When I picked up the phone and heard "Hey Mike, I'm getting married and we'd sure like you and the kids and grandkids to join us for a small wedding in Snowmas in July" it didn't take more than 5 seconds to say "we'll be there!" It can't get much better than an excuse to visit Snowmass which is the perfect place to vacation any time of the year. In the winter, the skiing is unequalled with a wide range of downhill terrain from long beginner runs, to boarding terrain parks, to expert bowls and backcounty skiing. Plus snowmobiling, horse drawn sleigh rides, cross country trails, and more.
Summer, spring, and fall offer a wide range of fun things to see and do, some of which include: hot air ballooning through the scenic mountains, paragliding from the top of Aspen mountain, ATV and Jeep tours in the back country, hundreds of miles of paved or mountain trails for biking or hiking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, horseback riding, golfing on some unbelievably beautiful courses, and lots more. And the spas are there to help you work out the kinks. And of course, year round you'll find upscale shops and boutiques, fun and lively nightlife, enjoyable unique festivals and events, and plenty of excellent restaurants from funky and laid back to well known gourmet restaurants. You can smell spring's allure, feel summer's warmth, hear fall's rustle, and see winter's grandeur. We couldn't wait to hit the road.
Although the bride-to-be has a beautiful large home on Snowmass Mountain, we couldn't burden her with our rambuncious crew of 4 grandkids (8 months, 2, 4, and 5 years old) plus two daughters, one husband (the other was ready to committ hari-kari when he found out about the trip and he just couldn't break free from work), plus Mr. and Mrs. Texas Outside. Wanting to be as close as we could to their home as well as staying where all the action is, Snowmass Village was the logical choice for our group. Some further research led us to selecting a 3 bedroom condo in the Hayden Lodge which is in Snowmass Base Village.
Our condo was fantastic - very spacious and comfortable with a fully equipped kitchen with top of the line Viking appliances, three large bedrooms with very comfy beds, three bathrooms, and a living and dining area complete with a large flat screen, DVD, and fireplace. Plus private gated garage parking. But our favorite feature had to be the the large L shaped balcony overlooking the Base Village and Snowmass Mountain - a perfect place for early morning coffee, afternoon games and cocktails, and watching the Base Village activities or listening to the live music right below our balcony. To learn more about Hayden Lodge, read our page on Snowmass Lodging. That article will also tell you why we love Snowmass Village and all that it has to offer vacationers, regardless of the time of year.
After a 16 hour drive from Dallas we were ready for some activity and after checking out our condo, unpacking our bags, and a couple cold beers on the balcony enjoying the view, it was off to meet the bride and groom and their wedding guests at the Snowmass Rodeo.
Every Wednesday night during the summer, the excitement starts at the Snowmass Rodeo as a high speed and colorful parade of cowboys and cowgirls gallop around the arena. Under the crystal clear blue skys with beautiful mountains as a backdrop we watched Saddle Bronc Riding, Team Roping, Barrel Racing, Bull Riding, and Bareback Bronc Riding. And the kids loved the steer head roping, petting zoo, bounce house, Calf Scramble (kids persue calves in the arena and try to grab the ribbons from the calves hind quarters) and the Mutton Bustin' where the youngsters get a chance to try and ride a sheep as it takes off out the chute with the longest ride wininng a prize.
The BBQ wasn't quite up to Texas BBQ standards but it was tasty as were the burgers and dogs. The rodeo ended with a campfire sing-a-long and marshmallow roasting. A fun way to spend a few hours. From there we headed up Snowmass Mountian to the bride's house for some games and laughs late into the evening.
Kayaking the Roaring Fork River
Not only is the Snowmass and Aspen area a haven for bikers and hikers, it's also home to three different rivers for white water rafting, kayaking, or canoeing. You can find everything from a calm scenic float to a thrilling heart-in-your-throat Class IV wet and wild ride. Since we wanted our grandson to experience the river, we decided on the guided kayak trip with Blazing Adventures down the Roaring Fork River, which is a 70 mile crystal clear cold river that runs though Aspen and down the valley to Glenwood Springs where it joins the Colorado River.
