If you’ve ever skied or ridden a snowboard, you’ve probably heard of Aspen, Colorado. If you haven’t, it’ll soon be obvious why Aspen is a world-renowned ski vacation destination. Aspen Mountain itself looms above this small town — you can’t possibly miss it.
Don’t misunderstand us; there are plentiful draws to the city of Aspen year-round, such as the up-close-and-personal venues for live music like the Wheeler Opera House and the Belly Up Aspen. And don’t forget the larger music events such as the Aspen Music Festival, Jazz Aspen Snowmass and free Snowmass summer concerts).
But when you drive into town during the winter and see that majestic snow-covered mountain rising above town, you’ll be excited to experience Aspen Mountain powder. Granted, you don’t have to ski; you could still experience the backside of the mountain via snowcat through Aspen Mountain Powder Tours.
Why Ski Aspen?
Besides the obvious convenience of both staying and skiing in downtown Aspen, you can’t beat the variety. Thanks to the Aspen Skiing Company, our resort includes an immense variety of terrain on its four mountains (totaling more than 5,300 acres). All four mountains are included on a single lift ticket. And each of the four mountains is close enough to the others that you could experience multiple mountain trails in a single day. Can you ski from Aspen to Snowmass? Not in-resort, but a short 15-minute drive isn’t bad. So…
When Can You Ski in Aspen?
Ski resorts in Colorado follow a pretty simple rule: when there’s snow on the slopes and the lifts are running, of course (or maybe even when the lifts aren’t running if you’ve got your own means of transport). Generally, when it’s a good snow year, you can ski late November through April. Exact opening and closing dates are determined by the snow conditions each year. For example, the 2018-2019 ski season experienced ample snow, opening earlier than usual — and Mother Nature has gifted skiers with many, many powder days!
How Much is a Ski Ticket in Aspen?
Lift tickets to the Aspen Snowmass four mountain resort can be purchased either online or in-person at a number of local locations and at the base of each mountain. The price of a lift ticket fluctuates throughout the season, with early and late seasons being the most discounted. For best rates, be sure to purchase your lift tickets a minimum of seven days ahead of your trip. The more days you ski, the lower the daily rate.
Which Mountain is the Best?
How do you know where to go skiing in Aspen when you’ve got so many quality choices? When each of the four mountains has its own personality and perks? Between Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass, you’ve got a mountain to match any mood that strikes you. Here’s a quick highlight summary…
The base comes right down to the center of Aspen
Beginners beware — 65% of the trails are rated advanced or expert
Great variety for its 675 acres
Plenty of moguls and bumps
Hidden shrines to discover
Enclosed Silver Queen Gondola takes you from the base to the top of the mountain
Great for people-watching mid-mountain
Located 3 miles west of downtown Aspen
Intermediate and lots of advanced runs
High-speed quad lifts
One of the best summit views in the country
Base village with restaurants and shopping
Located on Highway 82, between Aspen and Snowmass
A paradise for beginner and intermediate skiers
Halfpipe and terrain park (a hit with snowboarders)
Less crowded and crazy than Aspen Mountain
The Hideaway for kids in ski school and younger
Annual X Games venue
Located 9 miles northwest of Aspen
Accommodates all ski abilities: a true family-friendly mountain
Highest vertical rise in the country (4,400 feet)
Three terrain parks
Lost Forest and Alpine Coaster
Treehouse Kids Camp
Base village with restaurants and events
Has that little taste whet your appetite? Then let’s give you a little bit more:
Locally and lovingly referred to as Ajax, the 11,212 foot Aspen Mountain descends to the heart of Aspen and has been a popular skiing destination since 1947. There are 76 trails on Aspen Mountain, which add up to 64 miles of the best-rated Colorado ski terrain.
Aspen Mountain is not at all beginner-friendly, though. Roughly 48% of the terrain on Aspen Mountain is classified as more difficult, with about 26% rated most difficult, and another 26% deemed to be expert terrain. With 8 total lifts running from 9:00 am – 3:30 pm during winter ski season (including the majestic Silver Queen Gondola located at the mountain base), you can expect to spend some spectacular days skiing and snowboarding down the steep and bumpy slopes of Aspen Mountain.
While skiing is the most obvious activity while in town, you don’t need to ski to enjoy Aspen Mountain. Take the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Ajax for a morning of breathtaking views of the Elk Mountains and Highlands Bowl (practically next door, at Aspen Highlands).
Eating and après are two common pastimes at Ajax. After a morning of skiing exhilarating bumps and perfectly groomed steeps, hit the popular nearby eateries:
- Enjoy lunch or a snack at the Sundeck on top of Aspen Mountain, right next to the Silver Queen Gondola. The Sundeck is a beautifully rustic mountain lodge, and a popular place for enjoying expansive mountain views while filling up on a warm bowl of gourmet soup, a fresh salad, a delectable burger, and more.
- Take Ruthie's lift on Aspen Mountain to Bonnie's Restaurant, another mountain eatery. Bonnie's offers skiers its famous wine list (and warm mulled wine), plus cheese platters, brats, and most of all the apple strudel.
- Ajax Tavern, located at the base of Aspen Mountain (and part of the luxurious Little Nell Hotel), is an excellent local ingredient lunch spot, and also offers après-ski cocktails and appetizers.
