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Aspen's slopes attract skiers and influencers to the Colorado city

The influencers weren't in Aspen to ski. In their Barbie pink ski suits and matching Moon Boots, they rode the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of the mountain, smiling and jumping in front of their cameras and social media feeds. Soon they would get back on the gondola and go down, perhaps to pose more comfortably with a glass of champagne at the restaurant. Ajax Tavern at the base of the station.

They didn't care afterward almost two weeks without snow In an already below-average year, a storm finally broke through, restoring the mountain's steep slopes and breathing new life into the ski slopes.

But the rest of us did.

I had come to Aspen in early February to ski the new Aspen Mountain terrain, an area called Hero which, when you look up, sits on the left shoulder of the mountain and offers 153 new acres of skiing, most rated double black diamond. This is the first major development on the mountain since the Silver Queen Gondola opened in 1986.

“No new ski resorts are being built in North America,” said Geoff Buchheister, general manager of Aspen Ski Company, during lunch at Terrace near the top of the mountain. “We have to innovate. »

But first the snow had to fall. When I skied The area with Mr. Buchheister and a group of Ski Co. executives just days before, conditions were “sketchy.” The snow was hard and slippery as we made our way through the trees up a steep, bumpy slope called Loushin's that tested my resolve and the newly sharpened edges of my skis.

But now those hard, skied bumps were mellow and the clearings below offered a chance to dance through the trees. My partner and I did a few laps, skiing Powerline Falls and the one called Here's To…, both of which led into a series of glades, then reached Walsh's, a wider slope. We pretty much had the slopes to ourselves.

The expansion took a long time to come. “When we moved here 18 years ago, they were already talking about putting in an elevator,” said Pete Louras, 74, who retired to Aspen with his wife Sam, 72, in 2005 and works 100 days per year. skier. Last summer, they watched from their living room as helicopters put parts of the chairlift into place.

For decades, the area was only accessible through a gate in the hinterland. As early as the 1980s, some trackers suggested making it an indoor field, nicknamed it that of Pandora, in homage to the mythical woman who unleashed the evils of the world. The station first listed it under that name in its 1997 master plan.

Some local skiers objected, saying the area would change if it were opened to indoor skiing. (“That's true,” Mr. Buchheister said, adding that more people skied there and the moguls built up more quickly.) There were also ownership issues, because the resort is located on a patchwork of White River National Forest, private lands and mining operations. complaints. Environmental impact studies are necessary.

Finally, in 2021, the expansion was approved and work began on what was still called Pandora's: a road and trails were cut, electricity was brought in and the woods were thinned to create these clearings .

Mr. Buchheister moved to Aspen in March of last year, attracted largely by the idea of ​​working with James Crown, the chief executive of Henry Crown & Company, which owns, among others, Aspen Snowmass and Alterra Mountain Companythe conglomerate of ski resorts and multimountain supplier IKON Pass. “He was a really compelling mentor,” Mr. Buchheister said.

Then, on June 25, his 70th birthday, Mr Crown died in an accident at Aspen Motorsports Park Racetrack near Woody Creek, wowing Ski Co. and the local community.

In this context, Pandora's became Hero's and the tracks were named after locals like trackers Cory Brettman, who died in an avalanche in the regionand Tim Howe, known as “The Avalanchero.”

The slope below the new elevator is called Jim's, for Mr. Crown.

Nestled at the end of the Roaring Fork Valley, Aspen Snowmass is far enough from major cities that it doesn't attract big crowds on weekends. It accepts the IKON pass, but limits the number of days for many pass holders and requires reservations. It can also be extremely expensive to stay and dine in the city. At dinner one night, my mediocre pork belly tacos were $38.

The resort has the particularity of comprising four distinct mountains with distinct personalities. Friendly Buttermilk only has beginner slopes and terrain parks. The murderer, Mass of snow, where 40 percent of visitors ski, spans 3,300 acres, with a mix of slopes and open terrain, attracting skiers of all abilities. Much smaller, Aspen Highlands And Aspen Mountainboth with a sort of retrospective simplicity, have only intermediate and expert races.

When asked what sets Aspen apart, Mr. Buchheister said, “Aspen is a quality-based experience. We capture the essence of skiing.

Especially when skiing in Aspen and Aspen Highlands, this seems true. There are no fancy new lifts or glitzy lodges, just good, hard skiing.

But it's also true that, as influencers have made clear, many people come to Aspen without the intention of skiing. And why not? There is the Aspen Art Museum with its new building by the famous Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. There are Gucci, Valentino, Prada stores and more. There is the brain Tremble Institute with its Bauhaus campus (and a pretty good new restaurant, West End Social, at the Aspen Meadows complex). There is Veuve Clicquot champagne on every corner, including bottles on ice in mid-mountain restaurants.

In fact, local legend has it that Cloud, a seemingly unassuming restaurant on the slopes of Aspen Highlands, sells more product than any other outlet in the world, although much of it is supposed to be sprayed on customers at the restaurant's 1:30 p.m., unsipped . People told me about sybaritic parties, with women peeling off their layers of ski clothes and dancing in their sports bras.

I had dismissed this story until, near the end of a snowy day in Aspen Highlands, we came across the modest wooden cabin that houses Cloud Nine. A dance remix of Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” blared at a volume that seemed to shake the entire room. As I passed, I turned and looked out one of the restaurant's picture windows, to see a woman dressed in a black sports bra and ski pants twirling on a table.

Although not initially planned with climate change in mind, Hero's has the advantage of sitting on top of the mountain and facing north, which Buchheister says should help mitigate the effects of global warming, as the altitude and exposure allow the snow to stay in place longer.

This could be a huge advantage as climate change threatens the future of the snow sports industry. Auden Schendler, chief sustainability officer at Aspen One, Ski Co.'s parent company, said the region has lost 30 days of winter since 1980. “Spring runoff is happening earlier and faster,” he said. -he declares.

Mr. Schendler now dismisses much corporate environmentalism as “complicity.”

“If you made a list of all the practices companies are trying to be sustainable, these would be the things the fossil fuel industry would do to make it look like they're taking action on climate change, without actually disrupting the status quo,” he said.

Making this argument from a luxury ski resort where many visitors arrive by private plane is an irony not lost on Mr. Schendler, who said the way to reduce the number of private flights would be to impose a carbon tax on the airport – something he asked the FAA for permission. But in the meantime, “Aspen’s power lies in the media game. We have rich and influential guests who really love skiing and the outdoors.

One afternoon, as the ski day was winding down, we joined the river of people heading down Little Nell to the bottom of the gondola and took off our skis to the thunka-thunka beat of dance music from the hotel's patio. 'Ajax Tavern.

Eric Adler, 39, a restaurateur from La Jolla, Calif., and his wife, Gretchen, 37, have been coming to Aspen since 2010 and now bring their three children to ski there once or twice a year. Compared to Aspen, other ski resorts “look like Disneyland,” Mr. Adler said, with everything built and controlled by the mountain developer. Aspen, he said, is “a more authentic experience, the people are real.”

In search of this authenticity, we headed towards Male, a small underground bar on nearby Cooper Avenue where people leave their ski gear at the top of the stairs before heading downstairs. When we stopped the night before, a man coming up the stairs warned us to leave. “It’s crowded and noisy,” he said.

But sometimes, after a day of skiing, it's as crowded and noisy as you want. There was craft beer and a great margarita and on the eight TVs around the room a Phish concert was playing, which seemed appropriate for a ski town. And everyone kept their shirts on.

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