The 2017/18 ski season had not been a kind one to the state of Colorado. Driving through the Front Range and over the Continental Divide, it was easily apparent why. Snowpack was low at most resorts and skiers were starved for a powder day. Driving into Aspen in mid-March however, things were not so bleak. While it was uncommon that the city streets had little to no snow covering them, the resorts of Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass were covered top to bottom, and things were only about to get better.
The views are matched only by the extensive terrain and light fluffy pow.
Our first day in Aspen saw a fresh four inches of light fluffy snow blanket the region overnight and to make things ever better, it was a bluebird day. We awoke early and took in the buffet breakfast that came with our stay at the Limelight Hotel and since it was only a few blocks from Aspen’s Silver Queen Gondola we were in no real rush. Arriving at the gondola early to await the first ride we were surprised to see no lineups, something we would have to get used to for the remainder of our visit. With a vertical of 3,267ft, 76 trails and 8 lifts, Aspen is a resort that has something for everyone and one that would take a few days to thoroughly discover. Given that our visit was brief we decided to spend only one day discovering the mountain and then make the difficult decision of which of the other three resorts to ski next. With lift tickets costing $159US, Aspen is one of the more expensive places to slide on snow but given the massive terrain and extensive modern lift system covering four ski resorts, you can really get in a lot of skiing for your dollar.
Aspen Mountain has the third longest vertical drop of the four resorts in the area, falling just behind Aspen Highland’s 3,635ft and Snowmass’s 4,406ft. While not the biggest by vertical nor number of runs Aspen Mountain does boast the highest percentage of Most Difficult Terrain, while Aspen Highlands has the most Expert Terrain overall. The Silver Queen Gondola will give you the full top-to-bottom experience and allow you to access any of the terrain on the mountain, however, skiing top to bottom non-stop is a challenge you won’t repeat often. We cruised out of the way runs off Gent’s Ridge and Ruthie’s where the pow was more plentiful and the skier traffic non existent. By midday there were still plenty of fresh lines to be had but we decided to take a much needed break and head back to the Limelight for some lunch by the pool. After lunch we continued to discover additional hidden gems and take in the views of Aspen Highlands across the Castle Creek Valley. This would be our objective for day two but not before some aprés ski time at the Ajax Tavern at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola. Here the sun warmed our faces, the drinks quenched our thirst and the people watching provided endless entertainment.
More Difficult: 48%
Most Difficult: 26%
Longest run: 4.83km / 3 miles
Vertical: 996m / 3,267ft
Lift: 8, including 1 gondola, 2 high-speed lifts
Season: Nov - April
Directly across Castle Creek lies Aspen Highlands, with slightly more vertical and double the trails than Aspen Mountain. To get from Aspen to Aspen Highlands there is a free city bus or the Limelight Hotel also runs a morning/afternoon shuttle as well which helps avoid parking fees at the mountain. Instead of a gondola-like Aspen Mountain, the Highlands has two high-speed quads to whisk you up the mountains entire 3,635ft vertical. To get right to the tippy-top you’ll need to take a cat and then hike the rest of the way to Highland Peak which tops out at 12,392ft. This is the access point for Highland bowl which is Aspen Highland’s claim to fame as it’s the only bowl at any of the resorts and it’s the gateway to a number of double black diamond lines, some up to 48° in pitch. If that’s not your thing then there are a long list of cruisy groomers to chose from as well. While on the upper mountain be sure to look west from Cloud Nine Chair or Alpine Bistro to catch a glimpse of Maroon Bells, it’s a 14’er after all.
While time did not permit us to get out beyond the boundaries of Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands I am told that the area boasts a good many ski touring options, from side country to backcountry with huts of 10th Mountain and Braun Hut Systems accessible from just a few miles out of town. Aspen has a long history of ski touring as it is one of the original places that the sport first took hold in North America. The local guiding company ‘Aspen Expeditions’ has been showing clients around the mountains since 1977, so if you need so assistance or want to play it safe then give them a call. Ski touring Aspen will have to be something to put on my “to-do list” when I return for another visit.
More Difficult: 23%
Most Difficult: 12%
Longest run: 5.63km / 3.5miles
Vertical: 1,108m / 3,635ft
Lift: 5, including 3 high-speed lifts
Season: Dec - April
With plenty of high end fashion and jewelry stores along with endless art galleries there is plenty to do by just walking the streets of Aspen. The one highlight not to be missed is the Aspen Art Museum. This is a non-collecting gallery featuring international contemporary art and the building itself is a work of art.
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