Colorado ski resorts: peaks Aspen (Ajax), Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. The best vacation for the whole family in the expanse of the Vail Valley.
Do you love alpine skiing, freezing air, and the unique atmosphere of a winter resort? Try swapping the mountains of Europe for the American state of Colorado. “Stellar” company, scenic trails and an apres-ski system can surprise even the most fickle traveler!
Heart of the Rocky Mountains.
In the heart of the famous Rocky Mountains, or as Americans say, The Rockies, nestle four of the most picturesque American states: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. In Spanish, “Colorado” means “shade of red”-the Spanish discoverers of the 16th century agonized over finding an appropriate definition for the complex color of the area’s rocks and river. The most mountainous state in the U.S., Colorado became American in 1896, and it is now called the ski capital of America. The best resorts in the hemisphere are concentrated here, but before heading to Aspen or Vail Valley, skiers are strongly advised to make a brief stop in the state capital, Denver. First, that’s where the small plane to the ski resorts you’re looking for leaves from, with a travel time of just 25 minutes. Second, Denver is notable for its parks and museums – we recommend visiting the Museum of Colorado History and the home of Molly Brown, a resident of the state who miraculously escaped the sinking of the Titanic. But it’s the mountains that are the state’s main attraction and pride. In Rocky Mountain National Park, tourists are proud to see Colorado’s natural treasures – the locals say it’s the only place in the U.S. where you can see the most beautiful mountain panorama. Traces of Colorado’s gold rush can still be seen in Manitou Springs, a charming little town known as a spa resort thanks to the natural mineral springs luckily found there. And Colorado Springs is a resort town, dubbed “Little London” because of its popularity with British tourists. Colorado also has its own “Grand Canyon” – a whole Canyon City, famous, however, not so much for its picturesque mountain decay, as for the museum. And sand dunes, and rivers, and forests – you name it, Colorado has it, but none of the above can compare to the timeless and rock-solid glory of the local mountains.
Aspen and others
The first “steps in skiing” were taken in Colorado in 1935, when pioneer skiers began skiing in the Rocky Mountains: remember the movie “Sun Valley Serenade. Things went “uphill” almost immediately, and many small towns said they wanted to become ski resorts: this is how the world fame began Vail Valley, Aspen, and other, now world-famous resorts. The word “Aspen” itself sounds to Americans like “success” – the whole point is that the richest and most famous Hollywood stars, famous athletes and millionaires actually meet and rest here. And you can easily join a select society! Aspen – the main resort of Colorado, which every self-respecting skier should visit at least once in his life. The town of Aspen itself is built in typical Victorian style, and there is no shortage of restaurants, stores, and other “non-ski” activities and entertainment. For those who are firmly on skis (or dream of getting up and standing on them), there are four ski areas, simply put, four mountains, for which they sell a single pass – a “ski pass”.
The four mountains are
Aspen Mountain (or Ajax) height of 3,418 m is best suited for experienced skiers and those who skate at least a couple of seasons, there are almost no easy slopes. But experienced skiers will appreciate the local slopes and scenic views, and those who love extreme sports will enjoy the virgin land and the descent into the gorges from the peaks. Snowmass (altitude 3813m) is a different story – it has the most pistes for skiers with little experience, there are long gentle slopes, but there are also interesting options for experienced skiers (there are 83 slopes in Snowmass, so there is plenty to choose from!). As for those who don’t ski or snowboard and don’t intend to change their situation, Snowmass invites them to take a break in one of its 11 mountain restaurants and enjoy the snow-covered mountain views.
A trademark of Colorado resorts is that even the most unusual and difficult wishes and requests of holidaymakers are taken into account here. They will pick up your skis, adjust your boots to your feet, teach you and your kids how to ski, and if the kids are too young to learn how to ski, they can be entrusted to experienced baby-sitters (while mom and dad conquer the mountains). Aspen Highlands (elevation 3, 559 m) offers 131 trails, most of which are designed for advanced skiers, and the Buttermilk ski area (3,018 m) made history as the capital of the Winter Extreme Games in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Buttermilk is considered an ideal place for beginner skiers. As for the weather, it’s like specially adapted to the needs of fans of winter holidays. As a rule, the days here are sunny, and it snows only at night. Locals joke that the mayor of Aspen secretly turns on a special switch every night to sprinkle fresh snow, and turns it off at dawn. Aspen’s “after-ski” recreation, or, as it is commonly called, apres-ski, will give a hundred points ahead of any European resort in terms of diversity – you will find cinemas, and discos, and art galleries, and gourmet restaurants, and clubs with live music. Don’t forget to check out The J-Bar, open since 1889. It’s on the National List of Historic Landmarks. For kids, Aspen offers dog sledding, special children’s trails, an indoor ice rink, a pool, a skate park, a western entertainment center in Buttermilk, and an every night comedy show in Snowmass. And if, despite the abundance of local entertainment, you’re in need of an extra experience, you can take a trip from Aspen to picturesque Lake Maroon or the famous Glenwood Springs Balneotherapy Resort.
