There’s no beginner skiing on Ajax (Aspen Mountain) and the resort’s main beginners’ area is at Snowmass at Elk Camp Meadows, a mid-mountain area especially designed for new skiers and snowboarders. The Meadows includes a beginner quad chairlift, two magic carpets, a lounge complete with restrooms, a snack area and an equipment technician and great mountain views to make your first days of skiing/riding more memorable.
Every program offered by the Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen is 100% guaranteed in two ways with firstly all lesson tickets purchased but not used are fully refundable and secondly if you are not fully satisfied with your lesson you can take another free or receive a full refund.
Intermediates have one of the continent’s largest ski areas to enjoy with great long cruising runs, particularly at Snowmass where half of the 90+ runs are graded intermediate and trails are among the longest in the US at up to 8.5km long.
To show the range of terrain available the resort has created runs like Long Shot on Snowmass which offers intermediate skiers and snowboarders the chance to get their first taste of the wilder side of snow sports as it’s a hike-to an intermediate ski run that offers a taste of backcountry but without too much gradient.
One offer that’s worth signing up for is first tracks offered every day at Aspen Mountain and every Wednesday and Friday at Snowmass. You get on the slopes before everyone else, in a group led by ski school staff, and it’s free of charge so long as you have your lift ticket. Sign-up on a first-come basis at the Aspen Mountain Gondola ticket office (+1 (970) 925 1220) or at Snowmass (+1 (970) 925 1220 extension 4560).
Ajax, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass all have plenty of challenges for advanced skiers and boarders. Ajax has a reputation for being almost entirely steep terrain. The S1 run drops off of the International trail and plummets straight down the fall line into Spar Gulch for example. It’s one of "The Dumps," a series of steep runs down former mine debris. S1’s entry sometimes requiring a bit of air, followed by a long, narrow run to the bottom. Silver Rush off to the left as you come up the Shadow Mountain chair is a steep chute that drops skiers and riders to the top of Little Nell near the Compromise Mine. The mountain’s gated terrain including Trainor’s, Rayburn's and Bingo glades offer wild, ungroomed slopes.
At Snowmass The Cirque at the top of the mountain descends via cliffs, rock bands and steeps where runs like AMF or Gowdy's are infamous. The area’s Hanging Valley Wall on Snowmass is another good area with descents like Possible and Baby Ruth are steep and narrow.
At Aspen Highlands the lower mountain steeps like P Chutes, Moment Chutes, Audacious, Epicure and Lower Stein offer plenty of challenge and Highland Bowl has an average pitch of 40 degrees and the steepest section reaches 48 degrees. The Lower Y Zones in Highland Bowl often go overlooked as skiers and riders head straight for the top.
If you’re skiing in the trees on Aspen Mountain, look out for more than 20 hidden "shrines" made by locals in homage to John Denver, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and The Greatful Dead's, Jerry Garcia.
The best way to experience the resort’s back country is through an "Out-Of-Bounds" skiing tour organised by Aspen Expeditions (+1 (970) 925 7625) who employ certified mountain guides to take you backcountry skiing and ski touring.
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
Aspen Snowmass had something of a Jekyll and Hyde reputation among boarders for many years when, on the one hand it operated one of the world’s best terrain parks and hosted the Winter X Games at Buttermilk, but on the other it was one of less than a handful of resorts in the world that banned snowboarding at one of its ski areas, the iconic Ajax mountain. Again the resort appear torn between its conservative and more liberal sides, but thankfully they put it all behind them in 2001 and allow boarders on to Ajax – today all four areas are open to all.
Buttermilk continues to be one of the world centres for snowboarding and facilities created for the X Games including the 400 foot long superpipe and international competition standard terrain park are open to all when the Games finish each winter.
The two mile long park has several stair case type features and expert jump lines. Access is from the top of the Summit Express lift on Teaser and continues right down the mountain with more than 40 boxes, rails, features, jibs and jumps .
The Snowmass Park and the area’s superpipe is on the Upper Banzai trail continuing down Cabin and back to the Coney Glade lift. A bridge at Lunch-line crossing allows park traffic to travel over the green road for a non-stop continuous park lap.
For those still waiting to perfect freestyle technique out of the public glare, on indeed try it for the first time, both Buttermilk and Snowmass have individual beginner/intermediate level parks located away from the traffic of their showcase parks.
Makaha Park on Snowmass is easily accessed by the Elk Camp Gondola and unloading at the mid-station. Snowmass has its own "learn to jib" beginner park located on Scooper.
S3 Park on Buttermilk is accessed by using the West Buttermilk Express lift and unloading at the mid-station. Buttermilk has a beginner half pipe located on Panda Peak and is 200 feet long.
There are 80km of cross country tracks in the area with activity centred on the Snowmass Nordic Center (+1 (970) 429 2039) which offers free use of the 70km groomed trails (the norm in Europe but you usually have to pay in Canada and the US). Low cost rentals are available on site. The trails are open to the public 24-hours a day so you can actually get in a pre-dawn workout or moonlit glide over the six kilometres of varied terrain.
Average Snow And Weather Conditions
Despite occasionally suffering a slow snow start to the very early season in November, in common with other resorts in Colorado which endeavour to open for the major Thanksgiving holiday towards the end of the month, Aspen has a good snow record from December to April and generally ends its season with deep snow still lying.
The resort’s four areas each have hundreds of snowmaking guns and in any case the ski areas are among the highest in altitude in the world.