Sure, Aspen can be on the pricey side, but the skiing is oh so worth it. That said, everything doesn’t have to be expensive, and there are plenty of ways to have a great day without shelling out big bucks. Read on for some local knowledge in the form of these seven ski hacks about how to have fun on the lower end of the cost spectrum—lift ticket not included.
1. Watch the X Games.
Watching the X Games, the awesome concert lineup excluded, is free. And there is plenty of public transportation to get you to and from the venue at Buttermilk and wherever you are staying. But if you want a more sporting way to do it, strap on some skis. The easiest way is to park on the Tiehack side of the mountain, take the lift up and ski down the front side, watching events as you go. Just be sure to pay attention to trail closures and roped off areas. An even more sporting way to give it a go is to start at the Aspen Nordic Center, strap on your cross country skis and self power it over to Tiehack and across the Owl Creek Trail to the venue. You can also make the trek on snowshoes. Once you get to the main base of Buttermilk you can watch events, visit vendors, meet and greet athletes and pick up a few freebies for a day of full-on family sport and spectating.
2. Score f ** irst tracks (and free coffee).**
Scoring first tracks is generally the domain of hard-core locals willing to wait it out in the early morning chill for the lift to start turning or for dawn-patrol skiers who earn their turns by hiking up and skiing down. But, this being Aspen, there is a more civilized way to make primo turns in fresh corduroy or virgin powder—ride the Silver Queen gondola. But you can’t just show up and expect to score: You need to sign up, by stopping in the Aspen Mountain ticket office the day before you want to go, and spaces are limited. The bright side, however, is that there is no charge, except, of course, for your lift ticket.
The morning of your ski, plan to arrive a few minutes early and enjoy some free coffee. Once the entire group is gathered, ski patrol will give an update about where to go and where to watch for grooming equipment and then everyone heads up together for a run you won’t soon forget.
3._ _Stretch your muscles (and your budget) with yoga.
This may not be free, but at a $5, it is an absolute deal. Take the Ajax Gondola (you’ll need a ski or foot pass) to the Sundeck for an hour of pre-ski yoga, just what you need to stretch legs and prep muscles for the day to come. All at 11,200 feet! Yoga mats are provided and ski gear is the expected attire. Almost better than the yoga is the blissed out Zen bubble you’re in when you ski back to town. Be prepared to smile like a fool. If skiing isn’t your jam, you can also download.
4. Snag free slope-side and on-mountain refreshments.
Early birds and those willing to hang out until the end of the day are rewarded with complimentary coffee in the morning and hot chocolate in the afternoon. Look for the coffee carts at the base of all four mountains. On mountain, there are free cider stations that also usually have granola bars and sunscreen free for the taking.
5. Take advantage of free downloading.
If you have the verve to hoof it up Buttermilk, Snowmass, or Ajax (be sure to stick to marked uphill routes), good on you! And, if you don’t want to make the return trip down by foot (it really is easier than uphill), you can catch a ride back to the base. For free. At Buttermilk you head down on the Summit Express, and at both Aspen and Snowmass you return to the base via the gondolas.
6. Score cheap ski slings and duct tape at Aspen Highlands.
Hiking Highland Bowl is a right of passage for locals and courageous tourists up to the challenge. And for good reason, as the terrain options rock. But, take it from those who have learned the hard way, skis feel darn heavy when you're hiking uphill with them on your shoulder. If you don’t have a ski harness or pack with ski loops, stop by Ski Patrol Head Quarters at the top of Loge Peak lift. They sell easy-to-use carry straps for $10. Patrollers also offer daily, guided tours of the Bowl—insightful for first-timers and experienced skiers alike (check at HQ for times.)
And if you rip your jacket or pants on a branch as you hoot and holler through some tight trees, don’t fret: Just tape it up like a local with some duct tape. There’s a complimentary supply of it just inside the door at the Merry-Go-Round cafeteria.
7. Do the dirt bag shuffle.
Ski parking can cost upwards of $25 a day. Which really isn’t all that much when you consider the cost of a ski vacation. But, free is awesome too. The good news is, if you have a car loaded with four or more of you, parking is free at Snowmass and Aspen Highlands. Parking is also free at Buttermilk. If those lots are full, you can also park at the Intercept and Rodeo lots to catch a free bus to the slopes. When it comes to Aspen, for those not lucky enough to be staying in town (FYI there are free ski buses from town if you want to ski one of the other mountains), there’s a way to get a full day of skiing without paying for parking or getting a parking ticket—the “Dirtbag Shuffle.” The gondy opens at 9, but parking is free until 10. Pay attention to the parking signs, and you’ll get two hours free parking in some areas (you can figure out exactly where on your own), meaning you are set for three hours of skiing. At lunchtime, drive over to Highlands, where parking is free as of noon.