Looking up to Snowmass from XC ski area

6th/7th February 2020

Our winter trip to the States last year was such great fun that we decided to return for another dose of US skiing. This year we decided to buy an IKON pass which allows us to ski at a wide range of resorts for up to 5 days at each resort so it more than pays for itself after the first week! First stop on our itennary, after sorting and picking up our kit from Driggs was Aspen. Before putting on our ski boots however we had a lot of driving to do. As with last year we flew into Las Vegas, this time opting for premium economy which was far more comfortable.

After realising that the Pick Up we rented was rear 2 wheel drive and totally unsuitable for snowy roads, we drove back to the airport to swap it for a SUV (GMC Terrain) before getting some welcome zizzes before an early start (4.30am) and an 11 hour drive to Driggs. Fortunately the conditions were good and we did not get tied up in the winter storm hitting the Tetons and Yellowstone which had passed through by the time we arrived. Glad it was still light and the drive had been ploughed. Had bought some supplies and had a very nice pizzza and bottle of wine in front of the fire.

8th February Next day was spent sorting through our kit, after Mike had watched England vs Scotland in the 6 Nations, technology is a great thing! I also went for a XC Ski round the block a few times and we then went for a walk. Good to stretch the muscles after so much travelling. Had David, Claytons neighbour, round for a couple of drams after he cleared the drive which had filled in with all the windblown snow.

9th February Another early start the next morning (7.30) as we had a long drive down to Aspen. Much harder drive than we thought it would be as large sections of the route were snow covered, we also had a 40 mile (unexpected) dirt road section and unfortunately a buzzard collided with our windscreen. It was perched on a snow measuring post next to the road and as we got close it took off and hit us. There was nothing we could do but very sad. Luckily for us the windscreen did not shatter, but was cracked almost fully across. Hertz was very good and swopped out the car for us with another SUV (Chevrolet Equinox) the next day. Must say we were stung with many extra charges when we returned the car due to the upgrade so all in all we will not be using Hertz again.

Glad to reach Carbondale where we had booked in for a couple of nights. Stayed at the Days Inn which was very comfy and had great breakfasts. Would stay there again. Much better value than staying in Aspen. Found a local brewery (Carbondale Beer Works) for supper, roasted head of broccoli with parmesan (v tasty), nachos and blonde beer. What could be better! Great nights sleep set us up well for our first days skiing at Aspen Snowmass the next day.

10th February There are 4 separate ski areas in Aspen, the largest of these being Snowmass just south of the town. Parked at the Bush Creek park and ride, very easy and convenient, and got the bus up to the Village Mall. Getting our passes was a doddle, all they needed was our ID and the office printed out our IKON passes. First run up the Village Express 6 person high speed quad was cold and one run down saw me heading off to the Patagonia store for another layer! Why is this the story of my life?

Anyway was much more comfortable as a result for the rest of the day which was overcast with snow flurries. We spent our first day in the area off the top of Sam’s knob. Some lovely groomers and more difficult runs through the glades down to the Campground lift. Good test of Mike’s achilles which he injured a couple of months back (ill advised jogging!). The snow was in excellent condition but as visibility wasn’t the greatest we left going to the top of the mountain until the next day when we were rewarded with beautiful blue skies and fantastic views. Much better prepared for the cold as well!

11th February Decided to explore the area around Elk Camp. We were both really on top of our skis today and really enjoyed finding untracked areas away from the piste where the moguls were not severe and the snow was lovely and soft. Had agreed to meet up with Bruce and Jane (who we met on our Yellowstone adventures last year) for an afternoon snack and coffee. Was great fun to see them again and catch up.

Checked into the Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen for 3 nights. Well located just outside the central area and on Bruce and Jane’s recommendation popped into Clarke’s Oyster Bar to see if we could book a table for dinner one night. Just caught happy hour and had a very strong (but tasty) gin martini. Decided to go there for dinner the next evening and picked up some sushi from the grocery store to have in our room with a very nice bottle of wine.

12th February So when in Aspen one needs to ski Aspen Mountain which runs straight into the downtown area. Really neat. We were able to walk to the lifts, there are buses but we could not be bothered with standing in the cold and waiting. So we had a good warm up walk to one of the chairs. The mountain would be lovely to ski after a big dump of powder but 5 days after the last storm a lot of the off piste had been skied out and it was interesting that basically no one was heading off from the groomers. We had a fun day, did one double black down through the glades (Last Dollar) which still had good snow cover but it was mainly a day for long cruisy blues.

Glad we had booked a table at Clarks, had a lovely dinner of clam chowder, fishcakes and scallops. Was a very popular restaurant had a good vibe and food was very tasty. Teased Mike that it was our early Valentines celebration!

13th February Had thought we might go XC skiing today up to the ghost town of Ashcroft, however that will have to wait for another year as when Mike looked outside we saw a fresh (unforcast) dump of snow. Headed off to the gondola and were one of the first up, no lift lines and fresh tracks down some excellent runs. The fresh snow made skiing the black bump runs so much easier and enjoyable. Mike said after our second run (down Walsh’s and Gentleman’s Ridge) that if that was the last run of the holiday he would be happy! Alas only a couple of runs later, after a very nice coffee and croissant, when we headed off through glades from the top of International he hit a compression and stretched his achilles. Not good news and although he was comfy skiing on blues for the rest of the day walking is a different matter. So now icing and arnica massage oil by the team masseur(me!) and hoping a couple of days of rest will sort it out.

The conditions were great and I had a lovely days skiing. We came across the warming hut at the bottom of Buckthorn where they were providing hot cider and tea for those that wanted some refreshment. Took a couple of photos of some well placed deckchairs looking out over the far vista. Beautiful spot. Kind of sums up Aspen where there is an old world charm, friendly people, not crowded, no lift lines but lifts not as modern as at some resorts, and free coffee at the base in the morning! Also had a good chat with a snowcat guide who mentioned that at the top of the gondola, skiers left, where it says private road that only applies to motorised traffic and ‘pedestrians’ can basically follow the cat paths to some good bowl skiing. Will have to look at trying that out if we come back next year – on the cards