Beyond all the glitz, movie stars, and wannabes, it's sometimes easy to forget just how good the skiing and boarding is at Aspen/Snowmass (tel. 800/525-6200; www.aspensnowmass.com). Early-season conditions are currently terrific at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, and Aspen Highlands recently opened to eight inches of fresh powder. There's plenty of open terrain for every skill level (although double-black fiends are still waiting on the steepest steeps.
Nuts and Bolts
For those unfamiliar with the four areas here, this quick primer helps you get the lay of the land. Accessed from a gondola in downtown Aspen, Aspen Mountain has the resort's original slopes, open since 1947. Aspen Mountain features terrific blue cruisers and renowned expert terrain.
Home to the ESPN Winter X Games, Buttermilk also has plenty of long blue runs and beginner terrain, as well as a beloved Olympic-sized superpipe.
Aspen Highlands is a local favorite, known for its blue and black runs and the backcountry-like in-bounds terrain at Highlands Bowl.
And with its own distinct base village less than 10 miles from downtown Aspen, Snowmass is one of the largest resorts anywhere, with over 3,000 acres (that works out to two people per acre) and the most vertical feet of any resort in the U.S. (4,046). It's also notable for having a bed base that's over 90 percent ski-in, ski-out condos, making it a good choice for families.
This season, you'll find a new 12-foot halfpipe at Snowmass (aimed at beginners still learning the ins and outs of riding the pipe), free tours of the steep Highlands Bowl (double-black terrain that requires a healthy hike to access its 2,000 vertical feet), and a longer season at Highlands (it won't close until April 24).
Sunset skiing is coming this spring: As of March 18, one of four mountains will stay open each Friday until 6pm to take advantage of the extra daylight. The base village at Snowmass has also enjoyed a major redevelopment in recent years, highlighted by the opening of the ski-in, ski-out Viceroy Snowmass (tel. 970/923-8000; www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/snowmass) in 2009.
Also falling in the new category is something very old: A mammoth discovery has uncovered one of the best Ice Age-era paleontological sites in the country. The mammoth -- discovered by a crew working to expand a pond that supplies water for snowmaking -- is considered to be one of the best preserved specimens ever found.
So Aspen is not exactly cheap. But there are ways to stretch your dollar. First off, consider staying down valley. Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs not only offer good deals, but they are nicely connected to the resort's free shuttle system via public transportation (www.rfta.com). In fact, the free shuttle system that interconnects Aspen and Snowmass Village and the other mountains is terrific; you don't really need a car or a cab around here, but if you do -- for say, a ride to the Woody Creek Tavern (www.woodycreektavern.com) -- look no further than the Ultimate Taxi (www.ultimatetaxi.com).
In Aspen, the St. Moritz Lodge & Condominums (tel. 800/817-2069; www.stmoritzlodge.com) is the least expensive lodging in town, with post-holiday room and condo rates of $179 to $219 and hostel beds for $54.
The Sky Hotel (tel. 970/925-6760; www.theskyhotel.com) at the base of Aspen Mountain has a "$309 & a Bottle of Wine" deal during ski season that gets you that nightly rate, vino, and other perks, as well as ski-and-stay rates starting at $300 per night. The resort's Perfect Storm package offers five-for-four deals on lift tickets and lodging, and other perks.
Quotable: "Eight inches of fresh for opening day at Highlands? The locals are gonna go crazy!" -- an Aspen local
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Winter Sport Forum.