Aspen Mountain (often called by its former name of Ajax among locals) is a ski area
located in Pitkin County, Colorado just outside and above the city of Aspen. It is
situated on the north flank of Aspen Mountain (for which it is named) and the higher
Bell Mountain, elevation 11,212 ft (3418 m) just to the south of Aspen Mountain. It was founded in 1946 as the first ski area venture of the Aspen Skiing Company founded by Walter Paepcke, and today it is one of four adjacent ski areas operated
by the company as part of the Aspen/Snowmass complex. At only 673 acres (2.7
km²), it is somewhat small compared to other ski areas, especially compared to the
much larger nearby Snowmass ski area, and retains a unique cultural flavor that
hearkens to the earlier days of recreational skiing in the state. The ski area is
located within the White River National Forest and is operated under permit from the
United States Forest Service.
Prior to 1946, the mountain had been the site of skiing using a crude boat lift, and by
the use of the jeep trails up the back side of the mountain on Midnight Mine Road.
The foundation of the ski area in 1946 was accomplished by the building of the
single-chair chairlift, Lift-1, which opened on December 14, 1946 as the longest
chairlift in the world at the time. Lift-1 was superseded in 1972 by two double
chairlifts, Shadow Mountain and Ruthie's. Access to the mountain was radically
changed in 1986 with the installation of the Silver Queen Gondola, a gondola lift
which ascends to the summit of Aspen Mountain, with a vertical rise of 3,267 ft (996
m). The area's lifts also include 1 high-speed quad, 1 high-speed double, 2 quads,
and 3 doubles.
The gondola is one of two lifts, along with the Little Nell chairlift, which ascend from
Gondola Plaza in the heart of the downtown Aspen. The configuration allows visitors
to ascend the mountain from the center of town, and ski down the Little Nell Run back into town. The mountainside contains hidden and open remains of the intense
silver mining activity from the Colorado Silver Boom in the late 1880s and early 1890s. In January of 2001, it was decided to end Aspen Mountain's long-time ban on
snowboarding. However, as a courtesy to season-pass holders, the resort was not
officially opened to snowboarders until April 1, 2001.
The longest run is 3 miles/4.8 km. The lift capacity is 10,755 riders per hour. The
average annual snowfall is 300 inches (7.6 m). It has snowmaking capabilities of
210 acres (0.8 km²), which comprises approximately one-third of the area. The
mountain is considered moderate-to-difficult with no "green" (beginner) runs. Novice
skiers must go to Snowmass, Buttermilk, or Aspen Highlands. Approximately 26% of
the terrain is considered expert. The season on the mountain ranges from late
November to early April. It is typically the last area, along with nearby Snowmass, in
the resort complex to close for the winter.
The ski area has a unique "homespun" culture that dates from its early foundation
as part of the Utopian social experiment in Aspen created by Walter Paepcke in the
1940s, retaining somewhat of a throwback culture in comparison to the other three
areas of the complex. The culture is reflected in the numerous homemade
memorials and tributes that dot the trees of mountains created in honor of famous
personages such as John Denver and Hunter S. Thompson.
PLACE TO VISIT
John Denver Park - this Aspen park is a pleasant place to take your dog or your
kids for a splash in the creek in summertime. The park is named after the famous
Country and Folk singer who resided in Aspen. Lyrics from his most popular songs
are inscribed in the creekside boulders. John Denver Park is on the creek trail on the
north side of Aspen, near the Rio Grande Ball Field and park at N. Mill St. and Rio
Maroon Bells - a short drive outside of Aspen, the Maroon Bells are one of the
most photographed mountain scenes in Colorado. The lake and views of the 14,000
ft range are spectacular. A very short trail leads to the lake from the parking lot, and
continues onwards approximately a mile to a 2nd higher lake and then through a
u-shaped glacier carved valley. To get to the Maroon Bells, turn south on Maroon
Creek Rd from Hwy 82 approximately 8 miles. In summer, it is not always possible
to drive directly to the parking lot during daytime hours (8am-5pm) and visitors must
take a shuttle bus from Aspen.
HOW TO REACH
By air - Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, . Major carriers to Aspen include United, US
Airways, Delta Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. ASE is a small airport for small planes
only, and traffic tends to stop in any inclement weather. Flying into Denver Airport and
driving up to Aspen is more reliable and often cheaper.
By car - The drive to Aspen is about 4 hours from Denver. There are two major
routes from Denver - through Glenwood Springs or through Independence Pass.
Independence Pass is only open in the summer months, but provides spectacular
views and can be a bit faster than the longer route through Glenwood. To take this
route, travel south from Copper Mountain exit off I70 through Leadville.