Skiing Aspen, Colo., isn't for all skiers, just the smart ones. Nearly 80 percent of Aspen guests return, which says something both about the resort and the national economy. This season, Aspen Mountain has changed its name back to its traditional moniker, Ajax. Snowboarding, however, remains banned, as does any whining about the policy. Refreshingly unrepentant, Aspen also offers no green runs and no excuses. "Tough to ski with a group of mixed abilities," one reader warns. Site of one of America's earliest ski lifts in 1938 and host of the first World Alpine Championships on U.S. snow in 1950, Aspen remains a core course in skiing's curriculum. "Every skier needs to visit this mountain," one reader observes. Skiing Ajax is like a good marriage: You need to work at it. This is a cramped, multiple fall-line hill that demands focus. The Dumps will show you that fast feet, not shaped skis, still make the skier, while the Ridge of Bell-smack under the gondola-will have you scheduling your first ski lesson in years. The perennial No. 1 in Après-Ski, and also No. 1 in Dining this year, the town of Aspen is what the developers of Vail and Whistler wish they designed. If you don't enjoy this town, check your pulse. There's fine dining (L' Hostaria, Olives), haute shopping (Gucci, Prada) and more bars (Mezzaluna, The Red Onion) than you can handle. "My favorite ski town," one reader cheers. Despite the riches of King Tut, Aspen remains a tight community where a noon whistle blows. Yes, the resort is expensive. But as any man who's slipped into an Armani suit knows, "you get what you pay for."
WHAT'S NEW Its name; already a five-star hotel, The Little Nell is being renovated; an on-slope service "yellow phone" that rings in the mountain manager's office.
A GOOD DEAL Daily free mountain tours before the first public gondola. Limited to eight skiers. Sign-up at the Ajax Mountain concierge desk.
MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Service, Weather, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities; SILVER Snow, Grooming, Lifts, Scenery.
HIGH/LOW RANK Dining (1), Après-Ski (1), Off-Hill Activities (2); Family Programs (42), Access (53), Value (78).
DON'T MISS A trip back to the Fifties at Boogie's Soda Fountain.
READER REMARKS (+)"There's serious skiing to be had." "Great husband-and-wife place: I ski, she shops." (-) "Pricey and snobbish." "Hard to find untracked powder unless you ski the double-blacks."