by Kristen Lummis www.BraveSkiMom.com
When it comes legendary ski resorts, it’s hard to top Aspen.
Arguably North America’s most famous skiing destination, Aspen has been welcoming ski bums, mountain enthusiasts, intellectuals and the rich and famous for decades.
The town and the resort are also 100% welcoming to ordinary folks and families. This season, Aspen Snowmass has a new Kids Ski Free program, as well as reduced ticket prices for teens, making a long weekend in Pitkin County more affordable.
No kids? No worries. Keep reading. We’ve got tips to keep everyone happy.
Four Mountains, Three Days
Aspen Snowmass is actually four separate mountains, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass. There’s no “one way” to explore Aspen Snowmass. It all depends upon what you and your family want out of your visit.
Feel the need to earn your turns? Don’t miss hiking Highland Bowl.
Looking forward to cruising lots of wide groomed runs? Stay in Snowmass and spend a full day or two exploring this large mountain.
It’s all good, and it’s all whatever you want it to be.
Suggestions for Three Perfect Days
For our sample itinerary, we’re assuming you’ve got advanced skills and that you’ll be staying in Aspen.
Day One: Aspen Mountain
Sign up in advance for free “First Tracks” and get some supervised turns in before the mountain opens.
After a couple of early morning runs, you’ll be ready for breakfast. Bonnie’s, one of two on-mountain restaurants, is a perfect place to refresh and refuel.
When you’re ready to get back out there, take Ajax Express to the top and spend the rest of the morning making huge gondola laps (we’re talking 3,200+ feet of vert per lap), exploring the bumps and glades on Bell Mountain or the steeps on Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi.
For lunch, aim for the Sundeck at the top of the Gondola, and then spend your afternoon cruising the blues on Ajax Express or Ruthie’s. Don’t miss the famous World Cup course, starting on Aztec and finishing on Strawpile.
Since the food in Aspen is almost as good as the skiing and riding, there is no shortage of options for après and dinner.
Two locals faves are the Ajax Tavern and L’hostaria. Looking for just one stop? Check out the Limelight Hotel (also a great place to stay) for specialty cocktails, hand tossed pizzas and more from 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. Thursday – Monday.
Day Two: Aspen Highlands
Free shuttles connect downtown Aspen to the outlying resorts. Today, catch the bus to Aspen Highlands.
Morning is a good time to hike Highland Bowl, so don’t skip breakfast. Two good spots (of many) in Aspen are Jour de Fete and Poppycock’s.
When you get to Highlands, stop by Ski Patrol at the top of the mountain and purchase some inexpensive straps to help you carry your skis while you climb. Since all proceeds benefit Patrol, it’s a win-win for you and them.
The hike to the top of Highland Bowl is strenuous, but not treacherous. A snow cat runs partway up and then it’s all on foot. Since there is often a line of hikers, you’ll want to set a steady pace and keep going. If you need to stop, find a place to pull over where you won’t slow traffic. We also recommend carrying water and snacks.
At the top, take photos, drink the in view (along with your water) and prepare for some sublime skiing.
If you’re feeling strong, make as many laps as you can. Otherwise, spend some time exploring the rest of the resort.
The Temerity area was gladed this summer, making what was really good tree skiing into something fantastic.
Olympic, or Oly, Bowl on the other side of the ridge, has short, steep shots, while you’ll find plenty of groomed terrain off of the Loge Peak and Cloud Nine lifts.
Aspen Highlands is never crowded, but if you want to get away from almost everyone, take the Thunderbowl lift from the base. While this lift serves some race-training runs, it’s also home to double black Upper Stein, named for Stein Erikson and some nice chutes and glades.
Without a doubt, the best spot for a long lunch or early après is on mountain at The Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro. Famous for alpen fare (think fondue and raclette), more dining space and new restrooms were added this summer. The superlative views of the Maroon Bells, however, remain the same.
Day Three: Snowmass
Snowmass is rightly famous for groomed intermediate terrain. But this big mountain, with 3,332 skiable acres, 21 lifts and 4,406 vertical feet, is also known for it’s expert options.
Take the Village Express chairlift from the base to the Big Burn. Warm up your legs on some long cruisers and then take the Poma platter lift to the expert terrain in the Cirque or Hanging Valley.
When you’re ready for a break, head to Elk Camp Lodge at the top of the gondola for lunch. From here, ride the Elk Camp lift to the top for stunning 360-degree views and fun, fast groomed runs.
The “don’t miss” for this season is the realigned, high-speed High Alpine Chair. Make some laps here, in the bumps and glades. When you’re done, ski Green Cabin, the mountain’s longest groomed run, back to the base.
There are plenty of dining and après options in Snowmass. One of our faves, especially if you’ve got kids, is Slopeside Lanes, an eight-lane bowling alley and pizzeria.
If you prefer soaking up the late afternoon sun, check out the deck at Venga Venga.
The Aspen airport has nonstop flights from Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta.
If you’re driving Aspen is 3.5 hours from Denver or two hours from Grand Junction.