Aspen: playground for the rich and famous, right? Spend enough time here and this mountain town will defy your stereotypes. Nestled at 8,000 feet in the Elk and Sawatch Mountains and situated along the Roaring Fork River, Aspen provides countless, year-round, awe-inspiring adventure opportunities for all ability levels (and income brackets). Need proof? Chew on this insider’s guide meant to help mere mortals enjoy all Aspen has to offer in winter.
With four resorts in the valley, you won’t be fighting crowds. Here’s what you need to know about each hill.
This is the original resort, so it has that historic and storied feel. It’s easily accessible from town, but there realy are no green runs here. The riding is all below tree line, which makes for amazing tree stashes. If you do one thing, make it: Sign up for First Tracks followed by breakfast at Bonnies. Call in the night prior (970-920-0755) to ride the gondola before the mountain opens. It’s free and guarantees you’ll score freshies. Then fuel up at Bonnies, a mid-mountain restaurant famous for serving up mouthwatering dishes like homemade oatmeal pancakes.
Welcome to the hardcore skier/rider’s mountain. It’s the favorite with locals who play hard and party harder. There are some greens but it’s mostly characterized by long, steep runs. If you do one thing, make it: Hike Highland Bowl. From the top, enjoy an insane view of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells followed by an unmatched run full of powder shots. Later, hit Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, a restaurant perched mid-mountain that serves high-class Bavarian food and is known for raging parties complete with loud music, dancing on chairs and champagne spraying.
The homegrown feel makes this hill best for beginners. It’s known for kids’ ski school, but also for the X Games terrain park (little secret: it’s also a mountain you can skin up any time of day). If you do one thing, make it: Enjoy untouched groomers on Tiehack, where you can enjoy quick laps in solitude. Follow that with lunch at the mountaintop Cliffhouse. Enjoy tasty chow—including our favorite, the Mongolian grill—while soaking up views of Pyramid Peak.
The largest of Aspen’s mountains is home to the most vertical rise in the US (4,406 feet). Snowmass has it all, including tons of amenities, terrain to challenge every level (including the very steep Cirque/Hanging Valley) and family-friendly activities. If you do one thing, make it: Explore as much of the massive amount of terrain available here and enjoy lunch at Elk Camp, a gorgeous on-mountain restaurant that boasts an incredible salad bar and a host of fresh, organic and delicious options.
Thanks to fat bikes, you don’t need to give up cycling when the snow flies. Beginners can check out the Rio Grande Trail or Marolt Open Space. For more of a challenge, climb Smuggler Mountain for views of Aspen or hit the stunning Maroon Creek Road to the Maroon Bells, but check avalanche conditions first (avalanche.state.co.us). Many shops rent bikes or you can go guided with Aspen Alpine Guides. To ride with others, hit the weekly fat bike ride organized by Ute City Cycles (utecitycycles.com) or join the Second Annual “Fat Cycle Challenge,” held during Winterskol, Aspen’s yearly toast to winter (aspenchamber.org). The Challenge includes a competitive event as well as a bike village/demo course and a Fat Cycle Town Ride for all to enjoy.
The Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Trail System boasts more than 60 miles of free cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that connect the communities of Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt. Terrain varies greatly and serves beginners to experts (aspennordic.com). For an educational romp through the forest, seek out Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ (aspennature.org) daily snowshoe tours on Aspen and Snowmass Mountains and at Ashcroft Ghost Town with a catered lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse.
With all this activity, you’ll want to eat and sleep well. Our favorite place for both is the Limelight Hotel (limelighthotel.com), a quirky, luxury, downtown resort that serves the best breakfast buffet around (included in your stay!). Guests have access to free fat bikes and hotel staff will help coordinate all your adventures including complimentary snowshoe tours and your chance to join ski patrol as they sweep Aspen Mountain at the end of the day. For a delicious, affordable lunch, hit Big Wrap, offering grab-and-go gourmet wraps, salads, tacos and more. Don’t let the long line deter you; it moves fast and is worth the wait. For dinner, go big and treat yourself with a meal at Justice Snow’s (justicesnows.com), an upscale eatery in the Wheeler Opera House serving up hand-crafted drink concoctions and creative, unique, fresh dishes. For late-night munchies, stop by New York Pizza, a tiny upstairs eatery serving up a variety of pies, slices, hot sandwiches and a range of beers on tap. This is some of the best pizza we’ve ever tasted out West.