My sanity was questioned when friends and family found out I was leaving sunny Florida for a quick trip to the cold Colorado mountains during one of the harshest weeks of winter—the same week much of Texas was battling unprecedented snowfall and the resulting chaos, and the same week Snowmass had just received a grand dumping of snow (its name suddenly made sense).
But the heart of winter is arguably the best time for a ski trip. Of course, if I were able to predict the future, I wouldn’t have chosen to connect through Dallas, but fortunately for us, we were able to get in and out of the Aspen Airport via Dallas with just one canceled flight. The rest of our trip—single-digit temperatures and all—was glorious, the very picture of a winter wonderland.
That’s because when it comes to wintertime fun, Snowmass knows what it’s doing. Located in the same area as Aspen—they’re both in the Roaring Fork Valley, separated by just nine miles, and both the gold standard of ski mountains—Snowmass has a similar vibe to the world-famous ski retreat of the jet set, but a bit less swanky, a bit more laid-back.
Snowmass has an open feel, sustained by the friendliness of locals and the low-key vibe of the village; the focus is less on luxury and nightlife and more on enjoying nature and your loved ones. Snowmass has about 30 restaurants, and the majority of lodging (around 95 percent!) is ski-in/ski-out, which is a game-changer if you’ve never experienced it. Snowmass offers a quieter, more affordable alternative to the ritz and riches of Aspen—but the same breathtaking scenery and high-alpine environment.
Getting to Know the Area: The Snowmass Mall and Base Village
There are two main areas: the Snowmass Mall (a multi-level open-air plaza with shops, restaurants, ski outfitters, fire pits, live music, and more), and the Snowmass Base Village, located at the base of the Snowmass Ski Area where the Elk Camp Gondola and Village Express lift terminate—and the hub of activity in Snowmass. The Base Village is at the tail end of a $600 million facelift, which has brought new buildings, amenities, and public space.
These two areas are connected by a gondola colloquially known as Skittles (the cabs are painted in a variety of primary colors), so traveling between the Mall and Base Village requires just a short ride up or down. Skittles works as a sort of free public transportation system so you can easily access both locations, even after the lifts close for the day.
The area is also quite family-friendly. In Snowmass, après ski looks like playing games on the ice-skating rink—skate rentals are free!—or lining up at a cart dispensing free s’mores treats rather than an alcohol-infused wild time (though that’s available, too, if you’re looking).
A Comfortable Stay
Our accommodations, Timberline Condominiums, were located three streets uphill from the Mall; the property is located outside the main hubs of activity (there are a few hotel options conveniently situated in both the Mall and Base Village) and therefore felt a bit secluded and less accessible, but it afforded privacy, comfortable condo-style digs, and a heavenly slopeside hot-tub to soak in at the end of our long days on the slopes.
Fortunately, transportation in the form of a free Timberline shuttle is available to guests between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.; Timberline also offers free transfers to and from the airport, which is about a 15- to 20-minute drive away.
Timberline would be ideal for a longer stay because you have all the conveniences of home; you can cook in your unit, do laundry on-site, and have plenty of space, since accommodation options range from studios to 3-bedroom units. We also loved the slopeside location: in the morning, we could board down to the Mall or Village for breakfast.
Dining in Snowmass
Speaking of breakfast, don’t miss JÜS Snowmass for healthy options, The Crêpe Shack if you wish to indulge, or Fuel for a chance to rub elbows with locals (and grab a memorable breakfast burrito). Breakfast person or not, fueling up before you hit the slopes is essential; between the altitude and exertion, your stamina will be tested.
For lunch, plan to eat on the slopes—there are seven on-mountain restaurants to choose from—or if you find yourself at the end of a run and ready for grub, head to the Limelight Lounge in the Base Village. Its wood-fired pizzas hit the spot after a long day skiing. Best of all, if it’s après time and you didn’t already get your s’mores fix from the free Snowmass S’mores carts, you can grab a seat at one of Limelight’s outdoor fire pits and order a s’mores kit to toast your own over an open flame. It’s a great spot for good eats and a view of The Rink.
