Step into a gondola on Aspen Mountain with a couple of strangers to experience one of the best parts of our mountain community: the 17-minute melting pot. Being forced into a six-person floating orb in one of the world’s most beautiful and global places leads to compelling conversations. However, while most locals—Aspenites—are welcoming and engaging, it can seem like they’re speaking a totally different language when they talk about their beloved “Ajax.” Sometimes, for people visiting Aspen, it feels like you need a translator to understand what locals are talking about. Here’s a guide to being fluent in Aspenite…
We’ll start off easy, but if you’ve never been to Aspen before this one can be confusing. “Ajax” is the local nickname for Aspen Mountain. In 2000, the Aspen Skiing Company tried to change the name of Aspen Mountain to Ajax to “avoid marketing confusion over having a snowboard ban on only one of four mountains.” Thankfully, times have changed because Ajax is better with knuckle draggers on it! What hasn’t changed, though, is the nom de plume for our celebrated mountain that juts up off the sidewalks in downtown Aspen.
It’s a good day skiing Ajax when it goes “bell to bell.” This local parlance is a celebrated sign of commitment because it means that you skied from the first chairlift (“first chair” if you want to sound local) or gondola ride until the chairs stopped spinning. During midseason, operating hours run from 9 am until 4 pm; so, there’s a lot of skiing or riding that you can fit into a bell-to-bell day on Ajax.
One of the crown jewels in the Crown family’s four mountain quartet—Aspen, Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass—is Highland Bowl. Meticulously maintained by Highlands Ski Patrol, “The Bowl” boasts the best inbounds big-mountain ski terrain in the world, but we’re biased. You can’t miss a breathtaking glimpse of The Bowl on a bluebird day (see below) from the top of Ajax. The Bowl is the massive open amphitheater that faces directly towards the Sundeck from across the valley.
Speaking of “bluebird,” Aspenites love to talk about the weather in the gondola. Everyone who has logged time in town feels compelled to comment on weather patterns and snow conditions as if they’re a trained meteorologist. But a “bluebird day” is one thing Aspenites are experts on because the term refers to cloudless pristine skies and postcard-worthy sunny days on the mountain. We’re blessed with a lot of bluebird days in Aspen.
The eastside of Aspen Mountain—or “skier’s right, looker’s left”—is home to some of the mountain’s best steep stashes. For now, the chairlift that can bring you back up to the summit of Ajax on that side of the mountain, is formally named Gent’s Ridge Lift but we haven’t heard it called that in years. Rather, this slow-moving comfortably cushioned chairlift is called “The Couch” because it gives riders a chance to kick back and relax. Most locals pass up a ride on The Couch on powder days; instead opting to ski a “t to b” because you can ski more vert (vertical feet) if you slide past The Couch and head to one of the fun challenging runs on Gent’s Ridge, like Jackpot. With that said, The Couch is a prime venue to nurture a goggle tan if you want to take Aspen’s most prized souvenir home with you after your vacation: racoon eyes.
Bell Mountain is the shark-fin peak that bisects Ajax. You climb over it halfway up during your ascent when you’re riding “the gondi” (see below). There is countless ways locals ski Bell Mountain, but one of the most efficient ways is to ski “Face to 6.” This means you ski the Face of Bell to the F.I.S. Chair otherwise known as “Chair 6” to locals. Steep fall-line bumps make up the Face, so buckle up and get ready to give’r.
A trip up the Silver Queen Gondola is unforgettable during any season. Summertime atop Ajax should not be overlooked because there’s music, hiking, food, and fun to be had during the warm months. And, even if you don’t ski, riding “the gondi” will introduce you to some of the best panoramic views in the Rocky Mountains.
The East Side of Ajax isn’t the only zone with spectacular ski runs that locals love. Chair 6, the double chairlift that you skied to when you went “Face to 6,” drops skiers on top of The Dumps. This east-facing terrain is made up of numerous steep tree runs that usually serve up the best turns of the day.
Spend enough time in the gondi on Ajax and you’ll inevitably hear someone ask their ski partner, “Want to ski a ‘t to b’?” This Aspen colloquialism translates to a top-to-bottom ski run, which means you ski an unadulterated (non-stop if done in a truly local style) run from the summit of the Silver Queen Gondola all the way to the bottom of the mountain in downtown Aspen. That’s nearly 3,300 feet of skiing!
While some local jargon can make people feel like they need a local translator, decoder ring, or Google Translate to decipher, one oft-uttered Aspenite nugget is mostly understood by visitors from all over the world. You’ll hear “apres” come up a lot on gondi rides. Apres compels some people to bomb a t to b at high speeds. Sometimes people partake in apres while riding The Couch. You definitely earn apres after a bluebird bell-to-bell day on Ajax. But, you already know how to apres…
Have fun out there, folks. We hope this guide to speaking Aspenite helps you understand what locals are talking about a bit more next time you’re skiing Aspen Mountain.
Obermeyer I February 2023