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A TALE OF TWO MOUNTAINS - Jane Peel, Aspen, Colorado
Tuesday March 13, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

PlanetSKI's chief reporter visits the two peaks that give Aspen Snowmass its name. Each has its own unique character.

It's one of Colorado's most famous resorts.

Aspen is known as the choice of billionaires and celebrities.

But this Gstaad of the USA is surprisingly laid back and unpretentious, though the same can't be said for some of its visitors. (Who knew Prada made ski jackets?)

Aspen, ColoradoAspen















Aspen is made up of four separate and very different mountains: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

The ski pass covers the lot though, annoyingly, they're not linked by lifts, only by a free bus service.

I've been checking out two of them - Snowmass, a purpose-built European-style resort that's celebrating its 50th birthday this season, and Aspen Mountain, where recreational skiing began back in the 1940s, more than 50 years after silver mining on the hill was abandoned.


First up Snowmass.

















It's big.

In fact it's bigger than the other three mountains put together, which is one of its attractions.
















Another is that just about everything - accommodation, shops, restaurants, bars - are all slopeside.

Then there's its range of trails.

There are enclosed beginners' areas...

Beginners' area, SnowmassEnclosed beginners' area















There are wide, sweeping runs of varying steepness, with trees everywhere.

SnowmassWide, sweeping runs
















SnowmassLots of trees, Snowmass
















In the trees at SnowmassLots of trees, Snowmass

















There are big bowls and vertigo-inducing-mega-mogul-expert-only double black diamonds.

Cirque, SnowmassTough skiing this way
















There's a world-class freestyle park.

The halfpipe is where US snowboarding superstar Shaun White scored a perfect 100 points in January.

Snowmass halfpipeSnowmass halfpipe
















And the lifts. There are no queues - anywhere.

I'm assured that the lift capacity here is so great that only at the busiest US holiday times when the resort is full is there even a hint of a queue.

















Snowmass is celebrating its 50th birthday this season.

It was developed by an ex-Olympic skier, Bill Janss, who bought up several ranches to build a series of alpine-style villages.

The first chair was loaded on 16th December 1967.

Snowmass opening day 1967First skiers on the chairlift in December 1967









If you want to know more of the history, watch the video: Snowmass - 50 Years Of Mountain Spirit.

It's seen major development since and is in the process of growing even more.

A $600 million construction project - claimed to be the largest anywhere in North America - is underway at Snowmass Base Village.

Construction at SnowmassConstruction underway at Snowmass Base Village
















The whole thing will take eight to 10 years but some of it will be ready by next winter, including a new hotel.

Planned development at SnowmassThe $600 million future















The Limelight will have 99 hotel room and 11 condos.

You can buy yourself a penthouse there if you like but your pockets will need to be deep.

One has just sold for $4.5 million.

Construction at SnowmassPenthouse anyone?
















Nowhere in the Aspen-Snowmass area is cheap but the service is outstanding.

At the Viceroy Hotel, the ski valets ask if you need help putting on your boots (!) and lay out your skis ready for you in the morning.

Skis at the Viceroy, SnowmassSkis ready and waiting
















And I've never had a friendly liftie load my skis onto or remove them from a gondola before.

Plus there are a few freebies you can take advantage of.

How about this for apres-ski with a difference - free Snowmass S'Mores.


Snowmass S'MoresSnowmass S'Mores
















S'Mores get their name from the fact that eating them will make you want "s'more".

They're marshmallows you warm over a fire pit and press into two wafers filled with a chocolate slab.

Snowmas S'moresS'more please!



















Nine miles down the road from Snowmass is downtown Aspen, which sits at the foot of Aspen Mountain.

I took advantage of the overnight storage and transfer service which operates between all four mountains.

Overnight ski storage and transferOvernight ski storage and transfer
















It's free if you rent your equipment or $10 if you have your own.

You simply pick them up from the concierge right by the lift.

Ski concierge at AspenSki pick-up at Aspen
















Both the town and the mountain in Aspen are very different to Snowmass.

Aspen is an old silver mining town whose development has been carefully controlled.

It oozes character.

































































There is an awful lot of money here.

Aspen is a big draw for the rich, the famous, the beautiful and the surgically-enhanced.

But it's also full of ordinary skiers and snowboarders and there's no sense of "them-and-us".

Aspen MountainAspen Mountain
















This is not a mountain for beginners.

Aspen MountainAspen Mountain from the town
















There are no trails categorised as easy. They are narrower and steeper than at Snowmass and all generally funnel down to the town at the bottom.

Aspen mountainDifficult runs all over the mountain
















There are black double diamond runs everywhere, including the Glades, the Face of Bell and the short but scary Kristi (one of those you're glad you did but only after the event).

Despite its relatively small size and the fact that it has only eight lifts, it's quiet on the slopes and at the lifts.

Aspen MountainQuiet slopes






























The whole Aspen-Snowmass ski area benefits from being a four-hour drive from Denver. It's simply too far away to attract the skiing commuters which keeps it nice and empty for those who make the effort.

I found out a little more about this special place from my guide for the day, Lea Tucker:


I loved Snowmass but now I love Aspen Mountain even more.

The skiing here is fabulous.  And the place is quirky.

There's Blondie's cabin, where the lady of the same name "entertained" her paying male guests....

Blondie's cabin, AspenBlondie's cabin















...and it's fence made of old skis...

Fence of old skis, AspenFence
















...and there are those famous shrines in the trees to dead musicians and actors. 

Jerry Garcia shrine, AspenShrine to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
















Shrine to Elvis Presley, AspenShrine to Elvis Presley
















Elvis Presley & Marilyn Monroe shrines, AspenPlanetSKI visits Elvis and Marilyn













You need someone to show you where they are as they're hidden off the main routes in the trees.

Our group remembered Aspen local John Denver, who died in a plane crash in 1997, by playing one of his songs at his shrine...


The apres-ski on the mountain is another thing this place has going for it.

My visit coincided with the first Friday night sunset ski when the lifts stay open late.


On Fridays in spring, there's skiing until just before dark, then a party with live music, cocktails and dancing at the Sundeck at 3,400 metres on the top of the mountain.

Sundeck, AspenDrinks at the Sundeck














The view from here across to one of Aspen's two mountains I haven't been able to visit, Apsen Highlands, is spectacular.

Aspen HighlandsView of Aspen Highlands at sunset













Next time. Next time.

There has to be a next time...


Aspen MountainBye for now, Aspen











  • Base 2,623m
  • Summit 3,813m
  • Trails 96 - easiest runs 5%; difficult (single black diamond) 48%; most difficult (double black diamond) 17%; expert 30%

















Aspen Mountain

  • Base 2,425m
  • Summit 3,415m
  • Trails 76  - easiest runs 0%, difficult 48%; most difficult 26%; expert 26%
















PlanetSKI was in Aspen-Snowmass as the guest of Colorado Ski Country, the trade body that represents 24 resorts in the state.

We stayed at the Viceroy Hotel, Snowmass and the Limelight Hotel, Aspen.

More information about Aspen-Snowmass.

Travel was by Norwegian, which offers low-cost flights year-round direct from London Gatwick to Denver International Airport. Fares start from £180 one way/ £340 return in economy and £500 one way/£1,000 return in Premium, including taxes & charges. Skis/Snowboards £50 each way when booked online.  Go to or call 0330 828 0854

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

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