Aspen - An Experience you'll want to have again

2nd of February 2017


Joey Elliss is only 10, so he found plenty of waist-deep lines. Photo Jesse Hoffman

Mountainwatch | By Reggae Elliss

Walking around Aspen at night makes you realise why it is one of the most famous ski destinations in the world. The atmosphere is magical, the fairy-lights in the trees sparkling against the snow, the Victorian era houses and buildings lending the town a feeling of heritage and authenticity. Yes, this place is the real deal and when it’s snowing everything is amplified and for our kids it is like they’re in fairy-land.

After skiing a day of powder today, and I mean incredible knee-deep, light, blower pow, they think they are in a skiing paradise.

“What a day, dad,” my daughter Arkie said as we were halfway through another epic powder run through the trees at Aspen Highlands. “This is the best day ever,”
she said.


Arkie Elliss having the time of her life in the Highlands Trees. Photo Jesse Hoffman.

I agreed with her. We had just skied three epic runs in the Temerity trees, deep super-light powder and it was one of the best morning’s skiing I have ever had. Think Japan, but with a steep consistent fall line of 2000 feet that seemed like it was never going to end.

As it turned out, it didn’t end. The snow fell steadily all day, getting deeper by the hour and for some reason there was hardly anybody there. We had fresh tracks all day and skied until last lifts.

Unbelievable. It was our fourth powder day out of five days in Aspen, as the January storm cycle that had been hitting the US delivered another run of consistent snow falls.

This is Aspen at its best.


The Elk Range looking spectacular from the top of Aspen Mountain. Photos Reggae Elliss

Our guide for the day was Nick Hill, an Australian who has been guiding and coaching in Aspen for 15 years. Hilly knows the mountain better than most and that knowledge took us into some of the lines we’d never find ourselves. Hilly also pointed out that we were lucky to score such consistent fresh snow as storm cycles like this only happen every five or six years.

However, Hilly also pointed out that the beauty of Aspen is it enjoys quality snow days after a storm thanks to its high altitude (3267m) and dry, desert-like climate. While it may be get firm off piste in between storms, it will still be dry and chalky and the groomed runs are pretty well perfect corduroy every morning.

Aspen used to market itself as the “power of Four”, a pointer to the four distinct mountains in the Valley that make up Aspen/Snowmass – Aspen, Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.


Nick Hill, Arkie and Joey scoping lines at Highlands bowl. Photo Jesse Hoffman

Each mountain is different and together they offer a huge variety of terrain for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Aspen mountain is renowned for its gladed tree runs and double black steeps, while Aspen Highlands has some of the best and steepest in-bounds terrain in Colorado. Snowmass, around 25-30 minutes from Aspen, is huge with its long groomed runs providing excellent “highway skiing” if you are in cruise mode while it also some great black diamond terrain to keep the experts happy. Snowmass is also a resort within itself, with a large village, retail, restaurants and plenty of accommodation.

The fourth mountain, Buttermilk, is known world-wide as the location for the Winter X Games and its expert terrain park is one of the best in North America. Our visit coincided with the first couple of days the Xgames and watching the slopestyle eliminations and big air practice, you felt that Buttermilk is the epicentre of freestyle skiing and snowboarding. However, Buttermilk is also one of the best beginner/intermediate mountains you’ll find anywhere, its long and gentle terrain allowing novice skiers and snowboarders to gain confidence and progress quickly.

Aspen caters well for kids of all ages through its internationally recognised ski and snowboard school. Based out of the Treehouse Kids Adventure centre at Snowmass and The Hideout at Buttermilk, Aspen has programs for three-to-six year-old first timers through to junior rippers in the seven-to-12 years’ old's program. There is also a program for advanced 13-17 years olds that focusses on everything from groomers to steeps, powder and the park, so there is something for everybody.


Dumping. Photo Jesse Hoffman

We skied all four mountains a couple of times during our week in Aspen and the beauty is they all have a bit of everything so you can mix it up each day. One of the great things about Aspen is you do not need a car. Accessing each mountain is easy as they are all serviced by free buses and shuttles from downtown Aspen. There are also bus links between each mountain, making it easy to ski one mountain in the morning and another in the afternoon. The longest trip is the 25-30min bus ride from Aspen to Snowmass and the longest wait we had for a bus was 10 mins.

Aspen is also part of the Mountain Collective, a group of ski resorts that includes not only some of the best mountains in North America but also Thredbo. That means if, like us, you have a Thredbo winter season pass or 365 pass, you get a 50% discount on day tickets. A big saving when you’re buying lift tickets for two adults and two kids.

While Aspen in winter is all about the snow and the mountains, the town was founded in 1879 and has different layers you don’t find in a purpose-built ski resort. It has a year-round population who live and work in the area and there is a palpable sense of community. Aspen has a well-deserved reputation as a happening, vibrant place and it offers plenty of entertainment with live music, cool bars and diverse food options.


Aspen at night is something special. Photo courtesy Aspen Snowmass

There are also plenty of options for the kids including tubing, sleigh rides and dog sledding, and our kids loved the open air ice skating in town where they spent an hour every afternoon.

It is all part of the complete snow holiday.

This diversity is also found in the accommodation available, and there is something to suit all budgets. You can five-star it with the best, but from a family or budget traveller perspective, there is an affordable array of comfortable accommodation all within an easy walk to the middle of town, transport and the Aspen Gondola.

Aspen has a reputation for attracting celebrities and the rich and famous, and no doubt it does. However, that is a superficial perspective on the place and Aspen is much, much more. It has everything, whether you are a core skier or snowboarder looking for great terrain and snow or a family on a long-awaited for holiday.

Either way, Aspen is an experience you’ll want to have again.

ACCOMMODATION

A lot of variety available. Frias Properties are great to deal with and manage a number of different properties to suit all budgets. They also have added extras like complimentary Aspen airport transport, free Wi-Fi, health and fitness club access and a concierge service for booking restaurants, baby sitters, transport. www.friasproperties.com

Limelight Hotel: A great hotel just a few blocks from the aspen Gondola and close to everything in town. Fun bar for après with live music and hospitable and friendly staff who go the extra mile.

GETTING THERE

You can fly into Aspen with connections from LA, San Francisco or Denver. Or fly to Denver and rent a car or catch a bus to Aspen. It’s an easy drive down the I70 highway.

MOUNTAIN STATS

Aspen Mountain
Vertical: 3,267 ft. (996 m)
Top elevation: 11,212 ft. (3,417 m)
Base elevation: 7,945 ft. (2,422 m)
Skiable area: 673 acres (2.7 km2)

Aspen Highlands
Vertical: 3638bfft (1109M)
Top Elevation: 11678ft (3559m)
Base elevation: 8040ft (2450m)
Skiable area: 1010 acres (4.1 sq. km)

Snowmass
Vertical: 4406ft (1343m)
Top elevation: 12,510ft (3810m)
Base elevation: 8104ft (2470m)
Skiable area: 3362 acres (13.61sq kms)

Buttermilk
Vertical: 2030ft (6109m)
Top elevation: 9900ft (3000m)
Base elevation: 7870ft (2400m)
Skiable area: 435 acres (1.76 sq. kms)

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