Colorado’s Vail Valley embodies a slightly different approach to ski vacations, and while it’s not as well-known as Aspen, you’re advised to be sure to explore the resorts here. It’s famous for the variety of trails and the cozy atmosphere of the villages at the bottom of the slopes. Here skiers and snowboarders expect a huge area for skiing and not the highest prices, and in addition, the ski pass Vail Valley resorts are valid for skiing at the resorts nearby Beavercreek, famous for its well-kept slopes and village, like two drops of water resembling an illustration of the alpine winter fairy tale. However, Beavercreek also has typically American features, such as outdoor escalators that take guests to the doors of necessary stores, and heated walkways. There’s also a comfortable ski concierge system: once you’ve skied, you don’t have to worry about your gear and you can get to the hotel light. Dedicated staff (ski concierges) will not only help tired skiers remove their heavy boots and soggy overalls, and this is especially convenient for beginners and the youngest mountain conquerors. Your skis and suit will be put in order, and the next day prepared equipment will be waiting for you at the chosen slope the day before.
Families with children are welcome here – young guests are offered a trip to the amusement park with a bear den and a Native American village, and a special school for little ones takes care of babies from 2 months to 6 years old. Parents can skate safely, knowing that the children will be taken care of by qualified staff. Children from 3 years old are taught to ski, and there are elevators, and equipment, and slopes, designed specifically for kids. And after training the girls, again starting from 3 years old, can relax in a special children’s spa, decorated in the style resembling Barbie’s doll house. Apres-ski in downtown Vail Village includes every imaginable and unimaginable recreational option, from shopping and gallery visits to day spas and street concerts. In the small town of Breckenridge, check out the museum dedicated to gold miners. For the shopper, check out the malls around the corner in the familiar megamalls. There are stores selling the latest fashions and brands that will please even the most discerning shoppers. You can buy luxury goods here about 7-8 times cheaper than in Moscow!
Hotels in the mountains In Aspen and the Vail Valley you can find a variety of hotels – from “star”, off the chic and luxurious, to fairly affordable, but outstanding quality, which takes into account all the needs of vacationers – from the ski storage to the barbecue outdoors. Open at the foot of Aspen Mountain between the two main elevators, The St. Regis is known for its gorgeous views and attentive service, and is also home to a popular back and spine therapy facility. One of the best hotels in Aspen is The Little Nell. Hotel, it is relatively small – only 92 rooms, but equipped with the latest technology. For the special comfort of guests there is individual service in accordance with all their wishes and the most exquisite cuisine. Not without reason 60% of the guests who have been there become regular guests of the hotel. The Hotel Jerome is a landmark in Aspen. Individually decorated suites with huge bathrooms are designed for people who prefer to combine the pleasures of winter recreation and sports with business. The special rooms are equipped with the latest equipment and satellite connection. Upon request, everything necessary for work and rest will be delivered upon arrival. The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Beavercreek embodies the classic approach to welcoming guests. It offers spacious and stylish rooms, relaxation in the spa and fitness center, fine cuisine and the highest level of service.
Mount Elbert – Rocky Mountain’s highest peak
Mount Elbert, located in the U.S. state of Colorado, is the largest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America. The slopes of Mount Elbert are covered with alpine meadows, coniferous and mixed forests, and several well-kept hiking trails lead to the top of the mountain, which offers scenic views.
Mount Elbert is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains
Mt. Elbert: Height and Description
The summit of Elbert rises to a height of 14,440 feet (4,401 m) above sea level, with a relative elevation of 9,093 feet (2,772 m). Although Elbert is only the fourteenth highest mountain in the United States, it has some outstanding titles:
- The highest peak in the Rocky Mountain system;
- the highest peak in the U.S. state of Colorado;
- the highest point of the Mississippi River basin.
Elbert, like all of the Rocky Mountains, was formed about 28 million years ago as a result of the Laramie orogeny, an upward movement of the Earth’s crust due to the collision of lithospheric plates. The mountain consists mainly of quartzite, with pegmatite, gneiss, and shale occurring in the upper layers.
The Elbert Massif is dome-shaped and the slopes are not steep, allowing almost anyone with minimal physical training to climb the mountain.
View from the top of Mount Elbert
Location of Mount Elbert on the map
This mountain range in the United States lies in Lake County in central Colorado. The closest population center to Mt. Elbert is the small town of Twin Lakes, which spreads out on the southeastern slope of the mountain at about 3,000 meters.
The location of major towns in relation to the slopes of Elbert is as follows:
- 80 km to the north is Vail;
- Denver 209 kilometers to the east;
- 64 km to the west is Aspen.
