This story originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.
Driving around the excellent ski runs in the Rockies can take up valuable skiing time – those magnificent mountains just get in the way. Gabriella Le Breton takes to a private plane to hop among four top resorts and maximize the thrills on the slopes.
When you fly into Aspen, the views of Roaring Fork Valley are spectacular: Independence Pass slices through the Continental Divide in the background while Aspen Mountain lies like a sleeping bear in front. Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass are so close you feel you can reach out and touch them as you descend.
Client relations manager for Atlantic Aviation, Kim Bracher meets me on the snow-dusted tarmac of the mountain airstrip and ushers me into the fire-warmed lounge, advising that I drink plenty of water as we’re at an altitude of 7,820ft. Through a window she points out a batch of peaks topping 14,000ft (14ers to locals) and the gladed runs of Buttermilk, just the other side of the strip. “You can find powder stashes in the Tiehack trees days after a dump,” she confides.
Happily, I’ll be seeking out those stashes very shortly, having touched down in Aspen an hour after stepping off the slopes of Vail. Separated by just six minutes’ flying time (Visual Flight Rules), Aspen and Vail have long enjoyed a friendly rivalry. While Aspen lays claim to a charming Victorian town and 5,547 acres of skiing dispersed across four distinct mountains, Vail offers 5,289 acres in its single ski area, on top of which your lift pass gives access to an additional 1,832 acres of neighboring Beaver Creek. Vail fans love the convenience of its lively, car-free center and various village base stations while dedicated Aspenites point to their exceptional cultural and foodie scene. Both resorts guarantee manicured trails, superb backcountry terrain and attentive service on and off the mountain.
Personally, I’m content to be testing out the slopes of both ski icons as part of the ultimate Colorado ski safari. I struck upon the idea for my airborne adventure while mapping out the 470-mile drive from Vail to Aspen and on to Crested Butte and Telluride. As it dawned on me I’d spend some 10 hours on the road, I realized I could cover the same distance in 45 minutes by jetting into each of those resorts’ private airports. It was, in ski bum terms, a no brainer.