Travel

First-Timer’s Guide: Snowmass, Colorado – 5280

In the 45 years since Snowmass Village became an incorporated town, it’s built its reputation primarily as a world-class ski destination. Part of the quartet of mountains under the Aspen Snowmass umbrella, Snowmass boasts one of the longest vertical descents in the country (an impressive 4,406 feet from the top of the Cirque Poma lift to the bottom of the Two Creeks lift) and ranks as Colorado’s second-largest resort after Vail. But Snowmass offers a lot more than powder days—especially in the summer and early fall. Here’s what else the continually growing ski town, located just a 25-minute drive from Aspen, has to offer.

Locations, Locations, Locations

Laid out in the style of multi-part European ski villages, Snowmass has four different key areas. The Snowmass Mall (accessed via Upper Carriage Way) is situated at the highest elevation above, but within sight of, the newer Snowmass Base Village (which was built out over the past five years to the tune of $600 million). The Sky Cab Gondola (better known as “Skittles” because of its colorful gondola cars) connects these two dining, shopping, and hotel hubs. Snowmass Center houses the grocery store, post office, and gas station, while Snowmass Town Park—located about three miles down Brush Creek Road toward Colorado Highway 82—is home to the Snowmass Rodeo and is the jumping-off point for many singletrack trails.

Outside of Ordinary

Despite being known for its ski resort, the summer months in Snowmass offer outdoor options aplenty, whether you prefer adventuring on two feet, two pedals, four wheels, or one big boat. The iconic Maroon Bells are a must-see—they’re the stars of the most photographed vista in Colorado for a reason—but there are numerous bipedal pursuits closer to the village. Hike up Rim Trail South to reach a spectacular viewing platform—made of black-and-white marble with a yin yang symbol in the middle—that provides grand views of the ski resort and local peaks, including 13,300-foot Mt. Daly. Trail runners should head to the well-shaded, 3.9-mile Tom Blake Trail for its buttery smooth path but should also remember to watch out for equestrian traffic. Another option: Sign up for Ragnar Trail Colorado, a trail running race/festival where teams of eight cover roughly 120 miles over two days, held annually in June at Snowmass Town Park.

Snowmass Bike Park. Photo by Tamara Susa

If mountain biking is more your thing, head to Sky Mountain Park for thigh-burning uphills, adrenaline-charged downhills—and views of the world’s elite taking off and landing in their private jets at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, which sits along the park’s eastern edge. The park is part of the Aspen Snowmass/Roaring Fork Valley IMBA Gold Level Ride Center, a designation bestowed on the world’s top mountain biking destinations by the International Mountain Biking Association. Riders in the mood for a short but steep ascent should start at Snowmass Town Park and ride Ditchline (beginner level) to Viewline (intermediate) up to a major trail junction. From there, either return the way you came, hit the Skyline Ridge Trail for a much longer ride, or, if you’re feeling confident, try expert-level Deadline. Downhillers looking for lift-accessed terrain should hit the 25 miles of trails at the Snowmass Bike Park; just be prepared to pay for a lift ticket.

Need to secure a bike? Rent a hardtail or full-suspension ride or take care of last-minute mechanical issues with your personal ride with a visit to Snowmass Sports, which has been locally owned and operated for more than 30 years.

Snowmass Rodeo. Photo by Sam Ferguson

For those looking to get high (vertically speaking) or wet without breaking a sweat, reserve your spot on a Jeep tour or rafting expedition. Blazing Adventures, located in the Snowmass Mall, offers both, as well as hiking and cycling trips—and even hosts sunset dinner tours at a historical sheepherder’s cabin on Snowmass Mountain. The Snowmass Rodeo is another summer staple; events happen on Wednesday nights and come complete with bronc riding, barrel racing, and team roping.

