Colorado, United States
Aspen Mountain (often called by its former name of Ajax among locals) is a ski area located in Pitkin County, Colorado just outside and above the city of Aspen. It is situated on the north flank of Aspen Mountain (for which it is named) and the higher Bell Mountain, elevation 11,212 ft (3418 m) just to the south of Aspen Mountain. It was founded in 1946 as the first ski area venture of the Aspen Skiing Company founded by Walter Paepcke, and today it is one of four adjacent ski areas operated by the company as part of the Aspen/Snowmass complex. At only 673 acres (2.7 km²), it is somewhat small compared to other ski areas, especially compared to the much larger nearby Snowmass ski area, and retains a unique cultural flavor that hearkens to the earlier days of recreational skiing in the state. The ski area is located within the White River National Forest and is operated under permit from the United States Forest Service.
History and description
Prior to 1946, the mountain had been the site of skiing using a crude boat lift, and by the use of the jeep trails up the back side of the mountain on Midnight Mine Road. The foundation of the ski area in 1946 was accomplished by the building of the single-chair chairlift, Lift-1, which opened on December 14, 1946, as the longest chairlift in the world at the time. In its fourth season, Aspen hosted the 1950 World Championships, the first world championships held outside of Europe, and the first since 1939.
Lift-1 was superseded in 1972 by two double chairlifts, Shadow Mountain and Ruthie's. Access to the mountain was radically changed in 1986 with the installation of the Silver Queen Gondola, a gondola lift which ascends to the summit of Aspen Mountain, with a vertical rise of 3,267 ft (996 m). The area's lifts also include 1 high-speed quad, 1 high-speed double, 2 quads, and 3 doubles.
The gondola is one of two lifts, along with the Little Nell chairlift, which ascend from Gondola Plaza in the heart of the downtown Aspen. The configuration allows visitors to ascend the mountain from the center of town, and ski down the Little Nell Run back into town. The mountainside contains hidden and open remains of the intense silver mining activity from the Colorado Silver Boom in the late 1880s and early 1890s. In January 2001, it was decided to end Aspen Mountain's long-time ban on snowboarding. However, as a courtesy to season-pass holders, the resort was not officially opened to snowboarders until April 1, 2001.
The longest run is 3 miles/4.8 km. The lift capacity is 10,755 riders per hour. The average annual snowfall is 300 inches (7.6 m). It has snowmaking capabilities of 210 acres (0.8 km²), which comprises approximately one-third of the area. The mountain is considered moderate-to-difficult with no "green" (beginner) runs. Novice skiers must go to Snowmass, Buttermilk, or Aspen Highlands. Approximately 26% of the terrain is considered expert. The season on the mountain ranges from late November to early April. It is typically the last area, along with nearby Snowmass, in the resort complex to close for the winter.
The ski area has a unique "homespun" culture that dates from its early foundation as part of the Utopian social experiment in Aspen created by Walter Paepcke in the 1940s, retaining somewhat of a throwback culture in comparison to the other three areas of the complex. The culture is reflected in the numerous homemade memorials and tributes that dot the trees of mountains created in honor of famous personages such as John Denver and Hunter S. Thompson.