There’s something magical about Aspen, an enchanting old mining town that hooks you in from the moment you arrive. It has the reputation of all glitz and glamour, and sure, there is a bit of that, but it’s also very down to earth and friendly. Our kids love it.
The Beginners' Buttermilk
The four mountains all cater to different levels, so there’s something for everyone. Buttermilk is where most of the kids start out. It’s only 15 minutes by bus from Aspen, and much quieter than the other mountains. The ski school is pretty small (i.e. less crowded!) which can be a good thing, especially for nervous first timers who can get overwhelmed easily. They hold the X-Games at Buttermilk late January / early February, which can disrupt things a little on the mountain, but the great thing is they offer half price private lessons while they’re setting up, which is great value, and the perfect opportunity to get a private lesson if you wouldn’t normally do so. We took advantage of this last January and we saw a massive improvement in our kids skiing!
Hitting the bigger slopes
Snowmass is the biggest, and the main family-friendly mountain, but it is a good 30-40 minutes from Aspen. Snowmass offers phenomenal skiing, and their ski school is one of the best in North America.
There are a few good on-mountain restaurants at Snowmass – Sam’s Smokehouse at the top of the Village Express Lift if you feel like some St Louis style pork ribs or Marinated Smoked BBQ chicken (they have an outdoor terrace which is just perfect on a beautiful sunny day). At the bottom of that lift at Snowmass Mall is Venga Venga, a nice little Mexican cantina which serves pretty good tacos and fajitas if you want a little spice. And over on the other side of Snowmass, at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola, is the newly opened Elk Camp restaurant, which is very modern, environmentally friendly, and serves great food – from rotisserie chicken sandwiches to wood fire pizza, plus salads and other healthy options. They’ve certainly elevated the standard of on-mountain dining here, and on Friday nights in Winter you can go up there for Ullr nights for some great old fashioned family fun – sledding, ice skating, toasting marshmallows by the bonfire, exploring the Viking ghost ship (made of ice). It’s great fun, but probably better if it’s not -27 deg C like it was when we were there!
Many people stay at Snowmass if they’re planning on skiing there, which is a great idea as a lot of the accommodation is ski in-ski out, but it doesn’t have the variety of restaurants (or the quaintness) that Aspen has. So be prepared to cook pretty much every night if you’re planning on staying there. We have stayed in both Aspen and Snowmass, and as convenient as Snowmass is in the mornings, especially with kids, we prefer to stay in Aspen and catch the bus to Snowmass in the mornings.
The two other mountains are Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain. They’re both for intermediate to expert skiers so not really suited to younger kids, although it’s our aim for our girls to ski both mountains next year once they get their confidence up.
There is plenty to do in Aspen apart from skiing. There are a couple of movie theatres in town, great shopping and a few art galleries to enjoy. A tour of the town in the Horse Drawn carriage is a treat for kids. Our girls really love the Silver Circle Ice Rink in front of the Hyatt Grand Aspen hotel. It’s a gorgeous little outdoor ice rink, and the perfect end to a fun day’s skiing. You can get the best burgers in town at CP Burger which is right next to the ice rink, and they do a pretty good thickshake there too.
Magic in the air
Walking through the streets of Aspen at night is like walking through a winter wonderland, lit up with fairy lights, freshly fallen snow, and ice sculptures if you’re lucky. There are some fantastic restaurants in Aspen, and most are pretty child friendly. Neil and I love Matsuhisa for sushi and sashimi, and our girls think they serve the best dessert in town – chocolate fondant in the bento box! There’s also Mezzaluna for pretty good pizzas and pasta, Brunelleschi’s, where kids can make their own pizza, Hickory House for ribs, and Boogie’s Diner, which is very family friendly. But for the nights where you want to cook dinner yourselves and relax in front of the fire, there are two really good supermarkets in town, plus a butcher, a few delis, bakeries and bottle shops.
I’m not sure what I love the most about Aspen, but all the little things together make for a perfect family ski holiday. I’m totally under Aspen’s spell.