The same alpine runs that put smiles on riders in the winter for sending people downhill are equally pleasing in the summer with one disclaimer: some uphill exertion required. Snowmass and Aspen turn into a network of singletrack dirt paths from mellow to borderline intimidating, and they offer something for all outdoor (and sometimes foodie) enthusiasts.
In recent years, Snowmass Ski Area has added more than 50 miles to its network of dirt trails. Many of these are closed to foot traffic so mountain bikers can safely ride, but several foot paths weave across one of North America’s largest ski areas for summer adventuring.
For a quick loop with the family, try .7-mile Rabbit Run, accessed from mid-mountain Rabbit Run trail. Or start at the base near Fanny Hill, and climb the moderately gentle Vista Trail, a 2.2-mile ascent that brings hikers to Elk Camp Restaurant. The trail crosses some mountain bike paths, so don’t be surprised to hear hoots and hollers of those getting their kicks on the way down. Fuel up on the delicious salad bar and make-your-own ice cream sandwich at Elk Camp Restaurant, and then perhaps continue up another 1.5 miles to reach the Elk Camp Summit for spectacular Brush Creek Valley views.
From the Village Mall, another favorite stroll is the Ditch Trail, with follows an irrigation ditch past the Campground Lift to stunning vistas in the East Snowmass Creek valley. On the opposite of the resort, park at the Tom Blake Trailhead. This trail is shared with bikers, but the 4.5-mile single-track weaves through enormous aspen groves and climbs up the Two Creeks side of Snowmass. Here you can connect to steeper climbs like Anaerobic Nightmare, or opt to follow the trail all the way to the Base Village for a full loop.
The ease of Aspen Mountain is that it is accessed right in town (and that’s probably the only time you will hear Ajax and “easy” in the same sentence!).
The 1-mile Ajax Trail slices the base of the mountain offering views of town and a semi-natural experience. On its west side, hikers can continue on the Little Cloud Trail, a 1.6-mile set of switchback bound to get the heart racing.
For those who are easily lured up, there are three ways to ascend Aspen Mountain. The steepest, and quickest, is the 3.1-mile 3,200-foot climb up the Ute Trail, accessed from Ute Avenue. The trail sharply snakes up Aspen’s east side, above Jackpot run and under the Gent’s Ridge chair before popping out below the disc golf course. From the west side of the mountain a similar 4-mile trail winds up Lift One and through the Dumps. Both take about 2 1/2 hours. And then there’s the 4.7-mile Summer Road, a leveled dirt approach that can be done on foot, bike or car. The best part about going up any of these is that you must come down, and from 10am to 4pm, hikers can hop on the Silver Queen Gondola for free, saving the knees on what can be a relentless descent.
During the same hours, hikers who want to skip the steep Aspen climb can purchase a $24 ticket to ride the gondola. From the top, the .9-mile Nature Trail and 2.2-mile Richmond Ridge Trail both offer roundtrip experiences at 11,212 feet.
After a hike up, or around, kick up the feet and grab a beer and wok-fried noodle dish at the Sundeck. The restaurant is open all summer long and picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and live music on the weekends (Classical Saturdays, Bluegrass Sundays) are a sweet reward.
Dogs are welcome on any of the trails (and gondolas, too), but please have them under control. Wildlife sightings, including moose and bear, are common in the area.
The weather changes rapidly in high-country Colorado. Even if it’s sunny when you leave, it could be storming when you’re reaching the summit. Pack layers and warm clothes. At the first sign of lightning — even miles away — seek shelter and lower ground.
Remember you’re at altitude. Sunscreen and water are your friends. Pay attention to any symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches.
Bikers and hikers share the trail. Be courteous to one another.
You can hike on Buttermilk Ski Area and Aspen Highlands, too — but there won’t be a restaurant to greet you at the top.
If you get into trouble on Snowmass, call 970-923-0531.