Arapahoe Basin l
Aspen Snowmass l
Beaver Creek l
Crested Butte l
Monarch Mountain l
Silverton Cat Skiing l
We don’t recommend you try this. Our mission was to ski the best of
the Colorado Rockies in one week. 126 ski runs for 235,030 total
vertical feet of skiing and 24 pillows (4 heads x 6 resorts) later, we
were supremely rewarded (and exhausted) from a phenomenal week.
Each of the Colorado ski resorts
we encountered would keep you amused for an
entire week. Here are some of the highs and lows of our Colorado
stop was Copper. This 2,450-acre ski resort is a convenient 1 ½ hours
from Denver. The U.S Forest Service deemed Copper, “the most naturally
perfect ski mountain in the country.”
Reason being, Copper’s terrain is naturally divided among four
mountains with gentle beginner terrain to the west, blue intermediate
trails in the middle and black diamond steeps to the east. This is one
reason families love Copper. Another reason is the Intrawest-designed
resort village that is growing at the base, complete with luxurious
condos, a heated walkway plaza and underground parking.
We loved Copper’s Super Bee six-passenger chair that whisks you up
2,300’ of vertical in just over 8 minutes. If we skied this lift all
day, we could acquire as much skiing as two Everest descents. But our
duty included checking out some of the four back bowls and the
pleasant cruisers on the mid mountain. Could have stayed longer…
Our next goal was to conquer
Aspen Skiing Company’s four ski areas. We
started with the biggest, and what we later deemed the best of the
four pack, Snowmass. The name alone implies the size, with 3,010 skiable acres, this beautiful resort is massive and boasts the most
vertical in North America at 4,406’.
The most heavenly skiing we encountered was on Big Burn, named for the
forest fire damage that cleared all but a sprinkling of towering pines
on this perfectly pitched mountain top acreage. Not only is the skiing
sweet, the views of the 14,156’ Maroon Bells and Snowmass Mountain in
the distance are fantastic.
Another winner at Snowmass is the kids’ trail map. Snowmass is the
family oriented area of Aspen’s four, and our kids loved cruising the
mountain’s adventure zones, skiing through an Indian village, and even
petting live reindeer on Rudolph’s Run by following their own animated
Snowmass has seven high-speed quads and tons of terrain for everyone.
The Long Shot was our most unique run, a 10 minute climb (not for
everyone) leads you to 3.7 mile adventure – that feels more
out-a-bounds than in.
Aspen Mountain, the original ski mountain dating back to 1936 and
referred to locally as Ajax, is serviced by the flagship lift, the
Silver Queen gondola, that lifts skiers from the heart of the
celebrated town to the summit. Despite Aspen’s reputation of being a
glitzy, catered-to town – the terrain is steep and shy on groomed ego
runs. The gladed chutes at Ajax could keep you hop turning for a week.
Snowboarders are now welcome, since Aspen lifted the board ban last
April Fools’ Day– but timid skiers still need not apply.
“First tracks” at Aspen is our best tip for you here. It’s a free
service with a lift ticket. You must sign up two days prior with their
ski concierge (only 8 slots), then you can board the gondola at
8:00am, for fresh tracks with a guide an hour before the other paying
customers. We really scored with seven inches of freshies on our first
track morning. The early morning sun on the shimmering Aspen groves
was worth getting up for, the effortless turns in the fresh powder was
worth flying across the country for.
Another thing we like about Aspen was that you ski literally in to
town. Descending Aspen’s ski runs, which funnel to a narrow gully, you
look down on the quaint Victorian town. Ski Ruthie’s to the American
Downhill course or shop Prada and the oodles of chi-chi designer shops
- that was our conundrum - so we opted for both!
Aspen Highlands was our third stop among Aspen’s awesome foursome. Highlands
has a similarly expert reputation to Aspen, this is where the local
powder hounds ski. The steep mountain has some of the best inbounds
extreme skiing in North America. It’s lift serviced backcountry style
terrain, a sweet blend.
There are a few groomed runs, to cater to the wallets investing in the
rising base village anchored by a posh Aspen Highlands Ritz Carlton. Our thoughts
here – Highlands is ideal for those who like it steep and radical.
When you work up an appetite, head to the Willow Creek grill for lunch
at the slopeside Ritz and you’ll be reminded you’re in Aspen.
Last of Aspen’s mountains is
Buttermilk, which was hosting the X-Games
during our visit. This is the smallest and tamest, a great spot for
beginners and kids. We skipped over Buttermilk because it was heavily
populated with gen-Xers for the big event.
Ironically for the town of Aspen, the X-Games coincided with the annual Gay and Lesbian ski week (not our reason for booking), all on
Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. I wonder if that’s what the good
Doctor had in mind in his dream?
