Colorado’s All-Seasons Alternative to Aspen

Fewer crowds, a little less glitz, and equally great outdoor adventure

Colorado’s All-Seasons Alternative to Aspen

Photo by Nile Cappello

What’s a traveler to do when seeking a Colorado mountain vacation without Aspen’s flashiness? Stay in Snowmass, Aspen’s all-season alternative. When it comes to Colorado’s best runs, family-friendly activities, and panoramic vistas, Snowmass is winning over tourists and locals.

A 15-minute drive northwest of Aspen, Snowmass offers access to the same snow-capped peaks and green valleys with thinner crowds, more adventure activities, and fewer paparazzi. From navigating ski moguls to biking switchbacks, visitors can get a dreamy mountain vacation among Snowmass’s renowned mountain, slope-side hotels, classic restaurants, and family experiences—no competition (or trust fund) required.

Where to stay in Snowmass

No matter where you choose to stay in Snowmass, you won’t be far from the mountain; 95 percent of all tourist accommodations are ski-in/ski-out.

Halfway up the north side of the mountain is Stonebridge Inn, a go-to for small groups planning to hit the slopes. There, guests are just a short walk from Base Village, Snowmass Mall, and various hiking and mountain biking trails. Onsite, the property boasts one of the best restaurants in town (see The Artisan, below), cozy lodging, and a large outdoor pool area for the warmer months.

Other local hotel options include the recently renovated Westin Snowmass Resort, located on the Snowmass Mall, and the luxurious Viceroy Snowmass, at the base of the mountain.

Travelers during the 2018 winter season or later will also have the option of staying at the Limelight Hotel, currently under construction at Snowmass’s Base Village; this will be the third property for the brand, which also has properties in Aspen and Ketchum, Idaho.

Things to do in Snowmass

With more than 3,300 acres of terrain, adventure is the name of the game in Snowmass. During winter, a single lift ticket gains access to all four mountains in the area—but after checking out scenic (and scene-y) Aspen, local favorite Buttermilk, and the hike-up, ski-down Highland Bowl, die-hard skiers and snowboarders return to Snowmass Mountain’s 96 trails of top-quality terrain.

The mountain’s outdoor entertainment isn’t restricted to winter sports; snowmelt exposes the downhill mountain biking trails of the Snowmass Bike Park, open throughout the summer season. Tourists can rent gear from Four Mountain Sports at Base Village and take the Elk Camp Gondola up (no need to pedal uphill!). Those unfamiliar with the sport should consider hiring a bike pro to coach them through the runs.

The mountain also recently broke ground on a new all-season activity park, Lost Forest, which will feature an alpine coaster, zip line, climbing wall, and ropes course and is set to open in the summer of 2018.

Of course, adventure activities at Snowmass aren’t restricted to the mountain; visitors who enjoy the great outdoors will find thrills—and views—on local hiking trails, including the scenic Rim Trail and the Nature Trail. Just a short drive or bus ride away is Maroon Bells, one of the most picturesque natural landscapes I’ve ever seen; you’d be hard-pressed to find a single establishment in Snowmass without a piece of art depicting the lake flagged by duel snow-capped mountains. Not sure where to start among the hundreds of trails? ACES, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, offers free guided hikes open to all.

But for each adventure activity in Snowmass, visitors have just as many opportunities to get out of activewear and into an R&R state of mind—and not just by visiting the 7,000-square-foot, Jean Michel-Gathy-designed spa at Viceroy Snowmass (although you should also put that on your list). Snowmass offers a packed calendar of events, including the annual Snowmass Balloon Festival and Jazz Aspen Snowmass music festival, where Keith Urban, Hall & Oates, and Maroon 5 will headline this upcoming Labor Day.

This year, Snowmass also hosted its first Cochon555 Heritage Fire and Bluebird Art + Sound festival and, in December, will celebrate the resort’s 50th anniversary with weekend-long specials, events, and deals. During summer, locals’ favorites include the weekly free concert series, Friday “auctionettes” at the world-famous Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and the Snowmass Rodeo, which will celebrate its 45th year in 2018; locals and tourists flock to the stadium each week during summer to eat barbecue, root for bull riders, and watch kiddos compete in the mutton busting and cow scramble.

Where to eat in Snowmass

Without the fanfare—or price tag—of Aspen’s culinary scene, Snowmass has quietly built up a range of options friendly to both foodies and families. Start the day with breakfast at Fuel, a beloved go-to serving up tropical smoothies, inventive cream cheeses, and breakfast burritos. From there, lunch venues include Woody Creek Tavern, a quirky favorite of bikers and the late Hunter S. Thompson, located just outside of Snowmass. For something quick, hit Elk Camp, a cafeteria-style eatery halfway up Snowmass Mountain. Come happy hour, locals and tourists gather to grab a beer—or hot toddy—on the New Belgium Ranger Station’s outdoor patio overlooking the mountain.

For dinner, check out The Artisan, Stonebridge Inn’s onsite restaurant that serves seasonal menus and cocktails with a side of close-up magic by the talented Doc Eason, and the swanky Eight K at Viceroy Snowmass. Up the hill, diners can order Swiss-German specialties like fondue and bratwursts at The Edge, or check skis at the Snowmass Mall valet and warm up with home-cooked meals at The Stew Pot. A fixture of the mall, The Stew Pot has been around as long as the resort; it’s common to spot grandparents bringing their families to try the same stew they remember eating as children.

After all, that is the beauty of this place—so scenic, welcoming, and accessible that you’ll feel compelled to bring loved ones back to experience the magic of Snowmass for themselves.

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