Originally inhabited by the Ute Indians, Aspen became a silver-mining town during the mining boom of the late 1800s. Following the devaluation of silver, Aspen experienced a cultural renaissance in the 1940s, with the arrival of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke. The Paepckes brought a vision for the community that focused on the mind, body and spirit, called “The Aspen Idea.” This idea drives the character of Aspen to this day.
What To Do
Aspen’s reputation as a ski resort for the rich and well-heeled is well deserved, celebrity sightings aren’t unheard of in this Rocky Mountain ski resort, 170 miles west of Denver. Even stylish après ski depends on a good day of skiing, and Aspen has that in spades. Blessed with fresh powder each winter, this Colorado ski centre offers four ski mountains with slopes to satisfy everyone, from tame, mountain-long beginner runs, to terrain parks blasting alternative rock music and hard-core verticals reserved exclusively for experts.
Aspen’s beautiful scenery and open spaces also lends itself well to other types of winter recreation, such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fly-fishing and even hot-air ballooning. After a hard day of skiing, enjoy Aspen’s legendary après ski scene, relax your weary muscles with a hot stone massage or in a warmed outdoor pool at numerous hotel spas. If you’re thinking of visiting in summer, you’ll be doubly pleased: prices are significantly lower and the crowds thin out.
After après, head out for dinner at one of the world-class restaurants. Top off the night by enjoying a show at Belly Up, Aspen’s 500-person live music venue featuring renowned artists. Aspen’s big-city cultural institutions, well known for their summer programming, have plenty of events throughout the winter months as well, leaving you inspired.
Eating and Drinking in Aspen
Admire the snow-capped, lavender-grey Aspen landscape through picture windows at Piñons. Considered the peak of the Aspen dining scene, this Colorado establishment satisfies tired skiers with lobster strudel, herb-crusted local trout and homemade ice cream. “Fierce American food” is on the menu at Jimmy’s, according to Jimmy himself. The local eatery dishes up mountainous servings of meatloaf and Colorado rack of lamb, bursting with flavour as well as a jaw-dropping 145 varieties of tequila.
Summer Activities in Aspen
Summer offers even more opportunities for outdoor recreation than winter. No matter what your outdoor ambitions are, you will find something to excite you. The rafting, hiking, biking, rock-climbing, fishing, golf, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning and paragliding combined with the fresh air and gorgeous natural surroundings create the perfect place to get outside and explore, all within each reach of downtown Aspen. Summertime also boasts an events calendar that can rival any major city:
- The Aspen Music Festival & School puts on an impressive 300+ event program from June through August.
- The Aspen Institute hosts signature programming such as the Ideas Festival & Security Forum on the idyllic Herbert Bayer-inspired campus.
- Theatre Aspen’s summer repertory features Broadway stars in an intimate theatre in the park.
There are two bike paths of note here. One connects Aspen with Snowmass Village; it covers 13 miles and begins at Seventh Street south of Hopkins Avenue, cuts through the forest to Colorado 82, then follows Owl Creek Road and Brush Creek Road to the Snowmass Mall. Extensions link it with Aspen High School and the Aspen Business Park.
Hiking & Mountaineering around Aspen
Among the best ways to see the spectacular scenery here is on foot. You can get maps and tips on where to go from White River National Forest offices. Hikers can also make use of two hut systems for multi-day trips. Huts are basic, with bunk beds, but do have wood-burning stoves, propane burners, photovoltaic lighting, kitchen equipment, mattresses, and pillows. A bed in one of the huts costs $28 per night.
Fishing in Aspen
Perhaps the best of a great deal of good trout fishing in the Aspen area, is to be found in the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers, both considered gold-medal streams.
Horseback Riding around the Aspen Valley
Several stables in the Aspen Valley offer a variety of rides, and some outfitters even package gourmet meals and country-and-western serenades with their expeditions. A wide variety of adventures are offered; rates for day trips usually run about $70 to $100 per person for a 2-hour ride or $150 to $200 for a half-day.
There are hundreds of miles of trails through the White River National Forest that are perfect for mountain bikers, offering splendid views of the mountains, meadows, and valleys. Check with the Forest Service and local bike shops for tips on the best trails.
Rafting trips are offered on the Roaring Fork, Arkansas, and Colorado rivers with several companies. Rates are usually about $65 to $95 for a half-day.
Winter Activities around Aspen
Aspen always lives up to its famous winter reputation. Four ski mountains make up the terrain for the world-renowned Aspen Snowmass resort. Aspen Mountain, locally referred to as Ajax, rises up directly from downtown, bringing a whole new meaning to ski-in/ski-out. Buttermilk Mountain, home of the legendary Aspen X Games, is a kids’ and beginners’ paradise. Aspen Highlands boasts the legendary Highland Bowl, and Snowmass offers the largest acreage and diversity by having something for everyone.
Skiing in Aspen
Put your skills to the test at Aspen Mountain. One-third of its slopes aren’t groomed, making them sheer nirvana for mogul lovers. Aspen Mountain is named for an old miner’s claim, it is not for the timid. This is the American West’s original hard-core ski mountain, it has a 3,267-foot vertical drop, with 76 trails on 673 skiable acres. No fewer than 23 of its runs are named double diamond i.e. for experts only. There are mountain-long runs for intermediates as well as advanced skiers, but beginners should look to one of the other Aspen/Snowmass mountains for safer terrain.
Aspen Highlands is favourite with the locals for its expert and adventure terrain. It also has a good mix of terrain, from novice to expert, with lots of intermediate slopes. Freestyle Friday, a tradition at Highlands for almost 3 decades, boasts some of the best freestyle-bump and big-air competitors in Colorado every Friday from early January to mid-April. In this technical head-to-head contest, competitors bump their way down Scarlett’s Run and finish with a final jump that lands them within perfect view of lunchtime guests at the Merry-Go-Round Restaurant. There are 118 trails on 1,028 acres, served by five lifts (three high-speed quads and two triple chairs).
Learn to ski at Buttermilk Mountain, Aspen’s premier beginner resort, offering easygoing slopes for newbie and intermediate skiers. Buttermilk Mountain is the ultimate beginners’ mountain: one of the best places in America to learn how to ski. It’s also the home of the ESPN Winter X Games. It is the smallest of Aspen’s four mountains, with only 44 trails, nine lifts (two high-speed quads, three double chairs, two handle tows, and two school lifts) on 470 acres.
The runs at Snowmass range from gentle to jarring. Experts charge through fresh powder on Hanging Valley Wall, the steepest grade in the Aspen area, while intermediates slalom over groomed courses on long cruising runs. Snowmass is a huge, mostly intermediate mountain with something for everyone, Snowmass has 33% more skiable acreage than the other three Aspen areas combined! Actually four distinct self-contained areas, each with its own lift system, its terrain varies from easy beginner runs to the pitches of the Cirque and the Hanging Valley Wall.
The Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Council operates a free Nordic trail system with about 40 miles of groomed double track extending throughout the Aspen-Snowmass area, and incorporating summer bicycle paths.
Every day in winter, teams of Alaskan sled dogs pull guests into the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. Half-day trips, at 8:30am and 12:30pm, include lunch at Krabloonik restaurant and cost $265 per adult and $165 for children 3 to 8 years of age. There are also twilight rides that include dinner at 3:45pm for $340 adults, $270 kids.