I don’t know who first called Aspen Mountain “the best square mile in skiing.” But I was reminded of this phrase last season when a friend, and former Aspenite, pulled it out.
Was it a marketing slogan? A clever localism? Or something he made up? I have no idea. But it fits. For what Aspen Mountain lacks in size, it makes up in terrain: an endless variety of terrain which never disappoints and always challenges.
At 673 skiable acres, the mountain stats are deceiving. Compared to its sister mountains Snowmass (3,128 acres) and Aspen Highlands (1,010 acres), only Buttermilk is smaller at 435 acres.
But with vertical of 3,267, no beginner terrain and 64 miles of trails, this “little” mountain skis very, very big.
Tips from My Family
In January, my family and I spent a “just for fun” weekend in Aspen. As we skied together, we made a list of highlights, those runs which first-time Aspen Mountain visitors should not miss.
Locals will have other opinions and probably better suggestions than we do. This post is certainly not meant for them.
But if you’re part of a skiing family that has looked at Aspen Mountain and given it a pass, or skied it and questioned why it’s a big deal, we hope our suggestions will help you learn to love one of our favorite ski areas.
Aspen Mountain Highlights
The Silver Queen Gondola is the natural starting point for any visit to Aspen.
Located in the heart of the town, it’s here that you’ll find the main ticket office, lockers and restrooms. It’s a 14 minute ride to the top of the mountain, which means it’s a long way back down. The permutations for top-to-bottom skiing at Aspen are nearly infinite, so we don’t have a specific route to recommend.
Instead, we’re going to share some of our favorite runs off of the other lifts, many of which can be connected for a full mountain experience.
At the top of the mountain, you’ll find the Ajax Express quad lift which serves much of Aspen Mountain’s groomed, intermediate terrain. The angle here is a bit lower, although you can still find short, steep faces, moguls and glades. Buckhorn takes you around the backside of the mountain with unique views, while Silver Bell and Dipsy Doodle are reliably good warm up runs.
If you fancy a run through the gates, you’ll find Aspen’s NASTAR course on Silver Dip ($15 for 3 runs).
Ready to try moguls? The gentle bumps on Easy Chair are great fun, with steeper options on Blondie’s and Pussyfoot.
And then there’s Bell Mountain.
While this vintage mid-pole double rarely (if ever) runs, Bell Mountain has some of the best skiing at Aspen, and could be considered the heart of the mountain.
You can access Bell Mountain from the Gondola and Ajax Express. With nearly 360° skiing, you’ve got your choice of gladed steep terrain on the Face of Bell, a long, leg-burner down the Ridge of Bell (with plenty of options for variation on the Shoulder and Nose of Bell) and introductory runs like Seibert’s (plenty of bumps, but a short pitch), along with glades galore on the Back of Bell.
There are so many options that you could exclusively ski Bell Mountain and have one of the best ski days of your life.
FIS is a double chair that serves as a connector to Ruthie’s and provides access to the Mine Dumps. Located just below Ajax Express, FIS is the only lift open until 3:45 p.m. The other lifts close at 3:30.
To get to the Mine Dumps, take International and choose from numerous chutes and steep pitches on your right. When the snow is deep, there is no greater fun. Steep and challenging, you’ll find a combination of rocks, cliffs, moguls, powder and trees.
We love Ruthie’s with it’s potent combination of a fast lift, groomed steeps, forgiving bumps and America’s Downhill.
The marquee spot on the mountain, from a ski racing perspective, is the FIS downhill course that begins at the top of the lift, continues onto Aztec through Spring Pitch to Strawpile.
With steep sliding sections, big banking turns and some ubiquitous ice, America’s Downhill can be skied by strong intermediates and advanced skiers. Imagine yourself a downhiller, even if you ski it slowly.
Shadow Mountain (1A)
Strawpile and the race runs end at the Shadow Mountain lift (sometimes called 1A).
The lowest spot on the mountain, spring comes early to this base area, with one of our favorites Norway, usually showing some grass and straw. Mid-winter skiing however is divine and this lift is a good alternative to the gondola. It offers up a lot of fun, as well as history.
Look behind the barn that houses the lift and you can see the short lift towers and single chairs from original Lift 1. Shadow Mountain is home to Corkscrew, the mountain’s original slalom course (used in the Roch Cup competition, beginning in 1946). Back then the run was narrower, but still had the same tricky fall line. It’s a fun ski with some off-kilter moguls.
Shadow Mountain also offers an alternate way off the mountain at the end of the day. If you want to avoid the crowds on Spar Gulch and Copper Canyon, take one of two snowcat roads (Magnifico Road or Summer Road) across to Little Nell and end up at the gondola. Magnifico Road is a good choice if you want to ski Franklin Dump, while Summer Road brings you in closer to the base.
Back up at the top of the mountain, you’ll find the Gent’s Ridge lift to skier’s right of the gondola. This part of the mountain has some fun, groomed intermediate and advanced terrain. It also has Northstar, a wide, bumped up, steep run. Northstar is a good warm up for Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi, three double black chutes on the eastern boundary of Aspen Mountain.
My favorite of these is Kristi, mostly because it has the shortest run out at the bottom. All three are a fun challenge, reminiscent of Highland Bowl skiing (although much, much shorter and with much, much less effort).
If you want to stay on the upper mountain, take the slow fixed-grip chair back to the top or ski Gentleman’s Ridge to one of several glades to the bottom.
One Square Mile, Plus
As for that “best square mile in skiing” claim, here’s the math. A square mile is 640 acres which gives Aspen Mountain a 33-acre cushion.
Given that every skiable acre at Aspen Mountain actually skis, it would take a season to explore them all.
More Aspen Snowmass:
- Three Days of Family Skiing Fun at Aspen Snowmass, February 29, 2016.
- Aspen Snowmass Freebies: X Games and Beyond, January 25, 2016.
- First Track Skiing at Aspen Snowmass, December 21, 2015.
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