Depending on how you look at things, we either got a lovely extended fall or were robbed of primo skiing due to unseasonably warm weather. If your thinking falls into the latter camp, you'll be glad to know that resorts are finally opening – and offering more than ever this year.
In this year's edition of Edge, our snow-activities guide to resorts in Colorado, we've told you about what’s new at every major ski area in the state, must-do experiences and insider tips. We’ve also done our own tireless research all over the state and reached out to some experts for suggestions on how to make the most of it all, whether you’re looking to drop some coin for something special or just trying to get by as a dirtbag ski bum like the rest of us. We'll roll those out at resorts open, like Aspen Snowmass, which opens on Thursday, November 24.
AJAX/ASPEN HIGHLANDS/ BUTTERMILK/SNOWMASS
What’s new: Aspen Mountain and Snowmass both open on November 24; Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain will open on December 10. The quadruple punch — all four ski areas are included on the Aspen/Snowmass lift ticket — makes the Roaring Fork Valley a must for any serious skier or snowboarder. This year, Aspen Skiing Company dropped $9 million into infrastructure and capital projects to make it even better, particularly in the high-alpine zone at Snowmass, where a $5.9 million remodel of Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant is among the highlights. The town is also the perfect place to take in two of the highest-profile winter sports events in the U.S. this year: X Games Aspen returns to Buttermilk January 25-28, with freeski, snowboard and snowmobile events, and Aspen Mountain will host the 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals March 15-19, the first time the event has been held in the U.S. in twenty years, featuring downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super-G racing.
Signature experience: Head to Aspen Highlands for a brisk high-altitude hike. “The quintessential way to enjoy Highlands is by hiking the infamous Highland Bowl, which takes approximately 45 minutes and delivers close to 2,500 feet of vertical descent,” says Aspen/Snowmass spokesman Tucker Vest Burton (a free snowcat ride will take you part of the way if you prefer to ease into the experience). Follow up with a meal at Cloud Nine, a stylish mid-mountain cabin with spectacular views of the nearby Maroon Bells peaks.
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Insider info: Call 970-923-0560 to sign up for the free First Tracks program, which will get you up the gondola at Aspen Mountain at 8:15, 45 minutes before its official opening. “This usually entails perfect corduroy or fresh powder,” Burton says. “Then to round out the signature experience, head into Bonnie’s, located mid-mountain on Aspen, for a delicious breakfast — think doughnut muffins, homemade oatmeal pancakes, and made-to-order delicious omelets paired with coffee or tea.”
Splurge: For guaranteed fresh tracks, call 970-920-0720 to book a day with Aspen Powder Tours, and take a full-day luxury snowcat tour in the glades on the backside of Aspen Mountain. Or, if you’d rather do the driving, check out the new Snowcat Academy, an $875 exclusive offer for guests of the Little Nell and Limelight Hotel that will put you and a friend at the helm of a Prinoth Bison Tier 4 snowcat to lay some corduroy at Buttermilk.
Ski bum tips: Park for free at Buttermilk Mountain or the Snowmass Recreation Center, then take the free shuttle to any of the four mountains, or load up the car with at least four people: Carpoolers get free parking at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass. Opt for the free Lavazza coffee at the bottom of each mountain every morning, then stop in at any guest-service location throughout the day to refuel on free hot cider and Clif Bar snacks. Ask for a seat at the bar when visiting most Aspen restaurants, and ask for the bar menu. “Bar menus are a great way to enjoy some of the best restaurants in Aspen without spending an exorbitant amount of money,” Burton says. “Many restaurants offer similar entree options that would be served in the dining room at a fraction of the cost on their bar menus.”
Drink local: Aspen takes its après-ski game seriously, on mountain and in town, and recently earned a “Best après-ski scene in North America” nod from Condé Nast Traveler magazine. No, seriously: there’s a pop-up mobile champagne bar at Aspen Mountain, a daily patio party at the Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern and a more intimate scene inside at the Chair 9 bar, a raging happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Limelight Hotel, and party scenes all over town, both in Aspen proper and in Snowmass Village. Check out the scene at Lynn Britt Cabin, a mid-mountain spot at Snowmass that hosts a lively après party with DJs and food and drink specials from February 17 through April 1, or the full-moon à la carte dinners at Buttermilk’s mid-mountain Cliffhouse restaurant on December 14, January 12, February 11 and March 12, which require guests to ascend an uphill route on the Tiehack run, then ski or snowboard down after dessert. Tucker also recommends hitting happy hour at Justice Snow, which shares a building with the Wheeler Opera House, or at Red Onion, a locals’ favorite with dual happy hours from 3 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight.