Aspen

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One of North Americas Kingpins, known as “Hollywood on Snow” the resort is the winter away to many a Hollywood A-lister. There is a certain element that are there to be seen skiing or boarding rather then actual doing it, but don’t let this deceive you.

The Mountain’s of Aspen

Aspen  / Snowmass in the White River National Forest comprises of four ski areas, all covered on the same lift pass and linked together by free shuttle bus. Each of the four mountains have very different characteristics and each has equally world class facilities.  Its not uncommon to ski or board Aspen Mountain in the morning and Snowmass in the afternoon, which are the greatest distance apart at 20 minutes by ski bus.  A good option is to choose the area that best suits you and base yourself there and use the ski bus to visit the other areas, but you could easy spend a week in one of the areas and have everything you need at you door. The four mountains of Aspen are

  • Aspen Mountain
  • Aspen Highlands
  • Buttermilk
  • Snowmass

Aspen Mountain or Ajax as its refer to by the locals, is located immediately above the town and the most popular of the 4 hills due to its easy of access. Of the four mountains this is best suited to Intermediate or Advanced skiers & boarders, locals head here for the double black diamond advanced terrain of glades, moguls and steeps, not to mention the well known “Dump runs” such as Bear Paw, Short Snort & Zaugg. The dump runs are a result of miners dumping spoil hundreds of years ago. Aspen Highlands  is quieter and popular for its steeper slopes and off-piste access in the  Highland, Olympic Bowls & Steeplechase. You will also find some good beginner and intermediate slopes here. Again, it is versatile with great family and beginner facilities and of course not forgetting the X Games  snowpark for the freestylers, for freestylers it doesn’t get any better. Buttermilk is popular with beginners & families with lots of mellow green runs. The east side of the hill is marked black on the piste map although most will not find them to challenging. The Summit Express gives access to a massive terrain park which stretches all the way down to the base. Snowmass, the largest of Aspen’s four ski areas and most unrated, a well rounded resort which is very diverse, throw in a great park and some equally as good freeriding terrain. The resort boasts one of the largest vertical drops in North America at 1190m. The upper part of the mountain is normally reserved for the more adventurous skier or boarder with some seriously steep terrain such as Big Burn, Elk Camp & Cirque Headwall. Overall Aspen is slick American skiing & riding at its best. If your credit card can take it, you certainly will return from a skiing or boarding trip to Aspen happy.

Aspen has 5,206  Acres of ski-able terrain

No Funicular Train or Cable cars, 2 gondolas

44 Chair & 0 Drag Lifts

2 Parks & 4 Pipes

No Night Opening & no summer skiing/boarding

Beginners

Beginners should think about Snowmass or Aspen for getting the turns down. Snowmass has some wide, mellow slopes lower down that make it really easy to get to grips with it. Slightly more advanced skiers & riders should think about the mid-mountain beginner terrain on Aspen which also gives good access to this mountain’s more challenging terrain. Buttermilk has many green runs reached by the West Buttermilk Express and some slightly more challenging runs down to the base via the front face.

79 Easy Runs

50% Blues

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Intermediate

For a couple of days of  intermediate fun you couldn’t go wrong with Buttermilk. Perfectly groomed slopes aswell as a great beginners park. Did I mention the X Games park, which is worth a look if just to scare the shit out of yourself. Intermediate boarders & skiers will also enjoy exploring Snowmass’s upper slopes where you’ll find some nice freeriding terrain.

42 Intermediate Runs

27% Reds

If it’s good enough for the likes of Donald Trump, Jack Nicholson & Kevin Costner it will do for me!

Advanced

The area known as Aspen has the best freeriding terrainin Highlands and Snowmass. The  Highland Bowl  in particular is up there with  Vail’s Back Bowls  in terms of its legendary and/or over-hyped status. If you’ve got to pick a destination for a powder day, it could be Snowmass which has some pretty serious cliffs and chutes to check out. Of course, if you’re of a freestyle persuasion, you’ll be in Buttermilk’s X Games snowpark all day every day, its really world class.

37 Expert Black Runs

23% Blacks

Freestyle

Freestyle options everywhere for ever ability, this area is home to some of the best snowparks on the planet ranging from the beginner park in the Highlands to the massive X Games Park.

Freeriding

It has to be the Highland Bowl the terrain is located on a sheer slope falling away from the peak until it reaches the treeline. The gondola to the summit of Loge Peak gives access to the Highland Bowl at its mid point, to reach its summit and the top half of the bowl from the summit of  Loge Peak  its a 35-45 minute hike and  2,582 vertical feet  back to the Temerity lift which ferries skiers & boards out of the bowl and back to Loge Peak. The fact that its at-least a 30 minute hike to the summit  puts off most people is enough so that fresh tracks can be found on most days. If you don’t fancy the hike  check out the terrain around the Temerity and Steeplechase areas. In fact, often, the more challenging skiing & boarding can be found in these areas on runs such as Sniders Ridge, the B Cliffs & Not So Lucky Find. Each of these offers a variety of steep exposed ridges, cliffed out chutes or tight tree runs.