- Element 47 (inside of The Little Nell Hotel) represents the epitome of fine dining, with an elegant dining area, outstanding service, and an unparalleled level of gourmet cuisine.
Aspen Highlands Mountain (locally referred to as Highlands), has been the favorite of locals (Aspenites) for fifty years. The Highland Bowl summit, at 12,392 feet, can only be accessed by foot (or rather ski or snowboard boot). Because of its location and limited accessibility, Highlands Bowl is always full of snow and braggable memory-making all season long.
Skiing or snowboarding “the Bowl” is an always-popular activity on Highlands for the hardy and fit, and some claim that the Bowl offers the best big mountain powder skiing in-bounds in the Roaring Fork Valley — if not all of North America.
Hungry while skiing at Highlands?
- Ride up the Cloud Nine lift for stunning views of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells, and choose something from the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro’s European gourmet lunch of fondue, raclette, venison ragout, and more.
- Get a cafeteria-style cafeteria lunch mid-mountain at the Merry-Go-Round, a remodeled and renovated mountain lodge at Highlands. The eatery is popular for pizza, burgers, piping hot stews, salads, and more. The Merry-Go-Round’s outdoor patio at the is a great spot to watch people zipping down Gunbarrel, Deane's, Scarlett's, and Heather Bedlam.
- Or, after a day of exploring the nearly endless bowls, steeps, and bumps of Highlands, kick back at Highlands Pizza Co., where you’ll always find a lively and enjoyable après-ski.
Buttermilk, a “beginner's mountain” with plenty of gentler terrain and easier ski runs, is perfect for those just learning to ski or snowboard. It’s honestly one of the best mountains on which to learn to ski or snowboard, regardless of age.
Buttermilk Mountain offers a total of 44 trails over 21 miles of terrain, with the longest trail being a gentle, relatively flat, and enjoyable 3 miles (Homestead Road). About 35% of Buttermilk trails are rated as easy, with the remainder of the mountain being considered more and most difficult.
Beginners looking to tackle more challenging Buttermilk terrain can build up skiing and snowboarding confidence with technical skills learned through the Beginner's Magic program. Private and group lessons are also available through the Aspen Snowmass Ski School instructors, who are outstanding at giving tailored advice and teaching proper form.
While Buttermilk’s terrain winds through gentle and open glades, Buttermilk also boasts excellent terrain parks, sure to delight visiting skiers and snowboarders. The Buttermilk terrain parks include over 100 fun and challenging features (as well as an X Games slopestyle course). Skiers and snowboarders of all levels (from Olympic athlete caliber to adventurous amateur) get the chance to rip down a 22-foot expertly-designed superpipe, score some air, and successfully (we hope) pull off a few impressive tricks on the same features as the world's best freestyle skiers and snowboarders.
With its terrain park focus, Buttermilk has accumulated serious fame by being chosen as the annual Winter X Games venue on an ongoing basis. In the Transworld Snowboarding Magazine Reader’s Poll, the Buttermilk terrain park ranked number one.
Snowmass Mountain, a short drive from downtown Aspen, has it all. Although Snowmass boasts the biggest vertical rise at a ski resort in the entire United States, it also offers:
- Miles and miles of terrain (gentle flats, challenging bumps and steeps, and easy access to backcountry skiing)
- Terrain parks
- Highly-skilled SkiCo ski and snowboard instructors
- Great on-mountain restaurants at Base Village and on the Snowmass Mall
- Stunning views from the tops of multiple lifts
- And more.
There is so much to explore while skiing or snowboarding on Snowmass Mountain; because of its size and resulting terrain variety, the whole family can ski together and have a blast. Skiing and snowboarding on Snowmass also lets you both challenge yourself with more difficult terrain and take a break (as needed) on easy to moderate runs. Its impressive 21 total lifts (several high-speed, altogether servicing a seemingly endless 147 miles of in-bounds terrain) cover the entire mountain and get you to your runs easily.
Freestyle skiers and snowboarders can practice new tricks on hundreds of challenging features on the 22-foot-wall superpipe or on the features at the three Snowmass terrain parks:
- Snowmass Park,
- Makaha Park, and
- Lowdown Park.
Hungry at Snowmass? When it’s lunchtime, Snowmass Mountain has nine on-mountain restaurants from which to choose. No matter where you find yourself when hunger strikes, you can bet you’re near one of the excellent on-mountain restaurants where you can stop in for a break and a tasty snack.
Snowmass Mountain restaurants and cafes include:
- Sneaky's Tavern
- Slow Groovin’ BBQ
- Two Creeks Café
- Lynn Britt Cabin
- Burlingame Cabin
- Gwyn's High Alpine, and
- Cafe Suzanne.
Where to Stay When Skiing in Aspen
You’ll obviously want your “home base” to be as close to your ideal skiing venue as possible. That way, when you après, you won’t have the hassle of transportation schedules to slow your return “home” for the night. AND you’ll be on the slopes as soon as possible in the morning. Consider the Aspen Square!
For additional information about skiing or snowboarding at Aspen Snowmass, and our accommodations in downtown Aspen, we recommend that you call our concierge team at (866) 285-7876 ext. 3515 or email them at email@example.com.