Skiing & Other Winter Activities
Skiing Aspen really means skiing the four Aspen-area resorts -- Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. All are managed by Aspen Skiing Company, and one ticket gives access to all. Daily lift ticket prices (2007-08 prices) during peak season run $87 for adults 18 to 64, $78 for youths 13 to 17 and seniors 65 and older, and $55 for children 7 to 12. Children 6 and under ski free. You can get substantial savings by buying tickets by phone or online a week or more in advance, or buying for 3 days or more. For more information, contact Aspen Skiing Company, P.O. Box 1248, Aspen, CO 81612 (tel. 800/308-6935 or 970/925-1220; www.aspensnowmass.com). Call tel. 888/277-3676 or 970/925-1221 for snow reports.
Aspen Mountain -- Named for an old miner's claim, Aspen Mountain is not for the timid. This is the American West's original hard-core ski mountain, with no fewer than 23 of its runs named double diamond -- for experts only. One-third of the mountain's runs are left forever ungroomed -- sheer ecstasy for bump runners. There are mountain-long runs for intermediates as well as advanced skiers, but beginners should look to one of the other Aspen/Snowmass mountains.
From the Sundeck restaurant at the mountain's 11,212-foot summit, numerous intermediate runs extend on either side of Bell Mountain -- through Copper Bowl and down Spar Gulch. To the east of the gulch, the knob of Bell offers a mecca for mogul mashers, with bump runs down its ridge and its east and west faces. To the west of the gulch, the face of Ruthie's is wonderful for intermediate cruisers, while more mogul runs drop off International. Ruthie's Run extends for over 2 miles down the west ridge of the mountain, with an extension via Magnifico Cut Off and Little Nell to the base, and is accessed by the unique Ruthie's high-speed double chair.
Aspen Mountain has a 3,267-foot vertical drop, with 76 trails on 673 skiable acres. The resort rates its trails as follows: none easiest, 48% more difficult, 26% most difficult, and 26% expert. There are eight lifts -- a high-speed gondola, one high-speed quad chair, two quads, one high-speed double, and three double chairs. Average annual snowfall at the 11,212-foot summit is 300 inches (25 ft.). Aspen Mountain is usually open from late November to mid-April from 9am to 3:30pm. There are four restaurants.
Aspen Highlands -- A favorite of locals for its expert and adventure terrain -- Highland Bowl -- Aspen Highlands also has a good mix of terrain, from novice to expert, with lots of intermediate slopes. It also offers absolutely splendid views of the famed Maroon Bells.
It takes two lifts to reach the 11,675-foot Loge Peak summit, where most of the advanced expert runs are found in the Steeplechase area and 199 acres of glades in the Olympic Bowl. Kandahar, Golden Horn, and Thunderbowl give the intermediate skier a long run from top to bottom, and novices are best served midmountain on trails like Red Onion and Apple Strudel. There are also some fantastic opportunities for experts at Highland Bowl, which is a short walk from the top of the Loge Peak lift.
Freestyle Friday, a tradition at Highlands for almost 3 decades, boasts some of the best freestyle-bump and big-air competitors in Colorado every Friday from early January to mid-April. In this technical head-to-head contest, competitors bump their way down Scarlett's Run and finish with a final jump that lands them within perfect view of lunchtime guests at the Merry-Go-Round Restaurant.
There are 118 trails on 1,028 acres, served by five lifts (three high-speed quads and two triple chairs). Trails are rated 18% easiest, 30% more difficult, 16% most difficult, and 36% expert.
There are six restaurants, including three on the mountain. Highlands is usually open from mid-December to early April, with lifts operating from 9am to 3:30pm.
Buttermilk Mountain -- Buttermilk is a premier beginners' mountain, one of the best places in America to learn how to ski. And it's also the home of the ESPN Winter X Games.
The smallest of Aspen's four mountains, it has 44 trails, which the resort rates at 35% easiest, 39% more difficult, 26% most difficult, and none expert, plus a great terrain park. There are nine lifts (two high-speed quads, three double chairs, two handle tows, and two school lifts) on 470 acres, with a 2,030-foot vertical drop. Average annual snowfall at the 9,900-foot summit is 200 inches (16 ft., 8 in.). There's a restaurant on top and a cafe at the base. Buttermilk is usually open from mid-December to early April, its lifts running from 9am to 3:30pm.