Elbert lies at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains and is the highest peak of the Sawatch Range. It is surrounded by 14 other major peaks: the closest in the north is Mount Massive (elevation – 4,398 m), in the east is Long’s Peak (4,346 m), in the southeast is Pikes Peak (4,301 m).
The exact geographic coordinates of Elbert Peak on the map are as follows:
- 39°07′04″ north latitude;
- 106°26′43″ west longitude.
Location of Mount Elbert on the map
Origin of the name and history of the conquest of the peak
The mountain got its name in 1873. The peak was named by the Colorado natives, the Utah Tribe, after Governor Samuel Hitt Elbert, who allowed Native American mining and railroad activity on the slopes of the massif (over 3 million acres).
The first documented foot climb of Mt. Elbert occurred in 1874. The climber was Henry W. Stuckle, a member of Ferdinand Hayden’s Rocky Mountain Exploration Program.
INTERESTING FACT. In 1873 a famous American writer and speaker, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, climbed the mountain by mule. She was the first woman to conquer the peak. In 1949, Mount Elbert was climbed by jeep.
Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was the first woman to summit Mt. Elbert
The legends of Mount Elbert: the struggle for heights
The original mapped elevation of Mt. Elbert was only 14,433 feet (4,399 m). This data was derived from 1929 sea level readings. But based on the 1988 North American Vertical Datum, the mountain’s elevation was updated to 14440 feet (4401 m).
In the 1970s, controversy swirled around Elbert about its status as the “highest peak in the Rocky Mountains.” A small group of people insisted that the title should go to nearby Mount Massive, which was only 5 feet (1.5 m) lower than Elbert (14,428 ft. vs. 14,433 ft.). The apogee of the controversy was that the strugglers for Mount Massive’s supremacy on top of this mountain were stacking stones to increase the height. The dispute went nowhere; Mount Elbert remained the highest peak.
Climatic features of the mountain
Elbert is characterized by a continental subarctic climate. Air temperature values depend not only on the time of year, but also on the altitude. Even in the summertime you can see snow and ice on the summit.
The mountain is dominated by the winter season for most of the year (from October to May) with short days, low temperatures, low humidity, and precipitation in the form of snow. During this period in the lower tiers of Elbert the daytime temperature stays around -2-9 °C, in the upper belt it can drop to -18-22 °C.
Photos of the summit of Mount Elbert at different times of the year
Summers on the mountain are short and mild, but rainy. The average daytime temperature from May to the end of September is 4-13 °C. But even in the summer the weather is very variable: at an average temperature of 12-13 ° C in July in the open areas the air can get up to 23 ° C, and at the top the thermometer drops sharply to 2-4 ° C. The warmest months are July and August.
The maximum recorded temperature on the slopes of Elbert reached 29.5 ° C in July, the minimum – minus 39 ° C in February.
During the summer months, the average wind speed on the slopes does not exceed 5 km / h, from November to April, the speed can reach 61 km/h. The wind is predominantly westerly.
Graph of temperatures and daylight hours on Mount Elbert
Flora and fauna of the highest of the Rockies
There are three altitude zones on the slopes of Mount Elbert:
The lower and middle tiers of the mountain have the most diverse vegetation: the first is covered by mixed forest with firs, spruces, and aspens, while the second is coniferous forest with cedars, larches, and pines. The alpine belt is predominantly desert, the most common representatives of the flora here are yellow daisies, silky phacelia, alpine gravil. Also among the rocks, sand and gravel you can find blackened sedge, northern green orchid, buttercups.
Of the animal life, the slopes of Mount Elbert are inhabited by:
- brown bears;
In addition, the lower and middle tiers are inhabited by many birds, and in the summer, grouse, turkeys, elk, and snow rams feed in the mountain forests.
Vegetation on top of Mount Elbert
How to get to Mount Elbert
The nearest communities to Mt. Elbert, Leadville and Twin Lakes, can be reached by car via US-24. The towns are mountainous, located about 3,000 meters above sea level.
The closest major airports to the Elbert slopes are in Aspen and Denver, where you can fly in on American Airlines or United. Driving from the air hubs to the mountain range is also better by rental car.
The route from Denver to Twin Lakes is first west on I-70 (about 163 km), turn right at exit 195 onto CO-91 (the road leads to Leadville), from Leadville continue on US-24. At Twin Lakes, the ascent begins on the east slope of Elbert.
The closest way to get from Leadville is to the start point of the North Trail. The route by car is as follows:
- Follow the 5.5 km south on US-24;
- at the intersection with CO-300, turn right (west) and drive 1.3 miles;
- Turn left onto Halfmoon Road; after about 9 km you will reach the start point of the North Mt. Elbert Trail.
