Visitors share views of Aspen’s ski areas
ASPEN – Aspenites have always had an independent streak, and many never particularly care what the outside world thinks of their mountain town.
That holds true to the slopes of the four local ski areas. With the scheduled start of ski season less than three weeks away, visions are starting to dance in the heads of skiers and snowboarders of a favorite line down the Back of Bell, the steeps in Highland Bowl or maybe a favorite powder stash tucked in the Hanging Valley Wall area of Snowmass.
But for offseason amusement – and possibly an occasional insight into a different perspective – there’s a wealth of information available on what destination travelers think of the Aspen-Snowmass ski scene. Ski magazine’s annual reader survey on ski-resort rankings came out last month. Snowmass placed eighth. Aspen Mountain came in at 12th, and Aspen Highlands logged 16th. Buttermilk didn’t make the cut. (The rankings are in the winter-travel issue of the magazine, which will be on newsstands until mid-January.)
Greg Ditrinco, editor at Ski and Skiing and a former reporter and editor at the Aspen Daily News, provided The Aspen Times with the nuts and bolts that went into those rankings. The magazine surveyed readers on several categories, from the apres-ski scene to variety of terrain, to come up with the rank. Following is a look at how the local ski areas fared in various categories and comments about the ski areas from survey respondents. The respondents weren’t required to give their names in the survey.
Snowmass got high marks for several skiing-related, on-mountain facilities. Snowmass was ranked fourth among North American resorts for grooming, sixth for chairlifts and sixth for terrain parks. It also got high marks for service and for lodging.
It was near the bottom of the rankings in value and character. It ranked only mid-pack for scenery and for challenge.
One survey respondent summed up Snowmass this way: “It wasn’t too crowded, terrain was fun, lift attendants were all nice.”
Another comment was, “Very family friendly. If you are more interested in skiing than eating out and the bar scene, you can’t beat Snowmass.”
Numerous respondents raved about the grooming.
“Acre after acre of groomed runs,” one said. “Plenty of space to break the sound barrier, or try.”
When asked about weaknesses, common complaints were lack of life in Snowmass Village after the lifts shut down, lack of restaurants to go to dinner and price.
“For a place that has some of the best on-mountain dining I’ve ever had, the resort dining options are limited,” wrote one respondent. “If you are looking for a bar scene at night, Snowmass is not for you.”
One respondent took a particularly harsh shot at Snowmass for lacking character.
“Snowmass is the vanilla of ski resorts,” the person said.
Then there was this wise-acre: “They never invite me – I just have to go.”
Aspen Mountain is beloved by many Roaring Fork Valley skiers, but its claim to fame in the Ski survey was mostly off-the-hill service and amenities. Aspen Mountain came in first for apres-ski, third for activities off the slopes and fourth for dining. It placed in the top 10 among the 50 resorts for lodging and service, as well.
Low marks came in for value, variety of terrain and access. In value, it came in 53rd, indicating it placed lower than even some resorts that didn’t crack the top-50 list. But among its fans, Aspen Mountain couldn’t be beat.
“Great classic mountain,” one respondent wrote.
“What can you say, it’s Aspen,” chimed in another.
Numerous respondents to the Ski survey raved about the charm and history of Aspen. One gleefully noted there is no interstate highway running through it.
“After visiting 20+ of the best resorts in North America in the last 10 years I can say with confidence that there is no better mix of skiing quality, variety, convenience/service, AND a place where you can party the night away than Aspen Mountain,” another respondent wrote. “Only Whistler/Blackcomb has these same qualities, however the weather is so unpredictable there that it can ruin your entire trip.”
And here is the ultimate compliment: “I went for four days, got snowed in and stayed eight – loved every minute of it,” a respondent wrote.
On the flip side, Aspen was panned for its expense.
“Dang expensive,” one respondent wrote. Another said, “Average Joe can’t afford a week of skiing here.”
Another critic urged replacement of the “Couch” chairlift, officially known at the Gentleman’s Ridge chair.
The scene that is part of Aspen Mountain also produced a critic.
“If you are a person who is more interested in skiing then being seen skiing, then this may not be your mountain of choice,” a respondent wrote. “There’s plenty of people dressed to the nines that can’t ski their way out of a paper bag. Not to worry, they are pretty to look at.”
Aspen Highlands was recognized in the survey for its challenging terrain, character, apres-ski scene and natural scenery. Like its sister resorts, it got hammered for value. Other low marks came for lack of variety and lodging as well as lack of terrain parks and family programs.
Survey respondents hit on many of the points that locals love about Highlands.
“Terrain is awesome and the people are great,” one respondent wrote.
Another said the skiing experience is underrated in Aspen.
“I think for many of us when you think of Aspen, an image comes to mind of the super elite and one too many guys walking around in ‘man-furs.’ What never seems to be discussed is how legit the mountain(s) are and the amazing skiing that happens out there,” the person wrote.
Highland Bowl, to no surprise, received numerous accolades among the survey remarks.
“Highland Bowl is phenomenal and worth the partyhike,” one person wrote.
Another said Highlands stands out from the rest of the Aspen area.
“Highlands is the bohemian child in the Aspen family. This is where you’ll find the coolest people, or at least it feels that way,” the person wrote.
Among negative responses, someone complained about geology.
“Personally, I did not like how the mountain is arranged vertically as opposed to horizontally,” the survey respondent wrote. “Other than that, no complaints.”
In separate comments, another customer complained about the terrain.
“Highland Bowl is too long of a hike. Olympic Bowl has too long of a catwalk out,” the person wrote.
Another couldn’t resist taking a shot at Skico.
“Had it’s (sic) soul stolen when it was purchased by Aspen Ski Corp.,” the person wrote.
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Natalie Tsevdos, who is in charge of inspecting roughly 116 food establishments located in the city of Aspen, said violations typically are corrected on-site.