ASPEN, Colo. -- They say any publicity is good publicity, but
sometimes Aspen's reputation as a haven for the rich and famous can
be a mixed blessing.
Daunted by images of celebrities, high prices and upscale hotel
and dining venues, mere mortals -- especially families -- may look
elsewhere when planning their winter vacations.
However, while exploring the region with my 12-year-old son,
Cole, I discovered that Snowmass, one of Aspen ski area's four
mountains, offers wide-open terrain, a family-friendly ambience, a
top-rated children's ski program and good deals.
This combination of factors may account for the high number of
skier/snowboarder visits here in the 2002/2003 season -- more than
1.3 million visits in all, up 3.5% from the previous season.
As an added advantage, Aspen/Snowmass lift tickets are valid at all
four mountains: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen
During our stay, we opted for the on-slope Silvertree Hotel,
which offers ski-in/ski-out accommodations with two double beds and
a video game system; live musical performances in the evenings; and
gargantuan breakfasts at the Brothers' Grille.
A ski-and-stay package at the Silvertree this season, valid from
Jan. 4 through Feb. 11, costs $167 a night per person, double, and
includes two lift tickets daily. Children under 12 stay free.
We especially liked that the hotel opens onto the Snowmass
Village pedestrian area, where outlets range from upscale boutiques
to cozy cafes.
Another hit was the complimentary Storytelling by the Campfire
hour, offered Mondays and Wednesdays at 4 p.m. near Pokolodi Lodge
in Snowmass Village. Here we roasted marshmallows while listening
to tales of the Wild West around a roaring bonfire.
One night, we took advantage of the Family Twilight Snowcat Ride
and Dinner program, offered this season at the Lynn Britt Cabin,
where chefs prepare a dinner of regional specialties in a rustic
setting. Available Tuesday nights, the program costs $70 per
person, including transportation to and from the cabin by snowcat
-- rides for which parents should bundle up the kids.
The real draw for both of us, however, was Snowmass' terrain,
which ranges from challenging -- the intense Hanging Valley Glades
draw experts with more skills than I -- to scenic, open runs.
My son made a beeline for the halfpipe, which even has its own
sound system, while I skied all afternoon with a guide, never
hitting the same run twice.
Families also can take advantage of a highly rated children's
instructional program at Snowmass, which teaches skiing and
snowboarding to children of various ages and skill levels.
Families who want to ski uncrowded slopes can spend a day at
Aspen Highlands, known for its expert runs, or experience the
PlayStation 2 Crazy Train Park at Buttermilk -- billed as the
world's longest terrain park -- with bumps and thrills suitable for
beginners and intermediates.
For a break from the action, Cole and I boarded a shuttle one
afternoon for the nine-mile trip to Aspen Mountain, a former
hold-out against snowboarders. It capitulated to that popular sport
in 2001. Here we sampled ice cream at the Paradise Bakery, visited
the authentically Wild West Hotel Jerome and sipped hot drinks at
the base of the picturesque Aspen Mountain.
On another day, we spent a morning at the Anderson Ranch nearby,
an artists' colony where Cole and I learned how to make Japanese
rice paper books from a resident artist and explored the grounds of
this circa 1966 retreat.
Instead of hitting the trendy bars apres-ski, we enjoyed pizza
at the Yurt at Assay Hill on Snowmass, followed by serious fun at
the lighted snowtubing runs, powered by cable lift for $15.
Children ages 4 and under are not admitted. Tube Town operates from
1 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
New this year is an indoor paintball venue at Snowmass for
children age 6 and older, priced at $40 per person through Snowmass
For additional information, call (800) 525-6200, (970) 925-1200
or visit www.aspensnowmass.com.
To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].