With the New Year comes two long weekends: Martin Luther King and President’s Day. With fortunate timing, in deep mid-winter, these three-day breaks are made for skiing families.
For nearly seven decades, Aspen has welcomed ski bums, the rich and famous, and everyone else in between, including ordinary folks and families, like yours and mine. This season, the resort has a new Kids Ski Free program, as well as reduced ticket prices for teens, making a long family weekend more affordable.
Four Mountains, Three Days
Aspen Snowmass is actually four separate mountains: Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass. As each mountain has a unique personality and unique skiing and riding, there’s no “right way” to explore.
If you’ve got little kids in lessons (or bigger kids just starting out), check out the fantastic children’s centers at both Buttermilk and Snowmass.
Buttermilk was established as the resort’s “teaching mountain,” and has forgiving, fun terrain, outstanding tree skiing and, as home of the Winter X Games, a major terrain park scene. And while I’m not providing specific Buttermilk recommendations in this post, you can find some here.
Aspen Mountain is a must ski for all visitors, except beginners. There is no beginner terrain on Aspen Mountain.
If you’re staying in Aspen, get up early for the mountain’s daily “First Tracks” program and get some turns in, with some of the resort’s top ski school pros, before the mountain opens. Advance registration is required and you must be intermediate skiers and riders, or above.
Once the lifts start turning for everyone else, treat the family to breakfast on mountain at Bonnie’s. From here, cruise the blues off of Ajax Express or Ruthie’s. Or, for more challenge, head to top of the mountain and make huge gondola laps, enjoying the bumps and glades on Bell Mountain or the steeps on Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi.
For lunch, refuel your bodies and refresh your soul, with the stunning views at the Sundeck. Then in the afternoon, revisit your favorite runs, or keep exploring, finding fun chutes, great jumps and possibly, one of the mountain’s famous shrines. Also, don’t miss the famous World Cup course, starting on Aztec and finishing on Strawpile at Lift 1A.
After skiing, it’s time to eat again. The options in Aspen are many and nearly as good as the skiing and riding. Restaurants run the gamut from slices at New York Pizza to country French at Rustique. And since families can never go wrong with Italian, we also like Brunelleschi’s.
Also, check out the Limelight Hotel (a fantastic place to stay, too) for discounts on specialty cocktails, hand tossed pizzas and more from 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. Thursday – Monday.
The marquee experience at Aspen Highlands is hiking Highland Bowl. It’s totally doable with kids who are enthusiastic and advanced intermediate skiers. The key? Bring snacks, water and an enthusiastic attitude. Also, be prepared to pull off the trail and let faster hikers pass you by.
It’s very helpful to have either straps or a backpack to carry your skis. If you don’t have either, check in with Ski Patrol and purchase some inexpensive straps. All proceeds benefit Patrol, so it’s a win-win for you and them.
When you get to the top (your kids will probably get there first!), take some photos, drink the in view (along with your water) and prepare for some sublime skiing.
If you’re feeling strong, make a couple of laps.
Or, fill up on lunch at the mid-mountain Merry-Go-Round and explore the rest of Aspen Highlands. The steep Temerity area was gladed this summer, turning really good tree skiing into fantastic tree skiing. Olympic, or Oly, Bowl on the other side of the ridge, has short, steep shots, while you’ll find plenty of groomed terrain off of the Loge Peak and Cloud Nine lifts.
Aspen Highlands is never crowded, but if you want to get away from most everyone head for the Thunderbowl lift at the base. There’s a wide variety of terrain here, including the runway-like Golden Horn, double-black Upper Stein (named for Stein Ericksen) and some nice chutes and glades. Aspen’s middle and high school are adjacent to Aspen Highlands, so you’ll probably see some after school race training. Don’t be surprised when your kids start asking about moving to Aspen.
While the Merry-Go-Round is probably the best bet for active families, if you’d like a long, European style lunch (think fondue and raclette), the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro offers delicious food and superlative views.
Snowmass is famous for it’s groomed intermediate terrain, ski and ride school, and family-friendly atmosphere. Western Colorado’s largest mountain, with 3,332 skiable acres, 21 lifts and 4,406 vertical feet, it’s also known for it’s expert options.
For skiers of all levels (except beginner), we suggest starting on the Village Express chairlift and heading for the Big Burn. Warm up your legs on some long cruisers and then take the Poma platter lift to the expert terrain in the Cirque or Hanging Valley, or head down to Sam’s Knob for some fast laps in some fun bumps.
A great spot for lunch (with a fantastic salad bar, ski moms!) is Elk Camp Lodge at the top of the gondola. From here, take the Elk Camp lift to the top for 360-degree views and fun, fast groomed runs.
Finally, don’t miss the realigned, high-speed High Alpine Chair. Hike to Hanging Valley, or choose between bumps, glades or the resort’s longest groomed run, Green Cabin.
For après and dinner, keep the action going with pizza at Slopeside Lanes, an eight lane bowling alley and restaurant.
The Aspen airport has nonstop flights from Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta.
If you’re driving Aspen is 3.5 hours from Denver or two hours from Grand Junction.
For lodging, check the Aspen Snowmass website. We’ve had great luck with both the Aspen Mountain Chalet and the Snowmass Mountain Chalet. There are many, many condo options in Snowmass, as well.
Or try something totally different and stay at the new Element by Westin hotel in Basalt. Perfect for families, one bedroom suites (truly one bedroom, with a door that closes!) have full kitchens and connect to additional guest rooms.
Standard rooms have kitchenettes and there is a Whole Foods, several restaurants and plenty of retail, within a three-minute walk. Breakfast is included, as is ski and boot storage. Basalt Bike and Ski will deliver rental equipment to the hotel and there is a RAFTA bus stop for quick transit to skiing, just across the street.
Yes, you are down valley, about 20-30 minutes from the resorts. But the price is significantly discounted (starting at $169 a room) and the quality is high.
More Family Skiing at Aspen Snowmass:
- Skiing Snowmass with Teens, March 2, 2015.
- A Walk on the Wild Side at Snowmass, January 28, 2015.
- What’s New at Snowmass? Gladed Skiing on Burnt Mountain, Ullr Nights and Two New Hotels, March 15, 2013.
- Buttermilk Deluxe: X Games, A Purple Moose and the Best Deal in Aspen, January 14, 2013.
- A Different Look at Snowmass, February 27, 2012.
- Spring Break Guide to Snowmass: A Top 10 Guide for Skiing Families, March 17, 2011.
- The Yin and Yang of Aspen: Part Two, Buttermilk, January 27, 2011.
- The Yin and Yang of Aspen: Part One, Aspen Highlands, January 20, 2011.
- Snowmass, Colorado: Family Friendly at Any Age, September 22, 2010.
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