This Under-the-radar Colorado Ski Resort Has Some of the Best On-mountain Dining in America
A full moon is still high in the sky, illuminating the slopes as I begin my slow and steady uphill skin along the designated path toward Elk Camp. A fresh blanket of powder coats the ground, and it will be all mine to carve on my ride back down. At most resorts, you pay extra to score first tracks. But at Snowmass, anyone willing to earn their turns can get a first go at fresh snow before the lifts start running. And if you want to skip the lift lines altogether, Snowmass Mountain is one of few resorts in America that allows uphillers to skin up the slopes during operating hours. But the real beauty of Snowmass is that there's rarely a lift line to wait in anyway.
The Aspen-Snowmass ski area is technically a four-mountain destination. Glitzy Aspen Mountain, just nine miles down the road, steals the spotlight with its luxury hotels, celebrity guests, and rowdy après ski scene. Buttermilk caters to families, while Aspen Highlands attracts hard-chargers with the inbound backcountry terrain of the Highland Bowl. With so many options, Snowmass often gets overlooked. But over the last few years, the ski resort has quietly become a destination in its own right.
As part of a $600 million resort development, Snowmass finally received a proper Base Village with an ice skating rink and boutique hotel in 2018 and has been adding amenities and attractions to rival what you'd find in Aspen ever since. And then there's the skiing. With more than 3,300 acres of terrain, the mountain is bigger than Aspen, Highlands, and Buttermilk combined. Even on the weekends, it's rare you'll see a crowded slope.
Wide-open runs, nearly half of which are blues, make Snowmass a dream for novice skiers like myself who are looking to progress but aren't ready to face Aspen (there's no easy way down). My ski instructor, Nick Sontag, takes us up to the Elk Camp Chairlift so we can spend the morning warming up on blue groomers rolling through open trees the whole way down on Bear Bottom, Gunner's View, or Sandy Park. By afternoon, we've worked up an appetite. The addition of Sam's and Alpin Room, two European-inspired on-piste restaurants, now gives skiers the option for a long, leisurely European-style lunch.
At Sam's, we swap our ski boots for slippers, and I sip a Negroni Spritz while gazing at the snow-capped Elk Mountains from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Arancini, homemade cavatelli, and grandmother's-style pizza leave me in a serious food coma, but luckily Sam's also has an extensive selection of amaro to help skiers digest before they head back to the slopes.
The similarities to the Alps go beyond the fine dining and wine. Snowmass' best-kept secret is its expert terrain. Around 30% of the mountain is made up of double black runs, and it boasts one of the longest vertical descents in all of North America—4,406 feet, to be exact. The next day, I swap skis for my snowboard, which I've been riding for decades, and head up the Cirque Lift to the gated double blacks at the top of the mountain. This steep and deep terrain will test your mettle and reward you with some of the most beautiful views of the Maroon Bells. For a great lap with a lot of variety, take High Alpine Lift to the top, then cruise down Roberto's and into Frog Pond Glades, finishing on Wall 1 or 2.
By day's end, I'm completely spent. But luckily, I no longer have to catch the bus to Aspen to find a great meal or entertainment. Between new restaurants like Aurum and sushi spot Kenichi, live music at the Limelight Lounge, and the trippy Snowmass Luminescence art installation, I have everything I could need steps from my hotel.
How to Ride
Aspen Snowmass is part of the Ikon Pass. You get 7 days with a full Ikon and 5 days with a base Ikon. Pricing for daily lift tickets changes based on demand and the day of the week but averages $189 for a full-day adult lift ticket. An annual uphill pass costs $69.
Where to Stay
When Limelight Aspen opened its sister property Limelight Snowmass in the heart of Snowmass Base Village in 2018, it instantly became the ski area's social hub. Designed with skiers in mind, each of the 99 rooms is conveniently outfitted with a microwave and Smeg fridge and a hearty breakfast is complimentary. The Viceroy Snowmass epitomizes ski-in/ski-out luxury with a 7,000-square-foot spa, a restaurant from star chef Richard Sandoval, and a heated pool and bar just off the slopes. This winter, the Westin Hotel debuted a multimillion-dollar renovation, reopening as the Viewline Resort Snowmass, an Autograph Collection Hotel. Located on the Snowmass Mall, just above the village, the 265-room slopeside stay has a 60s retro vibe and tavern-style restaurant. An Ayurvedic spa will open later this year.
Where to Dine
Snowmass now owns bragging rights as having the area's best on-piste dining. Set at 10,620 feet, Sam's channels the Dolomites with perfect Negroni spritzes, a serious Italian wine list, and dishes like steak tagliata and housemade rigatoni Bolognese. For a taste of the Alps, skiers can head to the newly opened Alpin Room. Located at the top of Alpine Springs lift, the dining room feels like a modern ski chalet. The menu features European-inspired winter warmers like Gluhwein and Jagertee and Alsatian staples as tartiflette and choucroute garnie. In the village, the Crepe Shack opens before the lifts and has a menu of both sweet (dulce de leche) and savory (prosciutto and Gruyere) offerings.
Where to Après
Live music and killer deals on craft beers and artisanal pizzas make the Lounge at the Limelight Snowmass a favorite post-ski hangout. Head to Venga Venga on the Snowmass Village Mall for margaritas and street tacos. The closest you'll come to a see-and-be-seen après scene is the Nest. The ski-in/ski-out poolside bar at the Viceroy hotel warms up skiers with potent hot toddies and mezcal-spiked hot cocoa.