Snowmass always gets mentioned after Aspen in their joint title, but it stands alone as one of America’s biggest and best resorts, period. For starters, Snowmass boasts America’s biggest vertical drop at 4406’/ 1343m. Then there are 3500 sprawling acres, that include Big Burn, the widest groomed run we have ever skied. Hundreds of metres wide, groomed to perfection, interspersed with more lone pine trees than lone people, it is bigger than entire small resorts elsewhere!
There’s a lot to be said for choosing resorts further from major cities, as you just don’t get the hordes of day trippers they get on weekends and powder days. Combine that with the size of Snowmass and you have a recipe for endless crowd free skiing. The lift network features lots of fast lifts to minimise any waiting and maximise the vertical you ski.
Except for the quirky poma lift at the top. Despite it’s mellow gradient this causes all sorts of problems for Americans unused to drag lifts. Loading can take a while, as the liftie patiently explains things to them. The easy incline of the poma track belies what you can access off it – the Cirque Zone of glacially sculpted cliffs and tree lines offers a host of challenging options. These are even less crowded than easier parts of the mountain.
After a couple of days of sunny cruising it snowed 20cm or so, and I got to up the gears and find some of Snowmass’ darker side – lots of short but sharp chutes, great tree runs, and superb natural terrain features, most of which I was alone in most of the time.
Socked in and snowing seems to equal stay in and do something else for many guests here, with few out on the pow day, unless they were all over at Aspen Highlands or Ajax instead.
Intermediate skiers will rack up more mileage in a couple of hours on the endless long groomers at Snowmass than they do in a full day back in Australia, so it’s worth taking it easy on arrival. The altitude is high, but not super high, with the base at 2473m/8103ft.
On sunny days, which are the norm, cruise the groomers and check out the exceptional on-mountain facilities. There are plenty of slow zones with signage including overhead banners strung wide across intersecting runs and funnel points, backed up by a low to zero tolerance for people who don’t respect them. The net result is you and your family/friends can ski safely and relaxed.
The Aspen Skiing Co has a re-investment policy that pours money back into near constant upgrading and improvements, like the mid-mountain Elk Camp Meadows beginner’s and kid’s area at the top of the gondola. Drop off the kids, or any learner friends here, and meet up with them later at the excellent restaurant.
We enjoyed endless relaxed skiing from our perfect ski in/ski out location at Westin Snowmass. The Westin is a superb condo hotel with the small but vibrant Snowmass Mall shopping and dining strip behind and the slopes out front. A short ski down to a 6 seat express lift kickstarts your days. If you can’t afford the Westin any number of excellent condos and other hotels line the slopes, with ski in/out alleys connecting them to the action.
After a full day skiing such a large area it can be hard to stir the enthusiasm to head into Aspen town. There’s no need either, with some pumping aprés at the base. Especially at Venga Venga, at the head of the Snowmass Mall.
More good restaurants, bars and several shops are found here.
But this season things step up with the opening of the first stage of the Snowmass Base Village (SBV). This $600 million mountain-resort development, currently the largest under construction in North America, includes the new 99 room ski in/ski out Limelight Hotel adjacent to the Elk Camp Gondola, with a new restaurant, a children’s game area as well as a five-story climbing wall that will be open to the public and the tallest of its kind in the state. The SBV also features a new public events plaza with ice skating rink, cozy fire pits, and community building.
Getting to Snowmass
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.