Postcard from Snowmass 4
By JC, Cub Reporter

An early January shot from Highland Bowl at Snowmass. Photo by Chip Strait, courtesy Aspen/Snowmass Resort.
I just returned from a wonderful week at Snowmass, Colorado, one of the four ski areas in the Aspen area, and a town in itself. This was my third visit over a span of 7 years; I keep going back for the combination of great skiing and low-key atmosphere that has become rare in major ski resorts.

Snowmass boasts 3,010 acres and the largest vertical (4,406 feet) in the US served by lifts. (To take full advantage of that, however, you must take a surface lift for the last 670 feet or so.) It is a lot of territory, offering a distribution of difficulty to satisfy all levels of skier and boarder. According to the official count, 7% of the territory is beginner, 55% is intermediate, 18% advanced (black diamond), and 20% is expert (double diamond). I am not a boarder, but I was very impressed with the appearance and scope of the terrain parks, including half-pipes, rails, and jumps that just kept on going. (These people should know how to set up terrain parks; the X-games were going on while I was there on nearby Buttermilk mountain.)

As mentioned above, Snowmass is low key. What I mean is that the mountain is surprisingly quiet. Over the entire week, I never waited for a significant time in a lift line, and frequently had runs to myself. I am told that the end of January is an especially quiet time there, which may partly explain my observations. In any event, I very much appreciated it.

I arrived on a Saturday. Sunday day and evening it snowed, adding 9 inches of powder to a good base, making Monday heaven. Even on Tuesday, I was still finding lots of powder in the glades. (That’s what a large area with with low traffic can do for you.)

Snowmass offers a nice mix of groomed and ungroomed trails, as well as plenty of tree skiing.

David “DCP” Porcheron, a member of the Burton Global Snowboard Team, performs a frontside 900 on the pipe at Aspen Buttermilk in early January. Photo by Chip Strait, courtesy Aspen/Snowmass Resort.
I love glade skiing, and Snowmass is a glade skier’s paradise. (By glade, I mean terrain that is treed, but with sufficient space to ski between much of the trees without fear of wetting your pants.) One of my favorite runs is Long Shot, an amazing run that goes for 3.5 miles away from everything else on the mountain. Long Shot is reached from the Elk Camp peak, but you must hike up to it. I confess that I am too lazy to hike up anywhere else to ski, but this run has always been worth it. It is never groomed, and begins with a very wide and long glade, eventually narrowing to a conventional run’s width made private by trees on either side. A great, quiet adventure. I took it on Monday, just after the new snow arrived, and had a fluffy happy time.

My other favorite is Powerline Glades off of Big Burn. Actually, Big Burn has glades lurking all over it, but Powerline Glades is a large area that just keeps on going, and each time through brings a new path.

There are many restaurants on the mountain, and I bought all of my lunches there. Everything I sampled was very good, but expensive, of course. I ate at Cafe Suzanne, The Ullrhof, and Sam’s Knob; all quite satisfying. The desserts (always a good barometer) were exceptionally good.

Along with the usual fare, Cafe Suzanne offers crepes (the spinach-mushroom crepe I had was quite good) and classical music in the background. I had always been under the impression that Colorado law prohibited the dining area, restrooms, and entrance from all being on the same floor, but Sam’s Knob provides a welcome violation. And as soon as you enter Sam’s Knob, you are greeted by comfy couches around two fireplaces. For something different, try the Sam’s Burger, which has lots of apricot chutney on it: messy but good. (It tastes great, honest!)

The little town of Snowmass offers many places to stay, a good array of restaurants, and the usual collection of sporting goods and t-shirt shops -; all close to the mountain. Free shuttle buses run constantly connecting the condos, slopes, and stores. Most of the shops and restaurants are clustered in the Snowmass Village Mall right next to the slopes.

I stayed at the Tamarack Townhouses. My walk to the slopes took about 2 minutes (in ski boots). Tamarack is very nice with a good staff, great hot tubs, and a pool.

Speaking of restaurants, I give my vote for the best dessert of the year (not offered lightly!) to the Expresso Mud Pie at the Tower restaurant in the Mall. This is not like your standard Chart House mud pie, but something to write home about!

Your lift ticket at Snowmass also lets you ski at Buttermilk, Aspen Mountain, and Aspen Highlands. Free buses will pick you up from the Snowmass Village Mall and take you to the town of Aspen and to the other ski areas during the day. At night, the trip to Aspen requires a small fee. The trip to Aspen takes 15 or 20 minutes and offers a great deal of dining and shopping.

The only negative thing a can say about Snowmass is that it is a four-hour drive from the Denver Airport. (You could fly into Aspen if you have money to burn.) But the distance is what makes Snowmass quiet, so I really don’t mind.

As the bus pulled out from Snowmass, snow was falling to begin another week in Rocky Mountain paradise…

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Reader Comments

jj
February 3, 2004
I'm envious. I'm a big fan of Snowmass too, although my total exposure is only 3 days on their slopes. Great terrain, ambiance, plus the other nearby Aspen ski areas and attractions. You're right, the distance from Denver reduces crowds, high costs keep some folks away too. If you're gonna splurge, this is the place to do it. I think they've had better snow this year too over places like Breckenridge and Copper.
JohnL
February 3, 2004
JC,

How did you get between Denver and Aspen? It sounds like you were with a group that rented a bus. About how much did the ground transportation cost?

I'm going to Aspen for a week in early March. I'm flying into Aspen airport. I actually got a pretty fair fare, 410 including all taxes, etc. My trip is a Saturday to Saturday during prime season, probably the most expensive time to fly except for the holidays.

I was looking at either flying into Denver or Eagle County airports, but when I started adding in ground transportation costs (rental car or Rocky Mountain Shuttle), flying directly into Aspen was not really that much more expensive. (It was cheaper than renting a car by myself - my group is flying in from all areas of the country, some staying different periods of time. Tough to coordinate a rental car.)

Maybe I was missing some low-cost means of ground transportation.
JC
February 3, 2004
JohnL, you're right. I was with a large group that chartered a bus. I believe it was Arrow Stage Lines. They were very good. I don't know the cost.

There was another large group from the BW area that went at the same time as we did, on the same nonstop from BWI to Denver. They were supposed to connect to Eagle, but we all came in late to Denver. The other group missed the connection and had to scramble for new transportation, but we just got on our bus, so we were lucky. We also avoided the opportunity for luggage to be misplaced that always comes with a plane change.
CM
February 6, 2004
This trip (Jan 26-31) was the best. My brother taught me to ski. I finally got off the beginner's slope (it took about 35 years). Everyone I met from the Blue Ridge Ski Council were very cordial, but the Crabtown Skiers included me in their team; and they were a team in the true sense of the word. They were very supportive and enjoyed doing something all day. The new Aspen Recreation facility has a nice hockey size rink. Five of us had the rink to ourselves. Thanks Crabtown Skiers.

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