Aspen/Snowmass comes about as close to being Colorado’s iconic resort as is possible. Former home to author Hunter S. Thompson, not to mention winter home to a number of celebrities and super wealthy, Aspen's glamour belies its counterculture past.
Seasonal workers love the fact that Aspen is in fact four separate non-linked mountains, each with its own character of terrain to explore during the season: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. You can combine that with a thriving town, a huge number of seasonal staff, an internationally recognised name and visitors from all over the world - making Aspen/Snowmass a particularly popular place to work a season.
Overall for seasonal workers, Aspen is sweet because of the terrain and cool town, but you have to be prepared to pay more than at other resorts. You may also feel less like a local compared to other resorts given that so many of the shops/bars/restaurants are aimed at the super rich.
Aspen/Snowmass is located on State Highway 82, in the middle of the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the Roaring Fork Valley. Highway 82 becomes Main Street in downtown Aspen, while Snowmass Village connects to Highway 82 Brush Creek Road and Owl Creek Road.
Aspen is around three and a half hours drive (198 miles/318 kms) west of Denver. From Denver, you take I-70 west until Glenwood Springs, from where you turn onto Highway 82 and head 41 miles south. The drive is a simple one if you have your own car.
If you don’t have a car, you could take the Colorado Mountain Express shuttle service from Denver Airport. A one-way trip is around $120.
For a more expensive option, you could fly directly to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport which is located just three miles from town or five minutes from Buttermilk. Flights arrive in from eight major cities, including Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston Atlanta and Minneapolis - on carriers United, American Airlines and Delta.
Once in town, you really don’t need a car. Aspen is super pedestrian friendly and cross-able in around 20 minutes. Bikes are really popular now in Aspen, even in winter, and many locals get around on their two-wheelers. This would be worth purchasing for the season when you arrive.
To get between the mountains, you can take the Roaring Fork Transit Authority (known to locals as Rafta) which is the local bus service. There are ski and snowboard racks to take your gear with you. It is free to go between Aspen and Snowmass.
You need to pay if you want to go further afield, such as up to Glenwood Springs on the I-70. This is nice to do at least once during the season for a change of scenery.
There are also a number of taxi and shuttle services operating in Aspen including High Mountain Taxi and Aspen Limo Services. These can be used to get from the airport into town.
Aspen has a year-round population of around 7,000 and it would undoubtedly be more if real estate wasn’t so expensive.
The town was named for the abundance of Aspen trees in the area – white barked trees that look beautiful in winter when covered in snow, and provide a contrast to the pines found throughout Colorado.
Aspen was founded on the back of the silver mining boom in the late 1880s and original buildings can still be found in town. In the 1970s, Aspen gained a reputation among counterculture youth for hedonism and as a place for counterculture idealists to settle. Both Hunter S. Thompson and singer John Denver arrived during this time.
This is a far cry from Aspen today, however, as it now has the most expensive real estate in the country, and is a well-known spot for celebrities and corporate-types. Many of the super rich, both domestic and international, have their second homes here. Median price for housing is reportedly around $5 million.
You can find super high-end retail, restaurants and bars in Aspen and general living is expensive, including rent. Expect most of your wages to go on living costs throughout the season. Nonetheless, seasonal workers always find a way to be thrifty, and there are a number of cheaper bars and food joints that seasonal workers gravitate towards during the season.
But, in Aspen, given the glitz, you will never feel as local as if you were in a small mountain resort.
Aspen is made up of four mountains and there is some great terrain to be found.
Snowmass is the biggest of the four and is bigger than most Colorado resorts by itself with 1,348 hectares (3,332 acres). This includes the longest vertical rise in the U.S. at 4,406 feet (1,343 metres). It is actually awesome and has every type of terrain you could want over the season.
Half the trails are rated as intermediate, with plenty of cruisers. For experts, a full third of the trails are rated as double black, and there are genuinely extreme lines near the High Alpine lift. Although lapping High Alpine takes time which is a bit of a downside. Head to the Cirque area as well for nice powder stashes once you have your seasonal legs broken in.
Buttermilk is the best place for beginners with a lot of easy slopes. Buttermilk and Snowmass are home to the Aspen terrain parks which are among the best in the U.S. The Winter X Games are held in Aspen each year at Buttermilk.
Aspen Highlands is where the locals and old-timers like to go. This has the best hike-to terrain at Aspen in the Highland Bowl, when it is open. The Highland Bowl has in-bounds off-piste terrain which can only be accessed by hiking, and which funnels down to trees.
The terrain at Highlands is very steep, up to 48 degree pitches, but well worth the hike. The view from the top of the Maroon Bells mountain (14,156 feet) is also spectacular and a must during your season. You’ll also get the best snow in the Highlands Bowl given it gets the least traffic of the Aspen areas.
Aspen Mountain runs from the town of Aspen. It is quite a small area and has no beginner terrain at all. You’ll really only come here if you’re after steep cruisers and bumps.
Most seasonal workers will end up spending days off at Snowmass, Highlands or Buttermilk.
Aspen Mountain Trail Map
Buttermilk Trail Map
Highlands Trail Map
Not as bad as at some of the resorts closer to Denver, but Aspen is by no means a secret. The most solitude will be found at Highlands Bowl.
Average annual snowfall is 300 inches / 762cm. This is fairly average by Colorado standards. You could expect 5 – 10 genuine powder days throughout the season. The runs can get icy during dry periods. Powder on the popular areas gets tracked out fairly quickly.
