Thursday, January 17, 2013

Aspen-Snowmass in 2012

Aspen started as a silver mining town in the 1800's. Snowmass is a village approximately 5-7 miles from Aspen. The general area is referred as "Aspen-Snowmass" by the skiing company. The area includes four ski mountains: Aspen Mountain (also called Ajax); Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Unlike other ski areas, the lift ticket gives access to ski on all the four mountains. 

Getting to Aspen is not easy. Flying in usually requires a change of planes in Denver and the approach to Aspen is a bit scary. The plane dips into the tight Aspen valley after flying over the picturesque mountains. Access to Aspen resorts is not as easy as compared to the ease of reaching Utah resorts via Salt Lake City.

The definition of the town of Aspen is glamor. It is ritzy with an array of art galleries, antiques, and luxury shopping choices such as Gucci, Burberry, Bulgari and the like. We saw more fur coats than any other place we've skied. Aspen is all about Apres Ski and perhaps even "afore-ski" (coining a new word here).

Now, onto the riding part.

Aspen Mountain is right in the town of Aspen, towering above the old gold rush city. The lifts leave right from the main street of town and the mountain is not open to snowboarders. All the trails are intermediate and above. Aspen is best known for its steep, bumpy runs that drop you right into the town of Aspen. I spent most of my time riding Silver Bell, Buckhorn, Ruthie's and other runs that were groomed, and intermediate right under Ruthie's and Ajax Express lifts (a tidbit on Ruthie's Run). My kids spent their time riding the bumpy runs and loved it. At the base of Ruthie's run is Bonnie's restaurant, a great place to grab a bite to eat. Bonnie's got really crowded, so if you plan to have lunch there, plan to get there early. The alternate is Sundeck Restaurant at the top of the mountain. Sundeck seems to be a place to hang out, to see and be seen.

Buttermilk is known as the learner's mountain and is smaller than Snowmass and Aspen. We did not ski at Buttermilk.

Aspen Highlands is known as the local’s mountain. It seems the Aspen Ski Company has been building up the base area and lift system. Highland runs are not groomed and we heard that the powder can range from thigh to waist deep. Locals say, you have to either know the mountain or go with locals who know the mountain well to ski there. We did not ski Highlands either.

Snowmass is its own village and this is where we stayed and skied the most. The mountain is approximately 30 minute ride from the city of Aspen. Aspen Snowmass provides free buses from one resort area to another and these buses run often and are very convenient. The pedestrian village at the base of the hill has a few restaurants, shops and convenience stores. Snowmass is a much more family friendly resort. It offers lot more of slope side accommodations, lot more trail options for skiers of all ages and expertize. Reviews often comment on lack of apres ski offerings at Snowmass (Après-ski aka after skiing is going out, having drinks, dancing, and generally socializing after skiing). I guess that depends on what you are looking for. Our family generally skis as a larger group with a few other families and we have kids ranging from pre-teens to teenagers. We usually rent a home or condo. We like to cook, hang out in the hot tub and have a generally good time with our group at our rental home. So most of our apres-ski activities, the dancing, singing, drinking, playing board games and eating, all happens around our own hearth. More than restaurants we look for gourmet grocery stores close by. We do like access to good restaurants and shopping for trinkets and outings. Also, our kids are now good skiers, and prefer to ski a couple of days with the ski school as they can access off the beaten path trails and more challenging runs with a ski instructor than they would with us. Based on this we found Snowmass to be an excellent choice.

While the lift tickets get you access to all the four mountains, it is quite inconvenient to shuttle from one mountain to another in the middle of the day as both Snowmass and Aspen have a lot of terrain to offer. Since we were there for 5 ski days, we skied Snowmass for 4 days and Aspen for one.
The area right outside the Snowmass Mall is the ski school & bunny hill area. The area is serviced by a couple of lifts; Fanny Hill, Burlingame, Coney Glade and handles a lot of traffic.

The areas with lots of blue trails include Elk Camp, Big Burn, and Alpine Springs. These areas are popular intermediate ski areas and quite crowded. On the right of the trail map is Campground area with long and uncrowded runs and the trails there are more advanced. My kids spent most of their time all over the map but enjoyed, Sam's Knob and the runs off High Alpine lift, an area known as the Hanging Valley Wall for those that like bowls, and steep, bumped up runs.

At the lower left of the trail map is Two Creeks which are easy blues (blue-greens), but seemed a bit far from the main ski areas.

Speaking of trails that were painful, it's called Turkey Trot. It is the only way to cross the mountain from Alpine Springs to Elk Camp area without having to go back to the base area, but it is a painfully flat and thigh burning run.
Most on-mountain food placed are great to rest your feet, but the food prices are definitely Aspen-like. 

Another beginner area, Assay Hill, is separated from the main runs so learners get less traffic on it. Fanny Hill (a beginner area), is the main way down to the Village, gets congested. During the day, we like most skiers stay higher up on the mountain, so it is less crowded. 

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