Aspen epitomizes the great outdoors year-round.
By Sarah Daoust
At 11,212 feet high, Aspen Mountain is a majestic stunner that perfectly juxtaposes the quaint community nestled beneath it. Welcome to Aspen, Colo., an exclusive pocket of “small town America” brimming with designer boutiques, art galleries, world-class restaurants, nightlife, awe-inspiring scenery and abundant outdoor activities year-round.
Wintertime is prime time in this chic mountain town, where stylish snowbirds flock to conquer Aspen Mountain (often called “Ajax”) via its challenging ski runs that have hosted World Cup races for decades. This and three other ski destinations in the area—Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk—comprise “The Power of Four,” which collectively encompasses more than 5,300 acres of exciting white-powdered terrain.
In the warmer months, Aspen melts into a Technicolor-green paradise for nature lovers. Take the gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain (be sure to sit backwards for a birds-eye view of the town as you ascend), where yoga classes, wildflower-filled hikes guided by certified naturalists, and wine sipping on the sun deck await. Aspen is also a playground for cyclists. The scenic (and mostly paved) Rio Grande Trail along the Roaring Fork River makes for an easy, leisurely bike ride. For advanced mountain bikers, the grueling 11-mile climb just to reach the base of the Maroon Bells—two peaks in the Elk Mountains—is one of the most iconic rides in Aspen. Once there, it’s easy to understand why the pristine National Forest lands that surround the Bells are among the most photographed scenery in North America; they are literally breathtaking. Hiking and biking trails here abound.
Accommodations in Aspen range from palatial homes and luxury resorts to boutique hotels to condo rentals. Capturing the best of most worlds is Hotel Aspen, a centrally located, three-star boutique property with four-star amenities that will make you feel right at home. Its 45 guest rooms—which include fireplace suites and junior suites with private balconies boasting hot tubs and mountain views—are outfitted with mini-bars, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, down comforters and plush robes. The pet-friendly hotel offers a complimentary full breakfast daily, free parking, free wireless Internet, private ski lockers, and a heated outdoor pool and hot tub open year-round. During ski season, complimentary “après ski” drinks and bites are served daily around the crackling fireplace in the great room. Perhaps Hotel Aspen’s best amenity is its location: right in the heart of town, so guests can walk pretty much everywhere.
Dining out in Aspen is fun—filled with plenty of people-watching and options for every taste. For lunch, Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain offers indoor/outdoor seating, French-infused American fare that includes its famous truffle fries, and occasional celebrity sightings. For dinner, sushi lovers are in for a treat at Matsuhisa. Its deceiving cottage-like façade leads down to a bustling basement filled with sophisticated socialites noshing on traditional and creative sushi preparations. (A tip: The best rolls and dishes are not listed on the menu. Just ask.)
For fine Italian dining, Trecento Quindici Decano at the St. Regis Aspen Resort fits the bill, with handmade pastas and pizza; plus salads, antipasti and an excellent wine list. Menu standouts include the burrata, the Tuscan kale salad and the bucatini pasta with carbonara, egg and peas. The dining room features elegant tables and lighting, with subtle accents of red and purple, and overlooks a courtyard patio. Its quiet refinement oddly works for both romantic dates and families.
For after-dinner drinks, Justice Snow’s, housed in the historical Wheeler Opera House building, serves up some of the best craft cocktails in Aspen; while the low-lit Living Room inside the famed 1889 redbrick Hotel Jerome is a reigning hot spot.
Other must-visits include the John Denver Sanctuary, a memorial with tranquil gardens and the singer’s songs etched into rocks; Theatre Aspen, for outstanding musicals and plays; the Belly Up, an intimate concert venue; and the Aspen Art Museum—with its boxy, woven lattice and glass architecture, and contemporary exhibits inside.
Breathe in deeply often while in Aspen. That clean mountain air is good for the complexion, and the soul.