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Snowmass at Aspen

The Big Burn



Okay, so you’re an adult. So you have to fess up and admit you barely made it out of the Treehouse at the base of Snowmass to actually get up on the mountain and use your lift ticket. It’s okay. You’re not to blame. Come to think of it, you’re probably not alone.

The Treehouse is a multi-themed, kid’s fun environment in what was, two years ago, a massive hole in the ground and what will be, in 2011, Snowmass’ Renaissance village. Spread over two floors and 25,000 square feet, Snowmass has spent $17 million to entertain your kids so you can get up the mountain and entertain yourself.

I feigned interest in the Nature Shack and museum and headed right for the Alpine Climb room with its indoor climbing wall. “Hey, you’re not a kid,” one of the brats squealed.

“Go away, kid; ya bother me,” I scowled in my best W.C. Fields impersonation. But the jig was up. I beat a hasty retreat before the fusilade of tiny ski boots could reach me. Oh well. Maybe every once in awhile they’ll turn it over to the adults to enjoy.

With the possible exception of the crazy sidehill spines at Aspen and the hike-to bowl at Aspen Highlands, Snowmass is my favourite mountain in the sprawling complex of Aspenland. Okay, if I had to choose just one, I’d be greedy and go with size… Snowmass hands down. At 3,132 acres, it’s bigger than both the others combined and, unlike, say, Vail, has its terrain arrayed mostly vertically instead of horizontally. This puppy just keeps going up and up along its 4,406 foot vertical drop. That’s not a knock at Vail, just a personality difference. Vail=Veronica. Snowmass=Betty. Or something like that.

My day on Snowmass was an unusual one. I tied up with Ruthie Waldman, Aspen’s most famous Ambassador, and a group of Over the Hill Gang clubmembers she was guiding around Snowmass. The OHG is a lively group of 50+ folk who engage in a lot of things their sedentary peers find foolish and reckless; in other words, just my kind of folk. Notwithstanding foolish and reckless, it was a cruisin’ kind of day.

I don’t cruise groomers much but maybe I should. Or maybe I will when I grow up… or old… er. Every time I do, I remind myself how much fun it is to carve scaryfast turns on corduroy, grab some air coming off blind rises, not worry about skiing the spaces instead of the trees and generally stay away from places where if I screw up, I get hurt.

And Snowmass has lots of great groomers. The meandering blues skier’s left off the Big Burn chair, the fall-line blues under the same chair, the rolling blues off Alpine Springs chair and the easy blue bumps under Elk Camp chewed up most of the morning. The highlight though was skate against the wind off High Alpine to the sweeping corduroy highway of Upper Green Cabin. Offering a view up into the Cirque Headwall — and visual confirmation that the Cirque poma was running — the run swoops down and around steep rock walls on one side and inviting trees on the other. But staying the groomed, it was a free flight of crisp turns and stinging cold air all the way down.

With habit drawing me towards terrain the OHG wasn’t interested in, I peeled off for a five-minute hike at the top of High Alpine and skied the chalky steeps of Hanging Valley Wall, down the bumps of Lower Ladder and made my way back to the poma I’d seen running earlier on the other side of the mountain to ski Cirque Headwall, a paradise of steep diamonds, cirques through cliff bands and trees lower down.

Someday I’ll be happy skiing groomers all day. Someday.

Check it out:
Stay : The Stonebridge Inn at Snowmass. Right on the run, just above the new base and Treehouse. Doc Eason performs very cool magic in the bar Tuesdays and some other night.
Eat : Gwyn’s High Alpine at the top of Alpine Springs lift. You won’t believe how many people get fed in such a small place.
Après : The Cirque Bar and Grill near the base is where it all seems to be happening. Nice deck in the afternoon sun.
Dine : The Artisan Restaurant and Bar, right in the Stonebridge Inn is as good as it gets on Snowmass… and good it is.


Eric Ward fits boots at lunch at Gwyn's.


Little dude on Hanging Valley Wall.


Ruthie Ambassador Extraordinaire.


Upper Green Cabin.




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