At a Glance: Whistler vs. Aspen

Earlier this week, ESPN announced a new deal to keep the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado for the next two years, and unveiled three new venues to join Aspen, Los Angeles, and Tignes, France as part of the network’s new Global X Games initiative. (Think a set of “majors” like tennis or golf, but all owned and televised by the same entity, and thusly a little more forced). One of the venues that was not selected was Whistler Blackcomb, the only winter resort other than the two existing areas to put in a bid.
Winter X Games Superpipe in Aspen

The Winter X Games ready to kick off in Aspen. ESPN and the Colorado resort have worked together for over a decade, and recently signed a new deal through 2014.

It wasn’t so much an Aspen v. Whistler decision as it was summer v. winter and North America v. the rest of the world. Aspen has been a dream venue for ESPN, offering up an entire ski area (Buttermilk) to host the event. Had Whistler landed the April time slot they were shooting for, it would have added a third North American venue, and a third Winter X event. Instead the network opted for four summer events, with new stops in Germany, Brazil and Spain.

Regardless of any of that, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at what has been versus and what could have been. Here’s a quick comparison of two of North America’s classiest mountain resorts.

History
Whistler Blackcomb
Settled by trappers in the early 1900s, connected by rail in 1914, became a popular fishing destination in the 1950s, opened for skiing in 1966, became Canada’s first “resort municipality” in 1975.

Aspen Snowmass
Settled by prospectors in 1879, was a bustling mining town until the silver boom died in 1893. The Aspen Ski Club cut a racecourse in 1935 served by a boat-tow (an old mining hoist). Aspen Ski Area opened in 1947.

Advantage
Aspen

The Ski Area
Whistler Blackcomb:
Two mountains with adjoining base areas connected by a 2.75-mile-long gondola. 5,280-foot vertical drop. 8,171 skiable acres. 37 lifts.

Aspen Snowmass:
Four mountains with disjointed base areas connected by a remarkably efficient public bus system. 4,406-foot vertical drop. 5,303 skiable acres. 43 lifts.

Advantage

Whistler

Here’s a look from a local’s perspective:


Named For…

Whistler Blackcomb
Sound the marmots make in the high country

Aspen Snowmass
Aspen trees common to the area

Advantage
Push

Annual Snowfall
Whistler Blackcomb
410 Inches

Aspen Snowmass
300 Inches

Advantage
Whistler (Though ESPN may disagree. Nothing ruins a live broadcast like a snowstorm).

…And a glimpse at what 410 inches a year will get you:

Length of Season
Whistler Blackcomb

November to late May, plus summer camps.

Aspen
November to Mid-April

Advantage
Whistler

Getting There
Whistler Blackcomb

Fly into Vancouver International, and it’s a two-hour drive up the scenic Sea-to-Sky highway.

Aspen Snowmass
Fly into Aspen/Pitkin County, and it’s a 15-minute drive tomost hotels. (Winter flights into Aspen are often delayed or cancelled for weather, in which case it’s a four-hour drive from Denver or 2.5 from Grand Junction.)

Advantage:
Aspen


Lodging
Whistler Blackcomb

The Pan Pacific Hotel is slope side right by the gondola with rooms from $140 to $560.The Westin is just as close and a little more deluxe, ranging from $200-$900/night.The farther you get from the slopes, the better rates you’ll find. Or there are close to 100 VRBO listings in Whistler Village alone. All are centralized to nightlife and skiing.

Aspen Snowmass
There are a number of deluxe, historic hotels in town and walking distance to Ajax (Aspen Mountain) and the Gondola. Look to spend upwards of $600-$1,000 a night at the Hotel Jerome or Little Nell. For a Cheaper option close to skiing, check out Lift One condos.The bargain is at the Tyrolean Lodge, where you can find a room for as low as $140. Anything cheaper, though, and you’re likely in Carbondale.

Advantage:
Whistler

Competition Venues

Whistler Blackcomb
Accessible by foot or gondola (or skis or snowboard)

Aspen Snowmass
Accessible by shuttle bus only (no parking on site)

Advantage
Whistler for spectators; Aspen for security and logistics.

Here’s a look at the courses at Aspen last winter.

Signature Apres Bar
Whistler Blackcomb
Garibaldi Lift Company, a.k.a. GLC.

Aspen Snowmass
39 Degrees, a.k.a. The Sky Bar

Advantage
Aspen (Swimming pool… ’nuff said).


Nightlife

Whistler Blackcomb
The Savage Beagle or Garfinkles.

Aspen Snowmass
Upstairs at Eric’s or the Belly Up.

Advantage
Push

Alternate Live Music Venue

Whistler Blackcomb

Village Square

Aspen Snowmass
Base of Little Nell ski run

Advantage
Whistler

Off Season Festival

Whistler Blackcomb
Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival

Aspen
Ruggerfest

Advantage
Aspen. Crankworx is a must-see if you’re into mountain biking. But unless you’ve partied with a rugby team, you haven’t partied. Plus there is great mountain biking around Aspen during Ruggerfest, but you’ll have a hard time finding a rugby game during Crankworx.