How a $600m makeover is helping Snowmass step out from Aspen's shadow

Henry Druce
The funky new four-star Limelight hotel is at the centre of the new development - David Clifford for the Wall Street Journal

Snowmass in Colorado has been rather looked upon as the poor relative of near neighbour ritzy Aspen, magnet to America’s rich and famous. What was once an old mining town, Aspen has charm, luxury shops, a stellar selection of restaurants and one of the coolest vibes of any ski resort in North America, possibly the world. Purpose-built Snowmass, on the other hand, is only 14km away but a world apart.

Snowmass’s terrain has always been a draw. One of four separate ski areas collectively known as Aspen Snowmass and all linked by free shuttle bus, it is bigger than the other three - Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk - put together, offering 91 trails served by 17 lifts and the US’s biggest vertical drop, a whopping 1,343m. There is so much terrain there is plenty for everyone, however expert or novice.

What it hasn’t offered in the past is a particularly appealing base area with visitors being welcomed by a hodgepodge of low-rise buildings – a few restaurants, lots of self-catering accommodation and one five-star hotel, the Viceroy. The many ski-in/ski-out residences are convenient, appealing especially to families, but the overall feel of the place has been, to be honest, a tad soulless.

That was certainly the generally held view, confirmed to me on my last visit six years ago but things since then have changed. Dramatically. It’s thanks to a $600 million, 10-year plan to redevelop the base village by a collaboration of three Colorado-based companies: Aspen Skiing Company, KSL Capital and East West Partners.

The aim is to stay true to the vision of Aspen architect Fritz Benedict who created a plan for a pedestrian village at the base of the resort in 1967. Work started in 2004 but was suspended in 2008 when the global recession first hit. The current projects, which began in 2017, build upon the original development.

The Limelight hotel sits next to the resort's new ice rink

The largest new building, and the one likely to be of most interest to overseas visitors, is the funky new four-star Limelight hotel, handily located a few hundred metres from Snowmass’s Village Express chairlift and Elk Camp gondola.

It marks itself out as being different from your average hotel with a five-storey high indoor climbing wall close to its entrance, and visible from the outside thanks to floor to ceiling windows. It has three self-belay routes –  a lower one for beginners and two that scale the entire wall.

The climbing wall, open from 12 to 7pm, is popular with adults and kids alike; I foolishly missed the opportunity to have a go after skiing one day when there was no queue, planning to climb  after having a swift apres ski shower. A big mistake, as by the time I returned the queue had lengthened enough to put me off and instead be lured further inside to the spacious, natural-light-filled hotel lobby and chill out to mellow live music, courtesy of a singer and keyboard playing duo. At one end is a bar with rows of bottles on display, made more alluring thanks to a green illuminated backdrop; at the other a fire, looking so achingly cool framed by beige coloured granite, I could forgive it being gas not real.

The interior is the Limelight hotel is modern and bright

The lobby is a carefully thought out space with comfy sofas and chairs to relax and with splashes of colour - a red chair here, a green stool there and a neon sign saying apres whiski (with the “whi” unlit) - for visual stimulation and a games area to one side with toys and Apple computers to keep both kids and adults entertained.

The sense of playfulness extends to the bedrooms where each of the 99 rooms comes with a game and a brightly coloured card saying, “Play with me.” For the record the one in my room was infuriating, the aim to get five small balls to the centre of a small, round board inset with a maze of grooves. For the more contemplative, there’s also a book to peruse; in my case, Art in Interesting Places. It’s a nice touch as was the vibrant orange Smeg fridge and clothes hooks contrasting with the marine blue mugs.

The predominant colours though are a mix of whites, beige and light brown making for a contemporary, relaxing feel in my Deluxe room, replete with a king size bed and skin blasting power shower. How anyone can be tempted from these comforts to head to the gym is beyond me, hence why I failed to make use of the facilities in the 92sq metres fitness centre, chock full of the latest exercise machines -  elliptical cross-trainers, GX bikes, weight benches and pulleys.

More my scene after enjoying Snowmass’s extensive slopes was relaxing in one of the hotel’s outdoor hot tubs, located at the front of the hotel. Not great for privacy but perfect for restoring aching limbs after a day on the mountain and watching people on one of  the village’s other significant new developments, an outdoor ice rink. The constant movement of skaters, old and young, giving life to a space previously used as a car park.

Flanking the ice rink are two further additions. One a low-rise, community centre called Collective, offering live music, art, theatre and talks. When I popped in there was a solo guitarist belting out tunes to a rapt audience of mostly over 50s and a sprinkling of younger couples and children.

On the other flank lies Snowmass’s most exclusive residential spaces - the Lumin building - housing three luxury apartments and a Four Mountain Sports ski and snowboard shop, a snowball’s throw away from the Elk Camp Gondola.

The indoor climbing wall is a standout feature

All the apartments have been bought including the 305 sqm four bedroom penthouse which was on the market for $6,300,000. The Limelight had 11 apartments for sale too, ranging in price from $1,925,000 to $4,765,000; only two remain.

The next big development, located behind the community centre, is due to come on stream this Autumn. Shrouded in a cloth covering when I was there, One Snowmass will comprise two residential buildings with 41 condominium residences connected by a glass walkway. Amenities available to owners will include a rooftop lounge with infinity spa pool, fire pit,  fitness centre and lounge areas. One Snowmass will also house the Snowmass Base Village arrival centre with check-in and concierge services, a restaurant and retail space, a yoga studio, as well as the mountain’s medical clinic.

Further evidence that Snowmass really is upping its game.

The essentials

Ski Independence offers seven nights at the Limelight Snowmass in a Deluxe room on a bed and breakfast basis, based on two sharing and including transfers and flights from London to Aspen with United Airlines from £2,602.