The History of Skiing in Aspen, Colorado – Part II: The Four Mountains

Published by at under Local Interest

(This week, we conclude a two-part series on the history of skiing in Aspen, Colorado. Part one was published last week and is available on our blog.)

Thanks to early pioneers such as Friedl Pfeifer and Walter Paepcke, skiing in Aspen really began to take shape in the early 1950s. After hosting the FIS World Skiing Championships in 1950 – the first one held outside of Europe – many began to view Aspen as a skier’s paradise, including those outside of the country. Skiing in the summers, along with cultural events hosted by Paepcke in the summers, began to keep tourists in town all year long. The work of those two men – along with countless others – helped to contribute to what Aspen is today – a four-mountain skier and snowboarder paradise. Below, we take a closer look at the development of each of the four mountains – Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass.

Aspen, Colorado, sits at the base of Aspen Mountain.

Aspen, Colorado, sits at the base of Aspen Mountain.

ASPEN MOUNTAIN

Aspen Mountain, or “Ajax” as some locals call it, is located in downtown Aspen (or “above” you might say). From Gondola Plaza in downtown Aspen, the Silver Queen Gondola today takes skiers and snowboarders on a 3,267-foot vertical rise to the summit. Its configuration allows visitors to ascend the mountain from the center of town, and ski down the Little Nell Run back to town.

The very first chair lift in Aspen – a single-seat chairlift known as “Lift-1” – was constructed in 1946 and, at the time, was the longest chairlift in the world. Many of the first employees were former members of the famed 10th Mountain Division, of which Pfeifer had been a member. The venerable Lift-1 was in operation until 1972, when it was replaced by two double chairlifts – Ruthie’s and Shadow Mountain. Access to the mountain was drastically changed in 1986 when the Silver Queen Gondola was installed.

Interesting note: Snowboarders were officially “banned” from Aspen Mountain until 2001. Today, all riders are welcome on the mountain.

Skiing: Aspen Mountain is considered moderate-to-difficult with no beginner runs.

The skiing is great at Aspen Highlands. Try the Highlands Bowl - if you dare!

The skiing is great at Aspen Highlands. Try the Highlands Bowl – if you dare!

ASPEN HIGHLANDS

A man named Whip Jones first developed the land for what is now Aspen Highlands in 1958 after the Forest Service suggested that it would be a great place for a ski area. When it opened that year, it had three lifts – including the world’s longest single-section double chairlift.

In 1993, Jones died and donated Aspen Highlands to his alma mater, Harvard University. Harvard later sold it to a Texas developer for $18.3 million before – eventually – it became part of the Aspen Skiing Company.

In 2002, Aspen Highlands opened the famed Highlands Bowl and other expert terrain.

Interesting note: Aspen Highlands is considered a local’s favorite. Frias Properties offers ski-in, ski-out lodging at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Club at the base of Aspen Highlands and only steps from the Exhibition ski lift.

Skiing: The Highlands Bowl is a must – if you’re prepared for such endeavors. Otherwise, it’s great skiing with usually fewer crowds.

Buttermilk offers the easiest terrain of the four mountains.

Buttermilk offers the easiest terrain of the four mountains.

BUTTERMILK MOUNTAIN

Buttermilk opened for the 1958-59 season amid a booming interest in skiing. Although it began slowly, by 1962 it had installed a pair of chairlifts and a restaurant at the top of the mountain. Although Buttermilk and Aspen Mountain were located close to one another, there was little competition between the two. In fact, the Aspen Skiing Corporation handled Buttermilk’s marketing and ticket sales for many years. In 1963, the Aspen Skiing Company officially bought Buttermilk Mountain.

Interesting note: X Games!!! Buttermilk has hosted the ESPN Winter X Games since 2002.

Skiing: Buttermilk is the easiest skiing, making it fun for beginners and families. Their ski school is spectacular!

There's plenty of great intermediate skiing and snowboarding opportunities at Snowmass. (Photo by Jeremy Swanson)

There’s plenty of great intermediate skiing and snowboarding opportunities at Snowmass. (Photo by Jeremy Swanson)

SNOWMASS

In the 1950s, Aspen Mountain was booming, and developers were quickly thinking of ideas for additional skiing facilities nearby. Aspen architect Fritz Benedict and engineer Hans Sarbach approached the Forest Service initially in 1957. However, numerous political and official obstacles stood in the way, and Snowmass did not officially open for business until Dec. 17, 1967. Over the years, the ski area was further developed, and it flourished. In the 1980s, Snowmass owners sought to expand onto Burnt Mountain – but again many political obstacles arose. In the early 1990s, they were finally granted permission. Today, it is owned by the Aspen Skiing Company.

Interesting note: Snowmass has the most vertical feet of skiing of any ski area in the United States.

Skiing: It’s known as an intermediate skier’s paradise.

Need help finding a vacation rental or ski lodging for your Aspen vacation? We even have luxury lodging available at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands – mentioned in the blog above. Call a local Frias vacation specialist at 800-542-7736 and get the scoop! Tell them you read about Frias in our blog! Remember, you’ll always receive the best available rate at Frias Properties of Aspen!

 

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