Mountain steepness for a once-a-year, barely intermediate skier: B
On-mountain food: A
Lack of Crowds: B+
Snowmass, in the Aspen, Colorado area west of Denver, is a favorite of many families, and for good reason. It is a massive mountain, with enough terrain for every ski level, and what appears to be a good ski school for the kids. The greens were not exactly flat here, and there are a multitude of blues for cruising, so I don’t consider this a true beginner’s mountain. I would refer people to Buttermilk if they’re looking for easier runs.
I didn’t find it crowded, maybe because the mountain is so big that people spread out into different areas, or because there are three other ski resorts in the area besides Snowmass, which also thins the crowds.
We flew into the Eagle-Vail airport and rented a car with no problems. It’s a very nice, upscale airport, representative of the clientele it serves. It was a smooth drive to Aspen, and we passed the cute town of Glenwood Springs, which I regret not stopping at. There’s a natural hot springs pool there, and we could see quite a few people enjoying themselves as we drove by. The pool is apparently over two blocks long, has lap lanes and a diving board, and even has waterslides and a kiddie pool area. It is one of the world’s largest outdoor thermal pools, so is open year-round.
The whole Aspen area is very upscale, and Snowmass was no different. Everything is modern and looks rather expensive (as opposed to Alta, with its old rickety lifts, which we LOVE!). It was our first time riding a heated, enclosed gondola, and then being helped out by an attendant at the top. Wow! As expected, lift tickets are on the high side, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for!
Parking in the town of Aspen and at the ski resorts is limited, but a free ski bus will take you everywhere. We stayed in the town of Aspen and walked a few blocks to the free bus everyday, taking it to Snowmass. Both Aspen and Aspen Highlands are way too steep for me, so we didn’t ski there. Buttermilk did have parking, so we drove there the day we skied Buttermilk, then drove our skis up to Snowmass after closing to leave them there overnight, so we didn’t have to haul them on the bus everyday. We also spent time browsing the Snowmass shops then, while we were comfortably in regular shoes, instead of ski boots. In fact, that is something I’d highly recommend if you are taking the bus everyday to the same place. Get a locker or overnight service to hold your skis. Apparently some people have no problem walking a few blocks in ski boots while holding their skis and poles, but for the safety of others’ eyes, we felt safer leaving the gear at Snowmass and walking home in our more comfortable snow boots.
Snowmass appears to have a good ski school, and there are many children enrolled in the daily ski school. There are even areas on the mountain that cater specifically to children, such as an area with real live reindeer and some cute reindeer cutouts. I can say though, that the mountain is so massive that I never felt I was surrounded by kids, unless I was near the actual ski school at the Village. We spent most of our time in the Elk Gondola area and got some excellent snow in late March, after some sunny warm days.
We had several lunches at Snowmass, and they were all delicious! I remember a wonderful chicken-spinach-mushroom crepe for less than $10! The food here is definitely a step above some other ski resorts we’ve visited.
Dinners in the town of Aspen can be very expensive if you choose to eat at some of the restaurants. One restaurant had Kobe steaks for over $100 on their menu, so we looked for more inexpensive options. We had take-out pizza, supermarket deli meals with hot soup, gourmet takeout from the outskirts of town, and dinner at an excellent but reasonably priced rib place in town.
The one thing that ruined my vacation had nothing to do with the ski resorts. It was the altitude. The city of Aspen is at nearly 8,000 feet, and one of the rules for acclimating to high altitudes is to “sleep low,” or below 8,000 feet, and I didn’t do that. I had restless sleep every night, with a pounding, fast heart rate. This may have been related to my thyroid condition and not being on enough medication at the time. [high altitude sickness correlates with low thyroid levels] In hindsight, I might’ve had a much better week if we’d stayed in Carbondale, a nearby city with an elevation nearly 2,000 feet lower. It probably doesn’t have the glitz of Aspen, but we could’ve just come over for dinner and shopping a few evenings, and slept in Carbondale. We might’ve even been able to spring for fancier dinners with the money we would’ve saved on lodging!
The city of Aspen is something that shouldn’t be missed. Parking is truly at a premium, and there are credit cards on the parking meters! They also have some art galleries with pieces retailing for hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than the cost of many homes! It’s a very compact city, a few square blocks, and fun to walk around. There’s even a grocery store we shopped at a few times. Couldn’t afford some of the restaurants, but there was a soup and salad bar at the local Aspen supermarket!
Would I ever return to Snowmass? Probably not, but only because of the altitude. With its peak at over 12,000 feet, it is one of the highest ski resorts in the country. Buttermilk’s peak is only at 9,900 feet, so I might return there, and see Glenwood Springs the next time around!