FREESKIER heads to one of the most beloved ski towns in Colorado get the inside scoop on resort life
Nowhere in the world is quite like Aspen, Colorado, marked by its glitz, glamour, history and culture. But, in this town, the skiing reigns supreme and this winter it’s as good as ever. For the second stop of FREESKIER’s On Location series, designed to bring you the inside scoop on what to expect from the resort experience during this crazy winter season, the crew made our (COVID-negative) way from Denver to the Roaring Fork Valley, to the home of our annual Ski Test and one of our favorite mountain towns in Colorado.
With seven ski days already checked off this season—at Loveland Ski Area and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, namely—I was in a unique position, no longer asking myself what would be different at each resort. Instead, with these overarching questions already answered, I found myself more focused on how each resort is making unique changes and efforts to keep the skiing experience as “normal” as possible. On the whole, skiing is just the same as ever, once you get out on the hill; it’s everything around skiing that needs safety mitigations, and every individual ski area is taking different steps to ensure the health and safety of its visitors.
At Aspen Snowmass, there are four peaks to explore: Ajax Mountain (the main drag), Snowmass Mountain (offering terrain for skiers of every level), Buttermilk Mountain (home of the X Games) and Highlands Mountain (an expert skier’s paradise), and each falls under the supervision of the Aspen Skiing Company. On the whole, Aspen’s protocols were no different than the rest of the resorts we’ve visited: Wear a mask, space out in the lift lines, ride the chair or gondola with your immediate group, etc.
But in Aspen there are some new technologies worth mentioning. Lift ticket sales are entirely digital this season: Tickets can be pre-ordered and picked up (or bought on-site) at self-serve kiosks located at the base of the mountain, eliminating the need to stand in line to pick up your pass. Also, through the Aspen Snowmass mobile app, there’s now the ability to order to-go food from Aspen’s on-mountain dining facilities, like the Sundeck atop Ajax Mountain.
With so many new protocols in-place, I’ve wondered which of these new practices will make the skiing experience better once the pandemic fades away, which safety protocols might actually be implemented in the long-run. Mobile food (and drink) ordering and online ticket sales seem to check this box. Not only do these processes reduce person-to-person interaction for COVID-related safety, it seems they’ll actually maximize a skier’s time on the hill. Instead of waiting in line to get a season pass, lift ticket or food, everything is now streamlined—meaning less wait times and more time exploring the mountain.
As for après—because, even amongst this pandemic, you can’t miss out on a couple after-ski drinks and grub—we stopped by the Ajax Tavern, located right next to the Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain. A few orders of truffle fries and a round of Chai-tinis for the table did the trick. But, if you’re looking for little more low key scene—fireplace, couches, the whole sha-bang—head over to the Limelight Hotel for the longest Happy Hour in town; it’s just a two minute walk from the base of Aspen Mountain and they’re dishing out drink deals from 4PM to 7PM, nightly.
But what about the skiing? How is this season shaping up at Aspen Snowmass?
Plentiful early season snowfall left a tasty base across Aspen’s four mountains. When the FREESKIER team arrived, our local tour guides, Colter Hinchliffe, Whit Boucher and Rhianna Borderick, knew exactly where to find leftovers from the last storm—pockets of fresh just waiting to be carved up. Then it was onto side-hits and man-made jumps scattered around the resort; if you’re looking for ‘em, keep an eye out for the groms with shovels and GoPros, they’ll know where to go.
On our second day skiing, Aspen Ski Patrol dropped the rope on Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi—three of Aspen Mountain’s most sought-after pitches— untamed, fall-line inbounds skiing reserved for advanced riders. Needless to say, those fresh tracks and the stunning early morning sunshine induced hoots and hollers worthy of mid-winter riding. And, if that wasn’t enough, Aspen Highlands—and Highlands Bowl—opened for the season on our last day in town. Usually reserved for die-hard locals (and the few visitors lucky enough to time a trip that coincides), being around for the opening day on Aspen Highlands was a serious treat, chock-full of chalky, powdery snow waist-deep in some spots.
All in all, the town of Aspen seemed quieter than usual, the “people watching” certainly less exciting and the crowds basically non-existent. This season Aspen will be all about the skiing.