Gladed pitches, wide-open bump runs and fast cruisers are the spirit of Ajax (as locals call it).
TJ David, Darcy Conover and John Bukac find the goods on Aspen Mountain.
Don’t be fooled by Aspen Mountain’s 675 acres. It may be compact, but its efficiency—one gondola whisks riders 3,267 feet from the base to mountaintop—and quality of terrain make it one of the best ski resorts in North America. Intermediate and expert skiers will revel in the steep slopes because there isn’t a beginner run on the mountain. Gladed pitches, wide-open bump runs and fast cruisers are the spirit of Ajax (as locals call it).
Bell Mountain, still identified by an almost-defunct double chairlift running up its spine, anchors Aspen Mountain. On its west side, the Dumps, a series of cascading runs named after the mine tailings that were originally here, funnel into Spar Gulch. On the east side of Bell, Gentleman’s Ridge terrain narrows into Copper. Everything meets at the bottom, except for the far west side of the mountain, Lift 1, which serves the area’s first ski run, Ruthie’s, and is home to the World Cup course.
In between, enjoy wok-fired Asian dishes at the Sundeck, and famous apple strudel or white bean chili at midmountain Bonnie’s, and then walk almost anywhere in town for après—ski boots encouraged.
Caroline Tory, associate director at Aspen Words
Last season, Caroline Tory skied Nov. 6 to June 14, boasting close to 100 days in ski boots. A couple mornings a week, the 29-year-old meets fellow dawn patrollers to skin up Aspen Mountain before heading into work. “It’s very convenient when you live, play and work within a 2-mile radius,” Tory says.
That tightknit mountain-community feel is what drew the Toronto woman to Aspen six years ago when she accepted an internship at the Aspen Institute. Today, she’s the associate director of Aspen Words, the institute’s literary arts program, filling her days with event and writer conference planning, and rubbing elbows with bestselling authors. Days off are spent lapping Highland Bowl, taking gondi laps on Ajax or heading out on a hut trip. When her legs cry uncle, it’s time for beers at Highlands Alehouse, hot-tubbing at the Aspen Meadows or reading anywhere with a comfy couch.
Favorite run? Ridge of Bell. You can wave at your friends on the gondola!
Fastest run? Spar, after skinning up on little skimo skis. There’s no one on the mountain and perfect corduroy.
Favorite tree run? Jackpot. Nicely spaced trees, sometimes powder, sometimes bumps, and a good way to maximize the lower half of the mountain.
Favorite eats? Pancakes and bacon at Bonnie’s. And back for an afternoon strudel.
Best bet for après? I’m very excited about the new W Hotel rooftop bar for this season.
Local idols? The working moms who somehow still manage to meet up for a dawn patrol adventure, even after a sleepless night or with a big deadline ahead.
Aspen Mountain, in three words: Steep, social, vert
Who skis here? The Freaks ski gang, obviously. But also, anyone with a 9-to-5 job who wants to sneak in some lunch laps. Or anyone who wants an efficient 3,300 feet of uphilling and perfect corduroy turns before 8am.
Base elevation: 7,945 feet
Summit elevation: 11,212 feet
Vertical rise: 3,267 feet
Terrain: 675 acres
Number of trails: 76
Total miles of trails: 64
Longest run: 3 miles
Level of difficulty: Intermediate to expert
On-Mountain Restaurants: Sundeck, Bonnie’s
Photography by: Ski photo by Matt Power, courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company