When people think of skiing in Colorado, Aspen is usually the first or second ski area that comes to mind. Aspen is in the Roaring Fork Valley, and the town itself sits at an elevation of 7,890 feet. Several 14,000 foot peaks are nearby in the rugged Elk Mountains, including the Maroon Bells, whose image is on many Colorado postcards. Aspen was the first major ski area in Colorado, and while Vail is now larger, Aspen is for many the preeminent destination resort. Skiing at Aspen actually gives you a choice of four peaks on one lift ticket: Ajax (Aspen), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass.
Aspen Mountain is directly above the eastern edge of the town, and the gondola lift comes right to the street. Aspen usually opens by Thanksgiving and stays open to mid-April. The summit is above 11,000 feet, and the vertical drop is 3,267 feet. Aspen has eight lifts, including the gondola, and 76 trails, none of which are rated for beginners. The terrain breakdown is 48 percent intermediate, 26 percent advanced and 26 percent expert. For those who want to find powder, Aspen Powder Tours operates on the backside of the mountain.
The east-facing bowl of Aspen Highlands can be seen from the summit of Aspen Mountain and is one of the stunning draws of the area. Aspen Highlands has a summit elevation of 11,675 feet and a vertical drop of 3,635 feet. Highland Bowl, at an elevation of 12,392 feet, is accessed by hiking, though there is a snowcat to take you partially up the distance. Highland Bowl was fully opened in 2002, and the Aspen ski patrol does extensive avalanche control work to get it ready every year. Before its opening, people often skied the bowl, but avalanches were common. Aspen Highlands has five lifts and 118 trails, with 18 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 16 percent advanced and 36 percent expert. The mountain usually opens in early December and stays open to the first week of April. A bus runs to Highlands every 15 to 20 minutes from Rubey Park, and another bus runs to Highlands from the Buttermilk parking lot every 15 minutes in the morning and every 30 minutes in the afternoon. The free Castle/Maroon regular bus runs every 20 minutes to Highlands.
Buttermilk is a smaller, lower mountain than the other four peaks of Aspen and is the site of the annual Winter X Games. The peak elevation is 9,900 feet, and the vertical drop is 2,030 feet. A superpipe is cut into the lower part of Buttermilk every year in preparation for the X Games, and skiers and snowboarders flock there to practice tricks. Buttermilk has 44 trails and nine lifts. The terrain breakdown is 35 percent beginner, 39 percent intermediate and 26 percent advanced.
While Aspen, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk are all clustered fairly close to each other in town, Snowmass is 9 miles west of Aspen. With a peak elevation of 12,510 feet and a vertical drop of 4,406 feet, Snowmass is the biggest of the four peaks that make up Aspen Resorts. Snowmass has 21 lifts and 91 trails, with 6 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 12 percent advanced and 32 percent expert. Snowmass is open from Thanksgiving to mid-April. A shuttle runs every 10 to 15 minutes from Rubey Park in Aspen to Snowmass, from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Skiers and boarders who primarily plan to ride Snowmass often stay at the numerous condos and hotels at the base of Snowmass in Snowmass Village, rather than staying in Aspen and riding the bus.