Aspen is just as much an idea as it is a physical town.

It started with the silver rush in the 1870s — the idea that fortunes could be made in difficult places — and was reborn in the wake of World War II as a ski destination. Leading the way was a former member of the 10th Mountain Division, Friedl Pfeifer, who banded together with industrialist Walter Paepcke and his wife Elizabeth to make the town and its mountain a destination for those seeking renewal of their mind, body and spirit. As Walter once said, "Aspen had fishing, climbing, skiing. Aspen had so much to add to leisure, to the renewal of the inner spirit. It was the perfect setting for music, art, education…all the things that make life worth living.” This was the original vision behind the creation of the world renowned Aspen Institute, Aspen Music Festival and School, and overall ethos of renewal through cultural immersion in an inspiring and energizing community situated in the heart of the glorious Elk Mountain Range.

In 1950, Aspen hosted the United States’ first world skiing competition, which attracted more than 1,500 people and gave Aspen Mountain worldwide visibility. From that day forward, skiing in the valley would take on a whole new meaning. The concept of the Aspen Idea made its international debut in 1949 with the hosting of the Goethe Festival, attracting Albert Schweitzer, the world renowned musician, philosopher, physician and lecturer, for his first North American visit. It is these roots that have made Aspen, a sleepy little town far from the urban cultural centers, what it is today: a vibrant, beautiful, forward-looking community that attracts the world’s most passionate athletes, artists, thought-leaders and life enthusiasts. The energy created from our founding continues to inspire and inform us today as we evolve with new endeavors such as the Aspen Ideas Festival, X Games, the 2017 Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals, the Aspen Music Festival and School’s new campus and innovative programming, as well as the Shigeru Ban designed Aspen Art Museum.

Aspen Mountain — as well as Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk — have always been about more than just skiing.

The Aspen Idea

Best-selling author Walter Isaacson discusses the moments, feelings and perspectives that make Aspen Snowmass much more than just a place on a map.

Renew the Spirit

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The Creation of Aspen Skiing Company

1870s-1893: Silver Boom Years
Silver is discovered and mined from Aspen Mountain and several area mines in the adjacent valleys. The town of Aspen comes into existence and at the height of the boom, the town’s population peaks at 12,000.

The repeal of the Sherman Silver Act in 1893 causes a collapse in silver prices, and Aspen falls on hard times.
Aspen from Above in the 1800s. ©Aspen Historical Society
Aspen from Above in the 1800s. ©Aspen Historical Society

Photo: Aspen in the late 1800s. ©Aspen Historical Society.
1893 to 1940s: Quiet Ranching Years
With the collapse of silver, the area economy shifts to ranching, which is still an important part of the Roaring Fork Valley’s economy.

The seeds of change are planted in 1932 when the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York create an interest in alpine skiing in the United States. In 1938, an industrialist from Chicago named Walter Paepcke, and his wife Elizabeth, travel to Aspen and begin to see its potential as a skiing destination whose purpose would be the “renewal of the inner spirit.”

1945–1950: The beginning of Aspen Skiing Company
In 1945, Walter began acquiring land and met with the original founder of Aspen’s ski club and school, which he was looking to acquire. A deal was struck and in January 1946, the Aspen Skiing Company was incorporated.
Walter Paepcke surveys the creation of a ski resort on Aspen Mountain. ©Aspen Historical Society
Walter Paepcke surveys the creation of a ski resort on Aspen Mountain. ©Aspen Historical Society

Photo: Walter Paepcke looks up at Aspen Mountain. ©Aspen Historical Society
In its first year, ASC established a chair lift, a ski patrol, and held three races that garnered its difficult mountain terrain some notoriety. From the start, Paepcke’s ambition was noticeable, as Lift-1 immediately became the longest chairlift in the world.