Dinner, of course, is another highlight of any day spent around snowsports. When you sit down to dine each evening, your body is ready because you’ve earned it—you have lots of calories to replace! Slow Groovin’ Chophouse is one spot that embodies the low-key vibe of Snowmass; you can kick back, enjoy a killer mountain view, and dig into mouth-watering BBQ.
Another option, especially popular among locals, is The Stew Pot, the oldest restaurant in Snowmass—and a local institution. The menu is packed with fresh, hearty stews and soups; there’s both everyday favorites and a rotating selection of unique specials, like rosemary chicken stew served over mashed potatoes. If you dine nowhere else in Snowmass, make your one stop The Stew Pot.
Visiting the Village reminded me of Europe a bit, but nowhere more so than The Edge Restaurant & Bar, conveniently located on-site at Timberline: the menu is inspired by the alpine cuisines of countries such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We shared a cheesy spätzle dish and a giant pot of fondue with Gruyère, Emmentaler, and more, and my husband dug into a few of the best wurst sausages he’d ever had. I wished for more room to try the Hungarian gulaschsuppe and the schnitzel, supposedly one of their top menu items.
During our meal, we were transported back to treasured memories of European adventures, if only for a moment, and I was reminded of the special power of food—especially its scent and flavor—to send you places you may not be able to physically go. That’s all I ask during a pandemic when international travel remains complicated!
Things to Do On and Off the Slopes
If you don’t have your own ski or snowboard gear, renting from Four Mountain Sports is the way to go. They have locations all around Snowmass, in both the Mall and Base Village, and you can pick up and return your equipment at any of them—not to mention their ski valet service that will transport your gear wherever you need. They make a rather cumbersome process surprisingly hassle-free. You can also grab your lift tickets here (or show a QR code at kiosks dispersed around the village, which print them on the spot).
If you’re anything like me and my husband, you’ll use up all your energy on the slopes, making the most of the opportunity to snowboard or ski to your heart’s content, especially on days when the weather turns out sunny, clear, and picture-perfect. Snowmass is beloved for its diverse terrain, boasting both challenging runs for the long-initiated and routes accessible to beginners.
Even a few blue runs on a massive mountain like Snowmass—there are 98 trails, 20 chairlifts, and more than 3,300 acres of terrain—will take it out of you, making you more than ready for après ski to commence once the lifts close at 3:30 p.m. (which seemed early to me before we arrived—they open at 8:30 a.m.—but turned out to be exactly the right amount of time).
However, if you take it easy on the slopes, you may be looking for more to do—and Snowmass has plenty of that. You can check out a large collection of Ice Age fossils at the Ice Age Discovery Center, tour the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, play the Snowmass Mountain Mission village-wide scavenger hunt, go on a guided trek, or simply stroll around to view ice sculptures and art installations set around the village.
Another fun option—a way to take a break from skiing or enjoy the slopes without gear—is the on-mountain Breathtaker Alpine Coaster. The rollercoaster ride covers over a mile through forest terrain, treating riders to both untouched scenery and a thrilling adventure; you control your speed and can accelerate up to 28 mph. A tubing hill, included in your ticket, is also nearby.
For a less intense activity, we loved Snowmass Luminescence, an interactive light display located between the Mall and Base Village, featuring colorfully illuminated tunnels to wander through if you choose to walk Fanny Hill rather than taking Skittles between the two main drags. (I recommend exploring the walkways downhill from the Mall to the Base Village rather than hoofing it uphill—you certainly start feeling the lack of oxygen at 8,209 feet above sea level!)
Above all, wintertime activities—especially skiing—are inherently masked and socially distant, so planning a ski trip is a great way to get out, enjoy the outdoors, and satisfy the itch to travel during these strange times.
The author was a guest of Snowmass Tourism.
Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman