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Aspen Snowmass—Colorado’s Best Big Mountain

One of my favorite spring ski days of all time happened on a powder day at Snowmass—or, shall I say, it was a powder day at the top of Snowmass.

The venerable ski area, which celebrates 50 years of operation in 2018, has an impressive 4,406 feet of vertical drop (the longest lift-served vert in the USA). If you happen to catch the weather just right, you could be smashing through the pow at the 12,510’ top and slashing through the slush at the base at 8,104’. It was crazy fun to drop down the mountain through a variety of conditions, then ride the lifts back up while the misty rain at the bottom hardened into a crystalline shell of ice on the ascent. The takeaway here is Snowmass is a big mountain—and one that is often overlooked by skiers looking for the perfect mountain getaway.

Big Terrain, Long Runs, No Lift Lines

All levels of skiers and riders will dig the varied terrain at Snowmass.

Aspen Snowmass / Jeremy Swanso

Nearby Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands ski areas may have more trendy reputations, but Snowmass is the quiet king of Aspen. Boasting 3,128 skiable acres with wide-open terrain, terrific trees, bold bowls, and all-levels of runs, Snowmass comes in at 6% green, 47% blue, 17% black, and 30% expert. Lift lines are practically unheard of and many of the runs are so wide-open and long, you’ll often feel like you have the entire mountain to yourself. There may be no better cruiser than Longshot, a sustained 5.3-mile run that offers plenty of detours into trees, glades, bumps, and an array of natural features to play around on. Burnt Mountain offers a maze of blue and black rated runs in the trees and vast views of the foothills to the north.

Extreme skiers and boarders can hoof it up to the Cirque Headwall and Hanging Valley for some bonafide double black terrain, including big, huckable cliffs, and tight gullies.

Many skiers prefer a combo of cruisers, bumps, trees, and a few fun obstacles here and there—and Snowmass delivers. Big Burn, High Alpine, and Elk Camp lifts all service moderate terrain with some more challenging sections in the mix. And if that wasn’t enough, there are three terrain parks, including the iconic 22-foot Superpipe, for those who want to go big.

Beautiful, powdery, terrain awaits.

Bochen Chen

And for beginners, don’t let the low number of green runs intimidate you; remember, this is a big mountain—there’s plenty of casual runs. Many of the blues are mellow and spacious, perfect for mastering your turns.

Wait, There’s More! Views, Restaurants, and Lodging

Enjoy incredible views of the Elk Range from Snowmass.

Bochen Chen

Snowmass sits at the base of the Elk Range, an impressive, jagged, range of mountains that includes seven summits over 14,000’. Many of the Elk Range peaks have horizontal bands of rock that fill with snow in the winter, making them especially photogenic from the high vistas of Snowmass. The higher you go, the more impressive the south-facing views of the Elks become.

A quick sidenote: Snowmass ski resort isn’t actually located on 14,092’ Snowmass Mountain, but the tip of the namesake peak can be seen from the resort.

You can also enjoy the scenery from any of the resort’s 8 on-mountain restaurants. Every Friday during ski season, Snowmass has Ullr Nights, a fun on-mountain event at Elk Camp with tubing, live music, and great food. There’s also the night time snowcat dinners at the Lynn Britt Cabin, an event that occurs throughout the year and has a family-friendly environment.

One of the best features of Snowmass is how much ski-in / ski-out lodging is available on the peak (and even better, many lodging options are dog friendly!). The Crestwood is one such property, offering condo style lodging with one, two, and three bedroom options, perfect for any size crew.

Uphill traffic is allowed on the mountain for those who want to get a workout and earn their turns. And there’s also a new alpine coaster, a zippy way to cruise over the terrain on an elevated track.

Getting There

Wide open runs with just enough trees to keep it interesting, that's Snowmass.

Bochen Chen

Snowmass is about a 4-hour drive from the Front Range cities of Denver / Boulder / Golden, so for Colorado natives it’s worth sticking around for a few days. The Aspen Snowmass website can help you arrange lodging, lift tickets, and see what events are around the corner. When you visit, get ready to spend a full day exploring the mountain—chances are you’ll only see a small portion of the available terrain, even if you ski from first to last lift.

Or to put it another way: no other mountain in Colorado "feels" like Snowmass. It’s big, but has a hometown vibe. It boasts of excellent food and fun nightlife, but isn’t pretentious. And it’s far enough away from the city for feel like a real adventure, but close enough to enjoy over a long weekend. Snowmass really has something for everyone all set in one of the most beautiful mountainous areas in the Rocky Mountains.

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by Aspen Snowmass

9 Outdoor Companies Breaking Barriers in Colorado

There’s a reason people who love to be outdoors choose to live in Colorado. With 10,000-plus miles of trail through national parks, state parks, national forests, and other public lands, the Centennial State has no shortage of breathtaking scenery—and endless opportunities for running, mountain biking, skiing, paddling, and climbing. With all that, it’s no wonder so many outdoor brands have chosen to set up shop in Colorado. The natural landscape inspires constant innovation, much of which helps to enable conservation and stewardship of Colorado’s natural resources. Check out these nine cutting-edge brands that continue to break barriers in the state where we live, work, and play.

1. Big Agnes

"When you boil outdoor adventure down to its purest essence," the Big Agnes website explains, “you end up with the simple act of camping.” That philosophy has driven the Steamboat Springs-based company for the fifteen years it’s been manufacturing sleeping bags, pads, tents, and apparel. Big Agnes has won Gear of the Year-type awards from Outside, Backpacker, and Men’s Journal (among others) for innovations like it's breathable and waterproof eVent fabric. The company also supports numerous nonprofits, like the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and SheJumps, and has a committed corporate social responsibility policy that supports fair labor standards and uses alternative energy sources and sustainable materials whenever possible.

2. Honey Stinger

Plenty of companies put out nutrition products meant for athletes, but in a place with as many serious outdoorsy folks as Colorado, it’s crucial that those snacks be delicious, too. And Steamboat Springs’ Honey Stinger delivers. Honey Stinger’s energy gels and chews, waffles, protein bars, and kid-friendly snacks are made with their own blend of organic wildflower honey, which is free of genetically modified ingredients. Thanks to a culture of encouraging employees to spend time in the outdoors, Honey Stinger regularly participates in REI’s #OptOutside on Black Friday, and its Hive sponsorship program provides support for both amateur and professional athletes.

3. Spyderco

A reliable knife is an essential part of any backcountry adventure kit. With roots in Golden since the 1980s, Spyderco is the pioneer behind the folding knife. With a never-before-seen round hole in the blade, allowing users to open it with one hand, the first Spyderco folding knife has become a staple not only in the cutlery industry, but in the outdoors as well. Sypderco knives also feature a clip on the handle (since it’s so easy to lose those tiny items in the field) and the option of a serrated blade. The company also makes a point of contributing to the local community, donating a portion of proceeds from its knife sales to charitable organizations.

4. Wagner Custom Skis

Nestled in the heart of the San Miguel Mountains in southwest Colorado, Wagner Custom Skis creates gorgeous custom skis. Their cutting edge Skier DNA fitting process takes stock of customers’ skiing behavior and goals, then calls on its team of ski design engineers, computerized diagnostic tools, and high-quality materials to fine-tune your dream skis. Wagner has also managed to do away with the limitations of traditional ski molds, opting instead to assemble skis, as they describe it, "like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle." With over 7,000 pairs of Wagner custom skis on the slopes to date, this company can stand behind its guarantee: love your new skis, or they’ll refund your money or build you another pair.


Who said there was nothing new under the sun? Pagosa Springs-based VOORMI is a relative newcomer to the outdoor apparel scene, working to push the boundaries of merino wool. Advances in precision knitting allow VOORMI to create fabrics that reflect or absorb light, hold less odor, and are incredibly soft. The company also uses surface-hardened wool technology, which means you can, incredibly, wear a wool garment as a water-resistant layer. All VOORMI products are manufactured right here in the U.S. of A.

