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Is Whistler the New Aspen?

An important staff debate

Presenting… the ContenderBy Alyssa Giacobbe

The rumor—at least here around Whistler Blackcomb, where I’ve been at-large all week—is that Aspen has been dethroned as the king of winter playgrounds. No one will come right out and say it, of course—Canadians are far too polite for that—but they don’t have to. A few years back, the New York Times suggested WB was the continent’s “most cosmopolitan ski resort,” and this year, Ski magazine named WB the top ranked ski destination in North America (again), including top scores in Après, Off-Hill Activities and Dining. Aspen, ahem, barely cracks the Top 10.

And then, of course, there are the cold, powdery facts. WB has gotten more than 26 feet of snow this year, and nearly three feet since I arrived less than a week ago. If you can ski powder, good for you. You always knew that year as a ski bum would come in handy, and here, you’ll go wild across the mountains’ 16 alpine bowls, a skiing free-for-all of unmarked, treeless trails, where boundary posts seem but mere suggestions. (Thanks to the proximity to the coast, meanwhile, there are zero altitude issues.) If you’re newer to #powderdays, just know it hurts way less when you wipe out. Meanwhile, you’d hardly know it’s school vacation week—with one or two exceptions, I haven’t waited in a lift line longer than seven minutes. That’s because it’s American school vacation week. Back East, friends who’ve been in Stowe since Monday are still waiting to get on the gondola. They’re also still waiting for snow.

Another great thing about Canada (besides the poutine): It’s damn cheap, thanks to the currently super-low loonie. Airfare for three from the East Coast to Vancouver was under USD $1,500; lift tickets amount to under $80 a day, covering more than 8,000 acres; and even those Lululemon leggings you bought at home last week are $25 cheaper here. One of six different kinds of Bloody Caesars at Garibaldi Lift Co. in Whistler Village, a meal of a cocktail and Canada’s unofficial national drink, will set you back just six bucks. An 80-minute massage at the Four Seasons Whistler, meanwhile, is less than $200. Get two, why don’t you. I did.

Best of all, though: The season’s barely halfway done. Blackcomb’s season extends until May 23 this year. Seems a better choice than Aspen melting season, when the coldest thing is your $600 bottle of champagne, eh?

An Aspen Ski Resort

Etta in Aspen

Presenting… the Defender
By Etta Meyer

The best part about being in Aspen is that exactly no one here is occupied with the existential question of which ski town is the best. It’s the blessed peace that comes from being the king of the jungle, the top of the food chain. Aspen doesn’t crave accolades from magazines, or even the New York Times. As the alpha lion of the North American ski kingdom, it can afford to be quietly confident.

Thanks to El Niño, Aspen has received its fair share of #pow this season. Just two weeks ago a storm dumped 37 inches in 36 hours. This gift from above was followed by day after day of glorious sunshine and warm temps, offering even the fairest-weather skiers a chance to enjoy the snow.

Aspen is made up of not one, or even two, but four separate mountains. One day you can hike the expert-only powder bowl at Aspen Highlands. The next day cruise through Sheer Bliss and Elk Camp at Snowmass. Drop your boarder friend off at Buttermilk, home of the X Games. Then top it all off with a day on the steeps at Aspen Mountain, aka “Ajax,” notoriously lacking in “green” runs, to be sure you have earned your après rosé. (I take mine with a side of truffle parmesan French fries—care of Ajax Tavern). Each mountain is equipped with multiple high speed lifts and/or a gondola. Lift lines are so reliably short and fast, my mother, who met her (first) husband waiting for a chair on Ajax, wonders how anyone meets anyone these days?

Aspen is not known for its affordability. Look: It’s a great product and charges accordingly. What could be more American than that? Trust me, you’re not really going to miss that $120 you just sprayed out of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot on your dancing friends at a party on top of the world. YOLO.

True, the mud season, come mid-April, is to be avoided, but the old adage here is: “Come for the winter, stay for the summer.” In June, Aspen plays host to some of the great cultural and intellectual events of our time. The Aspen Ideas Festival hosted by the Aspen Institute brings in leaders of policy and industry for a week of public seminars. Then there is the Aspen Food & Wine ClassicJazz Aspen SnowmassAspen ArtCrush, the Aspen Music Festival… Need I say more? In the words of T.J. Burke from 1993’s Hollywood film, Aspen Extreme, “Skiing’s the easy part.” We might say, skiing’s just the first part.