Download large Aspen Trail Map

Aspen Trail Map
Download large Aspen Trail Map

Mountain Stats

 
Top Lift 3813 m
Vertical Drop 1343 m
Bottom Lift 2410 m

Essential Info

Opening Mid November (24 November 2016)
Closing Late May
2 from 10 Day Pass US $ 186
7 from 10 Day Pass US $ 602
Season Pass US $ 2,159
Tourist Office colorado.com/cities-and-towns/Aspen
Website aspensnowmass.com

Getting There

Denver (DEN) Airport is the resorts nearest at 5 Km or 3 miles away.

The Town

This high-profile Colorado classic is many things to many riders. It is the full package resort, referred to as The Power of Four. These four distinct mountains are Aspen MountainAspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, and they have distinct characters. Go to Aspen to be seen or ride steep trees, be like a local and hike the bowl of Highlands, spin and jib on the X-Games snowpark at Buttermilk or enjoy the variety of terrain that family-friendly Snowmass with at least 3100+ acres there is a lot on offer. Aspen the town is over 100 years old, but has been tastefully restored over the years. It has the feeling of old world charm with all the luxurious amenities anyone could ever imagine. This is a place where athletes, artists, intellectuals, billionaires, snowboard bums, and your average tourist can all rub shoulders. Although wealth is abundant here it is extremely casual making it such a nice synergy of both fashion and function. Whether you think referring to your area as The Power of Four is insufferably pompous or forward-thinking will probably decide how you see Aspen.

Sleeping

aspensnowmass.com provide a list and explanation of the lodging options. Lodging starts out very basic at the St Moritz for US$60 and goes up to the exquisite five-star lodgings of the Little Nell. Renting a condo at the Mountain House or Gant and splitting it amongst fellow travelers is a good value option. Although Aspen has the best of the best there are still deals out there for the budget traveler.

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Eating

There are too many to list here but some of the locals favorites are Jimmy’s Steakhouse and the Takah Sushi. Be warned though dining here is expensive. Try the bar menus at upscale restaurants for the best deals. For a quick affordable bite check out Johnny McGuire’s, they make awesome sandwiches. Another healthy budget option is Clark’s Market.

Apres Ski & Nightlife

Don’t miss Eric’s for youth inspired rabble rousing and beautiful women shooting pool. The Belly Up is an amazing venue to see live music, don’t miss it. For nightly dancing with different ambience and Dj’s there’s the Chelsea Club and Lava Room.

Pro’s & Con’s

Pro’s Con’s
Not crowded compared to other large resorts. Dangerous out of bounds avalanche prone areas due to Colorado conditions.
Variety of terrain. Average of 760 cm pow in a year
World-class parks, pipes and nightlife. Expensive resort prices.

Life is full of trade-offs, compromises and sacrifices. When lam on vacation I want to have my cake and be able to eat it too. I feel fortunate to live here. Where else can you have it all?

Shopping

Again, check Clark’s Market for healthy, budget food. The boutique-style snowboard stores here offer street clobber at a fraction of high Street prices (once you’ve maxed out your credit card buying that $ 9000 bronzed cougar for your home!

Health & Wellbeing

The Aspen Health Club and Spa and Remede Spa at the St Regis will not disappoint, or be cheap.

Internet Access

There’s a café next to the City Market although free wireless is available throughout most of the town.

Transfer Options

From Denver, Colorado Mountain Express is a good option if you don’t want to rent a car. Upon arrival in the Aspen Valley area there are free bus shuttles that run between the different mountains and around town.

Local Partners

No local partners.

Children

Aspen’s children’s facilities are predictably great. As well as a huge program of lessons at the Ski and Snowboard School, Snowmass has a family zone and there are great babysitting facilities.

Bad Weather Days

Hit up Snowmass, preferably with a local. There are some incredible tree runs here, although you won’t find the best ones by accident.

Avoid

Aspen, Buttermilk and Snowmass, if you want to avoid your fellow tourists. For the locals, it’s Highlands all the way.

An Interesting Little Fact

Hunter S Thompson’s Owl Farm residence is still in Aspen. Sadly, he passed away recently and was blasted into the stars on the back of a rocket, but you can still go and pay tribute to the great man.

Don’t Miss

Snowmass has some pretty serious freeriding, if you know where to look. Take the top drag and try and make some friends with the locals while you’re all hiking up and admiring the view.

Local Tips

Do Don’t
Party as hard as they ride. Ever come just for one season.
Work two or three jobs to live in the area. Head up early, cold temperatures mean it’s bulletproof until midday.
Pay homage to the shrines located amongst the four mountains. Hang around in the off-season.

Events

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Jen is a correspondent for Outside, Ski and Snowboarding magazines and a frequent contributor to the New York Times travel section. Her work has been featured in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing and other anthologies. She has reported from seven continents, loves languages, and is based in British Columbia, Canada.

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