Beckwith: An abbreviated history of Snowmass

Ahhh, the history of Snowmass. So vibrant, so rich. Known to the natives as Bromass, the town has made many contributions to skiing in the valley and features some landmarks that deserve recognition from the Aspen Historical Society, especially with its 50th anniversary this weekend. Originally named the Aryan’s Aerie by rogue Nazi parachute troops, it was renamed Snowmass by Aspen’s 10th Mountain Division after they defeated the Nazi scum in the only World War II battle fought on U.S. soil. Didn’t know that? Well there’s a lot you probably don’t know about the wonderful town of Snowmass.

Let’s begin with a look at some of the village’s undeniable innovations.

The first would be whoever decided to have a Mardi Gras parade in the mall. This person had the foresight to scour February, identify a great food-and-beverage-centric holiday and turn it into an excuse to throw beads and day drink. This patriot should be commended for his or her service to local hospitality workers looking for a reason to have friends visit during their weekends.

Next up is the person who doubled down on Spring Break tourists and green beer, turning another religious holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, into one of the best parties of the year. All that’s really required is to stay of sound enough mind to make it down from Gwyn’s High Alpine after deck drinks, get a solid base of food and hope to make it through the festivities at Base Camp. Add in the occasional convenience of it falling on a weekday and locals get another gift.

The final lasting skiing tradition could be a landmark, if you could find it on a map. It’s only one of the greatest shrines in all of the safety-meeting universe — the Hunter S. Thompson shrine located somewhere between Elk Camp and Campground. Home to such irreplaceable treasures as an empty bottle of fireball, an out-of-order megaphone and various pictures of the gonzo journalist, it’s a must see provided you know where it is or have a friend nice enough to show you its location. Getting to the shrine might be more fun than the shenanigans that go on there.

Now that we’ve discussed some of the events and happenings that make Snowmass such a ski vacation destination, let’s move on to places that should be protected by various historical societies or deemed national monuments for their beauty and significance.

Let’s begin with Zane’s. While its sister restaurant in Aspen also provides good eats and cold beer, the second-floor location might as well be the Red Onion of Snowmass. It’s an aerie getaway with a mountain view from the patio that re-emphasizes the awesome privilege it is to live in such a pristine environment. It’s also home to the wimpy burger, a pool table, jukebox and TVs with sports games.

When you talk about town staples, you have to mention Club Commons. This four-building luxury apartment complex has housed some of Snowmass’ best parties and most recognizable residents. People like Trevor Fiege, Dan Brunina, J.D. Baldridge, Sean Burry, Brian Kelly, Jay Denny Carson and countless other celebrities — including yours truly — passed through those hallowed doors. I remember the first time my car got booted like it was yesterday.

Trudging over the snowy golf course in subzero temperatures after a nauseating ride on the last bus home was a rite of passage for many who now call themselves locals. That one random roommate might suck, your carpet could be infested with asbestos and the kitchen’s two settings are “livable” and “borderline biohazard,” but Club Commons’ location is incredible. If you’ve ever spent more than a season or two with Snowmass as your primary ski area, you know it has powder stashes aplenty.

The other seminal landmark is Gwyn’s High Alpine. Recently renovated, the on-mountain restaurant now unites the loyal, local après crowd with visitors as the lower-level bar is now a satellite location of the main floor horseshoe bar. While some may like the new setup with it’s fancy hot holding station, the 2:30 until close domestic beer special is the gem most Snowmass enthusiasts take advantage of. As mentioned earlier, on a day when the snow isn’t ideal and the mountain is crowded, making it to Gwyn’s and hunkering down next to your favorite bartenders and friends is a tradition only people with season passes can appreciate. Sometimes it’s less about the turns and more about the view and atmosphere.

Well I hoped you found this quick history lesson of Snowmass as entertaining as it was interesting. If I may say one thing factually accurate, it’s Snowmass’ brief and illustrious history is only beginning and let’s remember all those brave 10th Mountain Division troops who gave their life for a little place called Snowmass.

Sean Beckwith designs the Snowmass Sun. Email him at


See more