I understand that many people prefer to visit Colorado, and particularly its ski resorts, when there’s a lot of snow on the ground but I would like to submit that it may be just as much fun if not moreso at the end of the summer. When we left Leadville, Co (previous post linked), we decided to head toward Aspen. On the way there, we drove past a family (herd?) of mountain goats. They were so well blended into the rocky background that if eagle eye Shannon hadn’t spotted them, I’d have missed them altogether.
The road between Leadville and Aspen, goes right over Independence Pass. (Linked to Wikipedia there) From Wikipedia: “its a high mountain pass in central Colorado, United States. It is at elevation 12,095 ft (3,687 m) on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. The pass is midway between Aspen and Twin Lakes, on the border between Pitkin and Lake counties.” Evidently, the pass is only open during warm weather seasons. In fact, there are gates along the road coming and going that are closed when the snow falls. There are incredible views from the top of the pass of several mountains including Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak.
When we’d talked about where to go from Leadville, I got really excited about going to Aspen. I’ve never seen it and have always been taken by the romantic ideals represented in the photos, particularly at Christmastime. When my kids were little, I used to enjoy reading People magazine, and Aspen was one of the main places where the paparazzi liked to hang out and snap photos of people I was interested to read about. I’ll admit that I’m still a bit intrigued by the opulence and lavishness of the area. Aspen, and Snowmass, are the areas that Shannon had visited before as this was where he was able to park, using an overflow lot in 2019 for his Four Pass Loop hike. Also, he’d mentioned that Maroon Bells is visible from here, and there was a potential for an abbreviated day hike. The following day we had an entire day with no set plans, and an open-ended list of possibilities.
As we drove through Aspen, there was a good bit of traffic. We were coming in on the Thursday before Labor Day, and there was a big music festival event the following day, which was September 1-3. The music event featured Chris Stapleton, Stevie Nicks, Little Big Town, and more. Needless to say, Aspen was packed. The only rooms left in the area were about 4x more than our price range. So we were perfectly happy to drive 7 minutes beyond Aspen to Snowmass, where we got ourselves a room at the Mountain Chalet (linked). This proved to be one of the best decisions we made! It was in a great location, had a very nice breakfast included (with house made pancakes!), and the room was very cute in that it was all log cabin decor.
As we were checking in, the first thing I noticed were the gondolas riding up and down the mountain right outside. The staff let us know that the ‘sky cabs” were completely free to enjoy. Free is always welcomed at the end of the trip! Not only could we walk a few feet from our hotel to get on and ride, but we could be down into the Snowmass village “Collective” in a few minutes, and they had ice cream!
We had a fantastic time riding the Sky cab. After a big hike, the luxury of a ride up a steep mountain cannot be overstated. We asked the college-aged gondola attendants if it was ok if we just stayed on and they said yes, so we stayed on the gondola and rode up and down and up and down for about an hour. We were watching an incredibly gorgeous sunset over Snowmass.
Before the sun set, we’d gotten out and walked around a bit. Shannon noticed a mountain coaster car on display. He mentioned that he’d like to do that “one day” so I started looking at the signs. Come to find out, we would have an opportunity the next day to buy tickets to ride the mountain coaster, and as Shannon’s birthday had been 2 days before, I decided to give him mountain coaster rides for his birthday!
We got to the ticket place around 9 in the morning, and got all set up. We were given passes to another gondola that went to the top of the peak that was just the other side of where we’d stayed the night before. It went up to the area known as Elk Camp, and it was way up there! We were dropped into an activity area with the mountain coaster, a rock climbing wall, some ski lifts that went up higher than where we were, and hundreds and hundreds of mountain bikers. Evidently, these ski areas attract mountain bikers in summer months, who can use the gondolas and ski lifts to haul themselves and their bikes up steep faces, and then fly down mountain bike trails that run just under the lifts.
Side note – on one of the trips that we made together in the same car on the Mountain coaster, when of course I didn’t have my phone handy, there was a ptarmigan sitting right on the rail you see in the photo above. As we got closer, it didn’t move, and Shannon reached out with his hand and made contact with the bird. I think he entertained the idea of grabbing it and taking it on the ride with us but thought better of it at the last second and just sort of tapped it. There was a floof of feathers as it scrambled away. This ride was an excellent place to see wildlife, and we hoped for a bear or an elk. Besides the up close view of the ptarmigan, we did glimpse a porcupine.
We rode the mountain coaster separately, and together, many times before we started to get hungry, and thirsty, and headed to the Elk camp restaurant.(linked). Although it was the only restaurant in the Elk Camp area, the cheeseburger we had here made up for the one we missed at Big Sandy Lodge, and it was outstanding! Also we had a few beers, which may be completely obvious to those who know us when I show you the next video…..
Here’s a video of Shannon and I riding back down a 2nd ski lift that I’m including because it shows the mountain bike trails under the lifts on the ski runs, the incredible scenery, and the ski lift cars that are built to carry bicycles. I’m going to go-ahead and warn you that our conversation is very silly…..
We’d heard that the ski lift that went to the highest peak that ran from Elk Camp provided amazing views of Maroon Bells, which as I mentioned before is one of the passes that Shannon hiked through on his hiking trip to the Four Pass Loop in 2019. I was excited to get to see what it was like, so we rode up to the top and were rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip.
After a few more rides on the mountain coaster, we left Snowmass and headed back to Denver, where we spent our final night of the trip close to the airport. The drive back to Denver was absolutely gorgeous. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of seeing the amazing views that you see when you drive anywhere in Colorado.
Another fantastic trip, and as always, I can’t wait to go back!