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|Where: Colorado, USA|
- Alpine skiing
- Less expensive than nearby Aspen and Vail
- Guaranteed natural snow
- Large skiing area
- Close to Aspen airport
- Still expensive
- Aspen airport prone to closures
- Long drive from Denver
Why visit Snowmass in Colorado?
Snowmass is a skiing resort area in Colorado, USA with a very large skiing area and guaranteed snow. We visited Snowmass three times and every time there would be at least two snowing days in a week. The official stats are: 4,406 ft./1,340 m vertical rise, 3,342 acres of terrain, 98 trails, and 20 chairlifts. With base elevation at 8,604 ft./2,623 m season is from late November to mid-late April. Its summit (Cirque) is quite high at 12,510 ft./3,813 m. Interestingly, even at high altitude, most skiing areas have tall trees, with only very top parts above the tree line. The only bottleneck in chairlifts is at the base, while higher lifts are well spread and crowds are infrequent. The village provides a number of accommodation options. Almost all of them are ski-in-out. Prices are on a high-moderate side, but quite reasonable compared to the nearby Vail. This combination of a large skiing area, long runs, guaranteed powder, ski-in-out accommodations and relatively reasonable prices makes it a fool-proof skiing destination. Another advantage is proximity to the Aspen airport, however it can be a mixed blessing as discussed below. We could spot only one disadvantage - lack of evening skiing.
Where in the world?
Snowmass is in Colorado, USA, 200 miles (320 km) west of Denver. If you are familiar with Vail, Snowmass is on the same route from Denver, just 100 miles further.
Snowmass is about 10 minutes away from the Aspen airport. There are shuttle buses running between Snowmass and Aspen. You will need a stop, likely in Denver to fly to Aspen, and then take a short 40min flight. The trick is that the Aspen airport is located in a mountain bowl. The pilots need to actually see the mountains to land. If the clouds are low, pilots may circle few times waiting for a "hole" to sneak under the clouds. The experience is a bit fidgety for some passengers when the planes circles around. There are risks of delays, cancellations and, on approach to Aspen you may be diverted to the next closest airport. Subsequently, you return flight is at the same odds of being delayed. Initially we flew for two trips. One time we could not fly out and ended up scrambling for a shared van to Denver. The second time we were diverted to another airport north of Snowmass. Third time we simply planned to rent a car in Denver and drove. It is about 2 hours further from Denver than Vail. The drive was about 3.5-4 hours but it may take longer if you get into a snowstorm.
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Vaccination and infections
According to CDC no vaccination is required in addition to the routine vaccination established in most countries (subject to your country of origin and your personal vaccination). There is NO risk of malaria in the country. Prevent yourself from insect bites to avoid insect transmitted infections. Some parts of USA are endemic for Lyme and other tick born diseases. Please see updated information for health at CDC site or health authority in your country.
Citizens of some countries can enjoy Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Please check if you can visit USA without visa here. In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier. Passport holders of other countries need to apply for visa well in advance.
When to go?
The latest official skiing season is from the last week of November to the third week of April. Please check with latest dates here.
Where to stay?
The main resort-hotel in Snowmass is the Westin Snowmass Resort. You are likely to be there if you join a conference. The hotel is of high class, ski-in-out, with ski valet, heated outdoor pool and jet-tubs, and decent restaurant. Prices may get high during holidays though. The resort was fully booked during our thirds trip and we stayed at the next hotel Wildwood Snowmass. It was a motel style accommodation, more suitable for younger travelers on a budget. There are also several condo complexes, but you need to do research if they are ski-in-out. We were told that some condos could be a better and less expensive option than the Westin.
What to do?
The official stats are:
Base - 8,604 ft. / 2,623 m
Summit - 12,510 ft. / 3,813 m
Vertical rise - 4,406 ft./1,340 m
Terrain - 3,342 acres
Number of trails - 98
Longest run - Long Shot: 5.3 miles/8.5 km
Types of trails - Types: easiest: 5%, more difficult: 48%, most difficult: 17%, expert: 30%
Lifts- 20 total
Skiing map is here. The main lift Village Express and the Elk Camp gondola run from the lower base of the village. If you are staying at the Westin or other place at the upper part, you will ski down for about 200 m in the morning. The Village Express takes you to the western skiing area and the Cirque summit. The gondola will take you the eastern area and a slope that leads to another base - Two Creeks. The eastern side has easier runs and may be more suitable for children. The upper lifts at either side were never crowded. The least crowded lift seemed to be the Sam's Knob. It has several black and one blue run and we ended up using it the most. It is also sheltered from the wind on windy days.
Did we mention fresh powder? Yes, you are almost guaranteed snowfall if you stay long enough. Initially we brought both carving and powder skis. One morning we had a foot of new snow, then it took a couple of days for all runs to be groomed, then we had another snowfall... After the first trip we did not bother to lug the skinny carving skis. Powder skis were the best option on any day. Even if the runs were groomed in the morning, it will be snow piles here and there in the afternoon. The powder skis carve well enough and fun to ride in fresh snowfall.
Dog sledding is available during winter. Other winter and summer activities are also available.
Where to eat
We had our breakfasts at the Westin. Lunches are available at both mid-mountain bases, at the main and the Two-creeks bases. Another restaurant is at the top of the Sam's Knob, which we ended up using the most for lunches. A small pizzeria is at the top of the Big Burn lift.
Dinner options were a bit limited and you DO need reservations. After the first day of frustration we pre-booked restaurants for the rest of our stay. There are two areas for the restaurants: the upper and the lower parts of the village. You need to use the small gondola between them. Our favourite was Il Pogio italian restaurant. If you have no reservation, Little Mammoth could be more available and is of decent quality. Both are at the upper village. The official Snowmass website lists all restaurants here.
You can also take a shuttle bus to Aspen and have a dinner and/or do shopping there. Aspen is a larger and more upscale town than the Snowmass village. Shuttle buses run from the bus station at the upper village.
As always, we have no affiliation with any booking companies or resorts. We simply share our experience and opinions.