Aspen/Snowmass Ski Area
The Aspen/Snowmass ski area is made up of four distinct mountains: flagship Aspen Mountain, challenging Aspen Highlands, diverse Snowmass, and beginner-friendly Buttermilk.
While Aspen attracts a large clientele that is less interested in the actual skiing, and more interested in being seen in fashion ski wear, Aspen also attracts an equally large clientele that is absolutely dedicated to big mountain skiing. Aspen has one of the richest ski histories in the world, dating back to the early 1900s, shortly after the town was given its name. Over the last ~120 years, the area has matured to include four major resorts – Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass – with over 5,500 skiable acres and 340 trails, accessible all on one lift ticket, all by free shuttle. If these mountains were connected, these 5,500 acres would make Aspen Snowmass the 4th largest ski resort in North America.
To interpret the stats, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands are where locals and experts alike spend most of their time (there is NO beginner terrain at either mountain). Conversely, Buttermilk is a heaven for beginner and intermediate skiers. Snowmass has an equal amount of intermediate and expert terrain and tends to be where visiting families spend the bulk of their time.
Aspen's attention to detail is world class. They do the little things right: from trail maps on the chairlifts and excellent trail signage, to suntan lotion, hot cider and water on top of Ajax, you'll be sure to notice the small touches.
Aspen also has some of the most reliable weather in the country, and the best brilliant blue sky. Temperatures average 30°F (-1°C) during the day and around 18°F (-7°C) at night, while spring temperatures can reach an enjoyable 50°F (10°C) and higher during the day.
Getting from mountain to mountain is simple, free and easy. Aspen offers bus service connecting the four mountains with each other and downtown Aspen. The buses run regularly and stop at a number of convenient locations. Consult the RFTA website, or the map in Ruby Park for more information about schedules and stops.
Suing and being sued in the U.S. is an occupational hazard so it is not surprising that safety is paramount in the area, with a ski patrol on each mountain, and a surfeit of ropes, signs, poles, avalanche safety measures and speed controls.
Built on top of hundreds of miles of old silver mining tunnels is Aspen Mountain, aka Aspen, aka Ajax. With a base elevation just shy of 8,000 ft, and a summit of just over 11,200, it’s wild to have 3,200 vertical rising from as large a downtown as Aspen. Only Park City and Telluride come to mind as comparable experiences outside of the Alps, but those two have yet to reach their 75th anniversaries that Aspen celebrated in the 2021/2022 season.
Aspen Mountain is also notable in that there are zero beginner trails across its 675 acres of skiable terrain. Absolutely zero. There are two main access areas, the Silver Queen Gondola in the center of town (14 min from bottom to top), and Shadow Mountain / Lift 1A at the top of S. Aspen Street. (Note: the last tenth of a mile to the lift is a bit of a hike uphill). The gondola goes to the peak, while Lift 1A gets you about a third of the way uphill. From Lift 1A, most skiers connect to Ruthie’s express quad to get higher and access other areas of the mountain.
When trying to understand the trail map, it’s best to think of Aspen as a place with blue trails that generally give you access to super steep, but generally short, double black diamond chutes or glades. There are a few key areas to remember: Ajax, Ruthie’s, The Dumps, Bell Mountain (Face, Back, Shoulder and Nose), Gent’s Ridge, North Star and Shadow Mountain.
The mountain faces North, so will be sunny most of the day. Areas that face East (North Star, Back of Bell, and the Dumps) will get sun starting in the early morning, so the snow will get heavier later in the day. On the flip side, those areas facing West (Gent’s Ridge and Face/Shoulder/Nose of Bell) which are in shadow until the afternoon, will have harder snow until they soften up towards the end of the day.
While there is no big bowl skiing as in Highlands or Snowmass, you can link together several trails to make your legs feel like there is. For example, from the peak, take one of the North Star chutes (keep your speed up on the last little pitch of Lud’s Lane), then make your way down the Gent’s Ridge trail to either the Jackpot or Bingo glades. Alternatively, start from the peak, make your way to Bell Mountain, and then meander your way, staying high, from the Back side to the Ridge to the Nose.
Overall, Aspen Mountain is the heart and soul of the big four resorts, with enough advanced trails to keep away large crowds of beginners – and keep locals and experts coming back day after day.
