Mountain Time: Aspen

4 Ski Areas and Countless Cultural Riches: Get on the A-List in Aspen

All this is yours—for a price.

By Cindy Hirschfeld November 20, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Catching some air on a Snowmass half-pipe

The bling, the fur, the celebrities. Come the height of ski season, Aspen has it all. But as a year-round resident I know that for every cluster of jaw-dropping mansions, there’s a knot of ski bums holding down three jobs apiece to feed their slope addiction. We love Aspen for its “messy vitality”—diverse people who live and breathe for our four local ski areas (few crowds, lots of terrain) and our cultural perks: the historic Wheeler Opera House, world-class ballet and theater, and gatherings at the Aspen Institute with the likes of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

This winter, the celebration goes big with the 50th anniversary of Snowmass. Festivities kick off December 15 with $6.50 lift tickets, fireworks, and a reprise of on-mountain scavenger hunt Banana Days. The party continues into January, with ski and snowboard events at the Toyota US Grand Prix.

DO: Skiing—Aspen makes it easy. Free buses and one lift ticket connect all four mountains. Gain confidence at Buttermilk, with forgiving slopes and progressive terrain parks that lead up to the X Games superpipe. Experienced skiers head to Aspen Mountain for steeps and quad-burning bump runs. Aspen Highlands offers long cruisers for aspiring intermediates, challenging tree runs, and the piéce de rèsistance, Highland Bowl—hike nearly 800 vertical feet along an exposed ridge, then tackle 2,500 vertical feet of some of Colorado’s steepest terrain. Snowmass, meanwhile, blankets four adjoining peaks with a mix of impeccable grooming, all-level moguls, and the powder nirvana of the Hanging Valley Wall.

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From left: Après-ski dining at La Crêperie du Village; the Merry-Go-Round day lodge at Aspen Highlands ski area; the Wheeler Opera House

STAY/EAT: Aspen’s compact downtown puts most hotels and restaurants within walking distance. Luxury doesn’t come cheap at The Little Nell (rooms from $900), where an A-list clientele enjoys prime access and huge, recently refurbished rooms at the base of Aspen Mountain. For a small ski lodge experience, book at the Hearthstone House (rooms from $239), a 16-room midcentury-modern inn from a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Locals fuel up at Meat and Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop, which dishes up daily taco specials and a Korean pork board with house-made kimchi. Or go full chalet—fondue, French onion soup, coq au vin—at upscale La Crêperie du Village.

GOGGLES OFF: No need for skis on the Breathtaker alpine coaster; debuting this December, it’s Snowmass’s entry into a high-adrenaline resort trend. You control your speed—up to 28 mph—on the winding, five- to seven-minute descent.

GET THERE: December round-trip flights (Denver connection) from $365.
Lift tickets:
Insider tip: First Tracks (free with reservation and lift pass) brings early birds up Snowmass or Aspen Mountain for guided runs before the ski area opens.

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