We had biked along the Roaring Fork as it winds it's way through Aspen and it didn't look that challenging, but it was very beautiful. In addition, we were renting inflatable kayaks called Duckies. So my inital conclusion was that this was going to be a slow and easy couple hours on the river. Wow, was I wrong - it was a true highlight of the trip and fun, scenic, and exciting. Read our article on Kayaking In Snowmass to learn more about this adventure.
Mountain States "Blast the Mass" Cup Race
The next day was a free-for-all day as we: shopped for gear, beer, and groceries; enjoyed a good lunch overlooking the valley and mountains; listened to the music at the base camp; hid from the short everyday rain showers that keep Snowmass green and colorful; and watched all the biking activity. Snowmass Village was alive with activitiy during our visit - over 1000 mountain bikers of all ages descended on Snowmass for the "Blast the Mass," which was the fifth stop on the Mountain States Cup mountain bike tour. The part-timer Aspenite and our Texas hero, Lance Armstrong, who won last years event by a margin of almost three minutes had a prior committment in France and missed this years race - would have been fun to watch him race. The base village where we were staying was the center of activity with all of the mountain bike events and the start and finish line for all of the races. These guys and girls of ages ranging from 14 to 60 are lean and mean and the stamina and endurance to bike at 10,000' and climb the steep ascents was unbelievable. I was pooped and breathless just watching them pedal up a 30 degree climb! As they were gruelling up the mountain, we were sipping a cold beer and getting ready for a short ride up the Sky Cab Gondola for a live concert.
Snowmass Outdoor Concerts
Every Thursday during the summer, Fanny Hill (the beginners ski slope at the Base Village) comes alive with free music concerts. The bands include some of the best bands playing rock, country, R&B, reggae, and more. This fun concert attracts lots of locals and visitors who bring chairs, blankets, picnic dinners, and dancing shoes for a couple hours of outstanding entertainment. When we were there, a band of Cajuns called Beausoleil took the stage and hundreds of fans danced, dined, and drank to their upbeat and artful blend of rich Cajun traditions of Louisiana music with Zydeco, New Orleans Jazz, and Caribbean Calypso.
What an unbelieveably beautiful setting for an outdoor music festival with the peak of Snowmass Mountain in the back and a stunning view of Snowmass and the valley as the stage backdrop! Fun time. It was still fairly early, so we sent the designated babysitter back to the condo while the rest of us walked next door to Snowmass Villiage to close the evening at some of the local nightclubs. The Sky Cab Gondola closes at 10 PM, which meant that we had a challenging walk back to the condo after closing the bars - it was down the steep and rocky Fanny Hill in the dark!
Hiking in Snowmass
After closely observing all the Snowmass locals who are slim and trim without an ounce of fat thanks to all the hiking, biking, skiing, walking, and sensable eating, I was feeling a little guilty walking around with my beer in a koozie and pot belly, which I was consistently trying to suck in with little to no noticable results. Which means it was time to find a trail and try to work off some of the beer, chocolate, and good food. Of course it couldn't be too long of a hike because we needed to be at the rehersal dinner for Mexican food and free margaritas!
Snowmass and the surrounding areas are a hikers, runners, walkers, and bikers heaven and Snowmass Village has an extensive system of trails for all outdoor enthusiasts. From the short but easy Maybly Trail to the world class single track mountain bike trails down Snowmass Mountain to the wildflower meadows of the Nature Trail to the Rim Trial with spectacular panoramic vistas. There is something for everyone and an amazing opportunity to see something new each day.
