ASPEN THE TOWN & THE MOUNTAIN
by Paul Maraschiello

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I headed off to Aspen with great expectations. It had been a while since I had skied there and I was really looking forward to skiing there again. I looked at the route I had received from Yahoo's Map Quest but something did not jive. They had me going through Leadville but I was sure that the pass through the mountains was closed in the Winter, so I continued on Rt. 70. I was right. When I got off the highway and headed south on 82, I saw a sign that said the pass was closed.



Accommodations
I was staying at the St. Moritz which is a very reasonably priced ski lodge that offers private lodge rooms, Hostel rooms (2-3 beds with in-room fridge) and 1-2 bedroom condos. Winter rates start at $35 (before Xmas) and go to $49 (peak season) for a Hostel room, lodge rooms (with bath) range from $135 - $258 and condos $139 - $398. All the guests receive a complementary continental breakfast and the use of the heated pool and steam room. My guess is that this is the best lodging bargain in Aspen. It is only two blocks from the free shuttle bus and within walking distance from the heart of Aspen where restaurants and shopping abound. Many of the guests stay there on a regular basis and there are even a few real ski bums that stay there full-time. Everyone I met there was very pleasant and I highly recommend this ski lodge for the budget-minded. For reservations call: (800) 817-2069 or (970) 925-3220.



Skiing
The last time I was at Aspen, I only skied Ajax Mountain. It's a great mountain and has more terrain than you can ski in a weekend. In addition to Ajax, there are three other ski areas in Aspen: Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. There is shuttle bus service to all of them from town, so transportation isn't a problem.





My first day, I skied Ajax and had a great time. It was snowing all day and the powder was as smooth as velvet. I rode up the gondola and then rode the chairlifts, ,skiing intermediate and expert trails all day long. I had forgotten what Aspen was like and was impressed with the vast terrain with it's double fall lines. 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 restaurant on the top of the mountain and feasted on a large chicken caesar salad and small bottle of orange juice that came to almost $18 (Aspen ain't cheap). I met a very nice couple from Iceland who I invited to joined me at my table. There were a lot of Europeans in Aspen due to the lack of snow in the Alps. I even met some folks from the Washington, DC, Baltimore and Anapolis area who invited me to join them for a beer at Ajax tavern at the end of the day.



Stats
Annual snowfall: 300 inches | Lifts: 8 | Base elevation: 7,945 ft. | Summit elevation: 11,212 ft. | Vertical rise: 3,267 ft. | Terrain: 673 acres | Number of trails: 76 | Miles: 64 miles | Longest run: 3 miles | Steepest run: Elevator Shaft section of the Silver Queen run - slope angle of 42 degrees | Terrain: easiest: 0%; more difficult: 48%; most difficult: 26%; expert - 26%

As the day wore on, it began to snow harder and harder. By 2:15 p.m., I was skiing by brail and decided to ride the gondola down and fetch my goggles from my ski bag but by the time I got to the bottom, I decided not to push my luck and called it a day.



People
I found the people that I met at Aspen to be very friendly. I went back to the St. Moritz and took a little rest before heading to the heated pool. Some of the guests that I met in the pool suggested that I try Jimmy's Restaurant on Mill St. for dinner. They all agreed that it was VERY friendly and they were right. I sat down at a table in the bar area and before I finished my first drink, a group of Germans asked I they could join me at my table. I said "sure" and they gathered around the table and ordered a round of drinks. I dusted off my college German and started speaking to them in their native tongue. I'm sure that they got a kick out of an American trying to speak German and we had a swell time. After a few more rounds of drinks, a little dinner and a lot of conversation, I was ready to head back to the lodge and some sleep.



Aspen is a great town and a lot of fun. If you are an expert skier, you'll love Ajax mountain and if you are a skier of lesser ability, there is still a lot to choose from in Aspen.



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