Larger than the other three Aspen ski areas combined, Snowmass has a well-deserved reputation as an intermediate skier’s paradise. Look beyond the manicured cruiser runs of the Big Burn and Elk Camp, however, and you will find that Snowmass has some of the best and most varied expert terrain in Colorado.
As a beginner skier, the first thing you will notice about the Aspen Mountain trail map is that there are no green runs. This is true. Aspen Mountain (also known as Ajax) is not a good place to learn how to ski, but once you feel as if you can comfortably negotiate blue runs, you will find plenty of interesting terrain to explore.
If you’ve spent any time in the Aspen area, you’re probably well aware of Aspen Highlands’ reputation as a mecca for expert skiers. The steep runs of Highland Bowl and Steeplechase are clearly the mountain’s public face, but there’s plenty of great terrain for intermediates and even beginners if you know where to look.
If you’ve just arrived in Aspen, and you’ve never been on skis before, Buttermilk is far and away your best choice to learn how to ski. Though it’s home to ESPN’s Winter X Games and has one of the most fearsome terrain parks to be found anywhere, Buttermilk is still, at its heart, an exceptional beginner’s mountain.
Despite its massive size, Snowmass has relatively little in the way of beginner terrain, with just 6 percent of the runs bearing a green circle. It more than makes up for this shortcoming, however, with thousands of acres of some of the best intermediate trails to be found anywhere, including many runs that are suitable for skiers with a just a few days’ experience under their belts.
This weekend, the flame was lit and the games began, again. March 12th rekindled Vancouver, as almost 300 torchbearers ushered in the glow of the 2010 Paralympics Games, March 13-21. And just over a week ago, Challenge Aspen hosted nearly 120 competitors from 20 countries on the slopes of Buttermilk, for the last stop on the IPC Alpine World Cup Circuit.
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“How’s the course?” asks Mudflap, lift operator extraordinaire and congenial mountain host, cooking up brats and award-winning chili at the base of Tiehack during the week’s unseasonably warm race days.
“Are you kidding? Living the dream,” says Challenge Aspen Competition Team Coach John McBride. “It’s a little soft today for ski racing, but for watching a ski race in the blazing sun? Perfect!”
When I was 12, skiing Lake Tahoe in Levis and thinking I was cooler than the guy in the stretch pants (I was, wasn’t I?) I wore this sweatshirt with a picture of a mountain and a stick figure whizzing down it that said, “My life is going downhill.” No pun intended at age 12, but I do stop and wonder every now and then at the fact that I’m still spending an inordinate amount of time, in effect, simply pointing them.
A similar sequence plays out each and every day: Get on chair, get clunked on the head by over-eager safety bar zealot, get off chair, buckle boots to the brink of searing shin pain, ski down hill; repeat. Really, it seems kind of inane. Here we go again...Wheee!!
Yet I’ve been doing it for 32 years, and 12 of those have been around 90 days a season, here in Aspen.
At 12,392, Aspen Highlands Bowl, aka the Bowl, may be the most fun you’ll ever have, in-bounds. Locals know it well, and hike and ski it often; regular visitors look forward to their annual hike up the Bowl and bring first-time visitors along, who feel like a zillion bucks upon their first summit.