A group of kids stand around the chocolate fountain in the base lodge, their mouths hanging open in despair when they learn there are no marshmallows left. Two older ladies stand idle at the station, unsure of what to do.
“Here, hon. Let’s do it this way,” one says, spooning a generous serving of chocolate syrup into an empty French fry boat. Soon the spacious room fills with the sounds of young children riding the high of a sugar buzz; the preschool equivalent of partying, Aspen-style.
It’s opening day at Buttermilk, also known as Chocolate Day. Maybe you knew that, but I didn’t. This is my first time.
It turns out I’m late to the party. The Aspen Times reported Wednesday that Buttermilk was selected as the third-best ski resort in the country, according to the 600,000 people who participated in the Conde Nast Traveler’s annual reader survey. (Sundance Mountain Resort and Telluride came in first and second, respectively, which makes me think these readers probably do know what they’re talking about.)
There was a time, like four years ago, I would have scoffed at this. Everyone knows Aspen Highlands blows every other ski area away, what, thanks to the hottest ski patrollers in the Lower 48. Actually, let me amend that statement. I love all of our four mountains equally, the way I might love all my children if I had more than one. They each have their strong attributes and we are so fortunate to have a choice; depending on the day, the conditions, the weather, and who we’re with, we can curate our own perfect shushing experience. It is a privilege that exists only in Aspen.
Little did any of us know, that despite the top-to-bottom bliss of Ajax, the endless expanse of Snowmass and the steep and deep of Highland Bowl, Buttermilk is one of the top-ranked ski resorts in the country.
This news couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Chocolate Day blew my mind. Forget popping the cork off that bottle of Veuve Clicquot at Ajax Tavern when Aspen Mountain opens like three weeks early. Don’t even bother racing the 200 other people who are lined up for the annual opening of Highland Bowl so they can follow each other up the ridge butt-to-boot like a train of ants.
Buttermilk opening day is where it’s at.
All this time, I thought shredding fresh pow and drinking one too many Aspen Blondes at the Highlands Alehouse was what it was all about. This was before I discovered they have actual teddy bears at Panda Peak. We’re talking the kind of larger-than-life stuffed animals you see in the display windows at FAO Schwartz.
When they handed this giant teddy bear to Levi as he loaded onto the small double chair with his dad I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. (I’m too afraid to be the one to ride with him because there is no safety bar. Can someone please explain to me why there is no safety bar on the one chairlift in the world that should be protecting its tiny passengers?) There he was, my beautiful little boy, dressed to the nines in his brand-new Burton outfit, the brightly colored camo-pattern jacket and bright green pants with gray knee patches, clutching this huge bear. It was the Hallmark card moment for the lifelong ski and snowboard bum who has managed to fashion a life where her offspring are indoctrinated into the ways of her own lifestyle choices from a very young age.
I guess all children are naturally indoctrinated into their parent’s lifestyle, but instead of soccer practice and violin, our kids get to learn how to shred the gnar from the time they can walk. It is in fact Levi’s third season on skis, even if he only took one run that time he was 13 months old and we managed one run down the magic carpet at Elk Camp between diaper changes and naptime. The rest of the season he was stuffed into the backpack clad in the best down bunting money can buy and dragged up the mountain so Mom and Dad can skin up.
To say it’s a dream come true to see my kid experience the mountains, specifically the ski resort lifestyle, isn’t even the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Even better, Buttermilk takes it to the next level.
Seeing this place through my child’s eyes, it’s heaven on Earth. How did I drive past it so many times and not know? Where else in the world can you roll up mid-day and park a stone’s throw from the base lodge? Where else in the world is there a small, remote lift with picnic benches and plenty of sun and no crowds where you can get together with your friends and have a picnic, as if the modern ski resort didn’t yet exist?
Rather than toss back tequila shots and strut around in designer skiwear, I had no idea how much fun it would be to sit around the firepit in an oversized, “Alice in Wonderland” Adirondack chair and enjoy a fresh-made s’more that cost zero dollars. Not to mention the fried ribs at Home Team BBQ are enough to make me mostly vegan, except every Sunday when I polish off every finger-licking bite of what I’m claiming is the best plate of meat in the valley.
Last but not least, it turns out all the cool kids, or at least their parents, are at Buttermilk, too! It’s the first time since I went from Aspen Princess to Desperate Housewife of Basalt that I felt like I was in the mix, hobnobbing with none other than All the Way May herself, donned in her infamous Moncler one-piece.
I can’t believe it took me 18 years to find my sweet spot. I just can’t believe it turned out to be Buttermilk.
The Princess is sporting black Burton overalls this season. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.