Post X Games, a noted ski specialist totes teens to Colorado's top mountain resorts to evaluate just how hip it is.
I couldn’t resist the chance for an all-girl getaway to Aspen and Snowmass with my teen-age daughter Madeleine, and my friend Mimi, and her teen daughter Christina. It would be a chance for some mother-daughter bonding, yet would allow each of us time with someone our own generation — especially important for teens.
As I packed my bags, my daughter hovered nearby to ensure that the clothing I threw in the suitcase passed her scrutiny. The 80s-era ski hat was pronounced “really pathetic,” but I couldn’t take it out since it was the only hat I could find. “I’ll try to buy something when I get there, but if I can’t, I hope I don’t embarrass you,” I said to Madeleine. “Don’t worry Mom,” she reassured me, “you never embarrass me — you only embarrass yourself.”
That settled, we flew into Colorado’s Eagle County Airport, the closest large airport to the village of Aspen and the quartet of ski areas that are spread along this mountain valley. Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Aspen Mountain, fondly known as Ajax by those in the know, can all be skied on the same lift ticket. A convenient bus shuttles passengers from one to the other throughout the day and evening. Each has something slightly different to offer visitors, but we like to stay in Snowmass and visit the other resorts as we see fit. Snowmass is the most family-friendly of the group and has plenty of ski-in-ski-out condos and an excellent children’s ski school.
Aspen Mountain, at the other end of the valley from Snowmass, does not have a children’s ski school, so kids who want lessons pick up a cheery bright blue bus and head to Buttermilk, about 10 minutes down the road. Buttermilk is filled with smooth and easy slopes and has terrain parks with many whimsical snow features that kids love. Aspen Highlands is a snowboarders’ dream that appeals to skiers, too, and it is filled with excellent steep runs and some terrific intermediate terrain. It’s the resort that hard-core local skiers and riders prefer, and it’s fun to sample for a day.
Snowmass: The Flow
Snowmass is known as a family mountain, and for good reason. Ninety-five percent of its lodging is considered ski-in and ski-out. That means that you can grab your skis, walk out of your condo, and ski down to a lift and start your day without schlepping gear. The lodging properties tend to be scattered above and below the main ski area base, and after you’ve returned to your condo at the end of the day and you feel like eating out, you can summons a shuttle bus to pick you up and take you to the Snowmass village center. All of the restaurants are family-friendly and feature children’s menus. A daycare program is available for children ages eight weeks to three and a half, while older children can participate in the ski school, which tailors its lessons and activities to various ages.
Snowmass was initially developed in 1976 to complement Aspen Mountain, and it became known as an intermediate skiers paradise, with a vast and immaculately groomed selection of middle-of-the road turf and little to offer the advance skier. But not anymore – now the fast and fearless have plenty of places to test precipitous steeps and powdery glades. The layout of the lifts and trails is cleverly planned so it’s easy to move around from area to area. Beginner runs tend to be clustered right off the village base and next to the ski school, giving novices an area to themselves. With 3,100 acres and 21 lifts, there’s much to sample. Snowboarders can enjoy two terrain parks and three halfpipes, and there’s a special Kid’s Trail map that shows where to find the terrain parks and other features built especially for children and teens.
A new on-the-mountain experience this year is a zipline tour where skiers and riders are placed in harnesses and tethered to a zipline. Then they ski down the mountain and soar off a 35-foot jump, while the zipline prevents them from crashing and gently sets them back down on the snow.
Children’s Ski School
Both girls were signed up for snowboard lessons, and as soon as we found Madeleine’s class, she was relieved to see that teens and children are taught separately. The snarl of young boys next to her were enjoying an animated fencing duel with their parent’s ski poles, and she definitely didn’t want them in her group. The little boys headed out together, while she rode off with two other teens and an instructor who was determined to teach the teens how to ride the powder that had fallen the previous night.
Ski school programs begin for children as young as 3.5 years. Kids are divided into age-appropriate groups, and then by ability level. The little ones have more limited time on skis and enjoy indoor activities and play time on the snow. Snowboard lessons start at age 5. Teens 14 to 17 have their own lesson program, called “Too Cool for School.”
Off the Slopes Activities
Snowmass arranges all kinds of family-friendly, kid-oriented activities. Pick up a schedule of activities, and you’ll find snowshoe tours, campfire singalongs and storytelling complete with roasted S’mores and hot chocolate, Snowcat dinner rides, and arts and crafts activities for children. Over eight weeks scattered through the winter and spring months, there’s a Big Air Friday celebration where local, regional, and national athletes perform aerial tricks off of a 40-foot jump followed by a firework show. There are also snowshoe tours and nature tours in the area.
