Destination: Snowmass

It’s mountainous injustice that Snowmass has a reputation as a sidekick to the well-known glamour peaks of Aspen. Snowmass is much more than an asterisk on Aspen’s coattails; in fact, it may quietly be the very best ski mountain in Colorado.

Snowmass Mountain
Getting ready to start the day at Snowmass Mountain

The secret of Snowmass is safely guarded by the 4 hour or so drive from the Denver/Boulder area, putting it on the threshold of how far bleary-eyed Front Rangers are willing to drive in a morning. Factor in many of those traveling to the area will be drawn in by the gravity of the Aspen suite of mountains. Even the turn-off for Snowmass Village is rather inconspicuous. By no means is it a private club but Snowmass is comfortable not being the center of attention.

It’s not like the resort is hiding in the shadows. With 3,132 acres it’s the second biggest ski area in Colorado – only Vail offers more terrain. And it is tops in Colorado with a 4,406 foot vertical rise from base to summit. The ridiculously fun intermediate run Long Shot is 3.5 miles of ungroomed trees and countless little hits, dropping over 3,400 vertical ft. and set to the backdrop of the snow-striped Elk Mountains.  Views of the scenic twin Maroon Bell peaks, towering over 14,000 ft., await from the 12,392 ft. summit of Highland Bowl.

Long Shot, Snowmass Colorado
At the start of Long Shot, one of the longest continous runs in Colorado.

If all these numbers don’t mean much, consider this: Snowmass is huge. The lifts are fast, the runs are long and the mountain is so spread out that you’ll rarely run into crowds or lift lines. Restaurants and warming huts are strategically spread out on the mountain. And to borrow a cliché from every ski map you’ve ever read, Snowmass truly has something for everyone. You name it: trees, steeps, bumps, terrain parks, cruisers, bowls, hiking, Snowmass has it. And unlike Vail, you won’t spend half the day on lifts and catwalks getting to where you want to be.

Snowmass Mountains, Maroon Bells view
Looking out at the Maroon Bells from Snowmass Mountain

The vibe of Snowmass and Snowmass Village is relaxed and, dare I say, less pretentious than other fancy-pants Colorado resorts. This is a world where snowboarder and skier co-exist with minimal snarkiness. The entire town is spread out and open and there is quality, reasonably priced slope side lodging. My favorite is the Silvertree Hotel, which has out-the-door skiing, good restaurants and dog friendly rooms. My border collie especially appreciated the moonlight romps on the slopes—and the cozy rooms to return to spend the night.

If it sounds like I’m a Snowmass cheerleader it’s the result of the mountain earning my respect. The full-price lift ticket is a bit pricey at $96.00 but get on the mountain as the first lifts open and you’ll get your money’s worth. Because Snowmass isn’t on any of the Front Range based season passes, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for deals (you can check in at www.snowmass.com for the latest and greatest). If you need an excuse to make the long drive, invite friends out – the mountain is a quintessential Colorado destination with breathtaking scenery and long, soul-liberating runs. The surrounding Elk Range peaks have been pushed up from a long lost inland sea, giving them a prehistoric alpine presence. Snowmass is removed enough from the hustle and bustle of Colorado’s big cities that the looming din of society is diluted by the pristine wilderness.

One last thought: don’t let the family friendly motif scare you away. The nightlife and après ski scene is fun, laid-back and tends to have a good international showing. Snowmass is all about huge terrain, big sky and epic runs. And don’t worry if you want to spread the word, Snowmass doesn’t mind a few more people being in on the secret.

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