Snowmass used to be so quiet at night it was downright spooky.
About five years ago after an evening of sledding and hot cocoa at mid-mountain, while riding a gondola that slid quietly through the darkness back into town, my young daughters swear they saw a ghost.
My husband took the opportunity to weave a tale about a miner who lost his fortune and his family on the mountain and haunted all those who dared to “make merry” on such hallowed ground. He was so descriptive that when we finally cajoled the girls out of the gondola cabin, they ran screaming through the row of closed shops all the way to the car.
At more than 3,300 acres, Snowmass is the largest of Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains. On any given day, about 60 percent of the company’s visitors are at Snowmass. But typically when the lifts are closed, those visitors headed to Aspen or elsewhere for après, dinner and entertainment — we always did.
Flash forward to this ski season and the long-awaited opening of Snowmass Base Village and it’s a much different scene.
In addition to the terraced collection of shops known as Snowmass Mall that have always lined the west side of the ski hill, there is now a town square (actually more of a “town oval” since its centerpiece is an ice skating rink) just below the mountain’s main lifts. After a day on the slopes, people gather to watch the skaters, have a drink by the firepit, browse the shops or indulge in a well-earned treat.
During our mid-December visit for the grand opening, we stayed at one of the major anchors of the new Base Village: the Limelight Hotel.
They were putting the finishing touches on the hotel when we arrived a day prior to its official opening and were given a “punch list” at check-in to make sure no detail was overlooked.
• Modern furnishings and a hip vibe? Check
• A game for guests to play in their room? Check (ours was a set of juggling balls)
• Kitchenette with an awesome orange mini fridge? Check
• Five-story indoor climbing wall? Check
That’s right: the Limelight Hotel Snowmass is home to a climbing wall with three self-belay routes that mimic actual climbs in the Roaring Fork Valley. There’s a lower route for beginners and two that allow scaling all 54 feet of the wall.
They all looked challenging to me from my view from the Limelight’s massive hot tubs — pardon me; they are called “Spa Pools.” The two square, black pools are the size that would result from a night when a regular-sized hot tub and an Olympic-sized swimming pool got together after having too many drinks spilled in them.
I’ll admit, a cocktail in the hot tub is my go-to after a day of skiing. I think it’s awesome (and about time) that Snowmass has off-mountain activities, but I leave it all on the hill and do little more at the end of the day than soak, sip and sleep.
However, there is the matter of building up your strength for the next day’s skiing, and Snowmass now has more dining offerings. Like its counterpart in Aspen, the Limelight (which will be open year round) is known for its wood-fired pizza. In addition to traditional toppings, they also have creations such as “The Green,” a veggie creation with spinach, broccoli and crispy kale.
On the other side of the ice rink from the Limelight, you’ll find The Crepe Shack, the third restaurant opened in the area by Chef Mawa McQueen and her husband, Daniel.
Despite its casual name, the shack menu isn’t just frivolous, berry-filled dessert crepes (though those are so good I felt like I was back in Paris). Also on the menu are savory, hearty crepes stuffed with everything from red wine-braised beef short ribs to oven-roasted turkey.
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention that on the “private selection” portion of the menu is a crepe with smoked salmon, egg, dill cream sauce and 30 grams of Petrosian Classic Ossetra caviar for $120. (Don’t worry, there are also crepes in the $10-$13 range.)
For a sit-down dining experience, Chef Martin Oswald will be setting up shop across the plaza (the ice skating rink will be replaced by a turf or grass surface for the warmer weather) in the Collective Snowmass building. The restaurant mix6 will open this fall in the town-owned building, which will also host live music, art, film and educational speakers.
As the community filled the plaza to celebrate the grand opening, there were no signs of the struggles overcome to build a base village for Snowmass.
Gather round the firepit and I’ll tell you the tale that begins right before the turn of the century. It was 1999 when Aspen Skiing Co. bought the 500 acres that would eventually be Snowmass Base Village. There would be changes in ownership and developers, a bankruptcy, a public election and a permit issue with the U.S. Army before the Base Village would finally be built.
Given the delays and drama over two decades, it was more likely the ghost of a developer’s past than a miner that my family saw haunting the moonlit hill those years before.
I can’t be sure, but during the grand opening, I think I saw him kicking his feet up by the firepit enjoying a caviar crepe.