This ski resort in legendary Aspen is far more beginner- and family-friendly than you’d ever think!
Aspen Snowmass has 3,339 acres of skiable terrain adjacent to three additional mountains that are just a hop, skip, and jump away (Buttermilk, Aspen, Aspen Highlands). As the largest of the four mountains, it’s a perfect destination for a family with a wide variety of ski abilities… or no skill ability at all, as off-slope activities abound. Snowmass recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the all-new Snowmass Base Village now boasts an ice rink and climbing wall. Both the Base Village and the Snowmass Mall offer a wide variety of shopping and restaurants, and a free shuttle or commuter gondola gets you to wherever you want to go. Snowmass is skiing (or boarding) made easy.
KidTripster Tip: Booking directly through the resort’s website is really the way to go. You can access an incredibly helpful, pre-arrival concierge that will answer any questions that you may have about lodging, skiing, rentals, and “Kids Ski Free” promotions. When you book with the resort, your entire vacation is conveniently bundled. Speaking of convenience, if you rent your equipment from Four Mountain Sports, you can leave your skis or board each night for free near Elk Gondola; that way, you don’t have to lug them back to your accommodations.
Photo courtesy: Aspen Skiing Company
Where to stay?
If you’re looking for the creature comforts of home, look no further than Tamarack Townhomes just across the street from Base Village, offering 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom units. Each unit has everything that you possibly could need: a fully-equipped kitchen, fireplace, grill, bunk beds, and more. There’s a heated pool, hot tub, and even some outdoor space for building snowmen and forts at the end of the day. Rates start at $215/night during ski season.
KidTripster Tip: If you book with Tamarack, take advantage of your full kitchen and get grocery delivery from Clark’s Market. For a fee, the market will get your unit key from the hotel while you’re out on the slopes (or even before you arrive) and provide delivery service straight to your refrigerator. You’ll save tons of money on eating out, even if you just commit to having breakfast in your unit.
Viceroy Hotel near Base Village is a ski-in/ski-out hotel that offers multi-bedroom suites. It’s located right on Assay Hill, a green run perfect for beginners and those getting their ski legs back. The hotel sports a beautiful patio with a heated pool and hot tub for some of Snowmass’ hottest après ski parties. Rates start at $375/night during ski season.
The Westin Snowmass Resort in Snowmass Mall has incredible views from almost every room plus all the perks of a Marriott hotel including a spa, fitness center, and lap pool. It also has a really fun (and complimentary) kids’ club where the staff will watch and feed your kiddos while you relax and eat dinner at the hotel. Rates start at $229/night during ski season.
Photo courtesy: Tamarack Townhouses
What to do on the slopes?
The ski school (ages 2-1/2 and up) at Snowmass is really one of the best in the world. Nearly every instructor that I met here had decades of experience. Snowmass offers specialty lessons for first-timers that start with an equipment review and chairlift etiquette lesson. Newbies are grouped with two or three other first-time skiers or boarders. Each day, your instructor evaluates your skills and places you with the appropriate group. While the instructor tries to keep you with your original mates, you’ll be placed at a higher level if you happen to process more quickly. The idea is to ensure that you’re properly challenged. Parents can expect a full report at the end of the day on their child’s progress. My 7-year-old was comfortably skiing green runs in just two days. From what my husband and I heard from his instructor, the first half day is challenging for most kids. Once they learn how to stop and go, there’s a huge confidence boost and a re-energized attitude. He had such wonderful support from his instructors, and he asked to ski before and after his lesson each day.
Adult lessons intentionally start at 10 a.m., so that you can drop your children off at their lessons at 9:30 a.m. The instructors are incredibly experienced and do a great job sharing their insights when it comes to your progress. They help with even the most basic of things, like clever ways to kick snow off of your boots before clicking in or strategic ways to get up after you’ve fallen. If you’re a first-timer like I was, they encourage you to attend ski school for three consecutive days. If you’re a returning skier and are interested in more challenging runs or even switching to snowboarding, there are a wide variety of options for you. Talking with a ski school representative before you arrive will help match you with the proper instructor.
Snowmass has three, large, beginner-friendly zones on the mountain: Assay Hill, Fanny Hill, and the new Elk Camp up the mountain. At first, heading up a gondola for 15 minutes can seem intimidating. But once you arrive at the top, you’re welcomed into what the resort lovingly calls “Beginner Magic.” There are magic carpets to take you up very modest hills where you’ll spend most of your first day.
The Treehouse Adventure Center houses ski school, equipment rental, and day care for little ones - all under one roof. Your standard day care includes lunch and snacks and serves kids from 8 weeks to 4 years old in age-appropriate areas. Daycare for children (ages 2 to 3) includes a one-hour ski lesson nearby. Children (ages 4 to 6) can expect to spend more time outside. If your child is older than 6, they should expect to spend the vast majority of the day outside on the slopes.
