Aspen is Australia’s favourite American ski resort and Aussies are their number #1 international market. Many are regulars who just keep coming back for more.
Why? Our roving correspondent “Ask Doctor Pete” Stiebel, who has been skiing Aspen for over 30 years, explains.
I guess 300 inches quality Colorado snow and 300 sunny days help.
Then there’s good access, the 4 mountains, the huge variety, a great and authentic town with fantastic shops, restaurants, bars and so much more.
The four and a half hour drive from Denver usually makes it quieter than the closer resorts off Interstate I-70.
Most people fly into Aspen, with excellent connections from Australia. Most of the locals seem to arrive in private jets – the little airport is a massive parking lot for them.
In fact Aspen will check all your ski boxes.
Plus even if you don’t ski, there is so much to do for non-skiers — art galleries, music festivals and now the Aspen Art Museum — that it’s perfect for couples where one partner doesn’t ski at all, or not much.
For those that do ski, the closest skiing is at Ajax Mountain, which rises vertically directly out of the valley floor at town’s edge, easily accessed via the Silver Queen Gondola. This runs from the town base to the summit.
From the top there are a myriad of blue, black and double black runs, some groomed and some not, plus some extreme terrain areas. There are no green runs at all on Aspen Mountain.
The gondola allows foot passengers for the 14 minute ride to the summit, where you can sit and lunch at the summit’s Sundeck restaurant. Downloading is allowed too, especially if your ski legs are shot, which can easily happen with the 1097m/3600’ vertical.
Look out for shrines in the tree runs to Elvis, Marilyn,The Grateful Dead, and lots more. Ask a local for help to find them.
If tree skiing do watch out for sometimes poorly marked but very dangerous mine shafts that dot the mountain. They can kill. Best to ski buddy system in the trees with a friend and watch out for each other.
Ajax is your Aspen insider best bet when it’s snowing hard, as there are many tree sheltered runs, and the ride up in the gondola is much more pleasant than on a chairlift when it’s cold and snowing hard. Powder can still be found in the tree runs even days after a storm.
A 5 – 10 minute shuttle ride takes you to Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk/Tiehack ski areas. Buttermilk is slightly lower in altitude, pitched more to the beginner and intermediate skier but a sneaky powder day option too when the more gung-ho head elsewhere. At its base and adjacent to the highway are the amazing half pipes and terrain parks built for the X-Games.
Aspen Highlands has long steep runs and the magnificent Highlands Bowl to top it off – a must do for any reasonable skiers/boarders. The “Snowcat ute” lift takes you up the bottom section, then you hike. Locals sometimes literally jog past, defying the altitude and making mockery of your own fitness levels, but a steady plod will get you there.
Snowmass is 20 – 30 minutes, a completely self-contained mega resort in itself, but also free to enjoy with your Aspen 4 Mountain Pass and the super efficient local buses.
All four mountains have superb on mountain restaurants for casual lunch dining. And then there’s Cloud 9 restaurant, a former ski patrol building at Aspen Highlands, built on a ledge at 10,900’ with great views of the neighbouring Pyramid Peak, and the Maroon Bells, both over 14,000’.
Lunch is fine dining, and the later 2pm lunch by mid afternoon turns into table top dancing, ski boots on, and Veuve Clicquot abounds in record quantities. In fact Cloud 9 is the largest Veuve outlet in America, despite only a 4 month season. At about 3.45 you are reminded to stop drinking and ski down to the base area. You can also go for selected evening dinners with transport up the mountain and back by snow cat.
Back on Ajax keep a watch out for the pop-up Oasis Bar, anywhere on the mountain, featuring “Clicquot in the Snow”.
Aspen town itself has so many bars and restaurants, some budget and some 5 star, and everything in between. Many of the bars have extensive happy hours, and cheap bar snacks abound. Most restaurants have a bar, and it is more fun, and financially less straining, to sit at the bar instead of a table and choose from the slightly lesser bar menu.
Aspen insider tips
Where to drink at Aspen? Happy Hours are everywhere, and more than just an hour. In Aspen try Chair 9 / Ajax Tavern, Mezzaluna, J-Bar, Justice Snow’s, or the Limelight Hotel.
A real coffee in Aspen? American coffee is mud! They have no idea. Go to Victoria’s, run by Aussies, where a latte is a latte and not some dribbled cream on mud mess.
Accommodation in Aspen? Maybe the best thing about Aspen is there are some amazing accommodation and lift pass deals that keep it as, or more, affordable than any major resort in America. Day lift passes are not cheap across the USA generally, but most of us go for at least a week or more, and with that in mind there are exceptional value 30 day and 10 day consecutive pass deals. The 30 day pass includes 2 days at Thredbo.
Getting to Aspen
There are lots of flights to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, just 3 miles from Aspen and 6 from Snowmass.
From Australia and New Zealand the most useful are:
up to 7 daily flights from Los Angeles (LAX) on United, American and Delta
Up to 4 daily flights from Houston (IAH) on United
Up to 4 daily flights from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) on American
2 daily flights from San Francisco (SFO) on United, with a third on most Saturdays and Sundays
Driving from Denver is 198 miles in winter – exit Interstate 70 at Glenwood Springs (157 miles west of Denver) and head 41 miles south and east to Aspen on Highway 82.
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