The largest of Aspen's skiing areas, Snowmass is more than 4 times the size of either Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands. With more than 3,010 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain it's a family favourite with hundreds of acres of beginner trails, steep and deeps, wide open cruisers, endless moguls, terrain parks and half-pipes. It also has the advantage of easy slope access with 95% of its accommodation ski-in/ski-out. Snowmass officially opened to skiers in 1967 as a joint venture of Aspen Skiing Corporation and Janss Corporation. The development of Snowmass cost $10 million and converted the Brush Creek area, 12 miles west of Aspen, from what had previously been ranchlands into a planned ski resort complete with water-heated access road named appropriately "Snowmelt Road". At one time it was silver which brought Aspen prosperity. Silver mining peaked in 1892 when Aspen was the largest silver producing district in the nation with a population of 12,000. The demonetisation of silver in 1893 put Aspen into a rapid economic decline with the closing down of many of the mines and farming and ranching becoming the mainstays of the local community. It was in one of the few remaining mines that the world's largest silver nugget, weighing 2,200lbs was discovered in 1894. During what is now known as the "Quiet Years", Aspen's population hit an all-time low of only 700 residents who had become a quiet, close-knit community full of local characters. In 1936 Swiss ski racer Andre Roch mapped out the first run on Aspen Mountain and the locals built a 10-passenger boat tow, powered by an old mine hoist and truck engine and cut the first ski run - Roch Run. Aspen received international acclaim in 1950 when it hosted the first FIS World Alpine Championships in North America. It was in 1958 that William Janss, a former ski racer and land developer first became interested in Snowmass and purchased the majority of the land at its base - 17 years after having first visited Aspen to compete in the National Alpine Championships. The first organised skiing took place on Snowmass that year, 1958, with Aspen Ski Corporation offering snowcat powder tours on the Big Burn and Sam's Knob. At that time there were 5 chairlifts and 80km/50 miles of trails. The Elk Camp area was developed and opened to skiers in 1971 while the Two Creeks area opened in 1995 providing a second gateway to the mountain. Snowmass has the second highest lift served skiing terrain in North America, serviced by the country's first environmentally friendly wind-powered lift. Not burning fossil fuels to run the lift keeps 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, thats the equivalent of planting 17 acres of trees or not driving 95,000 miles. To protect wildlife, the lift was built between mating and nesting periods and to protect the land, workers carried equipment up the mountain on foot. The Cirque at Snowmass is legendary among advanced skiers and boarders, at 3,813m/12,310ft above sea level it provides a breathtaking experience. When it really snows at this point it is almost impossible to see the tips of your skis. The ski run served by the Cirque was renamed Rocky Mountain High in 1998 in tribute to the late John Denver who was a regular on the mountain.
Located 12 miles (18km) from Aspen and sharing its lift pass, Snowmass offers 95% ski-in lodging and free postcards and stamps to anyone wanting to write home about their experiences on North America's longest half-pipe. In 1997 the installation of a high altitude surface lift to access the powder filled bowls of the Cirque, previously only available with the aid of a snowcat or a hike, gave it the highest lift in the USA and the biggest lift-served skiable vertical in the country (taken from Big Sky Montana). The lift operates 60 - 75 days of the year accessing terrain suited to intermediates or experts. The idea of the limited access is to prevent over-exploitation of the terrain and a surface lift can operate in the windy conditions that are sometimes present and which could stop a chair.