In 1950, Aspen hosted the United States’ first world skiing competition, which attracted more than 1,500 people and gave Aspen Mountain worldwide visibility. From that day forward, skiing in the valley would take on a whole new meaning.
Video thumbnail of Walter Paepke
Video thumbnail of Walter Paepke

In Their Own Words: Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke

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Other Key Milestones in Aspen Snowmass History

Interested in the community's prospects as a summertime cultural center, Paepcke helps organize the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation, a celebration of German culture, which would evolve into the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and the Aspen Music Festival & School.
Friedl Pfeifer ©Aspen Historical Society
Friedl Pfeifer ©Aspen Historical Society

Photo: Friedl Pfeifer, Georgette Thuillier and Percy Rideout at the opening of Lift One at Aspen Mountain. ©Aspen Historical Society
Buttermilk in the early days. ©Aspen Historical Society
Buttermilk in the early days. ©Aspen Historical Society

Photo: Friedl Pfeifer skiing at Buttermilk. ©Aspen Historical Society
Friedl Pfeifer opens Buttermilk Mountain, Whip Jones opens Aspen Highlands and William Janss—a former ski racer and land developer—becomes interested in Snowmass and purchases the majority of the land at its base.

The first organized skiing on Snowmass begins that year, with Aspen Skiing Corporation offering snowcat powder tours on the Big Burn and Sam's Knob.
Aspen Skiing Company purchases Buttermilk Mountain from Friedl Pfeifer.

Snowmass-at-Aspen, just 12 miles from Aspen, officially opens December 17 as a joint venture of Aspen Skiing Company and the Janss Corporation. There are five chairlifts and 50 miles of trails, including Big Burn, Sam's Knob, Coney Glade and Campground.

Alpine Springs and High Alpine areas open at Snowmass.
Snowmass in the 1970s. ©Aspen Historical Society/Lindner Collection
Snowmass in the 1970s. ©Aspen Historical Society/Lindner Collection

Photo: The early days at Snowmass. ©Aspen Historical Society/Lindner Collection
Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola, the longest single-stage gondola in the world, opens on the 40th anniversary of Aspen Skiing Company.
Little Nell
Little Nell

The Little Nell opened its doors in 1989. It was the only ski-in, ski-out access to Aspen Mountain (and it still is). It took only two years for the hotel to earn the Grand Slam of hospitality rankings – five Stars from Forbes, and five Diamonds from the American Automobile Association (we have earned them again every year since).

After several subsequent changes in ownership, Aspen Skiing Company becomes privately owned by the Crown family of Chicago, Illinois. That same year, Aspen Skiing Company purchases Aspen Highlands to create a single four-mountain resort.
Two Creeks base area at Snowmass opens, providing guests with a second gateway to the mountain. Located 10 minutes closer to Aspen than Snowmass Village Mall, Two Creeks base area features a ticket office and ski/snowboard school desk, rental and retail shop, food service, 200-car parking and free bus service to Aspen and the Snowmass Village Mall. A high-speed quad whisks riders from Two Creeks to the popular Elk Camp area in 10 minutes.

The Environment Foundation was established in 1997 to protect and preserve the regional environment through philanthropy. The foundation is a collaboration between the Aspen Community Foundation and the Aspen Skiing Company Family Fund, engaging employees of Aspen Skiing Company to be stewards of the local habitat, ecosystems, and the biodiversity that we depend upon.

The nation's highest lift-served ski run is renamed Rocky Mountain High, in tribute to the late John Denver. Located at Snowmass, the Cirque lift serves the run and is the first in the country to be operated solely by clean, renewable wind power.

The Cloud Nine Café, also a working patrol headquarters, debuts in December at Aspen Highlands, offering spectacular views, a sun-splashed deck and excellent European bistro-style cuisine.

The new Sundeck restaurant at the summit of Ajax debuts in December with an expansive 22,000-square-foot facility. A few months later it receives the U.S. Green Building Council's prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the rigorous greening of the building.
Buttermilk hosts the ESPN Winter X Games for the first time. For the next 18 years (at least) it will continue to be home to the event.

That same year, the entirety of Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands is opened to skiers and riders.

Snowmass Base Village is approved by voters in Snowmass Village, with an official groundbreaking ceremony in July.

Visitors at Snowmass are treated to the new Village Express Lift — a six-passenger lift that whisks skiers and riders from the base of Fanny Hill to the top of Sam's Knob in a speedy 9.5 minutes, with a mid-way unloading station.

Also new is the Mall Connector or Sky Cab. The two minute Sky Cab gondola ride connects the existing Snowmass Mall and the new Base Village, offering lower Fanny Hill access for children’s ski/snowboard programs.

