Aspen: The Power of Four – Ajax
What could this superhero name be referring to? Those who’ve been will know it’s Aspen and why it deserves such a title.
Apsen is one of the world’s most iconic ski areas. What comes to mind when you hear the name? Glamour, celebrities, luxury, fur… And yes, in places it’s just this. But behind this and what it’s become in popularity and status, what is Aspen about? World-class skiing.
There are four mountains, not connected and stand almost as independent ski resorts. But there’s one pass and a huge amount of terrain to explore. Together they make up a super resort.
‘The Power of Four’
Aspen Mountain (Ajax to locals), Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass.
It’s my first time in Aspen. Actually, first time in Colorado – the mega ski state of the USA home to a big portion of those famous, snowy resorts we’ve heard of from across the pond.
The town of Aspen is really something. It’s an old silver mining town and its success from that period in the 1890s lead to schools, banks, churches and an opera house being built. It became a ski resort in the wake of World War II, and was firmly on the map after hosting the World Downhill Ski Championships in 1950.
The town is incredibly attractive, and unique for someone who hasn’t come this way before. Big brick buildings, streets with the highest end shops, smaller streets with trendy bars, more restaurants serving high end fast food, fancy hotels and speak easy ‘dives’.
It’s not just for the rich and famous, though you’ll certainly see a few of these wandering. Ski bums and and the rest assemble here, with a good portion of now-locals being so after a season or even week spent here. But it’s not all about the town, though I’d highly recommend non skiers to come.
It offers some of the best skiing in the Rockies. I visited and did it on a reasonable budget. I can confirm it’s worth every nickel (or hundy, rather) that you do spend.
Access and travel is easy. Norwegian flights from London to Denver can often be grabbed for around £350 return. Renting a car and doing the drive is part of the fun – it’s one of those drives-of-a-lifetime and gives you the autonomy to roam the four ski hills and explore what’s out of town by yourself, though the bus system is super.
I did an Airbnb one evening, I stayed out of town and did motel life down the valley a little way. I also didn’t miss out on the high life up in Aspen and on the hills. Here’s a look in to how I found it.
Where to ski first in this mecca? It had to be Aspen Mountain – known to locals as Ajax – mainly because you access the skiing from the centre of town. It’s also home to the area’s first ski runs.
During the most popular weekend of the year when town’s beds were sold out, the people watching was out of this world. This little centre of Aspen must be where the rep comes from. A man sporting spectacular gold ski getup matched his partner, trussed up in silver. Then there’s the fur… It’s everywhere.
It made me completely throw out any morals I had on wearing real fur, made me detest the ski gear I previously loved, and sent me desperate to join the animal parade.
But I said this was now about the skiing. And there’s more than a little to say. The Silver Queen Gondola runs from the gondola plaza. Head up and look out to get your first views high up, looking up. They only get better. It’s not a beginner’s mountain.
Rated 48% intermediate, 26% advanced, 20% expert, there’s 1,000m of vertical and near to 700 acres of inbound terrain to cover. It’s the place for intermediates and experienced skiers who enjoy ripping pistes and those who love the moguls.
In fact, for intrepid intermediates it’s a paradise. Everything is either a dark blue or a black diamond. What more do you need, right?
Ajax is made up of several ridges that are linked together. So between all the long blue up-down and arounds are glades and bumps step it up on, and more fall lines to follow that you won’t remember how many you’ve done – nor their awesome names – at the end of the day.
Slalom and GS World Cup races are held on Aspen Mountain, so if you want to get a taste and test out your legs, here is where to do it.
The views, did I mention, are spectacular and I was especially lucky on my visit in the month dubbed #Februburied. Colorado is a big snow state anyway; It’s a safe bet for those coming a long way wanting as much insurance of pow as poss. But with fantastic snow conditions and the sun out, you could see for miles up at the top restaurant, Sundeck.
The views look out to the Elk Mountains behind, which you can take in from the patio, or by the enormous rock fireplace with armchairs inside.
What helps the views are the aspen trees the resort’s taken its name from.
Silvery grey in Feburary, they make not only for great naked trees to ski through but also for the most magical of experiences, aesthetically.
Day 1 in Aspen I devoted to skiing the Ajax area. But then I had to do the eating properly, too. Bonnie’s was recommended, a self-service on the hill. And Sundeck was perfect for an afternoon tea.
But I was in Aspen baby.
During an earlier top to bottom I spied the already banging Ajax Tavern, a Veuve Cliquot branded patio and restaurant-bar. The sunniest spot I’ve seen and I had no choice but to bask, order a banging $30 salad and sip a local craft beer in the sun with everyone else doing it Aspen-style.
I have three other days to do it differently on that budget I’d set myself. I wasn’t for skimping on the experiences…
The most notable thing about Aspen Mountain, and something I’ll not forget and take with me, is the spirit up there on the hill. The atmosphere created by the energy of the skiers and riders on Ajax, both those on holiday or locals chatted to on lifts, was admirable. Contagious. Everyone is in such good moods and are sharing it around.
Fair, most were American so they surely find it easier to be nice than us irritable Britons, but hell does it make a difference – especially as a foreign visitor to the resort.
Whoops and (happy) shouts come from all-every direction, as well as from the lifts up above as you’re down shouted encouragement for a wipe out, a sweet turn or a colourful hat. Everyone is chatting to everyone;
Anyone up there is a friend – a fellow ski bud.
Aspen on this late-February weekend was sold out of beds. I was expecting the chaos of popular European on the busiest weekend of the season. But it was nothing like an equivalent Alpine resort. The capacity must be a mere fraction of those we have this way as you can, and I did very well, still find slopes to ski on solo.
So far, it was so very good.
On to enjoying Aspen’s evening life and on to Buttermilk tomorrow.
If you have hellishly bad jet lag, as I did, and need something to do at dawn, head to Jour de Fete in town for breakfast. It’s the best of the best American breakfasts, clearly full of locals and those in the know of where to fuel before a day on the hill. For Katie’s accounts of Day 2, Day 3 & 4 in Aspen, see here:
Check out Day 2 on the blog at Buttermilk…