Winter Skiing Thrills in Colorado for Everyone in the Family
- Winter Skiing Thrills in Colorado for Everyone in the Family
Snowmass contains more terrain than Aspen’s other three mountains combined. Family-friendly cruisers combine with cliffs and steep terrain to form a memorable experience.
Snowmass Mountain is one of the four mountains in the Aspen Snowmass Resort. Like Buttermilk, it embraces a family-friendly spirit, offering terrain for everyone in the family. Like Highlands, however, it has steep terrain, rocky chutes, and lots of powder. Snowmass was the last of the resort’s four mountains to open. Developed in 1967 with five lifts, it gained immediate notoriety because of its ability to please everyone.
A Family Ski Vacation in Aspen/Snowmass
Incentives abound for families visiting ski resorts this winter. From travel and lodging to transfers and lift tickets, discounts exist, even in Aspen.
The lull in the economy has increased travel incentives for destination resorts, and Aspen/Snowmass is no exception. This resort boasts four mountains for winter sports fun, and a myriad of alternative activities for children and families to do together. Buttermillk and Snowmass are recommended for beginners and intermediates, while Aspen Mountain and Highlands offer expert terrain for families that like to ski the steeps and moguls. New deals are emerging to lure families to this Rocky Mountain hamlet throughout the winter season. Consider the following tips when planning a family ski trip this winter.
Flying into Aspen can be an expensive proposition for a family. As well, winter weather conditions can cause travel delays and cancellations. Air service into the Eagle-Vail airport is often cheaper because more carriers use the airport. As well, the weather is often more reliable. Eagle is an easy two-hour drive from Aspen and Snowmass. Shuttles run on a regular basis and rental cars are plentiful. Do add in the cost of the transfer or the rental to make sure the total travel price is still competitive.
Holiday Travel Deals Before Christmas
For families that enjoy spending the holidays in a destination resort, traveling to Aspen or Snowmass is a wonderful option. Typically, most resort hotels and lodges raise their prices on December 26th. Planning a trip before that date guarantees the same vacation for half the price. In addition, the town and the mountains will be virtually empty. To get the best holiday travel deals, book the trip as early as possible during the allotted vacation time.
Kids are Free in March
Spring break is another popular time for family vacations to ski resorts. For the first time ever, the Aspen Skiing Company is inviting all kids to ski and stay for free during the entire month of March. Purchase a minimum four-day/five-night lift ticket and lodge package (available through various tour operators) by January 15, and children between the ages of 7 and 12 will ski and stay for free. As part of the package, equipment rentals for kids are free too, if adult rentals are completed through Four Mountain Sports. Children, age 6 and under, are always free. In addition, a purchase of four or more kids ski/snowboard school lessons is eligible for two free tickets to Wednesday Movie Night at the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center in Snowmass.
Lodging: Slopeside vs. Town
Visitors pay a premium to stay in the ski-in/ski-out properties. The advantages are clearly in the easy accessibility of the slopes. For a family with multiple children, this can make the most sense because the hassle of storing and moving ski equipment becomes much less of an issue. The difference, however, between staying slopeside and staying in a hotel can be as much as $300 per night.
Equipment Rental and Storage
Families who do not have access to lodging with ski-in/ski-out availability can rent equipment at the Aspen Skiing Company’s retail outlet, Four Mountain Sports, and store it for free at any of the base areas. As a bonus, that equipment (skis and poles only) can be transferred for free to any of the other mountains. Taking the shuttle to and from the ski areas is a lot easier (and a lot more fun) without the hassle of carrying ski equipment for the entire family.
Avoid Major Holidays
Where possible, avoid major school holidays for the best savings. Deals abound, including a free night, a free lift ticket, and a free day of equipment rental. These offers only occur during the slower times, however. The best deals occur at the end of the ski season, during the week of April 5-11, 2010. During this week, an adult can purchase a 7-day lift ticket for as little as $29/day.
According to travel specialist Alex Allen, “Families should look at the big picture. Often times you will find great airfare, but the lodging might be expensive. Try to look at everything together for different dates to be sure you have picked the best travel dates for your budget.”
Black Diamond Skiing
In the last decade, Snowmass has marketed itself more and more to expert skiers. Extreme shots exist along the cliffs of the lower Cirque, and in the upper Cirque, Gowdy’s has the steepest pitch -52 degrees – found in the four-mountain complex.
The Hanging Valley Wall
For the hardy, and acclimated, skiers and boarders, the ultimate Snowmass experience includes a lap or two in the Hanging Valley Wall, an area on the eastern flank of Snowmass, located above Elk Camp. A complete lap in Hanging Valley requires a short hike, with skis or board on the back, to the Hanging Valley Wall gate. At this point, opportunities exist for traversing across the headwall or simply peeling off in several of the alpine chutes that are readily visible. The rewards are sensational, regardless of where the initial turns are made. Steep (and often rocky) terrain gives way to powder, as the wind often loads this area with snow. There are plenty of opportunities for tree skiing and open, scenic expanses of deep snow.
Burnt Mountain and Long Shot
Another experience not to be missed is a trip down Long Shot. This run, the longest on the mountain at approximately four miles, descends 3400 feet from just above the top of the Elk Camp lift down to the base at Two Creeks, traversing through glades of trees, open and powdery conditions, and fairly benign slope angles. Accessing the run requires a short hike to the top of the peak. The reward at the top, however, is a spectacular 360-degree view.
Snowmass is a huge mountain and it is very easy to get lost within its 3,000 acres. According to the Aspen Skiing Company, Snowmass is the second largest ski area in the country and 36 Disneylands can fit within its boundaries! Needless to say, newcomers to the area are advised to plan ahead. Even locals plan their days starting at one side of the mountain and either staying in that area or working over to the opposite side. Navigating the mountain, particularly at the end of the day, has become much simpler due to the recent addition of an eight-person Elk Camp gondola. Emerging from the newly redeveloped base area, the gondola moves skiers and boarders quickly from the crowded base area to Elk Camp, where trails and terrain open up to the rest of the mountain.
The mid and lower sections of the mountain consist of rolling wide beginner and intermediate terrain. Vacationers should consider spending two or three days at Snowmass; there is much to choose from.
Statistics (according to the Aspen Skiing Company)
- Terrain: 3,132 acres (easiest: 6%, more difficult: 50%, most difficult: 12%, expert: 32%)
- Base elevation: 8,104 ft./2,473 m
- Summit elevation:12,510 ft./3,813 m
- Vertical rise: 4,406 ft./1,343 m
- Number of trails: 91
- Miles/km of trails: 147 miles/237 km
- Longest run: 5.3 miles/8.5 km
- Steepest runs: Gowdy’s and AMF – slope angle of 40 degrees or more
- Lifts: There are 21 lifts total: 1 eight-passenger gondola, 1 high-speed six-passenger lift, 1 six-passenger pulse gondola, 7 high-speed quads, 2 quads, 4 ski/snowboard school lifts, 2 platter pulls.
- Left capacity: 34,497 riders/hour
- Restaurants: Sneaky’s Tavern, Sam’s Smokehouse, Up 4 Pizza, Two Creeks Mexican Cafe, Lynn Britt Cabin (lunches and snowcat dinner rides), Burlingame Cabin (snowcat dinner rides), Ullrhof, Gwyn’s High Alpine and Cafe Suzanne.
- Parking: Vehicles with 4 or more people park for free in the Two Creeks lot and some of the upper lots. Free parking and shuttle service is available from the Rodeo Lot, located at the entrance to Snowmass Village. Closer to the slopes, paid parking is available in smaller lots.
- Bus Service: Free bus service runs between Aspen and Snowmass.