Aspen-Snowmass has been the ultimate North American ski vacation destination for more than 70 years.
The resort has expanded over the decades to incorporate four distinct ski areas – Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass – all of which are accessible with one lift ticket (Aspen-Snowmass is an Ikon Pass destination). That’s 5,517 acres of skiable terrain, 336 trails and eight terrain parks, accessed by more than 40 lifts.
First opened in 1947, Aspen Mountain is accessible right from downtown Aspen. Snowmass – the largest of the four resorts – has gentle, family-friendly runs, three terrain parks and a 22-foot high super-pipe. Aspen Highlands, just 3 miles from town, is home of the Highland Bowl, regarded as some of the most challenging skiing in Colorado. And Buttermilk, at the lowest elevation, has beginner-friendly slopes and a world-class terrain park that hosts the Winter X Games. All for areas are connected by a complimentary shuttle.
Each ski area has a Ski & Snowboard School and an adaptive ski program, as well as equipment rental facilities. Although there is no night skiing, there is tubing, ice skating and an Alpine coaster for those wanting a choice of winter activities. Each resort has on-mountain dining, and many Aspen hotels offer stay-and-ski packages.
While January is the coldest month, it tends to be one of the best times for snowfall. February is also a good bet, just make sure you avoid the holiday weekend. Though Aspen draws a lot of tourism in the December holidays, it may be worth it for some who want to experience the holiday lights and cozy atmosphere. Generally Aspen-Snowmass opens before Thanksgiving and closes mid- to late April.
Lift tickets are best purchased in advance for the best Aspen-Snowmass deals – you can call their ticket office at (855) 496-9219 or purchased online . Purchases can also be made at one of the resort’s ticketing offices.
There are a number of season passes available – from a Flex Pass to a Premier Pass – and lodging and lift packages include a Kids Ski Free package, with complimentary kids lift tickets, and a Perfect Storm package that offers a fifth day of skiing if four nights of lodging are booked, as well as 25 percent off that reserved lodging. Aspen-Snowmass is also part of the Ikon Pass system.
Altogether about 6 percent of the trails at Aspen-Snowmass are geared towards beginners – most of these at Buttermilk and Snowmass – while 43 percent are intermediate runs. Seventeen percent are advanced, while 34 percent are expert runs. The longest run is 5.3 miles. The resorts benefit from an annual snowfall of 300 inches – less at Buttermilk, as it is at a lower elevation – and snow making covers 658 acres of the Aspen-Snowmass Resort area. These are the best trails for beginners, intermediates and experts, according to Tucker Vest Burton, Aspen-Snowmass’ public relations manager.
The best mountains for beginners are Buttermilk and Snowmass – the best trails on Snowmass are Meadows Learning area at Elk Camp, before going down Lunchline and finally down to Fanny Hill. At Buttermilk, newbies can start at Panda Peak before continuing on to the runs off Upper West Buttermilk Chairlift – Larkspur and Westward Ho.
At Snowmass, try Sneakys or Green Cabin – while pretty much the entire mountain at Buttermilk is good for intermediates. At Highlands, go for the blue runs off of Cloud Nine as well as the blue runs off of Exhibition Lift. On Aspen Mountain, head to the upper blue runs off of Ajax Express.
At Snowmass, try Cirque and Hanging Valley, while at Buttermilk, go for the Tiehack black runs. Either Highland Bowl or Olympic Bowl at Highlands and at Aspen Mountain, you’ll want to try The Dumps, Walsh’s and Bell Mountain
Luxury lodging is what Aspen is known for. Just steps from Aspen’s historic downtown, Aspen Alps near the gondola has a heated outdoor pool and a health spa. A more affordable option is the Aspen Mountain Lodge , which is within walking distance to downtown and offers afternoon wine and cheese gatherings during the ski season. For luxury ski-in/ski-out accommodations, try The Little Nell , which offers an elegant ambiance near Aspen’s town center.
In downtown Aspen, Element 47 has a five-star, five-diamond rating, with a ceiling-high glass case of rare wine and gourmet, locally sourced menu offerings within The Little Nell hotel. Or try the Ajax Tavern near the Silver Queen Gondola for their famous truffle fries and cocktails on the mountainside patio while people-watching. For French-American cuisine, try Cache Cache for fois gras terrine and caviar followed by local rack of lamb and roasted winter vegetables.
Aspen-Snowmass is renowned for its après-ski scene. You could start with glass of bubbly from The Oasis, the pop-up Champagne bar that makes its way around Aspen Mountain via snowcat, and move on to the Lynn Britt Cabin at Snowmass at the Village Express Lift, where you can enjoy food and drink specials by the outdoor fire pit. For ski-in/ski-out après-ski fun, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro at Aspen Highlands offers its south-facing deck to take in the sun, as well as an array of cocktails along with caviar, steak tartare and fondue in a Swiss Alpine-inspired atmosphere.
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is just 10 minutes from both Snowmass and Aspen Mountain and only five minutes from Buttermilk, with non-stop flights from several major U.S. hubs, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Most accommodations have complimentary airport shuttles, though private shuttle companies, taxi and limo services are available. Denver International Airport is 220 miles from Aspen, and private transfer shuttles offer services to the four resorts from there.
Driving, Aspen is just under four hours from Denver and about three and a half hours from Colorado Springs. Once here, there isn’t a huge need for a vehicle as the free shuttle buses run regularly between the four resorts and back into downtown Aspen. Both Aspen and Snowmass Village can be walked from one end to the other in about 20 minutes. There are also several taxi companies operating in the Aspen area.
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