SNOWMASS MEANS SUMMER FUN, FALL COLORS, LOW PRICES
What’s in a name? If it’s “Snowmass,” the ski resort in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, snow-capped mountains are the images to pop into my mind. But after seeing Snowmass, not the resort but the Village, in its warm-weather plumage, the wildflowers blooming and the hills flecked with green, I’ll never think of it again in quite the same way.
From December through March, the ski resort is the big dog here in the Brush Creek Valley. It’s the alpha male that powers the economy, the nucleus and around which everything swirls and whirls. You can’t ski here and not notice the crowds of skiers, the perfectly-groomed snow, the well-marked trails and the convenient ski-check facilities.
But skiing lasts just four months, give or take a week. For the rest of the year, from Spring through Fall, Snowmass the Village, originally a ranch community, returns to its roots. Lines are unknown at the supermarket and the lift ticket desk. The restaurants are busy but never full. You can count on parking spaces and good seats at the rodeo grounds, where the local cowboys test their skills once a week in summer.
When you come in winter, you know what you’re going to do. Ski and ski some more. But this was summer and our time was limited. In short order we’d planned fly fishing, river rafting, a jeep trip and a couple of hikes. We reserved an afternoon in Aspen for window shopping, and an evening for the weekly pop concert on Fannie Hill. A local event, the concert brings out a couple of thousand people who arrive with blankets, picnic baskets and coolers. Everyone knows everyone else, and there’s much waving and visiting. Meanwhile the band sets up on a stage near the top of the ski “village,” and plays for a couple of hours. Vendors sell hot dogs, burgers and glasses of wine, handy for out-of-towners.
Best of all, lodging prices for family-size condominiums drop 30 to 40 percent during most summer weeks. Why does a three-bedroom condo costing $400 a night in March drop to $123 in late July or mid-September? Because ski area lodging is mostly empty, most of the time.
As novice fishermen, our expectations about catching anything were pretty low. But we were lucky enough to be paired with Roger Morse, with Aspen Fly Fishing, who's fished the Roaring Fork for 20 years, and knows both the river and its trout. It looked like a laid-back day was in store as we ambled down to the riverbank together, and selected a shallow spot to stand on. Then, taking out his box of dry and wet flies, he explained the process.
We were to make a short, controlled cast -- no dramatic whipping the rod back and forth, please -- and drop the fly onto a quiet pool near rushing water. Because we'd be using barbless hooks, it was important to watch the line and jerk it up when a fish took an exploratory nibble. Setting the hook was critical , he said, to actually hooking the fish. To show us what he meant, he selected a fly, tied it on and dropped it out about 15 feet. The next instant a big trout hit the hook, leaped out of the water and took off downstream. As we watched, awestruck, it was man against fish, until Morse reeled it close to the bank and slipped it into the net.
“And that’s how you do it,” he said matter of factly, carefully slipping out the hook and releasing the fish. And how did WE do? Three trout each by the end of the afterroon.
We also signed up for a three-hour raft trip with Blazing Adventures, an eight-mile run on the Roaring Fork River that promised to be a couple of thrills and a lot of laughs. Instead, it was one of the best short floats we've taken, with non-stop white water and plenty of serious thrills. Our guide, Ali Rudolph, set the tone with her rare sense of humor, but it was the giant waves and holes that made the trip a white-knuckle thriller.
But the river isn't always so wild. A week of unusually hot weather melted the snowpack, which poured into the creeks and streams, raising the water levels and volume. The Class 3 rapids aptly nicknamed “abcess,” “pipeline” and “catcher’s mitt” -- looked and felt like genuine Class 4s. The eight in our raft paddled like mad, while Rudolph kept us afloat, steering expertly around rocks and down and out of mean-looking holes.
Among other outfitter-guided activities in Snowmass are guided backpacking, horseback rides, hayrides, chuck wagon dinners and jeep tours. Some are geared for families; others are longer and more strenuous. Travelers on a budget can take advantage of nature's bounty and the ski resort's 3,500 acres, most open in summer, at no charge, to hikers, walkers, mountain bikers and birders. Tickets for the gondola, bike rentals and the resort-run children’s day camp cost extra. But the best of Snowmass -- the mountain views, pine-scented breezes and orangey-pink sunsets -- is free.
ABOUT SNOWMASS IN SUMMER, VISIT THESE SITES: aspensnowmass.com, aspenflyfishing.com, blazingadventures.com, destinationsnowmass.com, snowmasspress.com.
Anne Cooke & Steve Haggerty have lost more fish than they've caught. But they keep on trying. Contact them at TravelsWithAnne.com.