Before we had Leo, a couple of our friends managed to convince us that taking a nearly 3 month old baby on a skiing holiday was a GREAT idea…so we booked a week in the snow at the end of March…
Now, as the teeny tiny snowsuit lies unused in our nursery hoping, as much as we are, that one day it has an owner, I’m so glad booked we booked the trip. Rich and I first kissed on a ski holiday. The mountains are our happy place and, having had to deal with reality for a few weeks after our trip to Iceland, we couldn’t wait to get away again and hit the slopes. Aspen’s instagram had been teasing us with tales of fresh snow and crisp winter days and we couldn’t wait to get there.
We’ve skied in a few resorts in Colorado but never Aspen - possibly avoiding it for the same reasons many do; it’s location 4-5 hours drive from Denver and it’s reputation for being ludicrously expensive. Both of the above facts are true, BUT the slopes are empty and the skiing is awesome. The resort is split into 4 mountain villages - Aspen, Snowmass, Highlands and Buttermilk. The most popular are Aspen and Snowmass and latter is the bigger of the two ski areas with the majority of the ski in, ski out accommodation, while Aspen has a bigger town home to an array of shops, restaurants, bars and amenities and a smaller hill. It’s confusing to figure out where to stay and eat, and takes a bit of time to get your bearings but luckily we had the two weeks to explore and it went a bit like this:
We spent most of our 2 weeks skiing in Snowmass because it is, undoubtedly, the best resort in the Aspen valley. Wide, open slopes with hardly anyone on them - we simply couldn’t believe the lack of crowds. Lift lines just didn’t exist and if we found ourselves passing another group of skiers on a run down we considered it bedlam. Our first few days were postcard perfect bluebird - bright blue skies and beautifully manicured groomed runs, we had a great time racing around getting to know the terrain.
On our third day, we caught the bus over to Highlands - there are two direct buses from Snowmass to Highlands every day which is great especially because they’re free, comfortable and run exactly on schedule. Highlands is awesome for a powder day and has some incredible, steep terrain, but once that’s tracked, the groomed terrain is very limited, so it’s a place to go only when there’s a bit of fresh snowfall. We went mainly to hike the famous Highlands bowl which is a 45 minute walk to the top and worth it for the views if nothing else.
Top tip – wait for the cat to start running at 10am and catch a ride to get a head start on the first section of the hike. Oh and don’t get impatient and drop in early, make sure you make it to the peak for the best photo ops and the best snow.
One of the other reasons we went to Highlands was to eat and party at Cloud Nine - a restaurant that’s as famous, if not more so, than the backcountry terrain. We were keen for a decent dose of on the mountain partying and having spent a lot of time in European ski resorts, and the fact that we practically had to give up a liver to get a reservation at this place, it had a lot to live up to…. but honestly? Unless you have stupid amounts of money to squander, I would skip it and spend your money on a ticket to Europe for some PROPER apres instead. It’s a place of fun and excess but the ridiculously expensive party only lasts for just over an hour and frankly, it’s not worth it. We had a great time for the 2 hours we were there but having sat down at 2pm, the DJ pulled the plug on the fun at 3:30….the tables around us had spent hundreds on bottles of Veuve that they’d promptly sprayed into the crowd (we drank ours) which was now dripping from the rafters (literally) and we were left wandering what do to with ourselves next…the answer is, in Aspen, not much. Disappointing.
So it was back to Snowmass for the rest of the week and as the weather closed in around us we had a couple of days of skiing fresh snow in the trees, drinking hot chocolates and cruising around the nursery slopes teaching the youngest recruit in our group…
For our second week we moved into the Viceroy hotel. I don’t think that I’ve ever stayed in a hotel in the 30 odd years that I’ve been skiing (I started young) so a five star property was a real treat and we were applying a liberal slathering of “fuck it” attitude to this holiday given recent events which helped justify the room rate. But the great thing about this particular property is that all of the rooms have a little kitchenette and ours had a sitting area as well so we could make our own breakfast in the morning and relax in front of the fire with a bottle of wine in the evening. Every day I’d grab a latte from the coffee shop in the hotel lobby and watch the mountain come to life from the sun trap on our balcony. It was the perfect way to start the day, made better by the fact that the ski valet (squeals with delight) then helped me put my boots on and CARRIED my skis out to the snow… it was insane. And awesome!
We lucked out with some fresh snow and made the most of Snowmass being literally on our doorstep and skied there for nearly the whole of the remainder of our stay, save one day when we decided to check our Aspen. It’s a much smaller ski area and with snow conditions deteriorating we had a very chilled cruise around before retiring to the outdoor bar at the Ajax Tavern for a few Aperols in what was now becoming hot, spring sun.
We had a great time in Snowmass and would definitely go back - and if we do, here’s where we’ll be eating and drinking:
On the mountain:
Lynn Britt Cabin – a cute little restaurant we stopped at a few times for a glass of rose in one of the chairs on the snow
Gwyn’s High Alpine – the best of the on-mountain restaurants. All American mountain restaurants seem to veer towards the canteen style but Gwyns has a nice bar area with a log fire, good tunes and an epic patio. It’s perfectly positioned to access the whole mountain as well. Their prosecco and red orange cocktail is insane - I can’t remember what it was called (probably a sign of how good it was) but you have to get it.
In the village:
Base Camp – a great location for happy hour. Food-wise they only server your typical deep fried pub fare but the cocktails and atmosphere are pretty good.
Venga Venga – a great deck for happy hour, right on the snow and they have a DJ on Fridays and Saturdays. It has great food reviews but to be honest it’s a bit grotty - fine for a beer and a quesadilla but go somewhere else for dinner
Il Poggio – because you always need pizza at least once on a ski holiday! This place delivers to anywhere in Snowmass as well.
Sake – if you’re partial to a bit of sushi, don’t miss Saki. We sat at the bar and had a lovely evening. The food was delicious as were the cocktails. Have the dynamite shrimp appetizer – UNREAL
Toro – an upmarket steak restaurant in the Viceroy – we ate here twice and highly recommend it but if you’re going for 3 courses and a bottle of wine, it aint cheap. If you want to try it but don’t want to go all out, grab a seat at the bar and order the burger – it’s delicious
The lounge at the Limelight hotel – another good option if you want something casual. Serving thin crust pizza out of their wood fired oven, this place has a lively atmosphere, if not slightly over-run by kids. It’s newly opened and the fire pits outside are a great place to relax with a gin and tonic if the noise inside gets too much!
Paradise Bakery - For delivious patries and cookies. Don’t fret the queue if there is one, they offer little samples of their goodies while you wait! Decent coffee too.
7908 – an upmarket, upbeat restaurant serving unusual and delicious dishes before turning into a nightclub. Not for everyone but we had a great time!
Truthfully, Snowmass, like most North American resorts, doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing in terms of eating and drinking but there are some good spots dotted around - and the terrain makes up for what the area lacks in entertainment. If you want something a little more lively, chose one of the more popular resorts closer to Denver like Breckenridge or Copper Mountain and if you really want to party head to Whistler, but if you want a more chilled ski holiday and great skiing with empty slopes, Snowmass is amazing. And here’s a little video if you’re still not convinced :)