Aspen's status as a trendy destination for the stars is well known, its sophisticated restaurants, boutiques, galleries, nightlife and champagne powder attracting deep-pocketed skiers. There are significant changes in store for the 2006-07 winter season at Aspen/Snowmass (www.aspensnowmass.com), with more than $23 million in improvements slated for all four of its mountains.
Aspen Mountain's Silver Queen Gondola will get new six-passenger cabins with stunning 360-degree views. Snowmass will see a new gondola connecting the base area with the Elk Camp area, carrying guests in spacious eight-passenger cabins up 1,400 vertical feet in 7.5 minutes.
"This allows people to ski or ride the mountain in a whole different way," says Jeff Hanle, the resort's senior communications director. "The new gondola will quickly disperse early morning crowds and give beginners access to an alpine environment, which they didn't have before."
Other on-mountain upgrades will take place in the Snowmass Pipeline terrain park and at Aspen Highlands, where an additional 20 to 30 acres served by the Deep Temerity lift will be cleared and opened for the first time. 2006-2007 Aspen/Snowmass Schedule
Ask about the guided "Out-of-Bounds" backcountry skiing tours, free naturalist-guided skiing/riding tours and the new zip line tethered-jump apparatus on Snowmass Mountain, snowshoe tours and "free first tracks" by appointment, paragliding and hot air balloon rides.
The biggest news is the return of ESPN Winter X Games 11, taking place at Buttermilk at Aspen/Snowmass for a record sixth year in a row, January 25 through January 28, 2007. The event, which will remain at Aspen/Snowmass through 2010, features athletes from across the globe competing for prizes in Moto X, skiing, snowboarding and SnoCross snowmobiling.
Winter travelers to Aspen/Snowmass will have more choices of nonstop flights directly into the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) than ever before with new nonstop flights from both Chicago/O'Hare (ORD) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO). United will also be expanding their nonstop service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) this winter, as well as the frequency of their connecting service from Denver International Airport (DEN). Visit www.united.com or call United Reservations at 800-241-6522. Complete packages are available through Stay Aspen Snowmass, the official central reservations for the area, at www.stayaspensnowmass.com or 877-230-5077.
If you prefer to deal with the hotels directly, book one of the four properties ranked in the top 25 North American resorts in Condé Nast Traveler's annual ski poll: the Villas at the Snowmass Club (www.snowmassclub.com; agent contact: Marcie Flowers, 970-923-8309), which has Snowmass Village's top accommodations and an athletic club; and Aspen's "big three": the Hotel Jerome (www.hoteljerome.com, 800-331-7213), a member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World; the St. Regis Resort, Aspen (www.stregisaspen.com; agent contact: Luxury Collections, 800-835-3589), with 179 guest rooms and suites, a heated outdoor pool and the all new Remède Spa; and The Little Nell (www.thelittlenell.com; agent contact: Gail Hons, 970-920-6850), Aspen's only Mobil Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond hotel.
The Snowmass Club and the Jerome both offer fine dining, and the latter also has a lively nightlife spot, the J-Bar. The St. Regis and the Nell both have ski-in/ski-out locations at the base of Aspen Mountain across from the Silver Queen Gondola.
The best rooms to book are the Jerome's 775-square-foot Superior Suite, the St. Regis' 2,300-square-foot Presidential Suite, and the Little Nell's 2,000-square-foot Pfeifer Suite or its 2,500-square-foot Paepcke Suite.
There are also many smaller lodges in Aspen and Snowmass Village, and budget-minded clients can consider staying in nearby Basalt.
Aspen is stocked with many excellent restaurants; visit www.restauranteur.com/co/aspenarea.