We enjoyed the Rim Trail which is a moderate hike along the ridge line offering Kodac moments all the way to Snowmass Village, Snowmass Mountain, the Aspen valley, and surrounding mountains. I thought we were doing well with only a few huffs and puffs on this skinny ridge trail when two mountain bikers blew past us! What a scenic hike - I now had room for a couple margaritas! During our stay, we also enjoyed the short (2 mile) and easy Nature Trail that winds through the dense forest and meadows up to where the dogs are kept for dog sled rides. To read more about trails in the Snowmass and Aspen area, read this Hiking in Snowmass and Aspen article.
After a couple hours of hiking, mentally I felt much better and was sure that I had lost at least a couple inches around the waist. But after all that good exercise, I immediately fell back into my old pattern - had a cold beer as we got dressed to go eat. And when I put on my Levis for the first time in six months, I quickly realized I hadn't lost the couple inches and may have gained some new inches. I was back to holding my belly in. Oh well, life is short - enjoy it while you can.
We joined the wedding party at La Cantina in Aspen for some Mexican food, chips, and of course a few margaritas. It was fantastic seeing some old California friends, my nieces from California and Connecticut, and meeting the bride's friends and family. Afer a good meal, but not near as tasty as Chuys or several of our other favorite Texas Mexican restaurants, it was back to the bride's lovely home for ice cream and games.
Hot Air Ballooning
Saturday morning we met the wedding party in the Snowmass Activities Center parking lot for an early morning hot air balloon ride - 6:00 is a little too early for this body to start functioning! The bride had rented two hot air ballons for the wedding party and family and we took off together and for the next hour causally flew over some of the most scenic mountains and valleys that we have seen. The early morning air was light and cool and from 2000' above the ground the vistas are unbelievable. And our pilot, Bruce Wood at Above It All Balloon Company, was fantastic as he pointed out some of the scenery, elk and deer, and multi million dollar ranches and homes of the rich and famous. What a fun and unique way to tour the valley. He gently landed us next to a stream, broke out the champagne, cheese, bagels, fresh fruit, and other munchies and related the very interesting story of why champagne has become a part of each safe landing since King Louie XVI sent a couple bottles of champagne up in the first manned balloon flight in 1783. Take a look at Hot Air Ballooning in Snowmass to see some fantastic pictures and scenery.
After a good lunch, a short nap thanks to an early morning, we were all dressed and showered and ready to join my brother-in-law and his bride at their wedding ceremony. The ceremony was at one of the most impressive ranches that we have ever seen - a huge beautiful home under tall stately trees and surrounded by stunning mountain vistas, colorful flowers, crystal clear ponds, and thick lush green grass! The ceremony was short, funny, and romantic as the bride and groom said their vows while violins played with the mountains and clear pond as a backdop. Then we were all treated to some fantastic food and one of the best and most luscious cakes ever. Fun time and our cheers to the bride and groom.
Up The Elk Camp Gondola
All week our oldest grandson had been asking "when are we going to play frisbee golf and bike down the mountain?" He finally got the answer on Sunday when tried to rent bikes and frisbees to take up to the top of Snowmass Mountain. Unfortunately, they didn't have any bikes his size but they did rent frisbees. After a 4 days of overindulging, we should have walked to the top of Snowmass Mountain, instead of jumping on the Elk Camp Gondola for a 13 minute very scenic ride to near the peak of Snowmass Mountain which is the 32nd highest mountain (14,092 feet) in Colorado and the 3rd highest in the Elk Mountain Range.
At the top of the Gondola is a playground, climbing wall, the Elk Camp Cafe for food and drinks, and a large patio to soak up the rays while you enjoy a fabulous view. The top of the Gondola is also the start of a fun and very challenging 18 hole frisbee golf course that heads back down the mountain. We played a number of holes until we lost our frisbees and then took the trails back down to the Base Village. I think hiking downhill is harder than going uphill - now I'm ready for another nap! But the 5 year old grandson still had plenty of energy - what's up with that?
