Four separate mountains with four distinct moods, Aspen/Snowmass is big on superlatives: its mountains offer some of the steepest off-piste experience of any U.S. ski resort as well as outrageous bumps, steeps, pipes, and chutes for boarders.
Nestled within The White River National Forest in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, the U.S. ski resort of Aspen/Snowmass is rightly one of the premier destinations in the world. Aspen Mountain is actually part of a four-resort complex which also includeds Buttermilk, Snowmass, and Aspen Highlands. Combined, the four resorts are known as "Aspen/Snowmass".
Aspen Mountain itself is not for the faint-hearted nor the absolute beginner, who would be better off aiming for Snowmass, which is nine miles (15 km) away from downtown Aspen and more tuned-in for families. Just three miles (5kn) from town, Buttermilk is home to the X-games and is best suited to beginners and intermediates. Nearby, Aspen Highlands caters to advanced and expert skiers looking to test their mettle on some of the steepest, most extreme ski runs in North America.
The village of Aspen has long been regarded as one of America's premier ski towns. The town predated the skiing and is noted for its Victorian architecture, posh hotels, world-class restaurants and sky-high prices. A favorite destination for the American (and European) elite, movie stars are a frequent sight in town as are members of royal families. Aspen's downtown area is the hub of its nightlight and home to its best restaurants.
Just a few miles from the village of Aspen itself is Snowmass. Snowmass is the largest of Aspen's four largest ski mountains and also home to most of its bedbase. While lodging prices are almost as high in Snowmass as in Aspen itself, there are far more options. In the evenings, Snowmass is certainly a sleepier alternative and most of the better restaurants and almost all of the more rambuncous ski partying is in Aspen itself.
Many people who prefer to stay in an authentic Colorado town choose to stay in Aspen, while families and those who are looking for a little bit roomier accomodations tend to prefer Snowmass.
At Aspen, one ticket allows you to experience four mountains-Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk-each with its own personality. That's 5,206 acres (2,107 ha) of terrain, 44 lifts, 339 trails, thousands of feet of vertical drop, hundreds of inches of fresh snow and endless blue skies-all within a 12-mile (20 km) radius and accessible by free shuttle. And the sky really is blue: if you ski powder you really need brilliant sunshine and this resort has plenty of both: 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.
The slopes are graded-easiest to hardest-green, blue, black diamond and double black diamond. Around 10 percent are graded beginner, 48 percent intermediate, 21 percent advanced, and 21 percent "strictly for the experts." Buttermilk is the best place to learn, indeed there is no expert terrain there. Conversely, Aspen Mountain has no beginner terrain. Know your limits and take your choice.
Aspen's attention to detail is world class. They do the little things right From trail maps on the chairlifts to suntan lotion, hot cider and water on top of Ajax, you'll be sure to notice the small touches.
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 trail maps 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.
The flagship Aspen Mountain rises imposingly out of the heart of downtown Aspen to 11,212 feet (3,147 m) and covers 673 acres (272 ha). Now open to snowboarding, the mountain is known for steeps and bumps and is a favorite among many upper-intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders. Intermediate cruising is a delight on the wide open Ruthie's Run, accessing the world's only high-speed double chair. The Silver Queen Gondola transports skiers to the summit in only 14 minutes, providing access to a number of activities, including world-class skiing, guided snowshoe tours and paragliding. Aspen Mountain offers great steeps and long blue cruisers, but beginners beware! Aspen Mountain has no green trails, so if you're looking for a mountain for a mixed ability group, Snowmass is a better choice.
Buttermilk is located just three miles (5 km) outside Aspen, and is the tamest of the four mountains. Most of the mountain is groomed each night and the terrain generally quite gentle. It is virtually impossible to define to Buttermilk. On one hand, it's the quintessential beginner's mountain known for smooth, rolling trails. But if that's Buttermilk, then why do all the locals pound down "Tiehack Parkway" when there's a foot (30 cm) of fresh snow? Well, the Tiehack trail has steep left-handed funnels and glades that make it anything but beginner's country, even if the main fall lines are easy (and what is wrong with that?) And how about the freeriders' Buttermilk? It's home to a superpipe and one of the world's longest terrain parks from the top of the mountain to the base, Crazy T'rain, nearly two miles (3 km) long and features dozens of hits and over 30 rails. The Crazy T'rain Park has also been home to ESPN Winter X Games since 2002. A sound system has been installed near the superpipe and the X Games Slopestyle Course constructed for all to ride. There is also a new beginner terrain park S3 on Larkspur.
