Fifty years ago, a commercial snowcat operation began taking skiers up Snowmass Mountain, near Aspen. Chairlifts wouldn’t be installed until the 1967 season, when the resort officially opened.
Still, this season marks the 50th year of commercial skiing at Snowmass and while celebrations have not yet begun, there are plenty of new delights to enjoy on mountain and in the Village.
When I think of Snowmass, I remember the resort of my childhood. Big, wide rolling intermediate runs off of the Big Burn and Elk Camp. While these runs are still a blast, and in many ways they remain the heart of the mountain, today we’re more apt to be found bashing bumps on Sam’s Knob or High Alpine and enjoying Snowmass’s extreme terrain along the Cirque Headwall and within Hanging Valley.
If there has been one constant to our Snowmass experience, it’s that the mountain, while geographically static, is always changing: new runs, new lifts, new restaurants and a new base area. This season, it seems like there’s more change than ever.
New Gladed Runs on Burnt Mountain
Over the years, the Aspen Skiing Company has proposed developing Burnt Mountain, just to the south of the Elk Camp lift. The original proposal called for 900 skiable acres, 9 chairlifts and a new base amenities. This expansion was shelved in 1989, however, one hike-to run, Long Shot was cut and became popular with intermediate to advanced skiers, willing to walk uphill for 10 minutes and ski downhill for over four miles.
This season, Snowmass opened three new runs on Burnt Mountain: Split Tree, Rio and A-Line. As with Long Shot, skiers and riders have to hike to this new terrain. It’s the same hiking route, with huge vista payoffs at the top. However, while Long Shot is blue, with consistently open glades and an easy run out to the Two Creeks base, the new runs are black and technically challenging at the bottom.
We explored Burnt Mountain after a big snow. Hiking up took about 10 minutes and most of the skiers gave the new runs a pass, opting for Long Shot. As we skied through a gate, stunning views of the Roaring Fork Valley opened up. The snow was deep and fluffy and while the runs are gladed, the trees are widely spaced, making them perfect for fast, rewarding tree-skiing.
That is, until you get near the bottom. At one point, all three runs funnel into a rocky cliff band, with tight trees. You won’t have to jump any cliffs, but you will need to be able to make 4-5 quick turns in a tight space. At the bottom of this little face is a run-out leading back to Long Shot and the Two Creeks base. According to our younger son, the only part of this terrain that is difficult is the bumpy, winding traverse back to Long Shot.
Our verdict on the new terrain was that the top was heavenly, with fun powder skiing through low angle glades. We had a blast. The bottom section is clearly marked, so you shouldn’t be surprised by the rocks when you get there. You just may want to take your skis in for P-Tex when you’re done.
Fire on the Mountain: Ullr Nights
The ultimate in night-time, on-snow fun, Ullr Nights takes place at the new Elk Camp Lodge, at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola. With an end of day happy hour in the Lodge’s attractive fireside bar, Ullr Nights isn’t just for kids, although most kids are going to love it.
Named after the Norse god of snow, Ullr Nights has a definite Scandinavian theme. Inside the new, beautifully simple Elk Camp Lodge, guests enjoy a smorgasbord-like feast, dance to live music (especially popular with the toddler crowd) or partake of a drink in the adjacent fireside bar. Vikings roam the crowd, taking photos and providing a backdrop of flame to the evening fire show.
Out on the snow, everyone, of all ages, enjoys exploring a giant snow and ice Viking ship, ice skating on a lovely little pond, testing their balance on mini-snowboards and laughing, screaming and flinging themselves downhill on tubes.
While I was entranced by the skating on lovely Rayburn’s Pond (no flashing lights, no loud music, just old-school skating), it was the tubing that got the rest of my family going. While it costs $5 for kids ages 4-12 and $10 for adults to ride the gondola up to Elk Camp for the evening, there is no additional charge for tubing, skates or most of the other activities.
While you don’t have to bring your own tube, you do have to walk up most of the hill on your own. While the littlest Ullr-ites are busy pulling plastic sleds up and sliding down a small slope, the bigger kids (ranging from about 5 to 75) line up at the base of the hill waiting for tubes.
When its your turn to slide, you can choose to go single or in pairs. Pairs are faster and more precarious (or is that more fun?) Rushing headlong down the single tubing lane, your speed is finally arrested by a quick uphill onto a big pile of snow. If that seems just a little too risky for you, dragging your feet will also slow you down, although this method can get you covered in snow. It’s adrenaline pumping, fast-moving fun.
Even if you don’t go to Ullr Nights on a Friday, be sure to have lunch at the Elk Camp Lodge. With a surprisingly healthy, locavore-inspired menu, you won’t find French fries anywhere. But you will find delicious roast chicken, handmade pizzas (even the dough is made on site) and if you’re luck, the best (and I mean BEST) roasted Brussels sprouts you can imagine. I’m still craving them.
New Places to Lay Your Head
In addition to new runs, new fun and a gorgeous new mid-Mountain lodge, Snowmass has two newly renovated hotels. The Westin Snowmass Resort, which was formerly the Silver Tree, is slopeside and has 254 rooms including 18 suites with direct access to the snow.
There’s a spa on site, as well as a Kids’ Club, for those days when the little ones just want to stay in and play. Two new restaurants, The Snowmass Kitchen and the Vue Lounge, as well as a redeveloped pool and hot tub area, an exercise room and newly appointed guest rooms add to the full-service comfort.
Next door to the Westin is the funkier Wildwood Snowmass. Not to be confused with the old Wildwood, which had seen better days, the Wildwood Snowmass is arty, small and fun. Rooms have themes, with an emphasis on retro-pop art.
There is a new pool, and best of all, there is the 60’s glam-inspired Bar at Wildwood. Serving more than just drinks, children are welcome and will enjoy the pizzas and very affordable gourmet hot dog menu. Ski movies play on the big screen TV, while board games are found near every table, making the Bar a perfect family après ski destination. And if board games are too tame for you, upstairs is the Arcade, a game room with foosball, ping-pong and (ta-da!) pinball machines.
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