Golfing In Snowmass
Snowmass is home to a one of the most interesting and fun courses that we have ever played, the Snowmass Club. Characterized by monster bunkers that are steep and deep, excellent conditions, elevation changes, perfect greens, and several opportunities to test your shot making skills, Snowmass Club is a must play if you're in the area. Read our review of Snowmass Club to learn more.
And within 5 miles of Snowmass Club is another fantastic 18 holes of golf - Aspen Golf Course. The scenery is unbelievable and each hole offers a new and beautiful glimpse of the mountains - at times it's hard to focus on golf. Aspen Golf Course is well deserving of being ranked 21st in Golfweek Magazine's 2009/2010 "Best U.S. Municipal Golf Course." Our review of Aspen Golf Course will tell you more about why we loved this course.
Check some of the other Colorado golf courses that we have played and reviewed.
Biking Around Aspen
Aspen is a really cool town sitting at the base of the 11,212' Aspen Mountain and it is home to some fantastic restaurants, plenty of upscale shops, beautifully landscaped homes of all shapes and sizes, bike trails galore, and much more. On this trip to Snowmass, we couldn't wait to head downtown and rent some bikes from Four Mountain Bike Rentals and cruise by the lovely homes, around the downtown area, and on a new trail. Four Mountain was a little overwelmed when our party of five adults, two teenagers (our nieces from Conneticut), and 4 kids under the age of 5 descended on them wanting bikes of all differnt sizes plus two kid bike trailers as well as recommendations on trails, bars, and a good place to grab a bite to eat. But they handled it beautifully and within 30 minutes we were peddling some new cruisers and mountain bikes through downtown Aspen. I was impressed with their service, new bikes, and friendly attitude.
We started by cruising around downtown in search of a good sandwich shop - and what a great one we found. After stuffing our faces and strapping the grandkids back in the bike trailers, we were off in search of the lower part of the Aspen to Independence Pass Trail. This easy trail is paved and twists and turns as it follows the crystal clear Roaring Fork River, winds through groves of Aspen trees, by a beautiful pond, and past some huge expensive homes. A very fun and scenic ride. The trail eventually feeds into highway 82 which twists and turns up 5,000 vertical feet to the top of Indepence Pass and the Continental Divide at 12,095 feet. On our drive to and from Snowmass over Independence Pass we saw several very lean and tough bikers slowly making their way to the top and several zooming back down to Aspen. Looked like a lot of pain to me - I prefer the easy flat paved trails that lead to restaurants and bars! Check out our Biking in Snowmass and Aspen article to see some pictures, link to some trails, and more.
Hiking The Grotto Trail
One afternoon we dedicated to trying to burn off some of the calories from all the good food and libations! So we naturally consumed a huge breakfast loaded with starch and calories, packed a lunch with sandwiches loaded with mayo plus lots of chips and snacks and a couple beers - to wear all that off we would have to hike for a couple days! There are several options for hikes, but since we had 4 kids under 5 we opted for the easiest hike at the Grotto Trails, which starts on a bridge crossing the Roaring Fork River and does a about a half mile loop to an ice cave and around the valley to what is called the Cascades. This is an easy trail that wanders thru tall stands of pine and aspen and along and around some huge granite outcroppings and up a valley surrounded by majestic mountains. Some of the granite showed scrapping from the early wagon trains that followed the Old Stage Road which led up and over Continential Divide to take the early pioneers in search of gold and farmable land.
We felt like pioneers when we left the main trail and blazed our own trail (which had probably been blazed over the last 100 years by several hundred thousand tourists each year as well as early pioneers) over the smooth granite rock tables, the huge boulders, and over the warm rocks following the narrows of the Roaring Fork. The entire hike is scenic but the best part of it for us was the Cascades which is where the Roaring Fork took some sudden elevation drops and over the years cut through sheer granite outcroppings forming cascading waterfalls, crystal clear deep pools, and smooth chutes and slots. Stunning! The water is very cool but young kids were still swimming and frolicing in the water.
