Chasing miles of smiles in Snowmass: Vast trail network means room to roam
It would be easy enough to quantify long-distance adventures in Snowmass Village by the usual stats and figures: 90-plus miles of singletrack and dirt roads, four core endurance races every summer, infinite route combinations no more than a few hundred yards from the nearest parking spot or bus stop.
But I like to measure my long runs by a different metric: smiles per hour. And in Snowmass Village, I log more than just about anywhere else.
Part of that, of course, is thanks to those many, many miles of trails that start in the village, and the vistas that accompany them. It’s easy to forget it’s a challenge when I’m schlepping 8, 13 or 16 miles on the trails through wide-open fields, towering aspen groves and majestic mountain ranges.
I like to start my season at Sky Mountain Park, where the trails dry out early and I can bask in the last snippets of golden hour.
The climb from Town Park to the top of Viewline and back down features a steady uphill with switchbacks that make it feel like less of a haul than it is. And, it provides just enough of a steep descent to fly back down.
The Tom Blake Trail and its connections to the Government Trail (open in late June) are similar, tucked into aspen groves instead of oak brush hills.
Throughout my summer miles (and well into the fall ones), Sky Mountain Park remains a favorite of mine, because I almost always find myself in the company of other enthusiastic recreationalists on the popular trail network. On a long run or even a short one, a kind “hello” or “nice work” goes a long way, and encouragement is easy to come by in the park and in Snowmass Village at large.
Snowmass Village serves as the start, finish or both for several core endurance races every summer and fall. The Ragnar Trail Colorado relay already in the books — teams of eight runners clocked a total of nearly 120 miles from June 10-11 — but there are still plenty of chances to log long miles in pursuit of some serious hardware (or a cool hat, if that’s more your thing).
Next up is the Power of Four trail running race on July 9, with three course options all finishing on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village. Registration is still open with plenty of spots available at bit.ly/3bRxfV1.
The hallmark Power of Four 50K race covers about 31 miles as runners summit Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk and traverse Snowmass Ski Area to the finish line. The Power of Two 25K is half the distance (about 15.5 miles is the official distance, though last year it ran a little shorter), summiting Buttermilk and traversing Snowmass; there’s also a 10K (6.2 miles) that begins at Elk Camp at Snowmass and traverses the ski area before heading down to the finish line.
Those who prefer to pedal can take on the Snowmass 50 mountain bike race on August 6, with a single-rider, single-loop 25-mile option, a single-rider two-loop 50-mile option and a team relay, with each rider completing one 25-mile loop. Registration is still open at bit.ly/3IewlOi.
The race course starts and finishes on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village and covers many of the most popular singletrack rides in town; for the full course, see the “Hit the Dirt” sidebar.
Leaf-peepers needed to plan ahead to register for the Golden Leaf Half Marathon on September 17, which has already sold out (as usual). The wildly popular race starts on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village and follows the Government Trail through groves of golden leaves (hence the name) toward the finish line in Aspen’s Koch Park.
This eager community is part of what makes Snowmass so appealing to me when I’m planning my long runs; friendly faces remind us that we’re all out here because we love the grind and the spirit of adventure.
But solitude has its merits too, and Snowmass has plenty of options on that front. When I want to feel dwarfed by the mass of the forest, I follow the Ditch Trail from Divide Road to see where my legs lead me from there.
The Ditch Trail — very popular and rather flat — connects to the much-less-frequented steep climbs of the West Government Trail and the East Snowmass Trail (neither of which are the same as the very scenic Maroon Snowmass Trail #1975 to Snowmass Lake, an excellent 16-mile out-and-back).
West Government connects to Snowmass Ski Area and wildflower-covered hills in all directions that make me feel giddy enough to skip down the singletrack back to the lot. East Snowmass goes deep into trees so tall and broad that I feel like Thumbelina, and there’s something about that silly fantasy that makes me feel giddy with discovery.
And that reminds me of those smiles per hour: The richness and diversity of terrain in Snowmass Village means every single run or bike ride feels fresh, different and exciting. Uber-accessible trailheads, clear signage and well-maintained trails create the infrastructure for a great experience, but it’s the joy of full immersion in nearly every kind of natural mountain environment that keeps a fresh smile on my face.
If you’re itching for an endurance race, Snowmass Village is the place to do it. (See sidebar: “RACING STRIPES.”) Between events, here are some trails to take on.
WARM-UP: Sky Mountain Park Loop
With an abundance of buttery trails and top-tier views, this loop of around 13 miles and 1,800 feet of elevation gain includes switchback climbs, rolling ridges and cruisy descents in the heart of Snowmass Village.
The Route: From Town Park, head downhill on the Brush Creek Trail. Near the bottom of the trail, hang a right onto Cozyline. At the top of the climb, take a right onto Skyline Ridge, then continue to Viewline for the descent. Tack on Lowline, Highline and the Ditchline trail to complete the loop and finish back in Town Park.
LONG-HAUL: Snowmass Loop
This loop hits nearly every one of Snowmass Village’s most popular trails through deep forests, aspen groves and open meadows. It circles the entire perimeter of town in about 25 miles with nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain when you start at Fanny Hill. (That’s also where competitive mountain bikers start the loop for the annual Snowmass 50 race.) Trail signs throughout the village mark it with an orange “Snowmass Loop” badge.
The Route: From Fanny Hill, climb the work road to Sleigh Ride. When the trail ends, ride down Divide Road to the South Rim Trail, which connects to the North Rim Trail and a descent on the flowy Seven Star. Enter Sky Mountain Park via the Ditchline trail, then climb Viewline and descend on the downhill-bikining-only Deadline flow trail to Highline. (Hikers and runners: descend on North Rim and Viewline instead of Seven Star and Deadline to give mountain bikers space to get into their flow.)
Cross Owl Creek Road and jump on the Tom Blake Trail, then connect to Powerline to the Elk Camp Work Road. Follow the road past Elk Camp Restaurant, then take the Expresso Trail to Cross Mountain and continue on the Sam’s Knob Work Road to Village Bound for the final descent.
Editor’s note: A version of this story appears in the Summer in Aspen and Snowmass Magazine, on newsstands now.