The opening of the Elk Camp Gondola in December of 2006 makes it a triple header — Aspen Snowmass opened three new gondolas in one calendar year. The Sky Cab opened in December 2005, and the new Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain opened on July 1, 2006.

Also in 2005, Deep Temerity opens at Aspen Highlands with 180 acres of new advanced and expert terrain along with the Deep Temerity triple chair, which rises 1,700 vertical feet in 7.3 minutes. The new lift eliminated the need to ski/ride the long traverse out of Highland Bowl and allowed for more direct fall line skiing and riding while doing laps in the Bowl.
Treeehouse Kids Adventure Center, Snowmass
Treeehouse Kids Adventure Center, Snowmass

In December, Aspen Skiing Company opens the 2,300-square-meter childcare facility called the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center in Snowmass. The $17 million project is the company’s largest capital improvement to date, bringing Snowmass’ Ski & Snowboard Schools, rental and retail, and children’s entertainment all under one roof at the base of Snowmass.

Aspen Skiing Company also announced several other enhancements to Snowmass, like the addition of the Elk Camp Meadows learning area at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola.
Aspen Skiing Company also makes several new improvements including the addition of the $7 million Sheer Bliss chairlift and a $9 million on-mountain restaurant called Sam’s Smokehouse – both located at Snowmass.

This year was significant for sustainability projects as well, as Aspen Skiing Company invested $1 million in Western Colorado’s largest solar array, which powers a science building at Colorado Rocky Mountain School and sends excess energy into the nearby town of Carbondale’s grid.

Aspen Skiing Company purchases the Limelight Lodge, a recently rebuilt 128-room hotel in downtown Aspen with a history stretching back to the 1950s. Two years later, the property is renamed the Limelight Hotel.
Aspen Skiing Company partners with the Elk Creek coal mine, Holy Cross Energy, and Vessels Coal Gas on a $5.5 million investment to capture waste methane vented from a coal mine in neighboring Somerset, Colorado. The project's electricity flows not to the ski resort, but directly onto the grid, reducing the carbon footprint for the entire region. The project continued to be the only one of its kind in the United States.
Methane capture by Aspen Skiing Company
Methane capture by Aspen Skiing Company

Aspen Skiing Company embarks on its first endeavor outside the Roaring Fork Valley by building and opening the Limelight Hotel Ketchum in the heart of Ketchum, Idaho. The 93-room, 6-suite hotel brought the brand's signature service and style to Sun Valley with The Lounge, pet-friendly amenities and even an in-lobby Four Mountain Sports. The LEED-Silver certified hotel also includes numerous sustainability features for energy efficiency, environmental conservation and community engagement.

Also in 2016, Aspen Skiing Company establishes the Caring for Community Fund and the Limelight Ketchum Community Fund. Modeled after the successful Environment Foundation, the employee-driven foundations issue $35,500 and $30,000 in grants (respectively) to local organizations making a difference in each community.
Mikaela Shiffrin, a winner
Mikaela Shiffrin, a winner

In March, Aspen Mountain hosted the 2017 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup Finals. It was the first time in 20 years that the event had been held in the United States, and it marked a return to racing glory for the mountain and the people of Aspen. The event was capped by a memorable performance from Mikaela Shiffrin, who won her fourth Slalom title and became the first American to ever win the coveted Overall Crystal Globe on American soil. Learn more about Aspen's history of ski racing with the book Ski Town, Race Town.

Later that year, locals and visitors turned out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Snowmass. The special three-day event included the return of Banana Days, a retro party at Elk Camp, fireworks, and special golden signs marking the original trails on the mountain.
Snowmass marked its 50th birthday with two new additions to on-mountain fun. At the end of 2017, the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster was unveiled, giving riders a joyride through the trees of Elk Camp. By the summer of 2018, the Lost Forest—and interconnected area of challenge courses and obstacles, inclusive of the Breathtaker—made its debut for summer guests.

Aspen Skiing Company also played an integral part in the Grand Opening of the new Snowmass Base Village, which opened to much fanfare on December 15, 2018. Featuring a redesigned plaza, an outdoor skating rink, a five-story indoor climbing wall (the tallest in North America) and the new Limelight Hotel Snowmass, the Base Village marks the realization of nearly 10 years of careful planning.

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