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3 days in Aspen - where to ski?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

    I'm going to be in Aspen this coming weekend for 3 ski days (Friday-Sunday), and could use some suggestions on how to split my time between mountains, since I've never skied there before.

     I'm a a high intermediate / low expert level skier, and I generally prefer steeps, either groomed or ungroomed, but not true mogul runs.  i.e. I like coming down KT or Headwall at Squaw but if a run is totally bumped up after 2 weeks without fresh snow or grooming I'll find another way down the next time.

     We're staying in central Aspen, near Chair 1, so I'm assuming at least one day on Aspen mountain makes sense.  Should I just do one day each at Highlands and Snowmass, or would you give either of those a miss in favor of a 2nd day on one of the other hills?  Or should I skip Ajax entirely even though it's right there?

  Any tips are appreciated.  I'm mostly hoping it won't be as slushy as Tahoe looks to be this weekend.   Lots of base, but highs near 60 and a chance of rain Saturday sent me to Colorado.  Squaw looks to be open at least until Memorial Day, so plenty of time left for spring skiing there.




post #2 of 13



Originally Posted by rpratt View Post


     We're staying in central Aspen, near Chair 1, so I'm assuming at least one day on Aspen mountain makes sense.  Should I just do one day each at Highlands and Snowmass?

That's what I would do unless one of the mountains got significantly more snow (storm predicted for Sat night through Sunday)...next trip, you can decide if you prefer one over the other.  Note- I have only skied Aspen a few times, and do not know which mountain is best during a storm day (Sunday), so that may influence things.


FWIW, Friday and Saturday should be pretty warm in Aspen also...enjoy!


post #3 of 13

If you do not like moguls, then I'd probably not go to Highlands.  While it has absolutely great steeps, they do tend to have a fair amount of bumps on them.


Ajax (Aspen Mountain) has great terrain.  Some of it is steep with bumps.  But it also has great groomers, some of them with pitch.


Snowmass has tons of terrain.  Whatever you want.


Based on what you said you like, I'd suggest a day at Ajax and a day at Snowmass.  For the last day, pick whichever you liked the best.



post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 

thanks for the pointers.  Highlands looked like it has nice bowls that it claims aren't mogul runs, but they may have a different definition than I do.


Are the shuttles between hills short/convenient enough that it would make sense to try Highlands then bail to Aspen or Snowmass if I don't like it, or will I end up wasting hours going from one to another?




post #5 of 13

If I'm in Aspen 3 days, it's 2 or 3 days at Highlands, maybe one day at Ajax.  I'm sure locals will tell you Ajax has the goods, but as a tourist it's way easier to find good terrain at Highlands.  It also has lots of trees and different exposures that get the sun at different times of day.

Snowmass is like a giant Stratton, with some steep stuff at the top.  The last time I was there I had to drag the Woman of My Dreams out of a jewelry store before I even got my boots on.

The bus system is pretty good, and bartenders will give you a free pass to ride if you stay past when the evening fare kicks in.  You could definitely bale from Highlands mid-day to either Ajax or Snowmass, but you won't want to.



post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 

so it sounds like Snowmass is largely not that steep?  I definitely prefer mountains that are steep all the way down (think KT at Squaw, Limelight at Sun Valley, or almost anything at Snowbird) to less steep hills (Vail, Park City, Deer Valley).  There's nothing wrong with any of those spots, but I definitely find the first group to have more continuous steep pitches.



post #7 of 13

The issue is what you say you like.  The steeps are at Highlands and Snowmass.  Aspen has a fair amount of steep terrain as well, but you've got to go ski it (shoulder of the Bell, Back of the Bell, Hyrumps, the Dumps, etc.).  And much of it, like all steep terrain, is going to develop bumps.  So, if you really aren't into bumps, it's a bit of a conundrum of where to send you.


