Aspen shines as one of America’s best places to ski, with no fewer than four mountains cheek to cheek. Add in an offbeat ski town with a year-round scene, where you can rub elbows with the latest Hollywood celebrities before tackling world-class bumps, and you’ll realize why Aspen is such a special place.
It’s a walking town, with excellent restaurants and galleries every few steps and an unbeatable après-ski bar scene to boot. Gingerbread houses from the city’s heady mining-town years of the late 19th century may be out of the average visitor’s price range, but the peerless views of the Rockies are free.
Aspen’s four mountains offer nearly 5,000 skiable acres, and all are linked by free shuttle service and transferable lift tickets. Snowmass is the big one, with 3,128 acres of wide-open groomed runs perfect for families. Aspen Mountain, ‘Ajax’ to the locals, is a challenging peak that rises to 11,000 feet and offers steep, bumpy runs practically into downtown. Many locals consider Aspen Highlands a favourite for the hikes into steep Highland and Olympic bowls. Finally, Buttermilk is rated the best in the country for beginners, although it hosts extreme skiers and snowboarders during the ESPN Winter X Games.
Aspen also has some of the highest-rated ski lodges in the country. Start with the Little Nell, the only ski-in/ski-out lodge on Aspen Mountain and a snowball’s throw from the Silver Queen gondola, the longest single-stage gondola in the world.
The elegant rooms in the chalet-style hotel come complete with chocolates and bedtime storybooks, and the staff is gracious to a fault. Its unpretentious Montagna restaurant offers inspiring scenes of Ajax and boasts a menu good enough to compete with the view.
In town, the Hotel Jerome is a former silver mining hotel that opened in 1889 (it was built the same year as the town’s still-functioning Wheeler Opera House). The Victorian decor is impeccably intact, updated with Jacuzzis and a heated outdoor pool, and the spacious rooms with Eastlake antiques are the epitome of ski-town sophistication. The hotel’s historic J-Bar is still among the best places in town for people watching and nightlife.
You won’t go hungry in town, with options that range from jammin’ bars to world-class cuisine. But head out of the fray to Krabloonik, a tiny log cabin on Snowmass named after the owner’s lead sled dog (it’s Eskimo for ‘Big Eyebrows’). Repeat visitors come for the succulent wild game—maybe caribou chops or elk fillets—and dog sled rides into the quiet woods.
Aspen also lays claim to the title of Festival Capital of the Rockies—though Telluride might have something to say about that. A year-round roster of cultural events climaxes with the classical Aspen Music Festival, the Aspen Dance Festival and Jazz Aspen Snowmass, big enough to warrant two completely different programmes of rock, soul, reggae and jazz in June and again around Labor Day (the first Monday in September).