Snowmass -- A huge, mostly intermediate mountain with something for everyone, Snowmass has 33% more skiable acreage than the other three Aspen areas combined! Actually four distinct self-contained areas, each with its own lift system, its terrain varies from easy beginner runs to the pitches of the Cirque and the Hanging Valley Wall, the steepest in the Aspen area.
Big Burn, site of a 19th-century forest fire, boasts wide-open advanced and intermediate slopes and the expert drops of the Cirque. Atop the intermediate Alpine Springs trails is the advanced High Alpine Lift, from which experts can traverse to the formidable Hanging Valley Wall. Elk Camp is ideal for early intermediates who prefer long cruising runs. Sam's Knob has advanced upper trails diving through trees, and a variety of intermediate and novice runs around its northeast face and base. All areas meet in the scattered condominium developments that surround Snowmass Village Mall. All told, there are 3,132 skiable acres at Snowmass, with a 4,406-foot vertical drop from the 12,510-foot summit. The mountain has 91 trails, rated 6% easiest, 50% more difficult, 12% most difficult, and 32% expert. The longest trail is over 5 miles long. There are 21 lifts (one high-speed eight-passenger gondola, one high-speed six passenger, one six-passenger gondola, seven high-speed quad chairs, two quads, three double chairs, two platter pulls, and four ski/snowboard school lifts). Average annual snowfall at the summit is 300 inches (25 ft.).
The renowned Snowmass ski school has hundreds of instructors, as well as programs for children 18 months and older. The area also has three terrain parks, a superpipe, and a rail yard. There are 12 restaurants.
Snowmass is usually open from late November to mid-April from 8am to 3:30pm.
The Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Council operates a free Nordic trail system with about 40 miles of groomed double track extending throughout the Aspen-Snowmass area, and incorporating summer bicycle paths. Instruction and rentals are offered along the trail at the Aspen Cross-Country Center, Colo. 82 between Aspen and Buttermilk (tel. 970/925-2145; www.utemountaineer.com), and the Snowmass Cross Country Center, Snowmass Village (tel. 970/923-5700), both of which provide daily condition reports and information regarding the entire trail system.
Independent backcountry skiers should consult White River National Forest, 806 W. Hallam St. (tel. 970/925-3445; www.fs.fed.us/r2), and two hut systems provide shelter on multiday trips.
For rides in winter or a kennel tour in summer, call Krabloonik, 4250 Divide Rd., Snowmass Village (tel. 970/923-4342; www.krabloonik.com). Every day in winter, teams of Alaskan sled dogs pull guests into the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. Half-day trips, at 8:30am and 12:30pm, include lunch at Krabloonik restaurant and cost $265 per adult and $165 for children 3 to 8 years of age. Children under 3 are not permitted. There are also twilight rides that include dinner at 3:45pm for $340 adults, $270 kids. Kennel tours rare available in summer; contact Krabloonik for more information or an appointment.
The two sheer, pyramidal peaks called Maroon Bells, on Maroon Creek Road 10 miles west of Aspen, are probably two of the most photographed mountains in the Rockies. During summer and into early fall, you can take a 20- to 30-minute narrated bus tour from Aspen Highlands up the Maroon Creek Valley (tel. 970/925-8484; www.rfta.com/maroon). Cost for the bus trip is $6 adults, $3 for youths 6 to 16, $4 for seniors, and it's free for children under 6.
Warm-Weather & Year-Round Activities
Your best source for information on a wide variety of outdoor activities in the mountains around Aspen, including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, four-wheeling, fishing, and camping, is the White River National Forest.
There's no lack of guides, outfitters, and sporting-goods shops in Aspen. Among the best one-stop outfitters is Blazing Adventures (tel. 800/282-7238 or 970/923-4544; www.blazingadventures.com), which offers rafting, mountain-biking, hiking, four-wheeling, hot-air ballooning, and horseback-riding excursions.