We also eventually found the trail to the Ice Caves which were amazing and still had several feet of ice at the back part of the cave. What a blast and as reluctant as most young kids are to hike, they loved scrambling up and down the granite and over and under the huge boulders.A three hour hike was followed by a lunch and freshing beer on a picnic table beside the river in the Grotto Day Use Area. A fantastic morning but zero loss of calories!
We took the shortest and most scenic route home - up and over Independence Pass on the curving, switchback, steep, and narrow (at times room for only one car on the edge of a sheer cliff) highway 82. And from there to the Texas border was an unbelievably beautiful drive through several mountain ranges, interesting geological formations, funky and quaint small towns, beautiful rivers and streams, crystal clear lakes, diverse terrain, twisting and turning two lane roads, thick forests, and more.
Long but very scenic and beautiful until we hit the flat and dry and hot Texas Panhandle. Welcome home!
Snowmass and Aspen offer lots of fun things to see and do during the summer that we didn't have time to enjoy, some of which include:
- Paragliding - on a previous trip, I jumped off Aspen mountain and paraglided to the bottom of the moutain with Aspen Paragliding - read more about this outstanding experience and a must do if you're a thrill seeker
- Art & Culture - year round Aspen and Snowmass are well known for their special events, art, and culture. It doesn't get any better than listening to music at the top of Aspen mountain or on the hillside slope of Snowmass Mountian or even on a downtown corner! You'll find classical jazz, R&B, country, cajun, and more. And special events like the Snowmass Wine & Jazz Festival and Chili Pepper and Brew Fest. The Anderson Ranch Arts Center brings in critically acclaimed artists year round and offers summer classes and free tours and lectures.
- Workout - next to the Rodeo area is the new state of the art Snowmass Recreation Center - where I should have spent some of my time - with basketball and tennis courts, volleyball and badmitten court, skate park, lap and swimming pool, fitness equipment, and lots more
- Fishing - the pond behind the rodeo grounds in Snowmass is stocked with rainbow trout - cast a line an try to catch dinner - or you can cast your line in the Roaring Fork River which offers excellent fishing. Several fly fishing guides are available to take you to their favorite spot.
- Special Events - some of the other summer activities in Snowmass Village include: US Cirque performers, acrobats, jugglers, clowns, face painting, nature walks, live DJs, magic shows. And several special events like: Yoga in the Mountains, Automobile Exotica, 10K Run, Culinary & Arts Festival, Antiques Fair, and OctoberFest. Consider planning your trip around one of these events.
- Music - during the year you'll find opera to rock concerts to bluegrass on the top of Aspen mountain to the well known Aspen Music Festival, Jazz Aspen, and Snowmass Labor Day Festival plus the free concerts on Fanny Hill
- Eat & Party - Snowmass Village has over 16 different restaurants with everything from burgers, salads, pizza to all you can eat BBQ (Kansas style, not Texas, but very tasty) to gourmet steak, pasta, and fish. One of our favorites is Il Poggio - the tenderloin, fettucini, and pizza are delicious.
- White Water Rafting - sign up with Blazing Adventures for one of the white water trips
- Other Adventures - try off road jeeping, horseback riding, guided hikes or bike rides, paintball, or mountain boarding - the Aspen/Snowmass website has some links and more good ideas on things to see and do
You might also want to check out our Aspen Vacation article to read about last summers trip to Aspen - what a blast. And if you're a winter sports fan, the Aspen and Snowmass area is a perfect haven for winter activities. For skiiers, check our our Colorado Skiing Vacation article and our Reviews of Colorado Ski Areas.
We can't wait to find another excuse to get back to this summer and winter paradise. Treat yourself by booking a vacation to Snowmass or Aspen. Beware - after a summer and winter vacation in Aspen and Snowmass you may not want to leave! Have fun.