by Telegraph Ski and Snowboard, The Telegraph, August 30, 2017
Many of the 76 trails on Aspen Mountain (Ajax) provide good cruising, with two particularly long and exhilarating trails, Spar Gulch and Copper Bowl. These runs, down which hot-shot skiers and snowboarders come scorching at the end of the day, are among the reasons why beginners are discouraged from trying Ajax. Although there is easy terrain at the top of Ajax, manoeuvring down Spar Gulch and Copper Bowl – the mountain’s main homeward-bound trails – would be quite an intimidating prospect for novices, although there is the option of downloading instead on the Silver Queen gondola. There are some challenging mogul runs – particularly Face of Bell. Intriguingly, Aspen’s mining history is recalled in a series of shortish steep double-black chutes with names like Bear Paw, Zaugg Dump, Perry’s Prowl, Last Dollar and Short Snort. Many of these are so-called “dump” runs built on the steep slopes where miners once tunnelled their way into the mountain leaving piles of shale and other debris behind them.
Aspen Highlands (119 trails) has some excellent slopes, but the focus of the most interesting terrain is Highland Bowl. You don’t have to walk up the hiking trail to the top (at 3,775m) but if you don’t you’ll miss the pick of the crop of steep, double-black diamond ungroomed runs: there are six G-Zone runs (G-2, 3, 4,5, 6 and 8) plus such runs as Ozone, White Kitchen and Steep 'n Deep. Elsewhere, the B and Y-zones on Loge Peak (3,560m) provide excitement for those who prefer not to have to earn their turns by taking the long slog to the top of Highland Bowl. You can hitch a ride on a snowcat at the beginning of the climb which will save you about 15 minutes of hiking, but from the drop-off point you still have to trek about 30 minutes or more to reach the summit. The latest gladed areas to open are Lucky Find Glades and Mystery Gully.
By North American standards, Snowmass (91 trails) is huge and has the USA’s biggest continuous vertical drop (1,343m). The Big Burn is Snowmass’s signature slope. Legend has it that so-called grudge fires, started during the conflict between white and native Americans, left great swathes of the mountain treeless.
This configuration proved ideal for the planning of an almost entirely intermediate mountain. Several trails run parallel through the Big Burn area, giving skiers and boarders what is effectively a single trail almost a mile wide. Although this resort is furthest from the town of Aspen, it’s only 20km away, and really should not be missed. Snowmass may not be as fashionable as Ajax or Highlands, but it has a wonderful variety of excellent intermediate terrain, as well as plenty for beginners and experts. Recent terrain expansion at Burnt Mountain (adding an additional 230 acres) brings the resort's acreage to 3,362, making Snowmass the second largest ski area in Colorado. And off-piste enthusiasts will relish the Hanging Valley Glades and the Cirque, which has the USA’s biggest continuous vertical drop.
Buttermilk, meanwhile, is one mountain with two personalities. It has 34km of terrain, much of it gentle and family-friendly, plus uncrowded beginner slopes – and it's home to the Hideout, a learning centre for young skiers. However, it's also known for hosting the Winter X Games and the Red Bull Double Pipe event, and as such Buttermilk has become an iconic destination for freestyle riders to hit the extensive park.