On a windy, snowy day, the old gondola rising from the centre of all things Aspen to the Sundeck at 11,200ft, was about as windproof as an open chairlift. Snow would drift through the ill-fitting doors and be swirled around the inside of the cabin by the wind howling through. The overall effect was cold, damp and very much like being in a living snowglobe — shaken, if not stirred.
But there’s a new, or at least completely refurbished, Silver Queen gondola with doors that close tightly. It snugly whisks skiers from The Tavern to the Sundeck in 14 minutes, offering an endlessly fascinating view of the sidehill black runs off the spine of Bell Mountain, the ridge of many runs directly underneath its path. Pay careful attention; you’re looking at some of the best terrain on Aspen.
You can be forgiven for wondering whether the black runs on the mountain were laid out by a dipsomaniac designer. Virtually none of them follow the fall-line. They’re all sidehill, off-camber runs. They leave you feeling slightly disoriented and listing to one side as though you’ve just returned from a long, stormy sea voyage. They’re reminiscent of the old joke about the cross-eyed woman telling the bow-legged man to go straight home. They’re all a gas.
There is no real alpine in the scant 673 acres and 3,267 vertical that make up Aspen. But a person can fritter away the day working his way top-to-bottom down the more heavily-gladed back side of Bell, heading back up to do the same thing along the lesser-treed face of Bell and, time permitting, wandering across the aptly named Spar Gulch and doing the same all over again on the equally off-camber double blacks falling helter-skelter off Ruthie’s Run. Fair warning though: You’ll need more than a few après refreshments to get your sense of equilibrium back after following this recommendation.
The nicest thing about Aspen is its most unusual feature. Scan the trail map carefully. This isn’t as easy as it sounds since the resort’s four-mountains-in-one-map make just finding Aspen Mountain a Where’s Waldo search. Notice what you don’t see? That’s right. It’s not easy being green at Aspen. In fact, it’s impossible. Double check the legend. There it is, the confirmation you’re searching for. Easiest Terrain: None. None! Kermits need not apply. There ain’t a green run on the mountain and, despite the 48% number for blue runs, not really all that much in the way of cruisers.
True, there are some over-rated blacks but by and large, this mountain’s a playground of steepish, gladed, off-kilter, house of mirrors fun. Jump right in and have a blast.
Check it out
Stay : Still at the Stonebridge Inn at Snowmass.
Eat : If you must, the Sundeck serves up a great cheeseburger. But this mountain might be too much fun to spend time eating when you could be skiing.
Après : The Montagna Restaurant & Bar at the Little Nell because, well, because you’re in Aspen, silly. Or the Cooper Street Bar & Restaurant if you want to live down to your ski bum caste in life.
Dine : Think bar menus unless you’ve found someone else’s credit card. Jimmy’s I can vouch for, elsewhere you’re on your own.
Chip off the ol'.
Apen Founder Friedl Pfeifer.
Lots o parking.