The best oxymoron among Aspenites is that so few ski. Most people come
to see and be seen. This makes for fantastic un-crowded skiing and
admittedly great people watching with a parade of furs, celebs, and
cowboy boots with spurs. Our First Tracks ski instructor eagerly
volunteered that he lives next to the “Dons,” Henley and Johnson.
Name-dropping is all the rage in Aspen.
So here is my attempt. We had a drink with comedian Carrot top at the
swank St. Regis Hotel Lobby Bar, and apparently just missed Melanie
Griffith who frequents Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber’s trendy bar,
Our next vertical village was
Beaver Creek. This resort could easily
pass as Deer Valley’s sister. Actually, Beaver Creek’s roots are Vail,
the nearby sibling resort who started this resort in 1980. The
beautifully designed slopeside village and impressive hillside
mansions, that appear to be never occupied, are a few clues that this
is an upscale gathering ground.
The sculptures and escalators that line your walk from the underground
parking to the high-speed lifts confirms that they do things to excess
here, in a highly enjoyable way.
We fell for Beaver Creek, well not literally – actually we carved it
up for a record day of 34,200’ vertical.
The Centennial lift gave us plenty of bang for our buck, launching
from the base up 2,000’ vertical in a quick eight minutes. From here
we explored meticulously groomed steep pitches on the front face, and
fantastic glade shots, with a quick pass through the fun kids’ Zoom
Room and Rowdy Ridge.
The Birds of Prey area has “chase your spit” steep runs including the
heralded Golden Eagle Downhill course. Grouse Mountain offers up
additional serious fall-line trails. The western reach of the
expansive ski area makes for tamer territory, a fitting site for a
brand new base village called Bachelor Gulch - the home to tremendous
private residences and a Ritz Carlton.
We boarded all six high-speed quads for run after run on the 1,600
acres of terrain, to formulate our family conclusion that Beaver Creek
has the most consistent fall line skiing. Also, it has one of the
nicest mid-mountain lodges, Spruce Saddle, with panoramic views of the
Rockies outside and a wildlife décor inside.
Last but not least we skied
Vail, the big daddy of Colorado and North
America for that matter. With 5,289 acres and 33 lifts, Vail has the
most terrain in the U.S. The Vail trail map requires three sides.
There’s the Front Side, with tons of traditional trails served by
quads galore and a classy 12-passenger gondola. Then there’s the
beloved Back Bowls, seven of them covering a six-mile expanse of
wide-open, above tree line “ski anywhere you like” landscape. And
there’s Blue Sky Basin and Pete’s Bowl, a third mountain face added in
2000 which is adventure skiing on uniquely groomed glade runs.
Vail gets several high marks –the most, best ski terrain, particularly
for the Back Bowl experience. It is accessible to intermediate and
above, all serviced by quads, and it is inevitably either in the sun
The best mountain top lodge is the Two Elk. Jeers to the
environmentalists who burned this magnificent lodge in 1998 as protest
to Vail’s expansion. Cheers to Vail Associates for rebuilding this
monumental on-mountain centerpiece to its previous perfection in time
for the following season.
Vail’s lift system is incredible, as are the lift status signs at each
peak indicating any lift lines so that you can avoid the crowds. Vail
is busy, the words is out, but with all this terrain, you can find
your own pocket – be it western Game Creek Bowl or eastern Fort
Whippersnapper- a terrific model fort for the kids to explore on skis.
Vail’s Tyrolean village is chock full of fine lodges, restaurants and
bars – all prime real estate in this 1962 town started by Pete Seibert
of the original 10th Mountain Division.
Vail may also be the best party town, though Aspen gives it a run.
After all the skiing we did, I did not have the energy to tackle a
fair assessment on the nightlife scene.
We came to ski and we were highly successful, quite high literally
too. Skiing at elevations over 10,000’ was an adjustment for we New
Englanders who dwell at 20’ above sea level.
The best gesture we experienced was water coolers at every turn. It is
critical to stay hydrated to avoid altitude sickness. Our son
experienced that woozy feeling on our first day. The ski patroller
informed us that 40% of visitors experience symptoms, usually on day
one due to dehydration, lack of sleep and overexertion. Our motto for
the week – water, water, water – and it worked like a charm thanks to
the gratis water dispenser at every ski resort.
our dilemmas of moving from one resort to the next was remembering our
room numbers during our mega-resort mania combo plate. Having the
corresponding trail map in your pocket was also a challenge.
Fortunately all 4 of Aspen’s ski areas are on one multi-fold map.
I recommend you bring the pace down a notch, settle in to one of these
incredible Colorado ski resorts and stay awhile. Pick the resort that suits your
personality. Copper would be an ideal family ski vacation spot.
Aspen’s four mountains and fabulous ski town will amuse anyone for
days, weeks, months. Vail alone takes a week to conquer and with
Beaver Creek, Breckenridge,
Keystone and Arapahoe on the same ticket –
your boards will be humming a happy tune.