At Highlands, the best steeps don't have a lot of bumps.  They are the G shots in Highlands Bowl.  It requires a 35-60 minute hike to access, depending on how acclimatized you are to hiking at 12k feet and how fit you are.  It is a good hike, with probably about 800 feet of vertical gain.  It takes a lot out of you.  I'm relatively fit, and I think one trip a day through Highlands Bowl is fine for me.


After that, the terrain has lots of bumps.  Oly bowl, one of my favorites, is north facing, pretty steep, and often has fairly large bumps.  Steeplechase, even steeper in sections, also is interminable in its moguls.  Now these aren't huge volkswagen sized bumps like at Mary Jane, but they are substantial bumps in any event.


Snowmass, on the otherhand, has some runs that are steeper than most anything you will find at Highlands.  Gowdy's, Robertos, the stuff in the Hanging Valley and the Headwall all can be pretty steep.  And because some of that terrain requires a short hike (the hidden valley) or will cause contractions in your schpincter (Gowdy's), you can find some steeps with not so many bumps.  But steep terrain generally comes with bumps.


Highlands has fantastic expert terrain.  That terrain generally has lots of bumps.  The non-bump terrain is pretty pedestrian.  Hence, my recommendation to skip it, even though I'd spend 3 out of my 4 days in Aspen at Highlands.  Snowmass and Ajax have a better mix of non-bump advanced terrain.  Hence my recommendation.



post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 

OK, thanks.  that makes sense.  It's not that I'm looking for just steep groomed runs, but there's a definite difference in my experience between ungroomed runs or bowls that get uneven and have bumps, vs pure bump runs.  Much as I'd like to be someone zooming down a pure mogul run, knees together and pumping, I couldn't do that in my 20's, let alone now that I'm in my 40's.


And I have to agree, 30-60 minute hikes at 11,000+ feet are not impossible, but not something I want to do too often either :-)


thanks again,


post #9 of 13

I just skied the last four days in Aspen.  Monday was my best day of the year and Tuesday wasn't too far behind.  Problem was, Tuesday was bluebird and the sun got to some of the eastern and southern exposures.  North and west were still mid winter and deep today.


Normally based on the forecast, I would suggest Highland's on Friday.  I like to hike the bowl in good weather and Friday is looking to be the best weather.

But they are also keeping Snowmass open till 6:30pm on Friday? Snowmass opens at 8:30, so that could be a very long day!


I would ski Aspen Mountain on the worst weather day, just because the gondola is really nice and warm.



post #10 of 13

The other reason to ski Ajax is to see the Euro's dolled up in the 3k Bogner ski suits.  It is a trip.



post #11 of 13

More likely Kjus nowadays.


post #12 of 13

Sorry, I'm so behind the times on ridiculously priced ski wear.



post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 

For anyone interested, here's a brief follow-up.  I ended up skiing Ajax on Friday and Sunday, and Snowmass on Saturday, and skipped Highlands and Buttermilk.  Friday was a typical spring skl day, icy/hard first thing and then softening up through the course of the day.  Saturday was outrageously hot, close to 70 at the base.  Windy higher up, so I kept my shell on, but when I came down to the base at the end of the day I took my jacket off once I dropped out of the wind.  And Sunday was cold from the beginning.  At 9am it was raining at the base of Lift 1, turning to snow by the time I got to the top of the chair, and snow from the bottom of Ruthie's all the way up to the summer.  I'd say 2-3 inches of fresh snow at 9am at the summit, and 2 inches an hour from then until I had to quit and head to the airport around 1:45.


Ajax was my preference for steeper pitches, Snowmass was OK but too many runs flattened out as they got close to the bottom, and in the heat that meant too many sticky/slushy patches.  On a colder day, likely wouldn't have been a problem.  Sunday on Ajax was great, with fresh powder falling in fast enough that after an hour your tracks were all gone.


And my flight out Sunday at 4:30pm was the first flight of the day that wasn't cancelled, so I even got home on time.


Fun trip all around, although I still prefer Sun Valley for groomed steeps and Snowbird or Squaw for ungroomed steep.



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