There are two bike paths of note. One connects Aspen with Snowmass Village; it covers 13 miles and begins at Seventh Street south of Hopkins Avenue, cuts through the forest to Colo. 82, then follows Owl Creek Road and Brush Creek Road to the Snowmass Mall. Extensions link it with Aspen High School and the Aspen Business Park. The Rio Grande Trail follows the Roaring Fork River from near the Aspen Post Office, on Puppy Smith Street, 2 miles west to Cemetery Lane. Durrance Sports, 414 E. Cooper Ave (tel. 970/429-0101; www.durrancesports.com), rents comfort bikes, kids' bikes, and cruisers ($30 a day), as well as mountain bikes.
Perhaps the best of a great deal of good trout fishing in the Aspen area is to be found in the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers, both considered gold-medal streams. The Roaring Fork follows Colo. 82 through Aspen from Independence Pass; the Frying Pan starts near Tennessee Pass, northeast of Aspen, and joins the Roaring Fork at Basalt, 18 miles down valley.
Stop at Aspen Fly Fishing in the Gondola Plaza at 601 E. Dean St. (tel. 970/920-6886; www.aspenflyfishing.com), for a guided fishing trip; two people wading for a half-day is $350. Blazing Adventures also offers fishing guide service.
Public 18-hole championship courses in the Aspen valley include Aspen Golf Course, 9461 Colo. 82, 1 mile west of Aspen (tel. 970/925-2145; www.aspenrecreation.com), one of the longer courses in Colorado, at 7,165 yards, charging $53 to $105 for 18 holes plus $20 per person for the cart; and the Snowmass Club, 239 Snowmass Club Circle (tel. 970/923-5700; www.snowmassclub.com), charging about $220 for 18 holes, including a cart and range balls. Carts are reserved for members until 1pm.
Hiking & Mountaineering
Among the best ways to see the spectacular scenery here is on foot. You can get maps and tips on where to go from White River National Forest offices. One popular trail is the route past the Maroon Bells to Crested Butte; the trek would take 175 miles by mountain road, but it's only about 30 miles by foot -- 14 miles from the end of Aspen's Maroon Creek Road.
Hikers can also make use of two hut systems for multiday trips -- the 12-hut 10th Mountain Trail Association's system toward Vail, and the six-hut Alfred A. Braun and Friends Hut System (tel. 970/925-5775 for both; www.huts.org) toward Crested Butte. Huts are basic, with bunk beds, but do have wood-burning stoves, propane burners, photovoltaic lighting, kitchen equipment, mattresses, and pillows. A bed in one of the huts costs $28 per night. Offices are at 1280 Ute Ave., Ste. 21, in Aspen.
Those who would like a guide for their hiking or mountaineering excursion should contact Aspen Expeditions, 414 E. Cooper Ave. (tel. 970/925-7625; www.aspenexpeditions.com), which offers guided trips up fourteeners and other mountains (about $300-$500 per person, depending on the size of the group), as well as less strenuous days of high-alpine trekking (about $100 per person). Aspen Expeditions also offers guided rock-climbing trips.
Several stables in the Aspen valley offer a variety of rides, and some outfitters even package gourmet meals and country-and-western serenades with their expeditions. A wide variety of adventures are offered; rates for day trips usually run about $70 to $100 per person for a 2-hour ride or $150 to $200 for a half-day. Inquire at Aspen Wilderness Outfitters (tel. 970/963-0211; www.aspenwilderness.com), Capitol Peak Outfitters (tel. 970/928-0723; www.capitolpeak.com), or OutWest Guides (tel. 970/963-5525; www.outwestguides.net).
There are hundreds of miles of trails through the White River National Forest that are perfect for mountain bikers, offering splendid views of the mountains, meadows, and valleys. Check with the Forest Service and local bike shops for tips on the best trails. Among full-service bike shops offering rentals are Aspen Velo Bike Shop, 465 N. Mill St. (tel. 970/925-1495; www.aspenvelo.com), and Durrance Sports, 414 E. Cooper Ave ([tel 970/429-0101; www.durrancesports.com). A full-day rental is typically $40 to $60.
Rafting trips are offered on the Roaring Fork, Arkansas, and Colorado rivers with several companies, including Colorado Riff Raft (tel. 800/282-7238 or 970/923-4544; www.riffraft.com), Up Tha Creek Expeditions (tel. 877/982-7335 or 970/947-0030; www.upthacreek.com), and Blazing Adventures. Rates are usually about $65 to $95 for a half-day.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.