6. OtterBox

If there’s one outdoor product everyone needs, it’s a durable case to keep your electronics from breaking or getting wet on a backcountry adventure, which is why OtterBox has won so many awards. Once a tiny Fort Collins startup, OtterBox began by creating a sturdy drybox for whitewater kayakers. Today, in addition to its original wares, the company produces reliable protection cases for phones and cameras, along with several others types of cases to keep gear dry and intact. OtterBox is also known for its positive company culture and excellent employee benefits, and the OtterCares Foundation is committed to empowering kids through philanthropy and entrepreneurship.

7. Never Summer Industries

Headquartered and manufactured in Denver, Never Summer’s snowboards have a solid reputation for good reason. Never Summer has the first patent of its kind for its hybrid camber technology, so they’ve earned the right to be picky about the shops that sell their snowboards and longboards. They’ve been building snowboards since the onset of the sport in the early 1980s, and have been testing and fine-tuning their products since. This independent manufacturer also offers a three-year warranty on its products, so you know that you and your board will be taken care of.

8. Smartwool

There’s a reason this Steamboat Springs-based wool manufacturer regularly appears on Outside Magazine’s list of Best Places to Work. Smartwool takes great care of its employees and the places they love to play, offering 40 hours of paid volunteer time annually, generous vacation policies, and a culture of playing outside. In addition to a commitment to using sustainable, ethically-sourced materials for its high-quality products (with a 100% satisfaction guarantee for customers), Smartwool sponsors several nonprofit organizations, including conservation and stewardship-minded orgs like Leave No Trace, the Conservation Alliance, and Protect Our Winters.

9. The e-Bike Company

Want to explore Colorado by bike, but feel a little intimidated by the route? Or maybe you have some family members that never quite learned how to ride a bike, but are still up for a two-wheeled adventure? Well, the e-Bike Company, based in Colorado Springs, has created a machine to help. Their electric-assisted bikes are clean and quiet, offering riders the chance to go farther and faster than they could on their own—all while experiencing the incredible scenery Colorado has to offer. They also make it possible to expose friends and family who aren’t cyclists, along with kids and those with physical disabilities, to the joy of cycling. The e-Bike Company also offers kits to convert your current bike into an electric bike—and, when you’re ready to break a sweat again, you can dial it back and mash those pedals.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Choose Colorado and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by Steven Bratman

How to Take a Train into the Heart of Some of Colorado’s Most Stunning Mountains

There’s no shortage of things to do in Durango, Colorado. Whether you’re on the lookout for a heart-pumping hike, a high-adrenaline adventure, or something the whole family can enjoy, there’s something just outside city limits for you. Among the best adventures is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, but it’s not just a phenomenal modern-day adventure. The railroad is actually closely tied to Durango’s history.

By the late 19th century, thanks to successful mining in the San Juan Mountains, southwestern Colorado needed a real town. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway chose the site of present day Durango, on the banks of the Animas River, to build its depot. The railroad officially made its way into the Animas Valley in August 1881, and began building the line out to Silverton later that year.

The route to Silverton was completed in 1882. Unlike many historic railroads originally used primarily for freight, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has always served passengers; service began almost immediately when the route was finished. It was also used to transport gold and silver ore mined in the San Juans. (In fact, the historic railway estimates that it’s transported more than $300 million worth of precious metals via this route.)

Successful mining operations, along with the advent of the car and the designation of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906, resulted in a major growth spurt in populations in Durango, Silverton, and nearby Ouray around the turn of the century.

The route to Silverton was completed in 1882.

Visit Durango

In the ensuing years, though, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad faced some serious adversity. In 1889, a fire destroyed much of Durango’s downtown area, and a few years later, two major mines, the Guston and Yankee Girl, played out. Next, the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic hit Silverton, wiping out a tenth of the township, followed by the closing of two more major silver operations and a host of financial problems (including hardship brought on by World War I) and natural disasters, the combination of which resulted in the closure of the Silverton branch.

