Aspen, Colorado has become known as the quintessential luxury destination for skiiers. But its appeal extends beyonds the outdoor lover to shoppers, fashionistas, celebrities, foodies and families. This article is the definitive guide to Aspen: what to do, what to eat, where to stay and other much-needed travel information.
“If there is a Heaven then it is at 7908 ft. (2410m) and goes by the name of Aspen, Colorado. Celebrity haunt and first class destination of the wealthy, Aspen is a name often seen in the pages of magazines as diverse as Architectural Digest, Vogue and Travel and Leisure. Reputed as a top ski resort, it is not only a paradise during the ski season (mid-November to April) but a year-round haven. Locals swear the Aspen area is, in fact, even more beautiful in the summer. And skiing is absolutely not the last word, though Aspen boasts four mountains – Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain – with exquisite skiing. Jeff Hanle is the Director of Public Relations of the Aspen Skiing Company, which owns the four resorts. I asked Hanle why visitors should pick Aspen over other notable Colorado ski resorts. “Aspen/Snowmass has four mountains and two distinctly different towns. Aspen has a soul and depth that can only be found in a town that was a town first, then became a resort. The quality and variety of dining, arts, culture and shopping is unmatched by any ski resort in North American,” he said. Cultural mavens, ski bums, shoppers and foodies alike will enjoy what Aspen has to offer.
Aspen offers gastronomical goodies for even the most discerning palate. If you get peckish on the slopes, head to one of the many on-mountain restaurants and cafeterias, some of which, like Elk Camp, offer gourmet pizzas, sandwiches and salad bars (featuring healthy superfoods like quinoa). There are also sit down restaurants like Gwyn’s High Alpine on Snowmass Mountain and the fastidious will love the health-savvy options available to them. Hanle also recommends The Pink Creek Cookhouse as a lunch or dinner option in a beautiful setting. To reach this picturesque destination, take a sleigh ride or arrive on cross-country skis.
While each summer there is a Food and Wine Classic featuring celebrity chefs, culinary masters and oenophiles, there is plenty of local culinary fare. Famed sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened an Aspen location of his famed Matsuhisa in 1998. Other epicurean highlights include The Chef Club at The St. Regis, Piñons, Cache Cache and Element 47. The members only Caribou Club is another place to see and be seen. With no name on the door, the club personifies exclusivity. A lifetime membership at the club is $20,000, but you can subscribe for one week at a time if you are so inclined.
As you can imagine, Aspen’s sophisticated clientele merits high-end shopping. Designer stores from Ralph Lauren to Prada line the streets. Highlights include high fashion ski apparel, jewelry and art. Popular brands on the slopes at the moment include Kjus Skiwear and helmets by Smith Optics.
It is not unusual to happen upon Paris Hilton at The Caribou Club or Rob Lowe lunching with a table of blonde babes. Aspen is a hub for the uber-rich and fabulous, attracting them like bees to the proverbial honey pot. Notable celebrity residents and visitors include Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Aerin Lauder, Jack Nicholson, Nancy Pelosi, a score of Internet gurus and other glitterati. In fact, the Aspen Airport harbors a variety of private jets for private jetsetters.
It is no wonder that the January 2013 issue of Architectural Digest shows not one, but two, homes in Aspen. After all, Forbes’ most recent list of the most expensive American zip codes shows Aspen’s 81611 as number 13. Indeed, many of the houses boast expansive properties, unique designs and breathtaking mountainous backdrops. Homes line some of the main ski trails and some offer ski in/ski out access.
Aspen is an outdoor lover’s paradise. During the winter, exemplary downhill skiing and snowboarding are top of the list, however, other activities include snowshoeing, dog sledding and cross-country skiing. Snowmass Mountain’s longest run is 8.5 km; the mountain has a rise of 4,406 vertical ft. (1343m). Experts will enjoy Aspen Highlands’ many black trails and the Highland Bowl in particular. According to Hanle, Aspen’s best kept secret is the Aspen Mountain Powder Tours. A snowcat will take 12 friends for a day of private powder skiing followed by a gourmet lunch. He also recommends heli-skiing trips booked by The Little Nell Hotel (see below). Those who book this will be whisked to Silverton, Colorado on a private plane and enjoy an excellent eight hours of skiing on terrain that is the highest anywhere in Colorado. Those interested in skiing locally will also enjoy a wide array of trails with magnificent views. Each mountain also offers ski lessons and a full-day private is $680. Skiers can also share the lesson with up to five friends. Half-day lessons are also an option.
In the summer months, fishing, biking, hiking and golfing are all on offer, as are rare gems like high-altitude yoga on Aspen Mountain at 11,200 ft. (3414m). This unique activity is also available through Little Nell Adventures.
Film buffs will enjoy the Aspen Filmfest, entering its 35th year in Fall of this year. The event is hosted by the Aspen Film Organization, which also hosts other major movie events. For the musically inclined, The Wheeler Opera House offers numerous events including film screenings, the annual Aspen Laff Festival (featuring live stand-up) and The 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival. The opera house dates back to 1889.
Art enthusiasts can enjoy The Aspen Art Museum as well as assorted local galleries situated in the town of Aspen. The Omnibus Gallery, for instance, sells original vintage posters, most of which date back to between 1880 and 1939. This is just one of the examples of niche galleries on offer in Aspen.
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is another cultural highlight. With schools in both California and Colorado, the ballet has been performing in Aspen for over 16 years.
WHERE TO STAY
With a plethora of high-end visitors zipping in and out of the city, Aspen is well endowed with luxury hotels. At the top of the list are: the Hotel Jerome, The Little Nell and the St. Regis Aspen Resort. These are all exceptional hotels which offer the quintessential Aspen experience of fine dining, people watching and great customer service. The Hotel Jerome was first opened in 1889 and has been reopened in December 2012 after undergoing months of extensive renovations. The Little Nell and the St. Regis are other five-star choices. If you do not manage to secure a place at any of these hotels, make sure to stop in for a cocktail, some hot chocolate après-ski or a spa session. Remède Spa at the St. Regis deserves particular attention. Voted by Travel and Leisure as the second best hotel spa in the United States and the sixth best worldwide, the spa offers innovative luxury treatments perfect for on-vacation relaxation. One such treatment is the Farm-to-Massage-Table. This $500 experience – and Remède’s most luxurious spa treatment – is a sensory sensation. Other more traditional treatments are also offered at Remède and include their deep tissue massages, which are popular after a day of high-octane powder skiing.
Aspen is certainly the ideal vacation spot. Not only does it offer a range of activities for families, couples and singles alike, but it also has something to suit every taste. Whether searching for the quintessential summer or winter destination, Aspen will delight the senses and the entire family.”