Aspen reasonably calls to mind images of cold weather, a destination where well-dressed skiers whoosh down the slopes and then après fireside at high-end lodges (with Champagne and caviar in hand, we imagine).
But just nine miles away, a more relaxed vibe reigns in the slopeside town of Snowmass—especially during the summer.
When the weather warms, the snow-obsessed crowds depart the Aspen-Snowmass area, making room for a wellness-focused set interested in reconnecting with the outdoors or kicking it at the rodeo or long-running music festivals. The more relaxed vibe brings the locals out to mingle with out-of-towners looking to unplug.
More walkable and approachable than Aspen, Snowmass is also just a short direct flight from SFO—it can take half the time of driving up to Tahoe—making the town a perfect destination for exploring Colorado's mountaintop bounty at a fraction of the price of winter.
GETTING TO + AROUND SNOWMASS
The Aspen/Pitkin County Airport sits just six miles from Snowmass, and United offers direct flights from SFO daily during the summer and two to three flights available most days in the winter. You can also fly into Denver, but be prepared for a long (roughly 220 miles) yet picturesque drive into town.
Once you're in Snowmass, frequent shuttles make traversing the town and ski village simple, although most attractions are walkable, depending on your fitness level and ability to acclimate to the elevation change. A colorful gondola cheerily nicknamed the Skittles connects base camp with Snowmass Village. Ride-sharing between Snowmass and Aspen is available but pricey depending on availability, so most locals take the free RFTA buses connecting the two towns—catch the bus from Snowmass Village and switch to the Aspen bus at the Intercept lot for a cheap and painless way to see both areas. Buses run until 2am daily, so you'll always have a safe ride home after a night of debauchery in either town.
THINGS TO DO IN SNOWMASS
On Thursday nights, join pretty much everyone at the free Snomass concert series.
(Jeremy Swanson Photography)
Out on a Weeknight
The summer season definitely doesn't mean a slowdown in Snowmass. You'll find weekly events most nights around the mountain, including Fridays on the Mall—a new music and arts gathering on the main Snowmass Mall that includes performances from students of the nearby Aspen Music School—and Farm to Table Tuesday dinners at the on-mountain Elk Camp Restaurant, when visits from local purveyors and live music complement the food. // But the summer's longest-running events tend to be the biggest draws: The 45-year-old Wednesday night Snowmass Rodeo shows no signs of slowing down in middle age, and kicks off with a barbecue before traveling cowboys and cowgals rope and ride bucking broncos and bulls. For some lighthearted fun, don't miss the kids' events, which include a calf scramble (where the kiddos try and grab a ribbon off the tails of calves released in the ring) and mutton-busting (where little ones aged 4–7 attempt to hold on to a wooly sheep for eight seconds). // Nearly all of Snowmass appears to ascend Fanny Hill with blankets and lawn chairs for the Thursday night Snowmass Free Concert Series (June through mid-August), which includes food vendors and a tent stocked with wine (you can grab a bottle to split), beer, and cocktails. The musical see-and-be-seen event celebrated its 27th season this year with a lineup that ranged from the Spin Doctors to folk band We Dream Dawn.
The slopes definitely don't sleep in the summer, especially up at Snowmass's new Lost Forest, an outdoor adrenaline junkie's dream that boasts fishing ponds, two disc golf courses, hiking trails, and a mountain-bike park. Grab a day pass ($84/day for adults), and hit the first Elk Camp gondola up the mountain for the park's highlights: a 5,700-foot-long alpine roller coaster that ratchets up to 24 miles per hour (you control the speed); an auto-belay climbing wall; seven-line treetop zipline; and a ropes challenge course that will have you scrambling up ropes, across logs, and through obstacles high off the ground.
Off mountain, explore the surrounding scenery with Blazing Adventures, an outdoor outfitting and tour company that offers open-Jeep tours through the historic town of Lenado, inflatable kayak and full-day white-water rafting excursions, and 12-mile downhill bike rides descending from the Maroon Bells—the most photographed peaks in North America—through the Maroon Valley. Blazing Adventures takes care of all the gear and transportation to and from accommodations in both Snowmass and Aspen, and your trek includes guilty-pleasure snacks (think Cheetos and Rice Krispie treats) and a cooler full of LaCroix and bottled water.
