Keystone than in Breckenridge. The resort is really geared toward families so you will not find a huge number of luxury resorts and hotels in Keystone.
Dining also tends to be a bit more affordable in Keystone. And since there are limited options, you and your family won’t be tempted to splurge on upscale dining on a whim.
One thing about visiting Breckenridge and Keystone that is not terribly affordable, but you can’t get around is lift ticket prices. Unless you purchase a season pass and plan on visiting these resorts frequently, you will find that the daily lift ticket at both resorts is pretty expensive.
Breckenridge or Keystone: Which Is the Better Choice?
When considering Breckenridge vs Keystone, there are great reasons to visit either location. Keystone is an affordable option that is geared towards families. Keystone is also focused on the winter ski season so if you are looking for a great spot to stay and ski or board, Keystone will be your favorite spot.
Breckenridge is a fun town that just happens to double as a ski resort village. The town is cute with lots of places to eat and shop. A variety of lodging options, in all price ranges, dot the hills around Breckenrigde, making for a more versatile place to stay. In the summer, Breckenridge becomes a great spot for summer recreation and weekend getaways.