Of course, tackling the 3,342 acres of skiable terrain Snowmass has to offer is the obvious choice if you’re visiting between Thanksgiving (the ski resort’s typical opening day) and roughly the third week in April. (Lift ticket pricing varies, but averages about $200 per day.) Expert skiers will love lapping the runs on the gated, hike-to-it Hanging Valley Wall area, but if approachable greens and mellow blues are more your speed, hit the Elk Camp Gondola and continue up the Elk Camp lift for wide-open, rolling groomers, particularly Gunner’s View. Nonskiers have plenty of winter options, too, whether they’re trying the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster or heading out on one of the twice-daily guided snowshoe tours with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. (Buy tickets—$73 for adults, $54 for youth and seniors—at least 30 minutes before meeting the group at the Elk Camp Gondola.)

Culture Club

Snowmass isn’t just an outdoor-lover’s paradise. Those with a fondness for fine art should make time for the Snowmass Art Walk, which showcases sculptures, murals, and other outdoor art installations crafted by Roaring Fork Valley artists throughout the year. In the summer months, take a self-guided tour through the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, where you can watch creatives as they work. Hotter temps also mark the return of the Snowmass Free Concert Series each Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. (doors open an hour prior) from early June to the end of August. A similar event, Music on the Mall, runs each Friday afternoon throughout the colder months. Finally, there’s the Collective Snowmass, a self-described game lounge and selfie den, that hosts everything from chess clubs and bingo to art shows, yoga, and comedy nights. The lawn out front is a favorite for kids thanks to yard games and a splash pad in the summer, and an ice rink in the winter.

Après Everything

Most people visiting Snowmass Village are on their way from one adventure to the next, so there are numerous quick-bite options around. Open at 7 a.m., Fuel Cafe on the Snowmass Mall is a great choice for the day’s first hit of caffeine and accompanying early-morning eats, such as the California breakfast burrito with egg, cheddar, potato, and avocado. The Crêpe Shack, with its hunger-sating array of sweet and savory handhelds, is the ultimate grab-and-go fare. And JÜS Snowmass (its first location is in Aspen) is known for can’t-get-any-healthier, fresh-pressed juices like the Ginger Beet Martini (be aware: There’s no gin in this drink) and carrot-rich Bugs Bunny. Make sure to take in the expansive down-valley views while your fellow travelers peruse the menu.

If you do have time to sit and stay awhile, a bowl of the Stew Pot’s signature old-fashioned beef stew has been a locals’ favorite since 1972. Venga Venga is the go-to for tableside guac and fresh or fiery margaritas (try the Prickly Pear-Blueberry if you’re up for the former or the Spicy Orange if you can handle the latter). Fine-dining aficionados will appreciate Aurum Snowmass. Hit its happy hour if you’re on a budget; indulge in the 52-ounce Tomahawk rib-eye for $189 if you’re not. Cap off the day with a sweet treat from Sundae; locals swear by the salted cookies and cream.

Lay Your Hat

With ski-in, ski-out access, a slopeside pool and hot tubs, and a chic, light-filled lobby, the Viewline Resort Snowmass offers more than rooms with a view—though they have those, too. Be sure to save at least one happy hour drink for the Viewline Lobby Bar, where seats near the fireplace, at the bar, and out on the patio all afford clear sightlines to the ski hill. Après another way at the resort’s in-house Lupine Spa, where the traditional Abhyanga massage and Sundari Indian head massage and scalp treatment are among the signature offerings.

Powder day at Snowmass. Photo by Matt Power

The Limelight Hotel Snowmass is another can’t-go-wrong option nestled in Base Village, a short walk from the Elk Camp Gondola. Guests will love the complimentary, hearty breakfast buffet and a post-adventure soak in one of the two, massive pool spas (read: the biggest hot tubs you’ve ever seen).

If You Do One Thing

Catch live music, tasty bites, and great views during Sunset Tuesdays, held at the top of Elk Camp Gondola (the ride up is free) each summer from the end of June through early August. If you’re not going for the date-night vibe, spoil the kids with tickets ($51) for Lost Forest Base activities, like the Rugged Ascent Climbing Wall. Ullr Nights (an ode to the Norse god of snow) are Sunset Tuesdays winter equivalent, and though they’re held less frequently, they do feature fire dancers.

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