Having had the opportunity to call Aspen home for a few months, I fell in love with this buzzing town-city-ski-resort in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains, hugging the Roaring Fork River. It got its name from the abundance of aspen trees growing in the area.
When you’re used to Europe’s narrower ski slopes, skiing the wide, tree lined slopes in Aspen is quite a treat. The slopes are real skiing jewels offering a great and vast variety of ski slopes. For the more experienced skier, all the mountains except Buttermilk, which is great for beginners, offer loads of challenges. And then the town is glitzy too, small wonder it’s the holiday destination of many Hollywood celebrities.
There are four mountains to choose from.
Aspen Mountain (Ajax Mountain)
This mountain is in town. You can walk there from your hotel or hop onto one of the free shuttles which take you there in a flash. Be warned Aspen Mountain doesn’t have any green (easy) runs. It has a good couple of intermediate slopes, which can be a bit tougher than on the other mountains. For the experts it has an array of double black diamond (experienced skiers only) runs.
The Silver Queen Gondola is the main fast lift to take you to a series of chairs that take you to the ridges of Aspen Mountain, with a nice mix of long cruising blue runs to short, steep black ones.
You have four restaurants to pick from but Ajax Tavern, at the base of the mountain, is generally the most popular. This eatery is great for an après ski experience and serves great lunch and dinner bistro style food.
Whenever I wanted to have a relaxed day on the slopes I chose this mountain. It is the smallest and least challenging of the four mountains and therefore fantastic for beginners. A fast quad takes you to the top where you can pick one of three directions – back down to the main base, down to the slow Tiehack chair or down to the fast quad at West Buttermilk.
The slopes are always mostly deserted and beautifully groomed with a gentle slope. The black runs are relatively easy.
Buttermilk is also best known for hosting the Winter X Games—something you shouldn’t miss if you are there during that time. Thus the Buttermilk Park, as it is known, has over 100 features including a 22-foot super-pipe and an X Games slope-style course for those feeling adventurous.
One of my favourite restaurants in Aspen, The Cliffhouse, is located at the top of the mountain with its “make your own” Mongolian grill. It’s got stunning views over the Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Creek valley.
If you are a beginner, Panda Hill, at the base, has the easiest slopes in Aspen. The restaurant, Bumps, is located here which is a great place to hang out during the X Games.
This is the next mountain in line and another one of my favourites. Home of the Highland Bowl, a splendid open bowl of only double black gradient (with pitches from a serious 38° to an extreme 48°) if you are into extreme skiing/ snowboarding go here. It’s worth noting you need to walk for about 20 minutes to the start.
In spite of its daunting image and its double black diamond terrain it has the highest concentration of green runs of all the mountains—quite a treat to ski. Highlands consists basically of a single ridge served by three fast quad chairs, with easy to intermediate slopes along the ridge. There are steeper black runs on the sides.
The very popular Merry-Go-Round mid-mountain restaurant is a great place to have lunch. I love the “60’s sundeck” feeling it has. Cloud 9 is also a cosy spot for something to eat. There are five restaurants on Highlands Mountain in total.
Snowmass Mountain is the most extensive mountain in the area, with a height of fourteen thousand feet, located in the Elk Mountains within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Snowmass Village is a very small village, located west of Aspen. If you are staying here you almost never have to go to Aspen except to go skiing on the other mountains.
The runs are fantastic, you have quite a variety to choose from, it’s especially family-friendly with its ski-in/ski-out lodging right next to the slopes and there is a variety of family activities. It is no wonder it is rated as one of the best family ski areas in North America. Since it is such a wide area there are 9 restaurants to pick and choose from.
The best kept secret for this mountain was probably the most blissful skiing I have ever had. Everyone loves “riding the cords”—the corduroy feel underneath your skis on a freshly groomed ski run.
“Long Shot” is a two mile, non-stop, run and if you find it on the day it opens with its “Noon Groom”—a freshly groomed run that opens at noon—you are in heaven. Have a look on the info boards at the base of the mountains to know when and where they are happening. Cruising for two miles on this snaking, corduroy run is bliss. The only “bad” is the short hike to the top (no lift to the very top). Remember that the air is quite thin here and you need to take a breather or two but it is worth it.
You can reach all of the mountains out of Aspen with the city buses or ski shuttles for free.
I fell in love with skiing all over again while living here. The beautiful setting, vast variety of fantastic skiing options, great variety of activities and cosy atmosphere, create an almost perfect movie-like stage…that seems too good to be true.