With so much expert terrain already at Aspen Mountain, it is no surprise that when Highlands opened in 1958, Buttermilk also opened the same year to finally provide beginner terrain to locals and visitors in the area. It is located just 3 miles (5 km) outside downtown Aspen, and accessible by free shuttle.
Despite its beginner reputation, Buttermilk attracts some of the biggest expert skiers/snowboarders in the world, as it hosts several competitions each year, including the Winter X Games and the Freeski and Snowboard World Championships. The halfpipe and big air jumps are right at the main base of the mountain, providing inspiration for the first-time skiers and boarders going up the Summit Express.
The mountain is divided into three main areas (Tiehack, Main Buttermilk and West Buttermilk) anchored by three main high-speed quads (the Tiehack Express, the Summit Express, and the West Buttermilk Express). Tiehack has the more intermediate and advanced beginner terrain; the Summit/Main face have a mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced beginner terrain; and West Buttermilk is the flattest and easiest area of the three.
Because Buttermilk is a beginner hill, it has lots of fun areas designed specifically for children, including Fort Frog near the peak, and the Hideout at the base. It also happens to attract uphillers looking for a great workout, and the mountain often hosts events for those who skin up for breakfast and dinner.
Similar to Buttermilk, Highlands is also located about 3 miles (5 km) from downtown Aspen, and is accessible by free shuttle (although is on a different bus line). Aspen Highlands' 970 acres (393 ha) feature stunning views of the world-famous Maroon Bells, and offers affordable lodgings, dining and shopping.
Other than spraying champagne on strangers at Cloud Nine, Aspen Highlands’ second most famous activity is hiking the legendary Highland Bowl. However, the mountain has a wide selection of lift-accessible expert terrain if hiking up to 12,000 feet is not your jam. For example, the glades off Deep Temerity are some of the longest and constantly steep pitched glades I’ve skied (the shortest runs are just shy of 1700 vertical).
Other than Highlands Bowl, the mountain is essentially one big ridge line, with distinct areas falling to skier’s left or right. Temerity and Steeple Chase face East-ish (sun throughout most of the day, but shade in the afternoon, while Olympic Bowl faces West (sun only in the afternoon). Most of the runs under Cloud Nine and Exhibition Lifts face North/North-West. Similar to Aspen Mountain, there are no easy trails at Highlands, so beginners beware, although the blues are more gentle than at Aspen.
Because of the different aspects throughout Highlands, and the number of glades throughout the hill that protect runs from wind, Highlands does an excellent job of holding onto its snow. Even if the bowl doesn’t open until the day after a storm due to avalanche concerns, you’ll have plenty of powder stashes to crush in the meantime.
The Highland Bowl
The start of the bowl hike is to the left of the Ski Patrol building at Lodge Peak. A snow cat is available to take skiers 1/3rd of the way up the hill before having to do the rest on foot. However, if cat isn’t running, you’ll have to hike (or skin) the entire 782 vertical feet to access the 270 acres of skiing.
Fun fact about how they prep the bowl each season to make it safe for the public. Since the bowl is too steep for snowcats, volunteers “boot pack” the snow instead. Meaning, after early snowfalls, volunteers spread out across the bowl, and walk down arm-in-arm, taking waist-deep steps into the snow to pack it down. Once they get to the bottom, they take the lift back up and tackle the next section. By compressing the different layers of snow into a more stable slab, dangerous slides can be avoided later in the season. If you volunteer for 15 full days, you earn a season pass for your efforts. There is an incredibly strong local tradition around this major public service.
If you’re new to hiking, here are some good things to know about hiking in general:
- While you may find it comfortable to carry your skis over your shoulder from the car to the base, you’ll find this method generally unfit for longer, steeper walks. If you don’t have a ski-carrying pack or ski-straps, you can purchase a pair at the Ski Patrol building next to the start of the hike. (They also sell t-shirts and belts in a wide variety of colors which make excellent souvenirs or gifts. Plus, all proceeds go to the patrol fund.)
- It is common courtesy to allow hikers behind you to pass if they have a faster pace. If you need to stop to take a breath, step aside to let others pass.
- It's highly recommend bringing water and making sure you’re dressed appropriately. You’ll likely be warm on the way up, but will cool down towards the top – especially if it’s a windy day. Sunglasses and sunscreen are also helpful at this altitude.