Snowmass and Buttermilk both regularly feature in the top 10 terrain parks in North America. Perhaps only Mammoth Mountain in California matches them. Combined, they make the best choice of terrain parks in the one place in the country.
There are so many features here you could never tire of them during the season.
There are two ways to apply for a job at Aspen - directly, or by attending one of the job fairs.
To apply direction, see the job positions advertised at www.aspensnowmass.com/we-are-different/employment and then click on job openings and the desired job.
See Jobs Available at Mountain Resorts for a description of ski resort jobs.
Aspen is a large operation with plenty of jobs available each season. Job advertisement for winter usually begins in July/August.
As opposed to smaller operations, there are often jobs available all the way through November and into December. There are always plenty of hospitality jobs on offer, as well as jobs at some of the Aspen operated hotels such as Limelight and The Little Nell.
Aspen runs several job fairs leading into the season. These are usually company-wide job fairs, offering jobs in all departments (Hospitality, Food & Beverage and Mountain Operations are the usual ones).
Aspen usually runs one fair per month in August, September, October and November at Buttermilk.
You register for the fair at www.aspensnowmass.com/we-are-different/employment under ‘job openings’, then turn up on the day and undertake interviews with your desired department.
Unfortunately, Aspen is quite tough to get work as an international applicant.
See Work a Winter Season in the USA for information on working visas for the U.S.
Aspen does not accept H2B sponsored position visa applications. Even if you get a J-1 visa, walk-in applicants will not be considered – you need to secure a position before arriving if you have a J-1 visa.
New J-1 applicants will only be considered through the job programs with which Aspen partners. These include:
International Job Fairs
Aspen runs international job fairs in South America each year to fill positions through the job programs WE-Tag and WorkUSE. These are usually held in August in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Bariloche and Mar del Plat) as well as in Lima, Peru.
Working for Aspen, you’ll get a free season pass to all four mountains, free ski lessons, dependent ski passes for full-time employees, discounts on food and beverage and some retail, paid time-off to volunteer, and free skiing at seven other Colorado resorts.
A few local resources to find jobs include:
Aspen has employee housing available at ASC Housing. There are 600 places available. In winter, priority is given to full-time employees. The manager of your department is the person to talk to about securing employee housing.
The housing available includes:
Aspen: Annex, Holiday House, & Snow Eagle
Aspen Highlands: Heatherbed
Buttermilk: ABC Residences
Snowmass Village: Club Commons I & II, & Divide
The Snowmass Village apartments at Club Commons have the most space and are the liveliest of the staff acccommodations. These have mostly four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each of these has a living room as well as a kitchen with stove, refrigerator and microwave. You’ll need to supply your own linen and kitchen utensils. The accommodation is pretty standard for a ski resort and nothing special, but is adequate.
While you may be assigned a spot near your work, there is also a good chance you won’t be. For example, you might have a job in Aspen town, but be assigned housing in Snowmass and so have to take the bus to work each day. It just comes down to luck.
Annex is the best property and is located in Aspen; Holiday House and Snow Eagle are both very basic but right in the centre of Aspen town; Heatherbed is very quiet and a few miles out of town; ABC Residences are near the airport and also fairly quiet.
Minimum leases are 5 months, so you need to pay for 5 months even if you quit early.
Aspen Mountain also has ‘down-valley’ accommodation which is open to the public on a first-come/first-serve basis and is an option if you secure work not with Aspen/Snowmass. The housing is:
El Jebel: Sopris View Apartments, & Campground
Carbondale: Thunder River Lodge, & Keator Grove
Marolt Housing offers seasonal accommodation at a cheaper rate for people working in Aspen. These are three bedroom places and if you get in early you could find a place for $900 a month.
Local resources where you might also find advertised properties include:
Be warned that Aspen is super expensive. For a one bedroom place, $1,500 - $1,800 per month is standard. For a two bedroom place, you're looking at around $3,000 a month.
You should be aiming to arrive in town by early November otherwise you will only be left with the extremely expensive properties.
There are hostel rooms at St Moritz hotel for around $50 per night for a shared room where you can stay while you are looking for a place. This goes down to around $40 a night if you stay for more than 30 days. This is about as cheap as it gets in Aspen.
Aspen comes alive at night. The town is thriving in winter and there is always a place to grab a drink or some food with co-workers.
The bars are definitely upmarket and pretty chic and things like truffles fries are not uncommon on the menu. Check out Chair 9 and 39 Degrees for après-ski drinks. 39 Degrees also has local specials on drinks. Little Nell's Oasis Pop-Up bar serves up a wave of delicious champagne as well as caviar. Nothing like caviar after a day on the slopes!
Escobar is the outrageously trendy club while Belly Up Aspen brings in big-name acts each season and is the place for live music. The Caribou is a very exclusive club along the lines of Escobar.
Eric's Bar is quite nice as it has 14 beers on tap and around 50 types of Scotch. J-Bar is an historic bar worth a look at some point. Jimmy's has an exceptional range of tequilas and live blues on the weekend.
As a seasonal worker, you will likely end up having quite a few nights just hanging out in staff housing sharing a drink or playing games given it is very expensive to go out in Aspen!
The Winter X Games are held in Aspen each year at Buttermilk and bring in the world’s best snowboarders and skiers. This is one of the best times of the season.