Located just three miles (5 km) from downtown Aspen and accessible by free shuttle, Aspen Highlands' 970 acres (393 ha) feature stunning views of the world-famous Maroon Bells, and the new Highlands Village offers affordable lodgings, dining and shopping.
Undeniably funky and old school, Aspen Highlands is where the locals go to get humbled. At Highlands, there are wide-open trails and killer views-enough to keep an intermediate happy for a month, even greens you could send your mother down. But experience its hike-accessible terrain just once, and you'll be amazed. Beyond the lift network and a short hike from the top of the Loge Peak lift, Highland Bowl features some of the steepest terrain in the United States. Even without hiking, Aspen Highlands will be sure to challenge even the most advanced expert. Check out the unrelenting steeps and bumps of Steeplechase - over 1500 vertical feet of heart-pounding and leg-burning expert bliss.
For years Highland Bowl stood grand and empty, an enticing, snowy siren, inviting, but off limits. 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.
The bowl has a rich history. In 1981 the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol was allowed to open the bowl for guided hiking tours and for the next three years backcountry skiers gained access to the bowl, but this all ended when three ski patrollers were killed in 1984. For the next 13 years the bowl remained closed except for the gladed trails in the Temerity area off the lower ridge.
The R-zone remains closed but the lower Y-zone was reopened in 1997 and gradually since then the patrol has opened the B-zone (allowing descents from the 12,392 foot/3,777 m peak) and a small part of the G-zone in 2001. From the peak the fall line has pitches of up to 48 degrees and is prime avalanche terrain. To safely open the area the ski patrol and local volunteers descend into the bowl (sometimes clipped into a belay!) and compress the snow step by step as they walk down and back up the mountain. The patrol does this with each new snowfall for the first few months of the winter to ensure that the weak Colorado snowpack forms a firm base. In the absence of these safety measures the bowl would be far too dangerous.
Snowmass has had its problems in the past, not least of which were having a mess of a base area, and a slightly soulless feel. Now Snowmass is getting back on top and offering the whole gamut of downhill experiences from gentle cruisers to scary steeps. In fact you'll find the greatest diversity of terrain among the four mountains here on Snowmass, the biggest of the four Aspen mountains. With hundreds of acres of beginner trails, steep expert runs,, wide open cruisers, endless moguls, terrain parks, and half-pipes Snowmass has a little bit of something for everyone.
Snowmass is the second largest mountain resort in Colorado and with 3,128 acres (1,266 ha), including glades, cruisers and bumps as well as three terrain parks and a halfpipe. It would be hard not find a perfect trail no matter your ability level. And as for getting up the slopes Snowmass has the longest lift-served vertical rise in the United States.
Snowmass recently broke ground on a new village located at the bottom of the Elk Camp gondola. The new "Disney-esque" mixed-use pedestrian village features shops, restaurant and lodging. In an era when so many new planned base village developments feel cookie cutter, Snowmass village stands out. As one local put it, "it's the happiest place on snow!" The shops and restaurants are unique, different and creative. Kids (and kids at heart) shouldn't miss The Sweet Life. During the day, the downstairs offers an unparalleled selection of candy and ice cream, while at night, the upstairs transforms into a nightspot serving up sweet adult libations. Also be sure to check out Junk, a casual restaurant where the ambiance is provided by various forms of "junk" such as bent silverware chandeliers and bar stools which face cases of discarded legos and toy cars. Slated to be completed within the next few years, the village will be the centerpiece of Snowmass and offer an experience to rival even downtown Aspen itself.
Snowmass is family-friendly skiing and more improvements are being made to the Family Zone on Snowmass. New interactive kids' trails have been added to the current kids' facilities that include a picnic shelter, training gates and sculpted moguls. Additionally, Snowmass has kids tree runs complete with humorous signs, a fake gold mine, and life size cutouts of rangers, miners, and animals! The Trenchtown terrain park at Snowmass will also double in size, running from top to bottom of the Coney Glade lift. The gem of Snowmass' childrens' programs, however is is the recently completed Treehouse Kid's Adventure Center. Located in the new base village Treehouse Tube Town at Snowmass offers tubing seven days a week, and tubing on Snowmass is open until 8:00 pm.