What to do off the slopes?
At Elk Camp, you’ll find a magic carpet that will take you to a fun tubing experience that is rarely crowded. Adjacent to the tubing run, ride the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster. It’s like something we’d never seen before. Imagine a luge sled on tracks. Riders wind their way through the forest on an elevated track at speeds of up to 28 mph. Both tubing and the coaster are perfect activities for when you need a break from skiing or snowboarding. Tubing cost: $39/2.5 hours. Coaster cost: $39-35.
KidTripster Tip: Bundle your tubing and coaster reservations and you’ll pay $54 per person. Book online before you arrive to secure your time slot. Spots can fill up.
Snowmass has 60 miles of cross-country ski trails for you to explore with skis or lightweight snowshoes. Rather ride? You’ll howl with joy as a team of Krabloonik’s Alaskan huskies pull you through pristine Snowmass backcountry and then back to a rustic restaurant for lunch or dinner. Cost: Youth (ages 3-9) $195; Adult $325.
One of Snowmass’ most popular activities is the Moonlit Trek. It happens every full moon and new moon. Essentially, you trek around the Snowmass Golf Course by the light of the moon and stars using cross-country skis or snowshoes. Along the way, you stop for hot cocoa and cookies. At the end of the evening, enjoy a pasta dinner and s’mores under the stars at the Black Saddle Bar & Grille. Cost with dinner: $19.67/person; Rentals $10/person; reservations are required.
Need a day just for shopping? Aspen is known for having the best mountain town shopping in America. Just hop on a free shuttle. There’s no shortage of fashion and beauty boutiques, particularly for women. Think Gucci, Prada, and Ralph Lauren. Yes, you may just be window shopping!
Après ski isn’t just for adults. Snowmass offers a variety of free programming when ski lessons end for the day, including free daily s’mores outside at Base Village. Keep an eye out for VIK (Very Important Kid) events posted throughout the resort. In addition on Friday nights during the winter, the resort holds Ullr Nights. These family parties at Elk Camp have live music, tubing, snowbiking under the lights, food plus s’mores and a bonfire.
Photo courtesy: Aspen Skiing Company
Where to eat?
Located slopeside at Base Village, you’ll find Base Camp Bar and Grill. It’s really a crowd-pleaser and a restaurant that you’ll likely find yourself at more than once. It has a large dining room as well as a large outdoor patio with fire pits and couches. The eatery serves a nice variety of sharable appetizers and heartier entrèes to refuel after a long day.
KidTripster Tip: Exhausted? Too crowded? Call ahead to the Base Camp Bar and Grill and take your dinner to go.
On the mountain, Elk Camp Restaurant is your go-to. If you’re taking beginner ski lessons, you’ll likely lunch here as it’ll otherwise take you 20 minutes to ride the gondola down to anything else. The good news is that it offers a wide variety of local, organic selections including paninis, salads, soups, and hand-tossed pizzas. Alcoholic beverages also are plentiful. Outdoor seating is available.
KidTripster Tip: Try to eat at an off-peak time as it can get very crowded around noon.
At Snowmass Mall, I recommend Venga Venga. This restaurant is a fantastic option for anyone looking for some legit Mexican food. The Mexican Tortilla Soup is a crowd favorite, and the margaritas can’t be beat. There may be a 20-minute wait here, but I think it’s worth it.
Photo courtesy: Venga Venga
Direct flights from ten major cities arrive at Aspen Pitkin County Airport each day during ski season. It’s a small but convenient airport with a short ride to Base Village. There are often weather delays or cancellations at Eagle (70 miles away), Grand Junction (130 miles away) or in Denver (200 miles away), so flying non-stop will improve your chances of arriving on time.
The best part about flying out of Aspen Pitkin County Airport is that you only need to arrive 30 minutes before your flight, meaning more family time at the resort! Security only takes about five minutes.
Getting around Snowmass is very convenient. If you’ve booked through the resort, you can always call the concierge for private transportation, but the free shuttles are so frequent that there’s really no need. Bus stops are located near all condominium and hotel complexes in Snowmass Village.
KidTripster Tip: When you arrive, find the closest stop to your accommodations and scan the QR code. It’ll automatically send you to the schedule page. You’ll be hopping around Snowmass in no time.
Christa Reed is a born and raised Chicagoan. She studied Television Production and Marketing at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and earned a Masters Degree in Communications Management from the University of Southern California. In her free time, she volunteers for the Little Giraffe Foundation who supports parents and patients of the neonatal intensive care unit and the Shedd Aquarium. She lives in her Boston Terriers’ Chicago home with her son and husband.
This writer received some complimentary lessons for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.