News from the snow
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.
For skiers who are new to Snowmass it's worth taking advantage of the free two-hour mountain tours which happen daily and will help to familiarise you with the area. Skiers should be intermediate to advanced and have a lift ticket. The Cirque at Snowmass is legendary among advanced skiers and boarders, at 3,813m/12,310ft above sea level this is the highest point of any ski area in North America and provides a breathtaking experience. When it really snows at this point it is almost impossible to see the tips of your skis, hence Chris Davenport's advise to choose a sunny day! The bowl offers deep-powder skiing after a snowstorm, and KT Gully is an alpine roller-coaster ride. Cliff jumpers can get hang time on Gowdy's and Baby Ruth. For stomach dropping steeps skiers head for Garret's Gulch, Bearclaw, Headwall and ADF which some say stands for "adios, my friend."
Experts looking for adventure will find plenty in Hanging Valley which is the closest thing to back country without going out of bounds. This area has it all - steeps, glades, cornices, cliffs and deep snow. On a powder day, skiers and riders wait anxiously for ski patrol to drop the ropes and open the area. Burnt Mountain, once a playground only for those skilled in backcountry techniques it is now open to skiers and snowboarders and winds 3 miles through the forests just east of the Elk Camp area. Those wishing to "earn" extra turns, backcountry style, can hike from Elk Camp to the top of Burnt Mountain.
On Fridays at Snowmass and Aspen Highlands, there are Off-Piste Tours designed to give expert skiers a chance to try some of the area's famous double-black diamond terrain with an experienced guide. However, its not all extreme skiing at Snowmass, this resort is essentially known as being a family-friendly area with long, groomed cruising runs and uncrowded slopes, 2 people per acre/5 people per hectare to be exact. The wide-open Ruthie's Run is a favourite with cruisers and Ruthie's Chairlift is the world's only high-speed double chair, introduced to preserve the intimacy of skiing, allowing couples and friends to sit together and chat privately.
Those seeking the ultimate in solitude should sign up for "First Tracks", its on a first come, first served basis and is free on production of your lift ticket. The group will have the privilege of making first tracks in fresh powder or on freshly groomed corduroy.
For up to the minute information during your holiday you can tune into Aspen Today, Aspen's own radio station which is broadcast live from the top of the mountain from 7am to 10am every day and features local weather forecasts, complete 4 mountain snow conditions. activities for children and information on whats happening in and around town.
A variety of daycare options and group and private ski school programmes are available for children at Snowmass. Private lessons are available through Ski and Snowboard School for children as young as 18 months, and 3 year olds can participate in group lessons. Snow Cubs, Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen's childcare programme offers one of the nation's only state-licensed, slopeside daycare centres for children from 6 weeks though to 3.5 years of age.
Activities for toddlers include outdoor playtime, toys, games, storytime, puppet shows and crafts. Snow Cubs is located at the base of Fanny Hill on Snowmass and operates from 8.30am to 4.00pm and reservations are required. The new Tubing Hill at Snowmass provides fun for the entire family. Children must be 4 years or older and 4, 5 and 6 year olds must be accompanied by an adult.
Other family activities include "Storytelling by the Campfire" by Snowmass Village local Chuck Barth every Monday and Wednesday for an evening of ice and snow tales. Toasted marshmallows and hot chocolate will ensure families keep warm for this outside adventure by the fire-pit which is located in Snowmass Village next to the Pokolodi Lodge and is free for all ages.
At the end of every day its possible for the whole family to experience the excitement of riding in a snow cat to see how the slopes are groomed, space is limited and places must be booked at the Snowmass ticket pavilion.
The Bar at Little Nell, Ajax Tavern, Cirque Cafe and Mezzaluna are among the hot spots for drinks, food, music and fun. Empty seats are almost impossible to come by at the Bar at Little Nell's, a legendary scene and the place to go for jazz. Cirque Cafe, slopeside at Snowmass Village Mall, has daily live entertainment with karaoke night on Wednesdays. Brick-oven pizza and beer specials bring guests back to Mezzaluna year after year.
Aspen's oldest bar is The Red Onion dating back to 1892 and still a favourite with the locals, good for homemade American and Mexican food. Syzygy have live jazz nightly at 10pm while the Ute City Bar & Grill is the rendezvous for live music at weekends.
For tequila fans Jimmy's American Restaurant & Bar have no less than 54 different types and if you like to start your evening with a Happy Hour or 2 then the Cooper Street Bar and Restaurant is the place to be, Aspen's casual gathering place for 27 years, it has Bar Specials, Games and Sports Satellite TV with Happy Hour from 3-6pm.
Snowmass has 2 halfpipes and 2 terrain parks, catering to riders of all abilities. Complete with lift access and a booming sound system, the Coney Glade area is home to the Trenchtown halfpipe and terrain park, great for advanced riders. while Funnel's halfpipe and terrain park cater to beginner and intermediates. The Trenchtown pipe, kept in top condition by a Pipe Dragon groomer, is 300 feet long, constructed to world-class competition specifications and served by a handle tow lift (enabling riders to get in maximum airtime). The Trenchtown park, separated by the pipe into upper and lower sections, features a variety of tabletops, spine ramps, rail-slides and fun boxes.
The Funnel halfpipe, a beginner/intermediate pipe that is shallower and shorter than the competition pipe at Trenchtown, is accessed via the Funnel chairlift and located on Lower Funnel. The perfect venue for riders to sharpen their technique before jumping into the big pipe. Its an intermediate rider's dream with small features that enable riders of all levels to practice, but don't be fooled, riders can still get airborne and pull off that perfect backside 360.
Must-do's include the Elk Camp area, an ideal sanctuary for riders who enjoy carving down freshly groomed wide-open slopes with the convenience of quick laps on a high-speed quad. Long Shot, a backcountry-like, ungroomed run that winds 3 miles through forests, is just a 5 minute hike east of the top of Elk Camp. Naked Lady is a favourite for its floating rollers atop velvet corduroy snow.
The Big Burn offers some of the longest high-altitude intermediate runs where riders are guaranteed to feel their quads quake. The Campground area's snow stays untracked days after a big snowfall, delighting riders who continue to discover fresh tree lines and bottomless powder stashes. Expert riders head to the legendary Cirque at Snowmass, where a breathtaking alpine slide awaits. From the top of the Cirque lift, adrenaline seekers can access the Cirque Headwall, AMF and Gowdy's. From the top of High Alpine, ambitious riders hike 10 minutes to get hang time on Hanging Valley Wall.
Kris Klug, top US professional snowboard racer makes Aspen his home when he's not travelling the world and his favourite mountain is Snowmass. When Chris is not training he can often be found freeriding on Hanging Valley.