Plein Air Painting at Ski Resorts, Part III: Aspen Mountain

Aspen is one of those places that holds a special place in American ski culture.  Movies like Aspen Extreme, and Dumb and Dumber have placed it in any skier’s back pocket as a must ski.  Aspen Snowmass Resort encompasses four mountains, all with their special amenities.  Snowmass is huge, and has a wide variety of terrain.  It has gondolas and high speed lifts galore. Snowmass is on point, and doesn’t fail to deliver a great skiing experience.  I think my favorite part about it is the wide open skiing boulevards that a hundred skiers can utilize all at once without even thinking about hitting each other.  We didn’t get to check out Buttermilk, but it offers easier terrain suited for beginner skiers, and also has a huge terrain park for young people who want to pull off a triple corkscrew, while capturing video with their mom’s iPhone.  Aspen Highlands is probably amazing on a powder day, with its long steep runs, and its famous Highland Bowl.  I didn’t get to go to Aspen Highlands because we only had two tickets, and I wanted to go to the world famous OG Aspen Mountain.  

The Monday after the Super Bowl, Maria and I crawled out of bed and made our way to reclaim our skis from the pro-shop in the village at Snowmass.  Maria had a full tune done, and I had ordered a hot wax treatment. After getting our skis out of hawk we went back down the hill to the parking lot and awaited a bus to take us to Aspen Mountain.  The bus driver was really grumpy!  I have been in so many ski busses, and normally the drivers love their jobs. One time I even had a bus driver give me a replacement loaner ski pole when I broke one of mine.  Not this one. It became comical, as she was yelling at passengers, other drivers, and it overall felt like a bit straight out of Saturday Night Live.  This bus made every stop at Snowmass,  Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and then through the town of Aspen. When we arrived at the base of Aspen Mountain, we jumped off a bit early as we didn’t want to bring on the wrath by asking where our stop was. I waited a good two minutes while she drove away before even thinking of crossing the road. I was sure she would run me over just out of spite.  

Aspen Mountain is a wonderful place to ski! On our gondola ride to the top, a local gentleman gave us a bird-eye tour. He told us the history of the area, where to ski and were we could have lunch.  Aspen Snowmass has done a great job with outdoor seating on mountain.  Vistas looking over Aspen Highlands and the Valley were matched with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs.  We shared an early day beer and ripped some corduroy. The grooming was immaculate. We were there on yet another Colorado bluebird “packed powder” day… AKA icy conditions.  I wasn’t there to get the best snow (although it would have been nice). It seems we have plenty of that back home here in Alaska.  I was there for ski culture, and that is what we found.  All the black diamonds needed a bit more snow. All I found on the off-piste slopes was mixed rocks and chest high moguls.  Maria and I went to the Sundeck Lodge for a cookie, and I executed my third little plein-air painting of the trip.  It was still a bit early for lunch, so I pretty much had the deck to myself to start out. Gorgeous views and wonderful sunny weather made painting this one a dream.  Maria got a free cookie for using her Aspen app on her phone, and munched half of it before heading out for a run, while I wrapped up my little piece.  Upon completion, I tried the cookie and packed up.  A trio of Canadian Jays, just like the ones we endure in McCarthy, came to visit.  I broke up the cookie and told the other people on the deck to “watch this.” Sure enough the hungry little buggers ate right from my hand. I impressed the onlookers more with my bird whispering skills than I did with my painting. 

Beautiful blue sky at Aspen Mountain!

I met Maria on my way out and she complained about the top lift taking forever to go 1/3 of the way up the hill.  We avoided it for the rest of the day and had a lovely lunch at Bonnie’s restaurant at mid-mountain. It reminded me of the Roundhouse at Sun Valley. I had a hearty soup.  It was Valentine’s Day, so we felt like we were on a date. We skied the rest of the mountain after lunch. I wanted to find a way up the mountain other than the gondola, which took a couple of runs, because I kept making wrong turns.  A good mountain guide on a new mountain can be really useful! 

I loved skiing at Aspen and Snowmass! I would not rule out a return visit, but next time I will stay longer than two days, so I can also ride Aspen Highlands, and hope for better snow! At least the visibility was excellent.  I was well aware of the giant moguls and rocks that were all over the place.  That evening we had a wonderful dinner at a cute little Thai restaurant in Basalt. We woke up the next morning to drive what seemed like a million miles past Yellowstone NP up to Jackson, Wyoming! Stay tuned next week for my plein-air painting, and mountain report of Jackson Hole.

Here is the little painting I painted on the mountain. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop for the price of a lift ticket at Aspen Mountain.

Aspen Mountain, painted en plein air (outside, on location). 7″x5″, oil on panel.

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