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G.R. Fielding skis the Cirque

Renowned for its sheer size and variety of terrain, the ski area can present a puzzle for those who don’t know it well. Snowmass General Manager Steve Sewell offers these tips for familiarizing yourself with the mountain.

Beginners

Go straight to Elk Camp Meadows, atop the Elk Camp Gondola, where an area specifically for learners has been developed. With two Magic Carpets and a short chairlift that accesses gentle slopes with a minimum of terrain changes, “you can develop your skills before branching out,” says Sewell. Next up: try green runs such as Dawdler and Scooper off the Village Express chairlift from the base. If you’re a first-timer, however, “do yourself a favor, take a lesson,” says Sewell.   

Intermediates

Snowmass offers so many choices of wide-open cruisers that “you can’t really go wrong,” says Sewell, who nevertheless has a couple of recommendations. On a clear day, venture to the top of Elk Camp, where you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views of the Maroon Bells (ideal for that family vacation portrait) and “nice, easy cruising.” And don’t miss the Alpine experience and variety of cruisers off the Big Burn, which offers widely spaced tree skiing, the result of a 19th-century fire that naturally cleared the area.

Advanced

Timing is key for seekers of the steep and deep. “If it’s a powder morning, be there early,” says Sewell, noting that the Village Express chairlift opens at 8:30 a.m. (the earliest of any of the lifts on the four Aspen/Snowmass mountains). Patrol moves from west to east (i.e., from Garrett Gulch to the Cirque to Hanging Valley) doing control work, so roughly follow their timing into freshly opened terrain to reap the biggest rewards.

Classic Cruisers

Snowmass’s grooming program hits plenty of areas, but two runs nightly get the full treatment top to bottom on each of the mountain’s four sections, as well as one black diamond overall. In addition, the noon groom freshens up one run daily. Grab a grooming report—conveniently accessible on the Aspen/Snowmass app—and hit the corduroy.

If the black-diamond Campground run is groomed top to bottom, take it for the consistent top pitch that gets your legs going, followed by some rollers and steep sections lower down for added challenge.

The Big Burn has many cruisers, but when it’s groomed, Whispering Jesse delivers loud and clear. Thanks to its limited access from other runs, ride it with confidence—and enjoy some floating air off its rollers—with little chance of having to dodge other skiers.

When groomed, the black-diamond run the Edge skis like a dark blue—a great place to sharpen those downhill skills. Extend the experience on Naked Lady or Slider—the latter a more off-the-beaten-track cruiser—all the way down to the Alpine Springs chair.

Sandy Park off Elk Camp boasts amazing views of the Hanging Valley, as well as a perfect pitch for mellow, sweeping turns all the way down.

On a sunny day, West Fork—one of the often overlooked runs accessed from the Two Creeks chairlift—offers some of the best and most peaceful cruising on the mountain.

Primed for Powder

With so much terrain that runs don’t get skied out as quickly as at other mountains, Snowmass caches plenty of powder nooks and crannies.

Trying to perfect your powder technique? You won’t find a better place than the consistent, relatively gentle pitch of the Big Burn. Dip into Powerline Glades, which is rarely skied out before early afternoon, to up the challenge.

Check out the largely undiscovered Sneaky’s Glades, created when the patrol moved out the ski area boundary ropes a few years ago; dense trees at the top open into large, sparsely trafficked glades.

For unbroken powder during a cold storm, head for the sleeper runs off the Campground lift, the last remaining fixed-grip lift to access advanced terrain on Snowmass. Lesser-skied runs like Bear Claw and lower Powderhorn offer up satisfyingly steep pitches.

The Hanging Valley area holds numerous great powder runs, but those in the know skip the hike to the headwall and head straight for the endless stashes in Hanging Valley Glades, off the Edge, then take a straight shot into the steeps and less-tracked lines in Willy’s.

Get to know some of the lines in the backcountry-style Burnt Mountain Glades (and the way out) before a big powder day for a no-stress experience in this remote yet gentle terrain.

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