Lodging, Lifts & More
We find it ideal to stay in Snowmass and use Aspen as an “amenity,” since it’s about a 20-minute bus ride away. We skied Snowmass for the day, and headed in on the bus into Aspen for dinner one night, and spent another day skiing Aspen Mountain and checking out Aspen’s glitzy shops.
Since Snowmass is packed with ski-in and out condominiums in a variety of price ranges, it has plenty of options for places to stay. Destination Resorts (800/922-7242) manages quite a few of the condos. Call and tell the reservation clerks what you’re looking for in size and price range and they’ll help match you up with a condo property that meets your needs. Even if you don’t want to cook, you’ll enjoy the convenience of the extra space.
The winter 2007-2008 prices for daily lift tickets are Adults: $87; Youth $78; Children: $55; Seniors: $78 — with discounts available for multi-day tickets. For more information, call (800/525-6200 for the ski area or 800/SNOWMASS) for other lodging options, or visit www.snowmassvillage.com and www.aspensnowmass.com.
Aspen: The Hustle
With nearly 300 shops, 30 art galleries, and some100 bistros, restaurants, and bars, Aspen makes the society pages and movie magazines each season as the premiere winter hangout of the rich and famous, and the girls were definitely hoping for some celebrity viewings. They didn’t see any stars this trip, but they certainly enjoyed wandering around the compact and walkable village with its beautifully preserved historic buildings. The ski mountain’s rugged peaks shoot up just behind town, and the lift to the top is just a few blocks from most of its restaurants and chic boutiques.
We headed into Aspen one morning to explore the village, eat lunch, and ski legendary Aspen Mountain. The girls enjoyed browsing through shops with antler chandeliers, $300 jeans, vintage wooden skis, lavish skiwear, and pricey jewelry. They even hit the ritzy resale shop looking for a treasure, but the $200 pre-worn designer fur boots and flashy ski jackets were still beyond the mad money they’d received for their shopping excursion. After a couple of delicious hours of poking around, we convinced them it was time to hit the slopes.
We grabbed our skis and walked the short block to the gondola rising from the heart of downtown that would ferry us up the mountain. After a couple of runs, the girls pronounced the mountain more for “older people only” – meaning anybody older than 25. There were definitely fewer teens on Aspen Mountain, or “Ajax,” probably because snowboarders tended to ride the other three mountains more. But I loved the mountain.
Its superlative grooming and beautifully designed broad sweeping trails meant that one could start at the top and ski all the way down without breaking form or even breaking much of a sweat. There were plenty of sheer faces that the expert skiers raced down and large sections of mountain with steep bump runs and deep powder through the trees, but the contour of the mountain and the design of the trails I sampled created a ski experience just right for a middle-of-the-road skier like me, who likes to ski fast but in control. There are no beginner’s runs on this mountain, and the terrain is equally divided between intermediate trails and advanced/expert runs.
We skied down for the final time just ahead of the crowd, and managed to get an outdoor table at Ajax Tavern, which was filled with a chic aprÃ¨s ski crowd and offered us a view of the skiers coming down the mountain. We all enjoyed people watching while we noshed on their signature truffle oil fries and thick and rich hot chocolates.
Off The Slopes Activities
If you’ve exhausted exploring the town of Aspen, there’s still plenty to do. Kids and teens enjoy the Aspen Recreation Center, which contains an NHL-size ice rink, two swimming pools with water slides, a climbing wall, and a youth center with pool tables and fusball games – a perfect stop on a snowy day. The enormous Aspen Club and Spa is available for both residents and Aspen visitors, and it has all kinds of spa treatments plus a fitness center, Pilates, dance and conditioning classes, and a sports medicine center. There’s a small outdoor ice skating rink in town, plus hot air balloon rides, snowshoe tours, and guided nature hikes. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies has interpretive nature study programs that are open to visitors. A cross-country skiing center is just outside of town.
Lodging, Lifts & More
Many of Aspen’s accommodations are high-end hotels, and there are some glamorous and elegant places to hang your hat. We still think it’s better to headquarter in Snowmass where the majority of families stay, but if you’d like to be in the heart of the Aspen action, find a condo property such as The Gant (800-549-0530) so you can be close to the shops, restaurants and nightlife but have the advantages of more space and your own kitchen for a bedtime snack.
For more information, call (888/667-5645 for the ski area or 970/925-1940) for the Aspen Chamber of Commerce’s general lodging information hotline, or visit www.aspensnowmass.com.
Resort Report Card
|Seasonal Rates:||$$ – $$$$$|
|Choice of Activities:||A|
|Quality of Amenities:||A|
|Bonus:||Great kid and teen programs and activities.|
|Note:||There are both family oriented and elegant resorts to suit your needs.|
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