December 8, 2019
Aspen's largest ski area has more to offer than just the slopes.
Snowmass has varied terrain, from beginner slopes to steep cliffs.
Summing up a resort that features everything from magic carpet rides for beginners to hike-to terrain for experts is no small task. But, Snowmass is no small mountain. Spanning 3,342 acres, Snowmass is Aspen Snowmass’ largest area, and makes up more than 50% of the area’s skier visits. But, that doesn’t correlate with more lines. With 20 chairlifts, skiers and snowboarders disperse throughout the resort, enjoying everything including the long intermediate cruiser runs of Elk Camp and Campground, best done on a bluebird sunny day; the chalky vertical drops of Hanging Valley Headwall; or the easy family-friendly terrain straight from the base on Assay Hill. The best bet here is to take your time, exploring different parts of the mountain at your leisure in order to stake your claim in your own secret stash.
If people aren’t skiing on Snowmass, they’re probably exploring the new Lost Forest adventure center, which has an alpine coaster open during the winter. Or they may be dining in any of the resort’s restaurants, which buck the idea that eating at a ski area means cafeteria food. Here, the food and beverage program is a prideful operation sourcing local when possible and delivering mouthwatering dishes that are equally as pleasing as the skiing that day. With a new Base Village—ice skating, curling, concerts and yoga—there’s enough to do in Snowmass without even hitting the slopes. But who would want to do that?
Craig Chalmers, Snowmass Ski Patrol director.
When he was 21, Craig Chalmers made the pilgrimage from Maryland to see the Allman Brothers Band perform at Red Rocks. He fell for Colorado and vowed to plant roots. The current Snowmass ski patrol director landed in Aspen by way of Portland, Nederland, and a stint with the Eldora Ski Patrol. He interviewed with the Snowmass Ski Patrol, where, upon walking into the locker room, he says, “there were gray-haired people and I thought, ‘Wow, you can actually have a career here.’ That was very inspiring.”
That was 18 years ago. Bluebird or blizzard, Chalmers is on the hill assisting guests, directing his team of 80 patrollers and sneaking into the backcountry for skinning solitude sans radio on his days off. The recovering telemark skier is also a frequent uphiller at Snowmass and Buttermilk, and says anytime in the high country is a boost for mental wellness.
Powder-day plan? Get a burrito at Fuel; head up Village Express to Sam’s Knob right at 8:30am; take a couple laps on Sam’s Knob; head up to the Big Burn, and go ski Gowdy’s; and then head over to ski anything in Hanging Valley.
Favorite run? Gowdy’s. It’s just steep, doesn’t see a ton of traffic and then opens into a big apron that’s kind of hard to get to. It holds good snow for days after a storm.
Fastest run? I don’t ski that fast. I’m old. Middle of the Burn probably.
Favorite eats? Il Poggio for the halibut or the beef tenderloin. On the hill, Elk Camp has a really good salad bar.
Best bet for après? Limelight has a nice bar and cookie bake dessert.
Snowmass, in three words: Good clean fun
Who skis here? Everybody. All are welcome. There are tons of kids, which I think keeps it upbeat and fun. We have a lot of longtime returning guests who have been coming since back in the day. A good crew of local rippers. Folks who are checking the sport out for the first time.
Snowmass insider tips? Start early; stay high on the hill; don’t come back down to the base until you need to. Stay on the upper lifts like the Big Burn chair, Alpine Springs, Elk Camp chair and High Alpine.
What makes Snowmass a Colorado institution? It’s 3,300 acres, so it really spreads people out. What initially struck me was how vast it is—and the fact that there’s always good snow here.
Photography by: Photo by Tamara Susa/Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company