Kaya Williams: Soul-searching at Buttermilk
The smallest of Skico’s four mountains has the warmest spirit of them all
The soul of skiing lives at Buttermilk.
This I believe and repeat with such conviction that I just might be giving my dear friend who calls himself “Mr. Buttermilk” a run for his money when it comes to unimpeded enthusiasm for the place and what it represents.
I love that it reminds me of my home mountain, Alpine Meadows in Tahoe. Both have one lodge at the base and one on-mountain dining option, and the aprés scene is mostly just parking lot tailgates; in the era of base villages and post-ski-day parties that you have to go home and shower for, I relish the simplicity.
I love that I can get fresh tracks at 11 a.m. and that the term “skied out” does not exist on any of the 435 acres between the base of Tiehack and the base of West Buttermilk. Whoever named the restaurant at the base of the mountain “Bumps” has a great sense of humor, given that the slopes of Buttermilk are so rarely populated with the moguls that emerge at Ajax on opening weekend and remain there til closing day.
I love the glades and the groomers and the tree trails and the terrain parks; I love that this smallest of the Skico siblings can still feel vast and expansive when I find some new neck of the woods to explore.
But foremost, I love the way that the mountain attracts people who are skiing purely for the love of sliding on snow.
There is no competition of how many T-to-Bs you can clock in a day, or how many Highland Bowl laps you’ve hiked this season, or how often you’ve made it to the gated terrain right when the rope dropped. If anyone is comparing stats, it’s the pint-sized shredders who have tucked into more tight spaces in the trees than I’ll ever be able to fit through with my 5 foot-10 inch frame.
The community gatherings that happen here embody that spirit more than anything. Maybe I’m biased, as I’m writing this column having just returned from my first-ever Bacon Appreciation Day and have happily donned my rosiest lenses, but I find it a lot easier to look at things with a warmer, kinder gaze after an uphill breakfast or a full-moon skin and the eating that so often accompanies such activities.
We bond under blue skies over the love of that cinnamon butter that comes with French toast at the Cliffhouse and make new friends under sparkling stars over a charcuteski loaded with cheese and crackers. Food is a common thread, but not so much for the flavors (which are delicious) but for the sense of community that comes around the table. I don’t know whether you would get that from a champagne spray at Cloud Nine, but it doesn’t seem likely.
My love for Buttermilk does not discount the magic of the Hanging Valley or the thrill of Temerity or a good leg-bucking run down Face of Bell. And I’m not saying that you can’t find the soul of skiing at one of the other three mountains, either. Though that soul lives at Buttermilk, it probably spends most of its vacations launching on The Couch at Ajax, where I’ll keep seeking it out now that the lifts at Buttermilk have stopped spinning for the season.
But the more I search for a homey friendliness elsewhere, the more I find myself drawn back to Buttermilk, a place where never-evers and 100-day pinners alike can enjoy themselves and connect with one another on the same few lifts all day long.
It’s the kind of place that is underrated only by those who don’t know what they’re talking about.
Kaya Williams is a reporter at the Aspen Times and the Snowmass Sun who is actively campaigning for the title of “Lady Buttermilk.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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