Much as I enjoy skiing in Colorado, I have probably logged nearly as many hours cooling my heels at the Denver airport as I have on the slopes.
Mind you, when there are no delays, the system works very well, with flights to nearby resorts often taking less than an hour. During snowstorms, however, air travel is often delayed by the very weather that draws visitors to the region in the first place.
Once, after sitting with a group of increasingly cranky passengers for more than four hours, we concocted the idea of renting a van and making the drive to the resort ourselves. Then we remembered the blankets of snow piling up on the mountain roads and thought better of it.
This season, clients bound for Aspen/Snowmass have another alternative. The resort, which comprises Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk, has teamed up with Gray Line to provide the first luxury ground transportation service to its four mountains.
Set to operate year-round, the scheduled, nonstop service includes VIP check-in at Gray Line's concierge facility at the airport and guaranteed window or aisle seating.
And for late arrivals, the service features a night coach, with six departures each evening during the peak ski season. Supplemental service from Eagle County Regional Airport and the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport to the resorts also is available.
New and improved
The big news at Snowmass continues to be the $1 billion Base Village project being developed by Related WestPac and comprising lodging, upscale restaurants and apres ski venues. This season, the village will open more than 90 ski-in/ski-out condos, the first to be built in Snowmass in 20 years.
Also new this season is Sneaky's Tavern near the Village Express lift for casual American bistro cuisine, and the 7,800-square-foot Sam's Smokehouse restaurant at the top of the Village Express lift. Sam's makes the most of its location with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Garret's Peak and Mount Daly as well as outdoor seating and a barbecue menu.
The Capitol Peak Conference Center opened this season with more than 8,000 square feet of conference space in Capitol Peak Lodge at the base village.
On-mountain improvements at Snowmass, to the tune of some $7 million, include the new Sheer Bliss chairlift that serves 700 acres of challenging terrain in the Big Burn area. The lift takes just over nine minutes to carry up to 2,000 people per hour up 2,212 vertical feet.
All this expansion comes on the heels of three years of improvements priced at about $50 million and including the Village Express six-pack lift, new gondolas, a new terrain park and the Elk Camp Meadows learning area.
Last year, improvements in the new Snowmass base village included the Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center and Four-Mountain Sports rental/retail shop.
Still to come are the Little Nell Residences at Snowmass, the Viceroy Resort Residences at Snowmass and more than 300 condos, as well as a community aquatic center and more shopping and dining outlets, all due to be completed next year.
Meanwhile, the other three mountains at Aspen/Snowmass have seen improvements of their own.
Aspen Highlands added about 18 acres of terrain this year for skiers and snowboarders called Canopy Cruiser and situated between Hyde Park and Mushroom Chutes.
Buttermilk, which hosts the ESPN Winter X Games through 2010, unveiled an Olympic-size, 22-foot half-pipe for high-adrenaline skiers and riders, while Aspen Mountain opened a new gondola plaza in downtown Aspen, designed to ease the passenger loading process.
Overall, 476 beds will come online this season in Aspen/Snowmass, including Hayden and Capitol Peak Lodges in Snowmass and the newly rebuilt Limelight Lodge in downtown Aspen.