Here’s what you need to know specifically about hiking the Highlands Bowl:
- The hike takes on average 45 min, with faster climbers reaching the peak in 30 min, and slower ones taking at least an hour. (The fastest recorded time is 14 min and 41 seconds!).
- Once you reach the end of the groomed section (about 10-15 min walk), there’s no turning back, as the route narrows to single file width.
- There are ropes / chains in the trickiest of sections, so if you’re afraid of heights you’ll have some support.
- The bowl is divided into four zones; the south-facing R(ed) zone which receives the greatest amount of sun exposure, with Y(ellow) zone following, then B(lue) zone and finally, the coolest north-facing G(reen) zone.
- Eighteen named runs fall down the ridge line, with pitches ranging from 35°-48°. In low-snowfall seasons, the first couple of trails and gates you’ll pass on the way to the peak may not be open.
- All runs on the bowl funnel down to the Deep Temerity Lift, but the run out can be a bit of a leg burner.
Located just 9 miles (15 km) from downtown Aspen, and also accessible via free shuttle, not only is Snowmass the largest of the four Aspen mountains, but it is also the second largest mountain resort in Colorado with 3,128 acres (1,266 ha). Here, you'll find the greatest diversity of terrain, with hundreds of acres of beginner trails, steep expert runs and wide-open cruisers. It would be hard not find a perfect trail no matter your ability level.
Snowmass Base Village is at the nexus of the bottom of the Elk Camp Gondola and Village Express six-pack, featuring shops, restaurant and lodging. The Snowmass Mall is located just a little further up, with many of the same amenities. Another base area, known as Two Creeks, is a great spot for locals and visitors not staying at Snowmass, to park and access the hill – avoiding the more crowded Village and Mall areas.
Snowmass has four distinct peaks, and two large mid-mountain areas. Starting from skiers right, the Elk Camp Gondola (from the Village Base) or Two Creeks chair, takes you to the Elk Camp quad, Elk Camp Restaurant and Snowmass’ Tubing and Alpine Coaster center. You can either ski the gentle blues and greens back down to the base areas, or take the Elk Camp quad to the Elk Camp Peak (11,325 ft | 3,452 M), where you can access several blues (generally groomed) as well as hike-able terrain known as Burnt Mountain. Burnt Mountain has a great upper area that stays relatively fresh due to the 10-15 min hike, but has a very long run-out that is quite the leg burner.
The next peak, High Alpine (11,880 ft | 3,612 M) accessible from the High Alpine Chair (which is most easily accessed by taking the Alpine Springs chair) provides access to some of the best expert terrain at the mountain: Hanging Valley. Entering this area requires a flat 10 min walk, which is well worth it to explore a mix of glades, ridges and steeps. If you get into Hanging Valley, you’ll most likely end up at the Elk Camp or Alpine Springs chairs, so just note that it’s not a quick lap. The blues off Alpine Springs are long, wide and rollie – a very fun area to lap on a blue-bird day.
The next peak, Big Burn (11,835 ft | 3,607 M), is accessed from both the Sheer Bliss and Big Burn high-speed quads. From both chairs you can get to The Cirque (aka Le Cirque) poma chair, which gives skiers access to the Cirque Headwall, Snowmass’ version of big bowl skiing. The multiple entrances to the headwall all funnel down into a super fun gulley, that gets you back to the base of the Sheer Bliss chair. You can also ski down from the top of the Cirque to Hanging Valley, avoiding the walk into that expert area. If you stick to the runs under the Sheer Bliss and Big Burn chairs, you’ll have your pick of glades, gullies, ridges and wide-open blues. An entire day can be spent just on these chairs.
The last peak, Sam’s Knob (10,630 ft | 3,240 M), is accessible from the Village Express six-pack. Once up top, you can take long, wide open blues and gentle greens all the way back to the Village or Mall, or lap the blacks that go to the Sam’s Knob high-speed quad. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can ski all the way down to Campground, but just know that this is 2nd lowest elevation of the mountain, so will have the most sun-affected snow on the hill. (Two Creeks base is lower, but the greens leading down there are all flat and gentle, whereas the runs to Campground are more challenging).
The Coney Glade chair stands out as the best way to access Snowmass’ four terrain parks, as well as the Nastar Race Course, and children’s Race Arena & Lizard Lodge.