The Silverton railroad reopened briefly between World War II and the Cold War, but by the late 1940s, it was on the verge of a second closing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its stunning location, the railway was saved by its natural surroundings when Hollywood discovered the San Juans and began filming movies, including the classic Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in the area.

Today, visitors to southwestern Colorado can still relive the vibrant history of the Old West with a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad year-round. The train is still completely coal-fired and steam-operated, with locomotives dating back to 1923-25, and many of the cars dating back to the 1800s. Regardless of your inclination—whether you’re more interested in just seeing the sights or jumping in with both feet—there’s something for you.

For Families

There’s never a bad time to take your family for a ride between Durango and Silverton.

Visit Durango

Some parents might be cringing at the thought of wrangling a herd of kiddos on a train car, but the railway has you covered. Concessions and bathrooms are available on every ride, and the cars are heated during the winter months, so there’s never a bad time to take your family for a ride. (Between early May and late October, the train travels all the way to Silverton. From mid-November to May, you’ll take an abbreviated trip to Cascade Canyon.)

The railway makes it easy for families to enjoy the tracks with various packages and discounts throughout the year, including a Polar Express train ride in November and December. Kids ride free to Cascade Canyon during the month of February. There’s also a military discount available.

For Hikers

When it arrives at its terminus in Silverton, the railroad deposits passengers right at the doorstep of two of Colorado’s most spectacular wilderness areas: the Uncompahgre, home to (and a perfect base camp for) two Fourteeners, and the Weminuche, the state’s largest wilderness area, which is actually bisected by the railway (it’s got three Fourteeners, as well). You can also hop off the train at the Needleton Flagstop, halfway between Durango and Silverton, and hike out to Chicago Basin or Twin Lakes. The train sees plenty of passengers with hiking and camping gear, so keep an eye out for their Backpacker Special during the summer.

For Adrenaline Junkies

Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours runs trips where passengers ride the rails and the river.

Visit Durango

Combine the novelty of riding an historic rail line with the excitement of running rapids on the Lower Animas River. That’s the idea that inspired Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours, an authorized vendor for train tickets, to run trips where passengers ride the rails and the river. The day starts with a ride on the train, following the Animas River through canyons and secluded wilderness. Passengers disembark in Silverton to window shop and have lunch, then head back toward Durango on the Million Dollar Highway. That’s when the adrenaline part comes in: with its steep drops and tight curves, the highway will have you primed for your adventure on the Lower Animas, where you’ll get to run Class II and III rapids. (Mountain Waters runs similar trips and is also an authorized outfitter.)

For Motorheads

If a full day on a train won’t quite fulfill your need for speed, you’re in luck. Several local outfitters offer jeep tour/train packages, and in the winter, there’s a corresponding snowmobile tour (pricing varies based on age and whether drivers are licensed). Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, for example, runs a package deal with a one-way trip on the train, followed by a 4X4 tour over breathtaking Kennebec Pass, while Mild to Wild offers a chance to explore ghost towns near Silverton via 4X4.

For History Buffs

Actors in authentic period costumes tell passengers first-person stories about what it was like to live in the American Southwest.

Visit Durango

See for yourself why the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is still around more than a century after its first journey. Historic Narration tours are available year-round, with different stories told in the spring, summer, and during the holiday season. Actors in authentic period costumes tell passengers first-person stories about what it was like to live in the American Southwest during the boom days, and narrators include the personalities of railroad entrepreneur Otto Mears, Durango Record founder Caroline Romney, and Robert Dwyer, Durango’s first Marshall, among many others. Historic narration pricing ranges from $85/adult in the winter months to $119/adult (or $153/adult for Deluxe service, which is in a restored 1887 closed-vestibule coach) from May to October for a full-day excursion.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Durango Area Tourism Office and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by Visit Durango