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.
If you're keen you can catch the first lift at 8:30 am and hop on the last lift at 3:45 pm. Lines are not a problem: even if lodgings were at full capacity, and every single guest were to be on the slopes at the same time-an unlikely scenario-the mountains would still average only three people per acre. The results for visitors are no long lift lines to wait in, and lots of open space in which to experience the wonderful exhilaration of skiing and riding. Aspen has eight lifts (including a gondola), Buttermilk has nine; Highlands five, and Snowmass 22.
The Deep Temerity triple chairlift opened for 2007/2008 with access to the new terrain around Canopy Cruiser opening for the 2008/2009 season. Deep Temerity rises 1,700 feet vertically in just over 7 minutes from the bottom of the Steeplechase area and represents a significant improvement to the skiing. If your legs will allow, it's now much eassier to lap Steeplechae and Higland Bowl.
Also new is the high-speed quad Sheer Bliss. Accessing 700 acres in the Snowmass Big Burn area, Sheer Bliss rise 2,212 vertical feet in around 9 minutes.
Aspen/Snowmass's lift pass covers all four mountain areas and guests may have their equipment transferred at the end of the day to any of the four mountains in Aspen/Snowmass for only US$5 (or for free if you rent from some Aspen ski shops) . The equipment will be waiting at the base of the mountain the next morning. Guests may also store their equipment overnight at any mountain.
There are no reduced price schemes, so everyone must buy a regular lift ticket (which requires an ID photo), but there is free skiing and boarding for children six years and under. Lift tickets are available at some lodges, at the base of each mountain, or through the offical website at www.aspensnowmass.com.
To rent or buy ski equipment, D&E Snowboard Shop & Ski Rental and Pro Mountain Sports have a complete selection of adult and children's ski and snowboard packages available at convenient locations at the base of each mountain, plus free inter-mountain equipment transfers. For a complete listing of equipment and pricing go to www.aspensnowmass.com.
Those new to Aspen/Snowmass might be surprised to learn that Aspen Mountain offers no beginner terrain whatsoever, while Aspen Highlands serves up only a limited selection of green runs. That's ok, though, because Snowmass and Buttermilk are a beginner's dream.
Buttermilk is the best place for beginners: it's located three 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.
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 longest intermediate trail is just over five miles (8.5 km) and is located in Snowmass, which is also the location for one other unique offering: the 10-minute hike to Burnt Mountain, with its backcountry style experience for intermediates on Long Shot, a trail that winds three miles (5 km) through forests. Long groomed intermediate trails such as the "mile-wide" Big Burn offer excellent cruising.
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 to be 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.
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'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, one of the last U.S. resorts to open to snowboarders, 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 of the mountains. The gondola and all the buses are equipped to handle snowboards. In total there are five terrain parks, two superpipes and one minipipe.
In particular, Snowmass' terrain park stands out as being of notably high quality. Buttermilk hosts the X-Games and even if the thought of hurling yourself off a jump the size of a three story house is enough to give you a panic attack, watching the pros do it is quite impressive.
The mountain restaurants in Aspen/Snowmass include some of the best in North America serving international, traditional, self-service and fast food. The Sundeck, at the top of Aspen Mountain, offers a good self-service menu, but the neighboring Aspen Mountain Club-one of the world's most exclusive clubs-is open only to members. At upper mid-mountain Bonnie's restaurant, with its famous two-tiered outdoor deck, is a popular hangout, and the newly-remodeled Ajax Tavern, at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola, is a favorite après-ski venue.
Buttermilk's Cliffhouse does an excellent stir-fry and the outdoor deck has renowned views of the Maroon Creek Valley.
On Aspen Highlands, the Cloud Nine Café, at the top of the high-speed quad, is a quaint Alpine-style chalet featuring excellent European food with table service and magnificent views. Mid-mountain the Merry-Go-Round has the largest outdoor deck in the valley. The village also offers a few restaurant options.