Snowmass is the most family-friendly mountain of the four in the area, with super fun kids' trails complete with humorous signs, a fake gold mine, and life size cutouts of rangers, miners, and animals. The Treehouse Kids Adventure Center is the hub for all of Snowmass’ kids programs. (Kids under 6 ski free at Snowmass!)
Accessible by free shuttle from anywhere in the Aspen/Snowmass area, Snowmass is located just nine miles (15 km) from downtown Aspen and 95 percent of Snowmass's accommodations are ski-in, ski-out.
The whole ski area and the award-winning Ski & Snowboard Schools of Aspen are operated by the Aspen Skiing Company. Contact 800-525-6200 or 970-925-1220, or you can visit the websites at www.skiaspen.com and www.aspensnowmass.com.
Aspen Snowmass Ski Lifts & Lift Passes
Lines are generally not a problem in Aspen/Snowmass: even if every single guest were on the slopes at the same time, the mountains would still average just three people per acre.
With four distinct mountains (one for beginners, two for experts, and one for everyone), Aspen Snowmass keeps people spread out and moving. Lift lines are generally not a problem, and while lines at the bases can be longer on Holidays, it’s still nothing compared to other i-70 ski resorts. Even if lodging was at full capacity, and every single guest were on the slopes at the same time, the mountains would still average only three people per acre.
Aspen Mountain has 7 chairlifts and one 6-person gondola (Silver Queen), with a total capacity of moving 13,400 passengers per hour. Lifts are generally open from 9:00am to 3:30pm or 4:00pm (depending on time of year), with the last gondola ride down at 4:30pm.
Snowmass has 12 chairlifts, 2 gondolas, 2 surface lists and 4 moving carpets. As the largest of the four resorts, total capacity is an impressive 32,165 passengers per hour. Lifts open at either 8:30am (Assay Hill, Village Express, Sam’s Knob) or 9:00am (all others), and close at either 3:30pm or 4:00pm.
Buttermilk has 4 chairlifts (three high-speed quads and one double chair) and one magic carpet, carrying 6,900 passengers per hour. All are open from 9:00am – 3:30pm.
Aspen Highlands has a simple 5 chairlift system, including three high speed quads, and two triple chairs, carrying 7,085 passengers per hour. All lifts are open from 9:00am – 3:30pm.
Aspen Snowmass' lift pass covers all four mountain areas, and guests may have their equipment stored overnight and transferred to any of the four mountains for the next morning. In addition to a wide variety of season pass options, Aspen Snowmass also accepts Ikon and Mountain Collective passes. Children 6 and under ski and ride for free. Lift tickets are available at some lodges and rental shops, at the base of each mountain, or through the official website at www.aspensnowmass.com
Aspen Snowmass Ski Equipment Rental
Surrounding the base area of each mountain, as well as within downtown Aspen, you will find a plethora of rental equipment shops. Local shops, including Miller Sports, Hamilton and Stapleton compete with SkiCo’s Four Mountain Sports – and all offer standard, premium and demo packages. For custom boot fitting, check out Surefoot in downtown Aspen or Snowmass, BOOTech at Highlands or Thotic Shops inside Aspen Sports at Snowmass.
Aspen Snowmass Beginner Skiing
The smooth, rolling terrain make Buttermilk the quintessential beginner's mountain.
Those new to Aspen Snowmass might be surprised to learn that Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands offer no beginner terrain whatsoever. That's ok, though, because Snowmass and Buttermilk are a beginner's dream.
Buttermilk is the best place for beginners: it's located 3 miles (5 km) from the center of Aspen and is the quintessential learner's mountain known for smooth, rolling terrain. The mountain consists of three sections: Main Buttermilk, Tiehack, and West Buttermilk.
Main Buttermilk is its central part and has a selection of green and blue trails. Tiehack is located off the east ridge and is considered an advanced area where intermediates head to master steeper slopes, bumps and powder. Be forewarned, however, the Tiehack chair is VERY slow and long - we'd recommend avoiding it on cold days. West Buttermilk's rolling terrain comprises mostly easy green trails and is a favorite among first-timers. It's also a favorite among hikers, snowshoers and other uphillers for a great workout at any time of day or night. Spectacular views of Pyramid Peak, Highlands, Snowmass, Capitol Peak, Mt. Daly and Mt. Sopris await guests at its summit.
