Budget hotels absolutely have their place in ski vacations–if you’re a college student living on Ramen noodles and saving pennies to road trip to Colorado for shredding some of the best powder North America has to offer. But when you’re ready to splurge on a ski trip near Denver, I suggest going big and booking a property that offers not only a cozy place to rest your head at night, but also pampering spa treatments, fine dining, or rock-star access to the chairlifts so you can make the most of Colorado’s sunny ski days.

Here are my picks for upscale ski hotels that are less than a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport. After all, once you fly into Denver, the last thing you want to do is spend an inordinate amount of time in the car (or a shuttle) getting to the slopes.

One Ski Hill Place, Breckenridge

This luxury property in Breckenridge opened in 2010 to great fanfare, namely because of its choice location at the base of the ski area’s Peak 8. When I stayed at One Ski Hill Place last winter, my family’s two-bedroom unit was literally a stone’s throw to the lifts; I could have tossed a snowball from our balcony onto skiers making their way to fresh tracks in the early morning.

 

Guest rooms here range from studios to four-bedroom “residences,” and indeed, the multi-bedroom accommodations are incredibly homey, with full kitchens, living and dining areas, washer and dryers, and gas fireplaces. Other nice features include granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, large soaking tubs, casual breakfast-bar seating, and large entryways for easy storage of winter boots, ski jackets, and snowpants.

Families flock to the large indoor pool with a shallow water-play area for toddlers. Two hot tubs–one inside the sunny atrium, one outside behind a private gate–are marvelous places to soak after a day on the trails. For still more family fun, One Ski Hill Place has a two-lane indoor bowling alley designed to look like a mine shaft. The attraction pays homage to the area’s history as a booming gold-mining town in the 19th century. Note that there is a $30/night resort fee to cover some of these fun perks.

Keystone Lodge & Spa

Keystone Lodge & Spa does not have ski-in/ski-out access–guests need to take a complimentary, five-minute shuttle ride to the gondola at River Run Village to reach Keystone’s slopes–but it is adjacent to Keystone Lake, the largest, Zamboni-maintained outdoor ice rink in North America. It’s easy for overnight guests to take some turns on this five-acre attraction, which sits at 9,321 feet in elevation.

Rooms at Keystone Lodge & Spa are alpine rustic, with pine furnishings, plaid drapes, and soft, striped bed pillows that set a snug, cozy tone. The $20 nightly resort fee includes some appreciated amenities and services (in addition to the private ski shuttle to the lifts), such as in-room WiFi, overnight ski check at the base of the gondola in River Run Village, and a “fast pass” to skip to the front of the gondola line before 10 a.m.

Viewfinder Tip: For more fine ski hotels near Denver, check out these profiles of luxurious properties in Vail and Beaver Creek.

If you’re a spa goer, make time for a treatment at the on-site spa. All guests have access to an on-site fitness center, indoor hot tub, outdoor pool, sauna, and eucalyptus steam room (which I also highly recommend). But I’d go the extra mile and book a hot stone massage, moisturizing facial, or “Sweet Feet Pedicure” to help soothe sore muscles after a day of skiing. I also suggest an “add-on” service enhancement, such as a $15 pre-massage foot soak, administered in the warm relaxation room in front of a roaring fireplace.

Vail Cascade Resort & Spa

Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, in Cascade Village, fronts pine-tree-flanked Gore Creek in West Vail. The property may not be in the thick of the bustling pedestrian-friendly, shopping- and dining-centric areas of Vail Village or Lionshead, but I appreciate its slightly remote location for a retreat feel. Plus, it’s hardly inconvenient for skiers: The Cascade Village Lift 20 is on site, which means guests can suit up for the slopes and walk just a few steps from the lobby level to head up the mountain. An on-site ski concierge stores boots, boards, and skis overnight.

Gore Creek from room at Vail Cascade

Lodging options here are varied: You can stay in a hotel room with plush-down comforters, and overstuffed pillows that set a warm, homey feel; or you can book a condominium or private residence with full kitchen and access to amenities such as a shuttle to Lionshead and Vail Village and an infinity-edge, heated swimming pool facing Gore Creek. Kids love the free s’mores and hot chocolate a the hotel fire pit, a fun event that is held numerous times every week during the ski season. Fitness enthusiasts appreciate the Aria Athletic Club & Spa, which offers an incredible array of cardio and strength-training equipment, plus a running track, basketball courts, indoor tennis courts, steam rooms, and indoor hot tubs. (A $27/night resort fee is charged, covering the above amenities and services, plus internet access, too.)

Dining at Vail Cascade is quite good. The main restaurant Atwater on Gore Creek focuses on American favorites with a Colorado bent. For example, its grill features lamb chops and beef filet from meat sourced in-state. Other favorites include rainbow trout, duck breast, and crispy pork shank. Vegetarian items are available, such as an “herbivore” pizza (gluten-free crust is offered) or a yellow lentil hummus “small plate.” The restaurant’s craft beer list is vast; each dinner-menu item is paired with a suggested international or domestic brew. Dine in the more casual, airy terrace area, or settle into a swanky leather booth in the modern main dining room.

Where do you like to overnight when you ski in Colorado?