Get out! Downhill favorite
Aspen/Snowmass ski resorts have plenty of runs for everyone
I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t skied at every resort in Colorado. This year I hope to get to a few new places and revisit some old favorites.
We have such a variety of ski towns and ski resorts around us that it seems to me there is truly something for everyone. While we like to ski local, we also like to get away a few times each winter to enjoy other resorts around the state.
Because of their reasonably priced Classic Pass, we’re fans of the Aspen/Snowmass ski resorts. The first year that you purchase a Classic Pass you have to do so in person, but after that you can renew your pass online. It uses the same card every year; the card has a reloadable RFD chip in it. You can stick it in your left pants pocket and then ski right to the lift without waiting in lines or using a tie-strap to hook a ticket to your jacket.
These passes are available for four or seven days. The four-day pass this year was $219. The passes do have to be purchased before the season begins, but you can add days to them later for a discounted price. If you wait until you get to the window to buy a ticket at Snowmass, you’ll pay more than $100 for one day. Getting four days for $219 is a really good deal.
Even better than that, the Classic Pass is good at all four mountains. But wait. There’s more. You can go to Buttermilk in the morning and Snowmass in the afternoon on the same day. It still only counts as one day of use on your Classic Pass. So really, you could spend one day at Aspen Mountain, split a day between Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk and then spend the other two days at Snowmass. This to me is ideal because Snowmass is the largest of the four and you may want more time here to explore.
Buttermilk is the easiest of the four mountains. It has free parking with shuttles to all of the other mountains. In fact, free shuttles run between all four mountains from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.
When I was first learning to ski, we spent a day at Buttermilk. There are easy and mellow green runs from the very top of the mountain. These runs are wide and give beginning skiers a chance to get some long runs under their belts without worrying about steep hills or trees. If there are advanced skiers in your group, Buttermilk’s Tie-Hack lift offers some steeper terrain and trees to play in. Although it’s not as technical as the other mountains, Buttermilk can be entertaining for an afternoon, or a whole day if you’re just getting the hang of skiing.
Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands are the more advanced mountains of the group. In fact, Aspen Mountain has no green (easy) runs at all. It has several sections of blue (intermediate) runs off the Ruthie’s lift and Ajax Express lift. It’s important to note that to get down from the top of Aspen Mountain (aka Ajax) you pretty much have to ski Spar Gulch, which is a blue but narrow run. In the afternoons it can be busy.
Aspen Highlands is interesting because it has some extreme terrain, like Highland Bowl, but it also has some mellower blue and green runs off the Exhibition and Cloud Nine lifts. Aspen Highlands also has a couple of great midmountain restaurants like the Merry Go Round with “beach” areas out front.
For skiing at Aspen Mountain, it’s easiest to park downtown in the Rio Grande Parking Plaza and take the Galena Street Shuttle. For Highlands, park in the free lots at Buttermilk and take the free shuttle over to Highlands. It runs from the parking lot every 15 minutes.
My favorite of all four mountains is Snowmass. I feel like as I’ve advanced as a skier Snowmass has been right there, helping me along. My first visits there were spent on the gentle blue runs off the Elk Camp lift. Next I moved on to steeper blues off the Big Burn and Alpine Springs lifts. Before the season was out, we’d hiked up to Long Shot, a five-mile-long intermediate glade run that ends at the often less-crowded Two Creeks lift.
It’s not just a variety of blue runs that makes Snowmass great. They have great kids’ skiing programs and quite a few green runs. They have gladed black runs, areas of extreme skiing, such as the Hanging Valley wall, and great wide-open black runs like those off the Campground Lift as well.
These days when we go to Snowmass, we head up the main Village Express lift and ski over to Campground. After a few runs there we just start making our way across the mountain. By the end of the day we’ve skied steep blacks and are relaxing on a few last mellow blue runs before heading back to the village.
Every trip to Snowmass ends for us with a stop by Goodfellow’s Pizza in the upper portion of the mall area. What better way to end a great day of skiing?
If you’re thinking lodging is too expensive, it doesn’t have to be. The Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen has rooms on its lower floors available for $115 just after New Year’s. The best part is that all of the rooms there are efficiencies. You can eat breakfast, store snacks and lunch supplies and even cook dinner right in your room if you want. Right across from the lodge is a bus stop, so all you have to do is walk out the door and get on the bus to the slopes.
The Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt also has inexpensive rooms; they provide microwaves and mini fridges and are fairly close to Snowmass and Buttermilk.
Finally, you can always spend a night in Glenwood Springs and stay in low-cost motels. The drive from Glenwood to Snowmass isn’t far in the morning, and there are plenty of inexpensive restaurants in the area, too.
We often pack lunches and snacks to eat while we’re on the mountain. This way we can save a little money each day. On-mountain lunches can easily run $20 to $30. A small ski backpack can carry water, a few bagel sandwiches and chocolate bars. Then all you need is a hot cider and a warm place to sit. Most restaurants offer seating downstairs for those who’ve brought their own lunch.
The Aspen/Snowmass area is a great, close-by place to go for a winter getaway. With four mountains, you’ll never be bored.