Take a Hike
There's no shortage of hiking trails in and around the Snowmass area to suit your schlepping style, whether you're more for solo jaunts or group excursions. If you'd rather go it alone, consider hiking from the Snowmass Mall to the Rim Trail to Spiral Point, where you can snap a few Instagram-worthy shots of your perfect yoga pose atop a large marble yin-yang at the summit with views of Mt. Daly in the distance. If you'd rather have a guide to give context to the surrounding flora and fauna, join a group hike with Aspen Center for Environment Studies (ACES), which leads a wildflower hike at 10am and an ice age discovery hike at 1pm from the resort's main mall. Hike Snowmass compiles the area's best hikes categorized by skill level, including the 3.45-mile Crater Lake trail around the Maroon Bells.
Founded in 1966, Anderson Ranch Arts Center (5263 Owl Creek Rd.) is an unusual mountain outpost dedicated to contemporary art—tour the galleries and studios and you're likely to see artists crafting their latest masterpieces. Tours include individualized and hands-on demonstrations; and if you time your visit for midday Friday, you may stumble across the ranch's lunchtime auction and optional $10 barbecue, both of which are open to the public.
EAT + DRINK IN SNOWMASS
Grab and Go
Local favorite Fuel Cafe (45 Village Run Cir.) does a brisk morning business despite the line that often snakes out the front door. It's hard to beat the breakfast tacos or burritos, but for something lighter, try the almond madness smoothie, which tastes like a good-for-you milkshake. // Snowmass newcomer Francesca's Empanadas (105 Daly Ln.) dishes out, what else, fresh Argentinian empanadas as well as flaky croissants. // You'll spy quite a few ice cream–smeared faces walking away from Pastores Taste of Philly (16 Kerns Rd.), where families line up at the takeout window for a slice of pizza or Philly-style hoagies and cheesesteaks chased with a scoop or two.
Casual Mountainside EatsSnowmass's oldest restaurant, The Stew Pot (62 Elbert Ln.), dishes out old-fashioned stews mixed with decidedly new-fashioned cocktails and happy hour. Daily changing specials keep things interesting even after 45 years, but you can't go wrong with the classic beef stew or a cup of the veggie chili. While the house-made soups and stews are surprisingly light, the desserts aren't—order the Snickers pie, topped with ice cream natch, and fuggedabout the calories. // Located at the top of the Elk Camp gondola, Elk Camp Restaurant elevates your typical slopeside buffet dining experience with an uber-fresh organic salad bar, rotisserie chicken station with grilled veggies and creamy mac 'n' cheese, and from-scratch wood-fired pizzas with gluten-free options. If a freak thunderstorm leaves you stranded up there, there are worse places to wait than with a glass of wine at the bar. // Big Hoss Grill (45 Village Run) not only doles out smoky barbecue—don't miss the brisket Bear Bryant sandwich—but also stick-to-your ribs, egg-laden breakfasts, and pancake stacks. // Sometimes you just want a simple slice, but you might as well spring for the whole pie at Slice Italian Bistro (69 Wood Run Rd.), where you can choose between the signature crispy-crusted pizzas and flatbreads or make a meal of the appetizers with a charcuterie board, calamari, and fried avocado with goat cheese.