Climbing Mt. Elbert: hiking trails
The slopes of Mount Elbert are a great option for weekend trekking. The routes are only grades 1-2 difficulty (according to the YDS system). In addition, the slopes are very rare avalanches, so climbers call Elbert “gentle giant. Special training for climbing is not required.
Today there are 3 hiking trails on Elbert Mountain.
- South Elbert Trail.
- North ( North Elbert Trail ).
- Black Cloud Trail.
South Elbert Trail
The trail starts north of Twin Lakes at Lakeview Campground. There are two starting points, one at 2,915 m and one at 3,182 m (accessible only by high suspension car).
This route runs along the eastern slope of the mountain, its length in one direction is 8.9 km or 6.4 km (depending on the starting point), the ascent to an altitude of 1200 m. At the lower elevation, the trail passes through aspen forest, meadow, and coniferous forest. After the elevation mark of about 3,475 m, the trail goes through an alpine meadow, the road is quite steep here.
Grove on the South Trail to the summit of Mt. Elbert
This trail, which runs along the northeastern slope of the mountain, is the most popular with hikers. The starting point is located near the Elbert Creek Campground (elevation 3070 m). The trail is 7.4 km one way and has an elevation gain of 1400 m.
The first part of the trail goes through coniferous forest, after about 4 km the trail enters alpine tundra. There are many false peaks on this route, so you should be careful to reach the real Elbert Peak.
The end point of the Northern Trail to Mt. Elbert Peak
Black Cloud Trail.
The route is the most difficult of the three, and it runs along the south slope of the mountain. It is 17.5 km round trip and has an elevation gain of 1,531 m.
Black Cloud route on the south slope of Mount Elbert on the map
The route is conventionally divided into 3 parts:
- From the starting point to the southeast ridge of Elbert;
- along the southeast ridge to the saddle;
- up the south ridge to the summit (14,440 feet).
Although the lower part of the route is the most scenic (passing through mixed forest with mountain waterfalls), the ascent for the first 5 km is the steepest.
You can reach the Black Cloud starting point from Twin Lakes by taking CO-82, about 6.5 km west.
View from the south face of Mt. Elbert
Tips for climbing Mt. Elbert
The average round-trip length on the South and North trails is 7 hours. Experienced climbers complete the routes in 5 hours. It can take 10-14 hours to climb the Black Cloud.
Here are some tips for climbing Mt. Elbert.
- It’s a good idea to start climbing in the summertime with sunrise (about 04:30 to 06:00) so you’ll be back to base by noon.
- Thunderstorms are frequent on the mountain in summer, so you should leave immediately at the first peals of thunder.
- While the risk of an avalanche on Elberta is minimal, winter ascents are recommended on the north and east slopes only. In winter, you will need snowshoes to tackle the route.
- Clothing for climbing should be layered and windproof. Take sunscreen and wear dark glasses. Even in the summer months it will be nice to have a winter hat and gloves, as well as a raincoat.
- Of the mandatory equipment on the trails: map, compass, navigator, headlamp, and first aid kit. Don’t forget food (light but nutritious) and plenty of water.
The main danger that can overtake you during the ascent – the mountain sickness. At the slightest sign (dizziness, nausea, severe headache) you should immediately go down, because the prolonged oxygen deprivation can lead to pulmonary edema, paralysis and even death.
The peak of Mount Elbert under the snow
Tourism and infrastructure
The Colorado Forest Service campgrounds are near the start points on Mt. Elbert. Lakeview Campground is near the south trailhead and Elbert Creek and Halfmoon Creek are near the north trailhead. The campsites are equipped with drinking water sources and restrooms, but there are no showers.
Lakeview Campground is officially open from mid-May to early September and can accommodate up to 60 trailers up to 10 meters long at a time. The cost per night is $12.
Elbert Creek and Halfmoon Creek host campers from late May to late September. The territory of the first base accommodates 17 campsites up to 5 meters long, the second – 24 cars. The price to rent a place per night is $13.
Those who like comfort can stay at the Twin Lakes Inn in Twin Lakes. True, there are only six rooms. More accommodations are offered in Leadville, with a bed and breakfast at the hotel costing an average of $45-$50 per person.
There is free parking at the start points of each of the routes to Mt. Elbert.
View of Mt. Elbert from Lakeview Campground
Here’s something else interesting about Mount Elbert.
- In the continental United States, Elbert is the second highest mountain after California’s Whitney.
- When the Colorado Avalanche hockey team won the NHL playoffs in 2001, club vice president Mark Waggoner climbed to the top of Elbert with the Stanley Cup.
- Elbert was climbed by mules, horses, ATVs, jeeps and even helicopter flights.
- There were grizzly bears on the slopes of the mountain, but they were completely exterminated by man in the 19th century.
Climbing Mount Elbert – video
Here is a video of the ascent to the summit of Mount Elbert on the east slope (South Trail).