Vail (for the back bowls)
Maybe even Taos?
Thank you so much! I am excited out of my mind for this trip!!
Not very likely in Christmas due to gradual opening of steep terrain in Colorado's low-density snowpack. If you want to ski steeps in Colorado, do it on your spring break, not at Christmas. In the case of Taos and Crested Butte, the odds of any of it being open at Christmas are about 15%. The same is likely true for most of Gold Hill at Telluride.
I would avoid Summit County at Christmas purely due to excessive crowd considerations, and those areas (aside from A-Basin where the steeps are about as likely to be open as at CB and Taos) have disproportionately less steeps than others on your list. Steamboat has minimal steeps and is also quite busy at Christmas, though it's by far the best place on your list for early season snow coverage. Vail's early snow record is second to Steamboat's, but I wouldn't go near the place between Dec. 26 and the Saturday after New Year's.
That leaves Aspen, and even though Aspen has a similar gradual snowfall accumulation pattern as CB, it seems to get some of its steep terrain, notably at Highlands, open for the holidays. And while holiday lodging and restaurants may be busy at Aspen, the liftlines and skier density remain manageable.
Perhaps you are driving from Houston and thus Colorado is as far as you'll go. If not, Utah would be a better choice during Christmas holidays. You get Alta/Snowbird with lots of steeps and the best snow record in North America. And in average or better years there are places like Snowbasin, Solitude and Powder Mt. that are rarely busy even during peak holidays.
Before Christmas isn't very crowded, the variable there is what's open. It's hard to predict.
That schedule works fine or you could swap a lot of destinations. In the early season its great to keep things flexible and see who gets the snow. In Colorado, Steamboat and Wolf creek tend to do a better in the early season but it varies a lot year to year. It's not too hard to book cancelable lodging if you staying in town (not on mountain) The negative thing to flexibility is that you would probably have to pay more for lift tickets if you decide to go to the EPIC areas.
The trip you have planned sounds like a lot of daily driving which can be problematic with your grandparents along. You going to leave them at the hotel without a car? Take them with you each day? you might want to think that part threw if you have not already.
Also, road conditions can be a challenge to those who don't have snow at home. Getting to Vail or BC requires going over Vail pass which can be tricky in snow. I don't know if you have a 4x4 which helps you get going but doesn't help brake. Be careful.
We could also give you more tips if we knew what you like to ski. Bumps, glades, bowls, groomers, other? What are some of the best runs you've ever skied? Taking a best guess on what you like to ski, you'll probably really like the back bowls and Blue Sky at Vail (if open). Keystone has lots of not-so-steep bumps and long groomers. BC has lots of groomers and bumps. Steamboat has good groomers, bumps and trees. Breck has a little of everything. I'd skip A basin in the early season (usually little open, slow lifts, travel time) and just stay at keystone the whole day. If you keep things flexible you could also consider Taos, Crested Butte, Monarch, Telluride, Purgatory, Wolf Creek, Aspen, Sunlight, Copper, Winter Park and Loveland.
Mainly a much better early season snow record. Perhaps an intro to tree skiing. Steamboat averages 68% open mid-December and 93% open Christmas week.
Vail averages 69% open mid-December and 84% open Christmas week. Out of the past 26 years in mid-December the bowls would have been all closed in 5 of them and fairly limited in another 2. So odds are in your favor there.
Breckenridge averages 52% open mid-December and 72% Christmas week. I would say the odds are slightly against you for much of Breck's upper alpine bowls being open before Christmas.
Keystone is the lowest snowfall area on that list. Averages of 58% open mid-December and 77% Christmas week are more than Breck because it's not as steep and has a lot of snowmaking.
I have only about half as much early season open terrain data for Aspen/Snowmass as the places above. What I have averages 63% open mid-December and 80% Christmas week. I have snowfall but not open terrain stats for Beaver Creek. It should be better than Breck or Keystone but not as good as Vail or Steamboat.
Steepest terrain is hardest to open. When you see an area at 70% open, usually that means close to zero double blacks. Thus my original recommendation:
You shouldn't necessarily be skipping Beaver Creek because it's the least crowded of the Epic resorts by far. It's a logical stop on whatever day you relocate from Summit County to Aspen or Steamboat. The Beaver Creek village is not too shabby a place for your grandparents to hang out one day while you're skiing there.
Aspen clearly wins on the counts of crowds and scenery. It's probably the best ski resort in the US for non-skiers (meaning your grandparents) to have a good time. 80% vs. 90% is not enough to tip the balance to Steamboat. The worry is the lesser margin for error in a slow starting season like 2011-12 or 2012-13, when Steamboat was 90+% open but Aspen was less than half open. The way to evade that problem is to not commit $$$ to lodging now. In 2013-14 we made the decision to drive to Aspen for a week at New Year's on Dec. 22. We found a Snowmass condo online and also had no problem getting a hotel for 2 nights in Glenwood Dec. 30 and 31. Similarly, don't book a place in Keystone (<40% open in those same 2 slow start seasons) now. You should have no problem finding lodging in Dillon or Frisco if not Keystone before Christmas once you know there's enough snow on the ground.
Thinking of your GPs I'd strongly consider staying in Breck or Frisco rather than Dillon or especially Keystone. If there are days they are going to be stranded because you have the car, both Breck and Frisco are great little towns for hanging out. If they are dropping you off each day then less of a deal.
As for the Epic Local Pass, check the blackout dates vs. your planned days. Both Vail and BC are restricted during Christmas break.
Vail is the best fit for your ski objectives and the most likely of the Epic resorts to have good early season snow. So before committing to Keystone, you should thoroughly investigate lodging options on the west side of Vail Pass. Vail sprawls east and west for several miles either side of town and there is also lodging on the north side of I-70, all of these on free shuttle bus routes. Perhaps some of these places can be had for a reasonable price before Christmas. Avon would be another good option.
If you're based in Vail during even an average mid-December, I don't think you will be that motivated to do a lot of "running around." We stayed at Vail Run on the north side of I-70 with our car for a week in January 2015 and only ventured east of Vail Pass one day (to Copper).
If it needs to be Christmas, it needs to be Colorado, and double diamond terrain is the goal, I think Wolf Creek needs to be on the agenda. Most years wolf will be 100% open with a good base by then. If the base is over 60", and most years it is, you will have plenty to allow you to get way in over your head.
Wolf is busiest that week, but the lifts serving the advanced terrain generally are deserted because your TX brethren don't ski that terrain and locals stay home.
Probably. You really need to get as far away from Vail/Summit County as possible after Dec. 26. Copper on Dec. 26 is probably OK. Steamboat is busy but reasonable. Aspen is better. Wolf Creek may be better yet, and it's sort of on the way home for you, thus less driving than Aspen or Steamboat. The only downside is there may not be much to entertain your grandparents in that region. Anachronism is welcome to correct me if I'm wrong about this.
I definitely endorse the East Vail lodging for the front end of the trip.