Aspen Mountain, known as Ajax to the locals, is the oldest of the four ski resorts that make up Aspen Snowmass. This hometown hill offers world-famous black-diamond trails for advanced skiers and boarders.
But for locals, Aspen Mountain is their backyard — and their playground, which they take advantage of for first-chair runs on powder days to lunch laps during the week. When you spend that much time exploring the 675 acres of inbounds terrain, you are bound to find some hidden gems.
With 64 miles of trails there is plenty to choose from, and without a single beginner run anywhere on the hill bottomless steep and deeps can be found in every direction. Once you figure out all the fun runs, the mountain becomes a puzzle whose pieces you can link from top to bottom.
The trick is learning to read between the lines and find the runs hidden in plain sight. Once you get away from the groomers, there are powder stashes only Aspenites know how to find. Here, five locals' favorite runs on Aspen Mountain.
The Dumps are a series of runs down former mine debris that create narrow and sheer descents through the trees. There are several runs stretching down the long ridge, each separated by denser tree glade. As you ride up the Silver Queen Gondola, look out the right at perfectly spaced glades and wide-open powder fields.
The Dumps have an east-facing aspect, which tends to attract the most snow, especially during a windy storm. Locals tend to head straight for this area on a powder day, fanning out between dozens of runs. Some are shorter near the top, enabling quicker laps. But midway down, the runs become longer and less tracked.
Just before you get to Last Dollar, the epitomy of what the Dumps are all about, hang a right into the tight aspen trees. The entrance appears barely navigable. But once you get through the first cluster, the trees thin out just a bit, making it perfect to link smooth turns between the trunks. There is literally nothing more exhilarating anywhere on the hill.
Every year Aspen Mountain hosts the World Cup ski races. Theirs skiers hit top speeds on near vertical slopes in both the Slalom and the Giant Slalom. And for an added level of difficulty during the races, the snow is injected with water to make it as icy as possible.
If you want to test your speed like the pros, head to Aztec. As you come down Ruthies Run, Aztec veers away to the left on a cat track. But again looks can be deceiving. As you come around the corner, the run drops off steeply below your skis, offering up a stunning view of town far below.
There is no need to go as fast as the racers, but it is a great run to stretch your legs and see just how hard the World Cup course is.
3. Shadow Mountain Lift Line
If Ajax is a local's mountain, then Shadow Mountain is the locals' side of the slopes. Tourists tend to not venture too far from the Silver Queen Gondola. But on the far skiers' right side of the mountain is Lift 1A, an old fixed-grip, two-person chair rising steeply over some of the best terrain. From the chair this run doesn’t even look open, because everyone forgets about it. The good news though, that leaves it wide open to you.
At the top of the lift, skiers slide off to the right, as it looks like a dead-end to the left. But looks can be deceiving. As soon as you get off the chair hook a hard left and look down. The steep, narrow ridgeline stretches just below the skis of others on their way up.
As you descend stay high on the ridge, winding back and forth between the lift towers. You can link this hidden gem all the way back down to Lift 1A, or on the last cat track swoop back to the right toward the gondola.
It's hard to ski Ajax and not hear talk of Walsh’s. Whether it’s a socked-in powder day or bluebird skies, skiers head to Walsh’s to prove what they are made of. But if you skip Walsh’s and go a hundred yards down the rope line, there is another date tucked between the trees marked Hyrups.
Just like Walsh’s, this run has steep, east-facing terrain. But unlike Walsh’s, there are no crowds: no hotshots tearing down the gut or timid intermediates making slow turns over the moguls. Once you get into the run, you have a steep slope all to yourself, with a long vertical stretch in the center or a rolling ridgeline with aspen trees on either side. No matter what line you choose, you can’t go wrong.
Ajax is comprised of several ridges linked together, basically three mountains. At the center of them all is Bell Mountain, which the Silver Queen Gondola ascends directly over.
As you ski down Bell Mountain there are three aspects: Back of Bell, Ridge of Bell, and Face of Bell. Face of Bell slopes away to the left, and if you drop early you can make the FIS chairlift in the gully. But if you continue a little farther before hanging a left, you can zigzag your way down Face of Bell, catching glades all the way, a run aptly known as Longface. As you wind across the endless ridge, your legs will burn out before you run out of powder. Since you are traversing the fall line as you descend, it makes Longface arguably the longest powder run on the mountain.