A Local Snowboarder’s Guide to Aspen’s Four Mountains
Where and how to make the most of your day on the hill
For the Aspen Times Weekly
The only way to really learn a mountain is by keeping up with a local.
Riding with nothing but a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, while liberating (especially if you eschew pants), is only fun for so long. Unless you’re some kind of self-disciplined monk who thrives on self-motivation, you’ll most likely pick self-preservation over exploration.
You’re not going to find shrines until you’re willing to follow a buddy through ultra-tight trees. The run that looks crazy intimidating from the lift is most likely a preferred powder run for your token ski bum.
This season is operating a little differently, and by a little I mean you have to wear a face mask. I know, what a pain, right? I thought this was America.
That said, you know those buffs or weird hunting masks people wear while skiing that incidentally enough they’d wear even if it wasn’t a pandemic? Those count as facial coverings. I mean you can wear a medical blue face mask, too. Just saying it’s not that bad. And I think indoor dining is reopened again, so you people who really don’t give a shit can go full denial during that lunch at Sundeck.
Without further admonition, here are my “cliff notes” to keep you from skiing off of a cliff.
Best morning bomber: Aspen Mountain is all about speed for snowboarders. If you’re looking for a guide to best bump runs, hop in that hot tub time machine and go find John Cusack.
If you’re an early arrival (more or less before 10 a.m.), Copper has perfect sun that will eventually give way to shadows and skiers who’ve worked their way up from lapping Ajax Express. So feel free to open it up early with a little T-to-B via Copper.
Best noon bomber: Ruthies might be my favorite run/lift combo on Aspen Mountain. You may be impeded by a couple people who are leery of the steepness and rollers, but chances are if you give the run a return game, it will open up.
I’ve never understood why tourists are obsessed with traversing an entire mountain (it’s probably because they’re on the hill for eight hours) but there’s nothing wrong with finding a challenging run and repeating it a few times.
Best afternoon bomber: A day on Ajax wouldn’t be complete without absolutely hauling down Spar Gulch. I know, I know, ski patrol wants you to watch your speed and “the downhill skier has the right of way,” but if you have the ability to slam on the brakes, you, too, can accidentally spray some poor suspecting lady skiing instead of catching a lawsuit.
SNOWMASS SKI AREA
Best run to learn on (or teach while drinking on): Assay Hill is the open parking lot of ski runs. You can spend the afternoon stopping and starting like you’re learning how to drive a stick shift. Or you can sip an IPA while lapping (and laughing at) your buddies.
I guess if you want a drinking and driving analogy, it’s your abandoned country road used by small-town kids for “car barring.”
Best way to traverse across the mountain without wrecking you calves on catwalks:
You have two options:
1. Stay on your respective area, which is like telling someone to stick to Magic Kingdom Park when Disneyworld also has the Animal Kingdom.
2. Even if the map says this trail takes you from Alpine Springs to Elk Camp, it’s not the easiest way to get to Elk Camp. Take a lift up or ski farther down a catch a lift rather than getting cussed at by your family.
Best hike-to terrain: It’s between the Wall or Burnt Mountain. I’m most likely overlooking some other hike-to terrain because I prefer ski lifts to my legs. Speaking of hating cardio, even though there are some flat parts at the end of the Wall, getting out of Burnt Mountain will make you sweat to the point of fogging up your goggles beyond repair.
Best place to explore: Highlands is a lot like Aspen in that you have to ski the shit out of it to find the gems outside of the Bowl. If, again, you’re not really keen on paying for a pass just to hike up a mountain, there are a lot of trees off Temerity that allow you to never hit the same line twice.
Underrated bomber: Prospector Road, the Spar Gulch of Highlands, is effortless speed. The only absolutely necessary turns are the ones you need to keep yourself comfortable. You don’t have to slow down until the bright orange signs recommend you do — and even then it’s still optional.
Best “Good idea that turns into a bad idea”: Don’t take the T-Lazy-7 catwalk to Thunderbowl on a powder day or even really anytime unless you either have a newly tuned board or enjoy unstrapping and pushing.
This is yet another instance of just ride down to the lift that serves the run you want to ski, which also happens to be at the bottom of Prospector.
Best time to find a parking spot at Tiehack: Odds are there will never be any parking at Tiehack this winter. With the COVID keeping people in cars, Tiehack has been more popular a destination than ever this winter. So, like the best way to avoid traffic at the Entrance to Aspen, just avoid it. (Voice in my head: Do you think the tourists bought it? Hell no.)
Best place to learn how to ride switch: West Buttermilk is a haven for beginners, but not so much for people teaching beginners. The runs are so mellow that eventually straight-lining them gets old. And the upside is if you look like a beginner, you’re not the only one.
How many runs until eating Home Team BBQ is justified: One … if that.