Over at Snowmass, Gwyn's High Alpine includes an elegant European-style restaurant and cafeteria-style self-service for guests on the move while Sam's Smokehouse has a new dining area with table service for 175 and beautiful views down the Brush Creek Valley. New for 2008-2009, Sneaky's Tavern in the new Snowmass Village offers up a wide variety of cuisine - we recommend soup and a sandwich with some of Sneaky's world-class French fries.
Aspen/Snowmass is chic and cozy with lodges and condominiums nestled right on the slopes. With the average home costing over four million U.S. dollars, Aspen/Snowmass is one of the most upscale ski resorts on the planet and a playground for the wealthy. Aspen/Snowmass is certainly not your run-of-the-mill destination and if you want it ritzy you can have it-rubbing shoulders with showbiz and sport celebrities, many of whom have homes here-but it is also a great ski area. Some come to Aspen/Snowmass just to see and be seen, but skiers and ski-bums in the know are coming here in increasing numbers to test themselves on Highlands, which boasts some incredibly challenging terrain, including spectacular backcountry access.
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 itself is a historic Victorian-era town and has restaurants, art galleries, stores and boutiques, along with an opera house, two movie theaters, an ice rink, and a skateboard park.
Aspen enjoys an international reputation for both its restaurants and its chefs, and many of the restaurants are also bars. In Aspen, options range from upscale and elegant (The Little Nell, Piñons, Renaissance, Olives in The St. Regis, and Syzygy) through to casual spots with lots of local flavor (the J-Bar, La Cocina, Boogie's and Su Casa). In between, Ajax Tavern, L'Hostaria, Mezzaluna, Jimmy's, and Blue Maize will satisfy culinary cravings with ease. Also if you're looking to stray a little from the beaten path, be sure to check out Zocalito's for excellent Latin/fusion cuisine in a fun and intimate atmosphere. Most of the dining in the downtown is within an easy walk of most lodging properties.
In Snowmass, top spots include Krabloonik, Sage, Village Steakhouse and La Boheme. Restaurants that add a little adventure to the dining experience include the ever-popular Pine Creek Cookhouse up Castle Creek Road.
Whatever kind of nightlife, Aspen/Snowmass's got it-from laid back to high glam-and heaps of it.
In Aspen/Snowmass, apres-ski has been around since the beginning. Skiers came off the mountain, skied right through town and parked on a barstool at the 100-year old Red Onion. Today the tradition continues with over 100 bars and restaurants offering après ski across town, in every price category and for every lifestyle.
Rated tops for après-ski by Ski magazine, Powder magazine and Playboy, whatever kind of nightlife, Aspen's got it; from wings and a pitcher of beer, or fondue with a mulled wine, through to a bottle of champagne and caviar, at Aspen/Snowmass there's an après for everyone. The place is chock full of restaurants, bars and nightlife from romantic dinners to social get-togethers, quiet tête-à-têtes or non-stop partying. Put on blue jeans, or designer gear-it doesn't matter as "wear whatever, anywhere" is what goes here.
Popular apres-ski hotspots include Ajax Tavern (both inside and outside on the deck in nice weather) and poolside at the Sky Hotel where you'll feel like you stepped into a little piece of the Playboy mansion. While most of the action is in downtown Aspen, if you find yourself in Snowmass, be sure to check out the chic and new "Liquid Sky" located in the new Snowmass Village. Zane's Tavern is also a popular choice with locals.
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.
With such an enormous variety of galleries and shops-including Chanel's highest-grossing store-there is something for every taste and pocket. Long renowned as an world leader in art, a stroll through the downtown will lead you past countless galleries. Even if Loro Piana cashmere sweaters are a bit out of your price range, the town is fun for window shopping or just walking around. Celebrity-spotting is also a fun pastime and here's a hint…you won't have to look to hard to spot one in Aspen/Snowmass!
Additionally, there are plenty of activities for non-skiers including daily snowshoe tours-led by naturalist guides-on Aspen Mountain, and in Snowmass at Two Creeks. Tours include easy walks along 11,000-foot (3,353-m) Richmond Ridge on the backside of Aspen Mountain, and follow a secluded, off-trail loop through the woods at Two Creeks. Along the way, mountain ecology, flora and fauna are explored and explained. Tours depart twice daily at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm.