It takes extraordinary news for Snowmass to steal the glory from its cross-valley neighbour, Aspen. In 2010, a bloke on a bulldozer stumbled upon the fossilised remains of an entire Pleistocene ecosystem and in one accidental moment he put Snowmass on the map as arguably the US's most significant Ice Age site. But the next week, Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth were spotted canoodling on Aspen's main street, sparking wedding rumours. Back in 1975, notorious mass murderer Ted Bundy killed Caryn Campbell at a hotel in Snowmass; only for Aspen to steal the headlines of the world's newspapers when Bundy escaped from the library of the Aspen courthouse a year later.
But that's how it's gone since Snowmass first transformed from a valley of sheep and cattle ranches in the 1960s into one of the world's largest ski resorts. Around that time, the Kennedy clan were using Aspen for Christmas get-togethers, Marilyn Monroe was in town (a coincidence, perhaps?!) and Hunter S Thompson was campaigning for mayor.
Snowmass never had a chance – sure, Goldie and Kurt might've raised their little girl (Kate Hudson) here, and Elton John has long preferred its slower pace, but for the most part, visitors came to Snowmass to ski its enormous mountains, then drove straight on back to Aspen.
Until now, that is. One billion dollars can make a big difference to the way we feel about something - and Snowmass is in the midst of one heck of a mega-makeover.
I'm staying at the just opened Limelight Hotel which marks the start of the 10-year plan for Snowmass to step out of Aspen's shadow. There's a 10-metre-high indoor climbing wall inside – North America's tallest – and guests are drinking champagne as they soak in hot tubs outside, with a live band playing happy hour tunes for skiers in their boots arriving from the slopes beside us, all this alongside an open-plan bar stacked with rows of vintage wine bottles.
Limelight Hotel has long been an Aspen favourite, now they've opened another just like it down the road in Snowmass. Where once this might have constituted commercial suicide – "Aspenites'' had long referred to Snowmass as "Slowmass" (once declaring in the local paper: "nothing ever happens after dark… that place is a real drag") – now Snowmass is a genuine alternative for skiers who don't want the fun to stop when the chairlifts do.
Families have long been Snowmass's staple – its slow pace preferred over Aspen's more lively offerings. But these days there's more to Snowmass – for one, it has more luxury ski-in, ski-out accommodation options than Aspen, and some of the Aspen region's best on-mountain dining is here, where gourmet lunches come served up in intimate on-snow settings, like Lynn Britt Cabin (an early 20th century log cabin, dining beside open log fires and under bull moose heads and chandeliers of elk antlers). Every Tuesday and Thursday night through winter, you can take a snowcat ride across the slopes to the cabin for a four-course dinner. And every Friday night, Ullr Nights are held up high on the mountain, with live music and dinner outside under the stars, all accessed by gondola. There's live music every evening in Snowmass Village – most of Aspen long ago turned to DJs – and should you wish to visit in summer, the local rodeo is still the best fun you can have in town: just like it's been since it started running weekly in 1972.
Though don't forget; Aspen's downtown is only 14 kilometres away, easily accessible through regular free-of-charge bus services which connect the towns. Aspen is an iconic ski town – coming to the region without visiting is like going to Egypt and skipping the pyramids. But what Snowmass offers is an escape from the pace of Aspen's mid-winter frivolity; with just the right amount of apres and night-time activities… minus the traffic.
TravelPlan offers Aspen Snowmass ski packages including discounted accommodation at Limelight Snowmass, ski tickets and airfares, see TravelplanSki.com
Stay at Limelight Snowmass from $A260 per night, see limelighthotels.com/snowmass
There are four ski resorts on the one Aspen-Snowmass ski pass. Snowmass is the largest, you can also ski Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk, see aspensnowmass.com
Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Travelplan, Colorado Ski Country USA and Aspen Snowmass