Postcard from Snowmass: A Firsthand Report 4
By JC, Cub Reporter

I just returned from a week at Snowmass, my fourth trip there. It’s hard to go wrong with a week in Colorado, and this week just reinforced that rule.

Snowmass is one of four mountains in the Aspen area. While the other three are adjacent to the town of Aspen, Snowmass is a twenty-minute drive away.

Snowmass can be reached by a 4- or 5-hour drive from Denver, or by a short drive from Aspen’s small airport. We took the latter choice, which seemed more convenient, but turned out to be a mistake. I now know that Aspen airport closes due to weather a lot. In my case, it closed when we tried to arrive and closed when we tried to leave, so it took 2 days to travel both in and out.

An aside: While it has some wonderful people working for it, United Airlines, as an organization, is dysfunctional. My image of what the Soviet bureaucracy must have been like was formed from our 4 hours at the hands of United Customer Service on my way in. The treatment on the way out was not much better. If you are thinking about using United Airlines, think again! End of rant.

Photo provided by JC.

When we arrived, it had snowed two days before, leaving a 38 inch base at mid-mountain, and a 53 inch base at the top. The temperatures were cold, so the off-trail snow remained fluffy. All but secondary lifts were open.

Snowmass boasts a rise of 4,406 feet to a peak of 12,510 feet, 3,128 acres, and a run distribution of 6% green, 50% blue, 12% black, and 32% double black.

It was unusually cold, reaching a record low in Aspen. But a temperature inversion kept the top of the mountain warmer than the base at times. Monday’s high was 10, but I didn’t ski that day, since we arrived midday, and temperatures were to increase slowly through the week.

Tuesday opened with a temperature of -10 and got to high of somewhere near 15 at the base. But it was cloudless and free of wind, so I didn’t feel at all cold while skiing. Nothing beats a sunny Colorado day on the slopes!

Photo provided by JC.

Wednesday, also free of clouds, began at -6 degrees (at about 8:00) and was slated to reach 19 at the base. While I felt a bit cold for the first two runs, the rest of the day was great. These conditions, with small change, held through Friday. Saturday was uncharacteristically cloudy in the morning, but by late afternoon had become sunny again.

My favorite run was Long Shot, which I visit each time. Its entrance violates my religion (you have to hike UP to it), but the trip is worth it. Long Shot runs 3.5 miles before encountering another trail, dropping 3,400 feet. It’s an adventure, with terrain that varies as it takes you through a path that you can’t see ahead, like a cross-country skiing trip without the work. With the exception of the runout, it is not groomed. For an extra treat, hit it after a dump, as I was lucky enough to do some years back.

The snow conditions were pretty good. I saw no bare spots and the cold temperatures kept things from melting and refreezing. On the whole, the area was not crowded. Since there was no new snow through the week, some areas got a bit scraped by the end, though coverage remained good.

New this year is a six-pack lift taking you from the base to Sam’s Knob (replacing a quad) and a gondola from the base to the Elk Camp area. The gondola is quite nice on those cold mornings.

Photo provided by JC.

Frequently, I was by myself on the slopes, though there were certainly times when things would get much busier than I like. I never had a significant wait in the lift line, though I bypassed one or two that could have been 5 minute waits.

There are several restaurants on the mountain, making it easy to stop or eat whenever you want, with little traversing. I go skiing every year in The West, and always eat on the mountain. With that as a background, I have to say that this trip has set a record for the amount that I paid for lunch. A sandwich, coke, and cookie cost about $14. Cafe Suzanne was my favorite stop. It offers a French twist on food and plays classical music.

There is the usual collection of businesses at the mountain’s base, offering many equipment shops, restaurants, and general peddlers. This area is referred to as “The Mall.” A few blocks down from the base is “The Village,” which has a complete grocery store, a drug store, and assorted other places. Condos are arrayed about and between these locations. While you could walk the whole thing, free and very frequent buses will carry you between them all.

Photo provided by JC.

If you wish to travel to the other mountains, or the town of Aspen, you can take special buses from The Mall free of charge during the day. At night, these buses cost $3 per trip.

Special kudos to the restaurant called Big Hoss! They have free WiFi. They are located on the upper level in The Mall.

I recommend the restaurant in The Stonebridge Inn, located just below The Mall. But I am disappointed that while they proudly advertise WiFi throughout Stronebridge Inn, they are lame enough to charge for it.

Summary: I enjoyed my stay, and I especially enjoyed the skiing. It’s hard to beat Colorado.

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Reader Comments

DCSki Reader
January 23, 2007
Thanks for the report on a great ski area. Long shot sounds great. Can you get that full 4,400 vertical feet from the very summit in a continuous run? Snowmass alone is big enough for a week, but wondering did you visit the other Aspen ski areas too?
January 27, 2007
I'm not sure if you can get the entire vertical in one run; I didn't try. You can easily go between the four mountains on the free buses, using the same lift pass. I didn't do that this time, but I have before, and other people in my party did so this year. Snowmass is the biggest area, and it didn't bore me enough to want to hassle with buses, especially since I was able to walk across the street and get on a lift.
February 21, 2007
If one wants to ski only blues/greens, the maximum one-shot vertical is likely to be about 4,000 feet from top of Cirque at 12,510 down to the bottom of Fanny Hill around 8,500. By skiing a single black diamond, it is easy to get to bottom of Camp-Ground at 8,223 (4,300 drop). By skiing couple of double black diamonds, one can get from the top Cirque to bottom of Two Creeks at 8,104 in one continuous 4,406 vertical drop. But, in my opinion, you will either find the gated double blacks very, very challenging , or blue of Two Creeks very easy.

Jon Panning
July 25, 2008
Telluride just opened up new terrain and now has a vertical rise of 4425 feet.

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