Along with Sun Valley, no other city in North America screams “old school skiing” and “high rollers” like Aspen, Colorado. But don’t let that scare you away.
There are four different mountains under one management: Aspen Mountain (sometimes called Ajax), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. Ajax and Highlands are, for the most part, mountains with a single spine from which the trails diverge. The fall lines at Buttermilk go off in three broad directions from the summit, while Buttermilk is a sprawling resort with multiple peaks.
Ajax is the “in town” mountain. The Silver Queen Gondola takes you from the southeast part of town to the top. Ruthie’s is the iconic run, though it’s overrated, as there’s not much about it that’s interesting.
Highlands is famous for its bowl, with lots of steeps and powder snow. Thanks to a cat service, getting there doesn’t take as long as it used to, but you still have to walk to get there.
Buttermilk is most known as the home of the Winter X Games. It’s a great place to learn how to ski or ride. The west side is full of mellow trails that are lined by trees–a great place to go during low-visibility days. If you look, you can find some places to practice tree skiing. The Tiehack side is more difficult, though as a whole the mountain is the least demanding of the three. The Timber Doodle Glades are a fun place to try more tree skiing.
Snowmass is, as the name suggests, a massive mountain. It is a 20-minute bus ride out of town, and you could spend your whole vacation on site and still not be bored. Intermediates should head to the Big Burn area or Elk Camp. Both are tree-challenged, though Elk Camp has more trees than the Big Burn. Visibility on the Burn’s trails can be poor on windy days; with few trees, the result can be periodic white-outs. Elk Camp has enough trees for improved visibility, but not so many that you’re in a glade. Many trails in Elk Camp have compound slopes. Riders should be prepared before they attempt the Two Creeks trail. It is long and flat, which means you’ve got to be prepared to go fast–or lose speed and then walk for quite a while. But don’t worry, experts, there’s plenty of terrain for you as well.