When it comes to off mountain entertainment, Aspen has got it all. Shops like Louis Vuitton and Rag and Bone dot the streets alongside more local, outdoor-focused operations like Ute Mountaineer. In between stores lie the most delectable restaurants including Chef Nobu’s Matsuhisa and the downright soul-soothing Hickory House. And it would be remiss not to mention the ever-rotating exhibitions at Aspen Art Museum or the mesmerizing stills at Peter Lik’s gallery. The town of Aspen alone could keep a family occupied – but add Aspen’s four local ski mountains to the equation – and each member will be ready to pack their bags for good. Take the Walkers, for example. Aspen suits this family of five perfectly because of the variety they have when choosing where to ski. Every family member has their personal favorite mountain, and I followed them around for a day to find out why.
Jeffrey, the father, has been skiing for the duration of his life, perfecting his skills on the slopes of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. So the steep, unforgiving terrain of Highlands provides all the challenge he could ask for. The Loge Peak and Deep Temerity lifts deliver laps of hidden pow stashes and hip high moguls to weave through.
By the time those runs are tracked out around mid-morning the legendary Highlands Bowl is usually open for the day (there is sometimes avalanche blasting after fresh snow, on days with no new snow the bowl opens right away). A 45 minute hike at 11,675 feet can be grueling, but the views from the ridge over Maroon Bells and the surrounding peaks distract the mind, making one feel as if no time has passed at all. Once Jeffrey’s done earning his turns and soaking up the vista, he can drop into a run that feels much closer to the backcountry than in bounds. After the 3,635 foot descent to the bottom, Highlands Alehouse awaits him with a brew and a burger at the base.
Jay is the pipsqueak, an 11 year old with no fear of going fast. On this particular day, Jay was enrolled in Buttermilk’s Ski School to help him perfect his turns and learn to control his need for speed on the wide groomers – suited for children and beginners of all ages. Buttermilk is divided up nicely into three main sections by difficulty, making it perfect for newcomers who want to test their skills without fear of accidentally dropping into a double black.
Towards the afternoon (after he’s shown off his skills) the instructors took Jay over to the Tiehack Express to see what he’s got on steeper, black terrain. Jay was all smiles now that he had that extra speed, Jay booted his way down to the base of Buttermilk to get picked up from his day at ski school at 3:00 p.m., only to repeat it all the next day – and maybe even graduate to more challenging terrain at Snowmass.
Jill is the matriarch of the family. She loves to be out under the open sky sliding down those rippled groomers, but she still likes to take it easy with her daughter, Sydney. Although, Aspen Mountain (often referred to as Ajax) could keep a die-hard amused with its steeps by Gentleman’s Ridge, the Aspen tree lines by the Dumps, and glades by Traynor Ridge, Jill and Sydney love Aspen Mountain because of its long, winding, groomed runs that look straight over the town of Aspen.
Their game plan involved taking the Silver Queen Gondola up, lapping the Ajax Express and the groomers under it, connecting that with the scenic runs over by Ruthie’s (of course stopping for lunch at the historic Bonnie’s right next to the lift), and then descending all the way to the Gondola base.
Perhaps their favorite part of this mountain is its location right next to the many eateries and boutiques in town, so right after they pop their boots off, they can saunter into the heart of the action.
Snowmass is aptly named, as it is far and away the biggest out of the four mountains in Aspen with 3,332 acres and 4,406 feet of vertical. This suits Andrew, the millennial, who needs a constant supply of new terrain to even keep him awake. Luckily for him, it would take an entire trip to even come close to conquering all of Snowmass. Andrew can hit just about anything on this mountain (he shreds for a 15 year old) despite his tropical heritage.
There is so much to cover between the treeless pow runs of The Cirque and the High Alpine; blue groomers off of Elk Camp; steeper blacks by Sam’s Knob; and the multitude of features at Makaha Park that Andrew didn’t even remember to check his Instagram.
Coupled with all the action in town, the skiing and riding at Aspen Snowmass will keep a family content for endless snow-packed days. Each ski area, like everyone in the Walker clan, has its own personality. The Walkers have all figured out their favorite mountain matchups, but that’s just one of many possibilities when you have four fantastic mountains in such a close proximity.