Aspen has established itself over many years as one of the world's leading ski resorts, with a reputation for superb skiing for all standards and for being a lively and diverse ski town. Although it also has a deserved reputation for being one of the few winter sports destinations for the world's rich and super-rich, the Aspen Skiing Company, which owns all four of Aspen's ski areas, is keen to point out that it's possible to ski Aspen "on a budget". About two thirds of Aspen's visitor beds are located in Aspen itself, whilst most of the remainder are 12 miles (20km) down the road at Snowmass, where 95% of the accommodation is slope-side. There is a third development, the newest, at Aspen Highlands. Given its status, it is not surprising that Aspen tends to be in the ski world headlines for one reason or another every year. In 1997/'98 it was for taking the "Biggest Lift-served Skiable Vertical in the US" crown from Big Sky in Montana, after Aspen added a high altitude surface lift to open up the powder bowls of the Cirque, high above Snowmass. Aspen's fame actually dates back to a time before skiing, although it was only settled as recently as the 1880s, having originally been a summer destination of the Ute Indians. Prospectors arrived in 1879 and within 15 years the town was the largest silver mining district in America, producing a sixth of the national and a sixteenth of the world's silver needs. It had hydro-electrically powered mines, a primitive cable car /cable tram for miners and ore, a railroad link, an opera house, a population of 12000 and six newspapers. Mining decreased at the turn of the century but Aspen was resurrected as a ski resort in the mid 1940s.
Few can agree on the world's greatest ski resort, but most would have Aspen in their top five, like St Moritz, just because of its reputation. Apart from being a remarkable resort, dripping with wealth, Aspen has great skiing over four mountains, a world-class lift system and more alternative things to do (underground loco pulled silver mine tours for example ) than anywhere else. Aspen Highlands offers one of the biggest verticals in North America (Snowmass has the biggest in the US), and both it and Aspen Mountain have plenty of expert terrain. Beginners have their own mountain - Buttermilk. Snowmass Village is a semi-autonomous resort, 12 miles from Aspen valley. It has immediate access to the most black and double black diamond skiing in area and offers 95% slopeside lodging.