Aspen/Snowmass has terrain for every level of skier or boarder. The area houses four unique mountains – Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. They range in difficulty and convenience from town, but as long as you plan cleverly, you will have an awesome time. The ultimate draws of these mountains include big mountain skiing, short lift lines, light and powdery snow, diverse terrain, and spectacular scenery.
One lift ticket allows you access to all four mountains, which are not interconnected but are accessible by car or public transit. You could very well ski several in a day. The weather in Aspen is great with generally light, crystalline powder snow. Big powder dumps are prevalent, as are bluebird days. Locals will tell you to follow the sun (if you’re skiing all day), and will make their priorities clear – no friends on a pow day!
Aspen Mountain (known as Ajax by the locals) is in Aspen proper and provides the perfect terrain for an intermediate or advanced skier. There are no green runs on this 11,212 ft.-behemoth, and you might encounter skiers whizzing past you at lightning speed, so it’s not the mountain for very young children. There are plenty of beautiful groomed blues that provide a perfect playground for visitors who only ski a couple times per year.
Highlands is about a 5-minute drive from town and is a local’s favorite for its long, groomed runs, its steep bump runs, and relatively uncrowded slopes. The Highlands Bowl, which should be on any mountain athlete’s bucket list, is considered by some the most extreme skiable terrain in Colorado. It’s not for the faint of heart – accessible by a 30-minute hike, only experts should dare the Bowl. After sending, head to the base area for après at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro.
Buttermilk is a 10-minute drive from town and is beloved by beginner skiers and boarders for its many green runs and wide, rolling hills, as well as by the pros and local skiers and boarders for its terrain park, which has been home to the Winter X-Games for many seasons. If you have kids who are learning how to ski or board, Buttermilk and Snowmass are your best options.
About 20 minutes outside of Aspen proper, you’ll find Snowmass — larger than the other 3 Aspen mountains combined, and just as diverse and spectacular. You can spend days exploring this massive mountain and find something special for everyone. Snowmass Village offers various hotel choices, fun and casual bars and restaurants, and is a great choice for families or those looking for a more low-key ski vacation.
Aspen is both metropolitan and historic, artsy and rugged, fast-paced and relaxed, elegant and (semi) dirtbag. Jeans are always appropriate, unless it’s New Year’s Eve when everyone tends to be in cocktail dresses and tuxes, or Halloween – you better be in costume. Although the world’s elites find Aspen a place to relax and party, you will be welcome at many locations in ski layers.
That being said, Aspen is expensive, and you should expect that. There are ways to save money by planning ahead, and a lift ticket does allow access to all four ski resorts.
While the mountains themselves are not interconnected for skiers, there is a public transit system which can ferry skiers and visitors from one resort to another.
Aspen’s scene is intense, laid-back, and inviting all at the same time. While the Kemo Sabe cowboy hat/full-length fur/stiletto crowd definitely abounds, so does the jeans/Patagonia crew.
The lobbies of the Little Nell, the St. Regis, and the Jerome, as well as members-only clubs like Caribou Club and Casa Tua (upstairs), and restaurants like The Monarch and Cache Cache are where you’ll find the higher-end visitor.
The bars at Jimmy’s, Grey Lady, Campo di Fiori, and Hooch offer a bit more of a low-key vibe. All cater to both crowds nicely though, especially the newest spots, 7908 and Clark’s Oyster Bar. So try everyplace.
It’s not unusual to hop around to five different places in a night (each spot is only a couple short blocks from the next!).
Check out the Sundeck at the top of Ajax for lunch or a drink. It’s got spectacular views (many a wedding takes place on the wedding deck), is newly outfitted with couches, fire pits, and sun-bathing chairs outside, has a lively bar scene where locals are known to stop in for midday Jaeger Bombs, and a cafeteria-style set-up with awesome pizza, burgers, salads, and Wok-made meals.
If Trainer’s is open, send it!
The Belly Up is Aspen’s concert venue and it’s definitely worth checking out. The biggest stars in the world play this stage, and the venue is so intimate that you can literally touch them. If tickets are only available for local acts, try them out! Aspen has a big local DJ scene.
No ski day would be complete without breakfast at Element 47 in the Little Nell. The skier’s buffet has every gourmet breakfast option you could possibly want. Be sure to let Freddy at the omelet station show off his creativity.
WHERE TO STAY
Lodging in Aspen either centers around Aspen proper or Snowmass Village. There is an abundance of lodging options in either location.
Aspen is a historic ski town with every kind of lodging you could imagine, from hundred-year-old homes to ultra-modern luxury hotels. Stay in Aspen to be right in the middle of après nightlife. You can walk pretty much everywhere you need to go, including the mountain from here. Aspen is also very pet-friendly – most hotels allow dogs.
Snowmass is a classic ski village with all the amenities you would need. The Village offers ski-in, ski-out lodging, which Aspen doesn’t have. Snowmass is also more family friendly, with a little less partying and more amenities for children.
There are also plentiful vacation rentals throughout the entire area. The resorts are fairly close to each other and with the free transit system, you can easily go from one to another.