Just mention the word "Aspen" and you'll conjure up images of glamour, celebrity, and stardom. The pampered and privileged add certain panache to the scene, but people visit Aspen first and foremost because of the world-class skiing and riding.
Start right in town with Aspen Mountain (also known as Ajax), and ride the Silver Queen Gondola to the top, more than 3200 feet above the base. Aspen caters to solid intermediates or better, with about half the terrain suitable for advanced or expert skiers and riders. Riders? Yes, Aspen now allows snowboarders, leaving just four resorts left in the U.S. that do not. Riders can expect great terrain but no terrain park. That they can find over at Buttermilk, where the two-mile long Crazy T'rain Park-which ought to be enough to satisfy even the most rabid park rat-along with a big halfpipe helps explain while this erstwhile "beginners" mountain is hosting the ESPN Winter X Games for the next couple of years.
Buttermilk, it's true, has an excellent reputation as a teaching mountain, where just over a third of the terrain is suited for beginners. That leaves two-thirds for intermediates and advanced, who have more 2030 vertical feet on which to play.
Aspen Highlands attracts the locals and the hardcore visitors with arguably the most challenging terrain overall. But the Highlands has a softer side, too. Fully half of the trails are rated green or blue. Of course, it's the backcountry-style terrain that proves the biggest draw and none more so than Highland Bowl, a huge, steep arena of avalanche-prone snow that's now within the ski area boundary.
Taken together, Aspen, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlands add up to about 60% of Snowmass, the largest of the four and one of only three resorts in the U.S. and four in North America that can boast a vertical of more than 4000 feet-4406 feet to be exact. That puts Snowmass in some pretty lofty company. And although it-s part of the Aspen scene, as one of the ten largest resorts in the U.S. it can easily stand alone as a winter destination.
Twenty-one lifts are required to get you around the expanse of Snowmass. Seven of them are high-speed quads. The lifts provide access to a vast intermediate playground, with miles of groomed cruising terrain on which families can play. But Snowmass has a tough side, too, much of it up very high. Hanging Valley and The Cirque are home to a collection of double diamond chutes, cornices, steeps, and tree shots. Lower down, bump fans head to Sam's Knob, where Fast Draw, Promenade, and Wildcat are allowed to bump up most of the season. As noted, though, Snowmass is best known for its cruising terrain. The Big Burn may be its signature blue square area, but there's plenty of blue all over the map.
Snowmass has a halfpipe and three terrain parks, including an intermediate-level park on Velvet Falls, so park and pipe fans need not go to Buttermilk to play. And there's tubing to had, too, over at Tube Town on Assay Hill.
If deciding which mountain to visit-Aspen, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, or Snowmass-is difficult, visit them all if you're staying for a week or more. Aspen (Ajax) isn't suitable for beginners and experts will soon get bored on Buttermilk, but aside from these minor exceptions each mountain provides a wide range of choices for all abilities.