I sat in Cafe Suzanne listening to classical music, eating crepes, and watching the snow cover the Elk Camp lift area. It was my fifth day at Snowmass and I was enjoying that laid-back tired feeling that comes with continual skiing.
Snowmass is the largest of four ski mountains in the Aspen area, separated from the town of Aspen by a 15 minute free bus ride. At its base is the Village of Snowmass, site of many condos (including one I was occupying), restaurants, and shops catering to tourists. Snowmass has 20 lifts (7 high speed quads), more than 3,000 skiable acres, a rise of 4,400 feet, and a wide range of terrain.
When I arrived, I was treated to what I like best when beginning my ski season in earnest: sun on corduroy. Snowmass has plenty of blue screamers for warm up and that wind-in-the-face wakeup. Of course, it has everything else, too: bump runs, glade skiing, double-diamond chutes and open fields, beginner terrain.
The first four days of my stay were filled with that wonderful Colorado combination of sun and vistas. Perfect for speed, sight-seeing, bump workouts. The area had not seen snow for more than a week and was running behind usual snowfall, so that some places began to get a bit thin and the Cirque (the highest double-diamond bowl) was closed. This condition, however minor, was temporary. On the fifth day, we were greeted by 6 inches of powder at the top. It was somewhat unexpected, and without the extra powder-hounds we had a wonderful time sailing slowly through the new unbroken snow. It continued snowing all day, and the following night dropped an additional 16 inches of heavy new snow. This time the powder-hounds were out in force as we all played in the deep stuff.
Snowmass is far enough away from the population centers to remain sane. I doubt if I ever waited more than 5 minutes in a lift line. Most of the time the mazes were empty. Further, I was often by myself on a run.
My favorite runs were Long Shot and Powerline Glades. The latter is a large area off the Big Burn, consisting of a treed hillside of varying pitch, with the trees spaced just enough to squeeze between them. This single-diamond area offers untracked snow or roller coaster tracks to anyone who likes to disappear into the trees and not emerge for twenty minutes. Long Shot is an unusual trail that is reached by a hike up from the top of Elk Camp. It then runs three and half miles without intersecting other trails. Few others are willing to make the hike, so Long Shot is a quiet adventure with varying terrain, well worth the strenuous climb. And the bottom of it is served by a high-speed quad to bring you back up to Cafe Suzanne. Although labeled as blue, I would rate Long Shot as dark blue, at least.
In addition to normal trails, Snowmass has a long half-pipe and a jumping area for boarders. It also has a Nastar race course and a conveniently-located demo rental tent on the mountain (open every day).
The charms of Snowmass are not confined to skiing or boarding. The restaurants on the mountain are a cut above most ski areas. How often have you had good crepes on a hill? In addition to Cafe Suzanne, check out Gwyn’s High Alpine at the top of Alpine Springs lift.
This trip to Snowmass was my second. There will be others.
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