Feature image photo credit, Catherine Aeppel, Aspen Ski Co.
Welcome to the land of Kevin Costner, Prada, extravagant dinners, and the absolute most legendary terrain in Colorado. Yes, this place is more than just its Tinder profile. Believe it or not, when you get to know Aspen you will probably fall in love. Hot tip: swipe right. (Don’t worry, you can still see other mountains. Relax).
Extravagance aside, Aspen’s place in skiing lore is secure. First there’s the happy geographic accident that separated the four mountains (Ajax, Buttermilk, Snowmass and Aspen Highlands) from the main skiing corridor in Colorado. That’s right folks, we’re talking about that hideous clogged artery of traffic AKA I-70. Though Aspen is a ways away from this mess, if you were a crow it would just take you a few good wing flaps to get from Summit County’s Breckenridge to Aspen, but alas, you’re a bipedal humanoid. 2.5 hour car ride it is.
Considering this relative isolation from the typical Colorado skier commute, we start to understand what makes this place so special. For the lucky few who call the Aspen Valley home, it’s a no-brainer. Now, let’s break it down a bit.
A Tale of Four Mountains
Aspen is made of four mountains—Ajax, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and off tucked away on it’s own is Snowmass—and each have their own unique flair. Ajax (also known as Aspen) is the closest to town and attracts the celebrities and wild parties, Buttermilk hosts the X-games, and Aspen Highlands maintains legendary steeps. Then there’s Snowmass—the utterly gigantic mass of snow. While none of the four mountains are going to be busy by Colorado standards, it’s the sheer size of Snowmass, at 3,362 skiable acres, that helps it stand out from its more well-known neighbors.
The Cheatsheet to Snowmass
Where to start on a mountain this big? Owing again to its size (ehem, it matters), you’ll need to take at least one lift before you can start to get to the goods. While the runs that lead down to the base are all nice for their own reasons, the best terrain on the mountain is serviced by just three express quads: Sheer Bliss, High Alpine and Big Burn.
Big Burn and Sheer Bliss both place you on top of the “Big Burn” mountain at an elevation of 11,835 feet. The altitude here is deceptive. Only once you get off the lift do you notice that all the trees have left you behind. The Lorax would be bummed.
Then, once you’re off, you have a decision to make: Head straight to the Cirque T-bar to find steep lines, and, on a clear day, stupidly breathtaking view of the Maroon Bells in the distance or take any of the spacious groomers like Whispering Jesse, Dallas Freeway, or our favorite—the several-football-field’s-wide Mick’s Gully.
If those options didn’t sound great, there are more. Consider taking the KT Gully down to the High Alpine chair, where the twisting, winding Hanging Valley Glades await. Best of all, while you’re on the mountain take note of the number of people that aren’t there. It’s startling. You’re all alone buckaroo.
Alright, you’ve had your fill of the ample acreage available to you under these lifts. Now it’s time to feed the monster in your stomach. Go to Sam’s Smokehouse on top of Sam’s Knob via the Sam’s Knob life or directly from the bottom via the Village Express. If BBQ isn’t your thing, thank god there’s also a Wine Cabin for those of us with more refined taste. I mean it is Aspen after all.
After lunch, you’re still groovin’. The black runs underneath Sam’s Knob are worth poking around in, but if that doesn’t do it and your legs aren’t total flabs of worn out meat, end your day over at the Burnt Mountain Glades. It’s there that you will find the treasured late-day freshies as the lifts get to closing. There is a bit of a hike involved, but like most any hike, it’s worth it. And you just ate a half-rack of ribs. You’ve got enough in the tank.
To Close—A Backup Plan
What if you find yourself at Snowmass when the snow isn’t great? Never fear—the lower part of the mountain has tons of low-angle groomers weaving in and around the base area, and they all afford the chance to ride up the Elk Camp Gondola. And this gondola is a dandy!
But if all that fails, just remember that you’re in the Aspen Valley. You’ll find something to do. We hear there’s a ghost tour in town…
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