Kids love Max the Moose, Buttermilk's friendly purple mascot, and Fort Frog, an adventure center that features a Western-style fort and Native American Village where they can explore specially designated trails. Panda Peak, the learning hill at the base of Buttermilk, is another kid magnet because it's where beginners make their first turns in the children's ski school. Beginners are encouraged to enjoy a complete ski experience. Often they start in specific beginner-friendly areas and as their confidence and ability increase, they move to more challenging areas of the mountain.
Aspen Snowmass Intermediate Skiing
Almost half the terrain over all four mountain ski areas is suitable for intermediates, with excellent cruising on Aspen Mountain, at Aspen Highlands and in Snowmass.
At Aspen Mountain, intermediate skies can focus their attention on the blues off of the Ajax Express, and try their hand at short bump runs off Bell Mountain, including Sunrise/Sunset.
The best area for intermediate skiers at Aspen Highlands is near the top of the mountain, where the Cloud Nine lift accesses trails such as Scarlett's, Grand Prix and Gunbarrel. Golden Horn and Thunderbowl offer enjoyable cruising.
The most intermediate terrain is at Snowmass, which is home to a multitude of wide-open groomed blues and blacks (particularly off of Elk Camp, Alpine Springs and Big Burn), plus several glade areas with a gentle pitch and widely-spaced trees (Powerline and Sneaky’s Glades). Burnt Mountain also has a unique offering for intermediates looking to get a taste of the backcountry: a 10-minute hike leading to Glades and Long Shot, a trail that winds three miles (5 km) through the forest.
Aspen Snowmass Expert Skiing
Expert skiing in Aspen can be boiled down to moguls and steeps on Aspen Mountain, steep off-piste at Highlands Bowl and Snowmass's Hanging Valley and Cirque. Aspen Snowmass's expert skiing is world class.
Aspen Mountain Expert Skiing
For those in search of moguls and steep, deep couloirs, Aspen Mountain has short, sharp and quite steep double black diamond (and very difficult) chutes, including the famous "dump trails" such as Bear Paw, Short Snort and Zaugg Dump, which were created by miners throwing out spoil as they tunneled their way into the mountain. The dump trails are tight, technical and steep - sure to challenge even the best. Walsh's is considered the most challenging trail on Aspen Mountain. Bell Mountain, part of Aspen Mountain, provides first-rate opportunities for mogul skiers with its variety of individual faces, including Face of Bell, Shoulder of Bell, and Back of Bell. Skiers also relish the breathtaking views of downtown Aspen as they descend Ajax.
Aspen Highlands Expert Skiing
Highlands has exhilarating steeps, trees, and powder bowls that challenge and delight advanced skiers and riders. Temerity, between Steeplechase and the Y-Zones, is the ultimate in tree riding. Mushroom Chutes, Thermals, and South Castle Chute in Temerity are not for the faint of heart and are sure to produce glory stories for even the most hardcore skiers and riders. The Olympic Bowl side of the mountain (Oly to the locals) has the aptly named Deception and the No Name Chutes for challenging gladed skiing and riding. Highlands is the spot for big mountain freeskiing and freeriding.
Highlands Bowl is the steepest off-piste experience of any U.S. ski resort. Skiers and snowboarders have been flocking to Highlands to try out the new terrain. With the opening of Ozone, White Kitchen, and Be One in the early 2000's it finaly became possible to ski from the 12,392-foot (3,782 m) summit of the bowl on 40 to 45 degree slopes. The bowl offers deep-powder skiing after a snowstorm and is accessible via a 20 to 60 minute hike from the top of the Loge Peak chair. The hike can be shortened by 15 to 20 minutes by catching the free snowcat from Loge Meadow to the first access gate. The snowcat runs from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, conditions permitting. Check the board at the top accessed by both the Loge Peak and the new Deep Temerity lifts for more information.
Dropping in from the summit is just one of the choices. One thousand vertical feet (300 m) lower, some of the steepest terrain can be found in the Lower Y Zones. Between the Y Zones and the summit there are dozens of other choices. You can drop in anywhere along the ridge to the left via four access gates but you MUST observe closures at these gates. Be aware that the steep and narrow chutes of Maroon Bowl-to the right of the ridge-are uncontrolled, and that avalanches in this area have claimed many lives over the years.
Snowmass Expert Skiing
Snowmass's Hanging Valley has been called the closest thing to the backcountry without actually going out of bounds. Steeps, glades, cornices, cliffs, and deep snow all await those seeking thrills and spills. On a powder day, skiers and riders wait anxiously for ski patrol to drop the ropes and open the area. Because Snowmass is so big, powder stashes can be found on the mountain days after a major snowstorm. The off-piste experiences in the Hanging Valley, Burnt Mountain, and the Cirque are also ideal for advanced skiers and boarders.
The Cirque at Snowmass-a world of steeps, cornices, chutes and cliffs-is legendary among advanced skiers and boarders. Some say Snowmass is the most underestimated adventure mountain in the world. At 12,510 feet (3,815 m) above sea level, the Cirque provides a breathtaking experience. Skiers can explore the huge Cirque Headwall or come all the way around and take the steep shots down the East Wall. When the snow is deep, hop into Rock Island where you can link turns on or between the giant snow-covered boulders that look like huge marshmallows.
Cliff jumpers can get hang time on Hanging Valley Wall, Baby Ruth-and Gowdy's: with a huge cornice, narrow choke in the center and a wide open powder field at the bottom, this trail has it all. Don't forget AMF (some say it stands for "adios, my friend"), Garrett Gulch, and Bearclaw, and the locals' secret powder stash-Reidars' trees.
Aspen Snowmass Boarding & Freestyle
Aspen Snowmass has made snowboarding and freestyle a priority focus, by building multiple terrain parks, and becoming a premier host for extreme competitions, including two decades of hosting the Winter X Games.
Aspen Snowmass was one of the last U.S. resorts to open to snowboarders, but is now extremely boarder-friendly and makes every effort to welcome snowboarders and make their experience hassle-free. Benches and repair tools can be found on all mountains, and the gondolas and shuttle buses are all equipped to handle snowboards.
Snowmass' terrain park stands out as being of notably high quality with over 100 features for all abilities. Lowdown Park on Lower Blue Grouse trail along the Village Express lift is perfect for beginners and lower intermediates. Nearby, at Makaha Park, is the next step up the progression ladder, with about 25 intermediate and advanced features, including jumps and jibs. Below the Coney Lift is Snowmass Park, which includes around 40 medium to large features, and is the best place to spot current and future pro athletes.
As the host of the Winter X Games for the past two decades, as well as other large freestyle competitions, Buttermilk is the premier destination for extreme skiing and riding. There are seven parks, including several cross courses, spread across the mountain. The two Small/Medium parks are Red’s Rover, off the West Buttermilk Express lift has around 25 small and medium sized features, and the Teaser Park off the Summit Express lift as around 15 small and medium features. Chuck’s Park (aka Uncle Chucks’ Glades), accessible of the Summit Express and directly below Teaser Park, features more intermediate and advanced level features, while Jacob’s Ladder and X-Park feature advanced and expert features, including the famous 22-foot Zaugg cut Superpipe and Big Air Jump.
Aspen Snowmass Mountain Restaurants
Aspen Snowmass has a wide selection of on-mountain restaurants, many with large outdoor decks and great views, perfect for soaking up the frequent blue-bird days.
Aspen Mountain On-mountain Dining
There are only two on-mountain dining options at Aspen Mountain: The Sundeck at the peak, and Bonnie’s at mid-mountain.
The 23,000 square foot Sundeck has 200 seats across indoor and outdoor seating areas, all with incredible views of the surrounding area. Inside, you’ll find a walk-up cafeteria, separate bar and 360° fireplace. If you’re a member of the Aspen Mountain Club, you and your guests will have access to the private dining and bar room that takes up a wing of the building.
Bonnie’s is the last remaining privately owned restaurants in Aspen Snowmass since Gwyn’s at Snowmass became SkiCo’s High Alpine. Founded by German ski racer, Gretl Uhl, in the 1960s, Bonnie’s is famous for its homemade pancakes and pies, and its large sun-soaked front deck with picnic tables and reservable igloos. SkiCo will likely take over Bonnie’s lease when it ends in a few years, but hopefully the restaurant will retain its recipes and spirit.
While technically not on-mountain, there are two restaurants at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola, which are popular for breakfast, lunch, apres and dinner.
Aspen Highlands On-mountain Dining
Just like Aspen Mountain, there are only two on-mountain restaurants at Highlands: Merry-Go-Round and Cloud Nine.
Merry-Go-Round is located mid-mountain at the top of Exhibition lift, and is typical quick-serve cafeteria style lodge, with picnic tables set up facing back up the mountain for great people watching. Set inside a former ski patrol hut,
Cloud Nine has its own reputation, perhaps even more legendary than the Highland Bowl. During the earlier part of the day it is home to European style-food and table service, while later in the day it is home to mostly bottle service.
The Highlands Village also offers a few dining options, including the Ale House at the base, which is the host of the end-of season closing party.
Buttermilk On-mountain Dining
At the top of the Tiehack and Summit Express quads sits The Cliffhouse, a quick-serve cafeteria with phenomenal views of Pyramid Peak and the entire Maroon Creek Valley. At the main base, you’ll find Bumps, with an expansive deck looking right at the Superpipe.
While perhaps not technically considered on-mountain dining, the Inn at Aspen is located right at the base of Buttermilk, and is home to Home Team BBQ, a fun sports bar/restaurant serving trays of brisket, pulled pork and ribs.
Snowmass On-mountain Dining
Over at Snowmass, each peak/ski area has at least one on-mountain dining option. Two Creeks Café and Elk Camp are both grab & go restaurants on skier’s right of the hill. High Alpine (formerly Gwyn’s) and the smaller Alpin Room serve the Alpine Springs / High Alpine areas, and feature grab & go as well as an outdoor grill. As you move skier’s left, you’ll find Ullrhof (grab & go-style menu) at the base of the Big Burn chair, and Up4Pizz at the top (Pizza and fresh cookies). Sam’s is the mountain’s only sit-town table service restaurant, featuring a mostly Italian menu (reservations recommended). Lynn Britt Cabin, mid-mountain off Velvet Falls under the Village Express lift, has both indoor and outdoor seating, including heated igloos. The Village Base and Mall areas also have a wide variety of dining options, including soups at The Stew Pot, breakfast burritos at Fuel Coffee, and pizza at Slice Pizza.
Aspen Snowmass Village
The Aspen Snowmass area is one of the most upscale ski resorts on the planet, anchored by downtown Aspen and the smaller villages at Highlands and Snowmass.
Downtown Aspen is just over 1 mile (1.6 km) long, from the mostly residential West End to the mostly commercial East End, and about half a mile (.8km) wide from North to South. The north side of town hugs the Roaring Fork River, and is home to the popular Benedict Music Tent, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and the John Denver Sanctuary (all best enjoyed during the summer months). The entire south side of town hugs Aspen Mountain, with primary access to the hill via the 8-passenger Silver Queen Gondola, and secondary access via the Shadow Mountain double chair, locally known as Lift 1A.
The main commercial area is sandwiched between S. Monarch Street on the West and Original Street on the East. Main Street and Durant Avenue are the North and South borders. Aspen is unique from other ski towns in the U.S. as you will find everything from truly local boutiques, gear shops and dispensaries to outposts of some of the most luxury brand names in the world, and a world-renowned art museum. Nowhere else do back-country outfitters fit as naturally amongst high-end art galleries as in Aspen. There is also a multi-screen movie theater, opera house, ice-rink and several parks.
There is also a shopping area at Snowmass, at both the Village and Mall areas. However, this area is mostly filled with gear shops, restaurants, and dispensaries, rather than having the broader variety of stores that’s available in downtown Aspen. An even smaller village is at Highlands.
Skiing in Aspen Snowmass can be very expensive (if you go five-star) but it can also be affordable. If you're on a tight budget it is cheaper to stay in Snowmass or Highlands or commute from one of three more modest towns up to half an hour away. And there are the occasional freebies such as complimentary mountain tours, free shuttles between the four mountains, and free coffee and cookies at the base of the mountains.
Aspen Snowmass Bars & Restaurants
In Aspen, it’s so easy to start with après, go right into dinner and then just keep on partying without ever taking off your ski boots, that you’ll think you’re in the Alps.
Aspen Mountain Apres-Ski
Before the mountain closes, especially on a blue bird day, stop at the Sundeck for a drink and enjoy the incredible view of the Highland Bowl and Maroon Bells. As it stays lighter, longer into the afternoon, this place becomes more and more popular.
At the base, Ajax Tavern and Chica (new for 2021/2022) offer a livelier scene and incredible people watching. If you venture past the base area for a drink, consider Aspen Tap/Aspen Brewery, Silver City or Zane’s Tavern for a typical bar ambiance or something more cozy at The Wine Bar (Little Nell) or 39° Lounge (W Hotel).
If you’re in the mood for cocktails, head to Hooch (modern), 7908 (theatrical) or the Living Room at Hotel Jerome (classic). To end the night dancing, head to Bootsy Bellows or Belly Up, which is a fantastic concert venue that attracts world-renowned entertainers (book tickets early).
On the legal side, you must be 21 years old to drink alcohol, and you cannot walk the street with an open container of alcohol. Children can accompany their parents in restaurants but not in bars or clubs which, by the way, shut at 2:00 am.
Aspen Highlands Apres Ski
The most famous apres-ski in North America is probably Aspen Highland’s Cloud Nine. Reservations are required, and if you’re at the second seating of the day, make sure you’re wearing something that you don’t mind being soaked in champagne.
Down at the base, Highlands Alehouse is a great spot for pizza, beer and to watch other skiers come down for the day.
Snowmass Apres Ski
Due to the size of Snowmass resort, there are a lot of options for ending your ski day with a beverage. If you don’t want to ski down for drinks, check out Venga Venga, Ranger Station (both at the top of the brightly colored Sky Cab in the Mall area) or Base Camp (bottom of the Sky Cab). If you want to stay mid-mountain, check out Lynn Britt Cabin, which is bathed in sun with a great view of the race course. Elk Camp Lodge, at the top of the Two Creeks lift, also stays sunny late into the afternoon.
Aspen Snowmass Restaurants
Another one of the best parts about Aspen is the depth and breadth of the restaurants in the area – ranging from coffee and sandwich shops to fine dining and unique ‘back-country’ experiences.
There are several great coffee options in Downtown Aspen, including Local Coffee, Ink Coffee, Bear Den and Gorsuch Café right at the base of the gondola.
Some more casual dining in downtown Aspen include Grateful Deli, Big Wrap, Jour de Fete and CP Burger. Outside of the core, head over to the Aspen Business Center just across the street from the airport, which has the French Pastry Café, Louis Swiss Pastry, and Mawa’s Kitchen.
The list of premium dining in Aspen is long, but some of the most popular places include Clarke’s Oyster Bar, Ellina, Meat & Cheese, Hotel Jerome (J-Bar), White House Tavern, Casa Tua, Betula, Matsuhisa and Home Team BBQ at the base of Buttermilk.
If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, make a reservation at Pine Creek Cookhouse, which is only accessible by cross country ski/snowshoe or classic horse drawn sleighs.
Aspen Snowmass Other Activities
Downtown Aspen, and the shopping areas at Snowmass are great for walking and window shopping, but the area also features a wider range of activities including art shows, ice skating, snow tubing, fat biking and ice climbing.
One of the best parts about visiting Aspen Snowmass is the breadth of activities available other than skiing or snowboarding. In addition to shopping in Downtown Aspen, there are a multitude of art galleries that show renowned artists, as well as the formidable Aspen Art Museum with major shows and events each season. The ISIS theater in downtown shows several movies each day, and the Wheeler Opera House also has a vibrant events calendar. Belly Up is a fantastic concert venue, bringing in world-famous bands and DJs each week. If ice skating is your thing, there is an outdoor rink in downtown (Silver Circle), and two indoor rinks (Aspen Ice Garden in downtown) and the Lewis Ice Arena at the Aspen Recreation Center on Maroon Creek Road. The Rec Center also has a climbing tower and aquatic center.
There is also 90km of free cross country trails, anchored by the Aspen Cross Country Center at the Aspen Public Golf Course, where you can rent equipment, take a lesson or have a guided tour. There are also hundreds of miles of trails in the area for hiking, snow shoeing or fat biking, including the popular Rio Grande and Smuggler Mountain trails. Lastly, Aspen Expeditions runs ice climbing tours if ascending waterfalls is of interest.