Nice Night OutEven if you're not staying at the Viceroy Snowmass, it's worth visiting on-site restaurant Toro Kitchen and Lounge
(130 Wood St.), a swanky pan-Latin dining destination led by award-winning chef Herb Wilson. The menu combines Peruvian, Mexican, and South American influences for inventive takes on ceviche, grilled octopus, and adobo chicken inflected with locally sourced ingredients. The barrel-aged Manhattan and Vieux Carré make a perfect end to the meal, but we're fans of also splurging on a dessert like the seasonal mango and chocolate bar, which comes topped with chocolate that resembles horns from the restaurant's namesake animal. // Popular Italian dining destination Il Poggio (57 Elbert Ln.) offers a white-tablecloth experience without the pretension (or the linens), so reservations come in handy on busy weekend nights. Welcoming servers are more than happy to make pairing recommendations from the extensive wine list, with the reds in particular complementing menu standouts such as veal gnocchi, sweet potato ravioli tossed in browned butter and sage, and beef tenderloin in a red wine reduction. It'll be tempting to fill up on the fresh bread when it arrives at the table, but save some stomach space for the tiramisu or olive oil cake topped with zabaglione and marinated berries. // You could easily swing by Sake (110 Carriage Way) for the namesake rice wine alone (the restaurant offers free tasting classes every Monday), but the pan-Asian restaurant delivers surprisingly fresh sushi for a mountain town. If you're leery about raw fish from a landlocked state, Sake also serves a mishmash of other cuisines, with dishes that run the gamut from pad Thai to Mongolian beef. // The newest addition to Snowmass's dining scene, State 28 (110 Carriage Way), is the place you hit if you want to try offbeat proteins (think elk and bison) or sample super-fresh fish from across Colorado. Old-school steakhouse fare such as beer tartare and duck confit also reign supreme, making this second-level restaurant a perfect place for channeling your inner Mad Men vibe.
The outdoor patio is the main draw at Base Camp Bar and Grill (73 Wood Rd.), where you often have a prime view of the finish line for mountain races or events. Grab a seat alongside the long fire pit or at the outdoor bar, and order anything from a beer cocktail (try the IPA riff on a Moscow mule) to a bacon bloody Mary to sip with a build-your-own burger or miso mahi sandwich. During the summer season, wine is half-off on Wednesdays. // You'll be hard-pressed to find a better seat for the Thursday night concerts than on the outdoor patio at Venga Venga Cantina and Tequila Bar (105 Daly Ln.), Snowmass's only Mexican joint. The food is serviceable (especially on $3 taco Tuesdays), but the real draw is the extensive tequila and mezcal list: Try a vertical tasting to see the effect aging has on the spirit, or taste horizontally to see three different brands' expressions of tequilas similarly aged. // Don't be surprised if you find yourself returning to the New Belgium Ranger Station (100 Elbert Ln.) a few times during your visit to Snowmass: With around a dozen beers on draft; pub grub ranging from bison chili nachos to a turkey panini slathered in lingonberry jam; and Friday night Fat Tire beer specials and live music—it's a no-brainer. // Expect the meat sweats if you indulge in poutine or a platter at Slow Groovin' BBQ (67 Elbert Ln.), which transforms into a bit of a pickup scene on weekend evenings—mix-and-match shotskis (four shots lined up on a ski so you and three friends can shoot 'em back together), 16 draft beers, and heavy pours for the handcrafted cocktails help cultivate a spirited atmosphere. // Blink-and-you'll miss it bowling alley and lounge Slopeside Lanes (105 Daly Ln.) combos the drinking with six lanes, pool and Foosball tables, and wood-fired pizza if you need some carbs to sop up the booze.
WHERE TO STAY IN SNOWMASS
The quaint Stonebridge Inn (300 Carriage Way) checks all the boxes for a mountainside escape, with cabin-like decor and mountain views, an outdoor pool and hot tub, and buffet breakfast daily at The Artisan restaurant. Less expected touches? Wednesday night Flight Night, a Thursday night magician, and live acoustic music at the bar on Fridays. // If you're craving the opulence associated with the phrase "summering in Colorado," book a stay at Viceroy Snowmass (130 Wood Rd.), a dog-friendly ski-in/ski-out hotel. Located in the heart of Snowmass's Base Village, the flashy hotel includes a heated pool with terrace cabanas, weekend yoga, and a 7,000-square-foot spa with signature rituals inspired by the Ute people. // Come November 2018, Snowmass will unveil the first phase of its ambitious new $600 million Base Village construction project with the new Limelight Snowmass, a 99-room, posh ski in/ski out hotel that will include spa-side cabanas, a 1,000-square-foot fitness center, luxury vehicles at your disposal, and a five-story outdoor climbing wall with three self-belay routes.