by Paul Maraschiello


I hate to admit it, but I never skied Aspen before. I have heard a lot about this great ski area with three mountains, but I had never gotten around to skiing there. This was my big chance. I was spending almost two weeks in Colorado and I had put Aspen on my list. When I looked at the map, Aspen was just a 45 minute ride from where I was staying in Leadville BUT that was in the summer. In the winter, it was a three-hour drive because the pass was closed.

With that in mind, I decided to drive to Aspen after a day of skiing. I headed west on the interstate and discovered my first surprise. The speed limit out the is 70 MPH in some places, so you can really make some time traveling on the highway. The trip was delightful and filled with a lot of really great views and vistas. When I got to Aspen, I had no difficulty finding my accommodations. I was staying in another hostel/lodge that was a little more upscale that the one I stayed at in Leadville. The rooms were smaller but they did have a heated pool and a steam bath. The price was very reasonable ($35) for a bunk room that sleeps three people. I was there midweek so I had the room all to myself.

I was up early, anticipating a great day of skiing at Aspen. I decided to ski Ajax Mountain. I had heard a lot about that mountain and I was not disappointed. The base elevation is 7,945 ft. With a summit elevation of 11,212 ft. There is a 3,267 ft. vertical with 673 acres of skiable terrain. They have 76 trails (all of them intermediate or expert trails) that provide 64 miles of skiing. There are no easy (green) trails at Ajax. The novice trails are at the other mountains (Buttermilk, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands).

The longest run is 3 miles and is guaranteed to give you thigh burn.

I rode up the Silver Queen Gondola and was impressed with what I saw. I noted that a lot of the terrain had a double fall line and there were shoots and gullies to temp your skiing skill. There were a lot of expert trails to choose from. I skied trails with names like Corkscrew, Bear Paw and Glade 1, testing my skills against the bumps and moguls. I did some cruising down Little Nell and Ruthie's Run and other trails too numerous to mention. I skied the FIS trail, and did a few bumps on Bell.

I had lunch at the Sundeck and enjoyed the rotisserie chicken which was a really good value. The people were friendly. A ski instructor joined me for lunch and we had a pleasant time chatting while filling our faces. I also meet a young ski racer that took a run with me back down to the bottom of the mountain. It was fun to follow this athlete down the hill, making his turns and proving to myself that although I have accumulated a little age, I can still turn on the speed and keep up with the younger crowd.

I really had a blast skiing Ajax and decided to ski there for a second day. I'll save Buttermilk, Snowmass and Aspen Highlands for another trip. They got about six-eight inches of powder over night and I had a blast skiing the powder. I explored Ajax, skiing all the trails I could find.

On the second day, I had visited Bonnie's Restaurant, situated on the side of the mountain. I enjoyed a hot chocolate and took a break after skiing my brains out all day. After a hard day of skiing, I treated myself to a moca at the Ajax tavern at the base of the mountain. I was really great to ski all the interesting and challenging trails on this world-class mountain.

The town of Aspen is like a little city. It's kind of like skiing at the mall with all the new trendy shops located at the base of the gondola. There isn't any parking near the base of the mountain but that doesn't matter because there is a free bus service that will take you almost anyplace you want to go in Aspen.

I have to admit that I really liked skiing Ajax. I was bushed after skiing all day, so I went back to the lodge and took a little snooze.

When I woke up, I was hungry, so I went out for dinner. I had eaten at the Cantina the night I arrived but the Mexican food there was just OK. I was interested in finding a really good restaurant and I succeeded. I was lucky to stumble upon the Mother Lode, a restaurant with turn-of-the-century decor. I had a really great meal with white pizza as an appetizer and shrimp scampi over linguine as a main course. Even though I am a big eater, I could not finish all the food and left with a doggy bag filled with pizza that wound up being a snack for the ride home the next day. There are more than 50 restaurants in Aspen where you can find almost anything you want. There is even a dinner theater called the Crystal Palace which is located next door to the Mother Lode.

I was too tired and stuffed to enjoy the night life, so I just went back to the lodge and hit the sack. There are plenty of night clubs and bars in Aspen and I am sure you can have a good time in one of the over 20 bars in Aspen.

There are many trendy shops in Aspen and more good-looking women in full-length fur coats and cowboy hats than I have ever seen in any ski area. This is definitely a playground for the rich but a ski bum like me can have a great time there too.

I would rate Aspen high on my list of great ski areas and plan on skiing there again. I didn't see any movie stars but I did meet plenty of people who can really ski. Ajax is a skier's mountain and now I know why so many of my friends like to ski there.