Forget what you’ve heard about Aspen, there’s much more to the winter playground than movie stars and designer stores. Aspen is the world’s best ski town, bar none – and it’s more affordable than you think. Here’s five reasons you should visit.
1. For the craziest après scene on Earth (outside Austria)
People come to Aspen to have fun – there’s over 50 bars around town, many with happy hour specials for as little as $3.50 a drink (try Little Annies or the Red Onion for the best local’s specials). Or there’s one of the most over-the-top après ski environments on Earth at Cloud Nine on Aspen Highlands mountain where patrons spray thousands of dollars of champagne over each other every lunch time in a show of hedonism unparalleled on the planet. With over 300 days of sunshine in a year, the emphasis is on après drinks in the Colorado sunshine, and you can’t walk a block in town without finding an outdoor bar with a raging après scene (also try the Ajax Tavern and the Sky Bar).
2. Because there’s a ski mountain for every skier
Aspen is actually made up of four ski mountains all available on the one lift ticket. Skiers can access Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and family-friendly Buttermilk Mountain, all located within a short (and free) bus ride of each other. Every type of skier is catered for: Buttermilk Mountain is the United States’ best beginner mountain and it has some of the country’s best parks and its best half-pipe, Snowmass has the most vertical metres descent in the entire US and is the US’s second largest resort, while Aspen’s and Highlands’ backcountry terrain offers some of the most challenging skiing on Earth. Because of the huge choice of ski runs, you’ll never encounter a ski line or crowded slopes anywhere in Aspen, and Aspen receives over seven metres of snow in a single season, but still receives over 300 days of sunshine each year.
3. A fascinating counter-culture more Nimbin than St Moritz
The last 47 years of Aspen’s history closely mirrors our own rainbow icons’ history. Once occupied by silver miners seeking their fortune in the 1860s, then by ranchers raising cattle, Aspen was overtaken by hippies and counter-culturists in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, led by iconic writer, Hunter S. Thompson. In 1970 he even ran for mayor (check out where he drank at nearby Woody Creek Tavern – also where you’ll get the best margaritas in Colorado). When developers in the ‘80s threatened to turn Aspen into just another corporate ski resort, the hippies fought hard against developers to make sure Aspen kept its unique small-town vibe. You can trace the history of Aspen at the Aspen Historical Society. Or just wait for a Grateful Dead tribute band to hit Belly Up (Aspen’s best live music venue) and see all the dread-locked pioneers come together. Aspen’s 19th Century silver mining heritage is also evident in its streetscape and in ruins littered across its mountains.
4. For the best ski-in, ski-out hotel in North America
Nowhere does ski-in, ski-out accommodation quite like the Little Nell, the USA’s most iconic ski hotel. Located right beside Aspen Mountain in the heart of town, you can ski right from your back door, while your hotel room looks over the slopes. But that’s not all that’s so special about this place. It manages to blend the outrageous – like specific pet menus for guest’s pooches that includes a Puppy Jet Lag kit, with down-homely warmth you’d expect only in a rustic B&B.
Head north instead: One-Of-A-Kind Experiences Off The Slopes In Alberta Or closer to home: Creating The Ultimate New Zealand Ski Trip
You don’t have to be rich to stay here, and you’ll fit in just as easily if you’re not. Having said that, the Little Nell’s restaurant, Element 47, has a 20 000 bottle wine cellar and 39 sommeliers on staff if you do like to spend up. Ultimately it’s the hotel’s exclusive offerings – like the chance to ski Aspen Mountain before any other skiers are allowed up (First Tracks), or its Snowcat Powder Tours each Friday that access Aspen mountain’s empty backcountry, that make the Little Nell unique.
5. An arts and cuisine scene like no other ski town on Earth
Aspen has arts and culture offerings you’d only expect in the world’s biggest cities. There is no more cultural ski town on Earth. The latest offering – the new 3,000 square metre Aspen Art Museum in the heart of town is a globally recognised leader in contemporary art, but that’s just the start. Most ski towns offer little for non-skiers, but that’s where Aspen’s entirely different. There’s art galleries on every street in town, while the Aspen Institute on the edge of town has hosted the likes of Nelson Mandala and the Dalai Lama on speaking tours. While you can see Picasso’s in visiting exhibitions there’s also a community of renowned local artists whose works are represented at the likes of the Red Brick Centre For The Arts or the Anderson Ranch Arts Centre. And if you fancy yourself as a foodie, Aspen has over 100 restaurants, several of which are listed in America’s top 100 restaurants (including Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s renowned Matsuhisha in the heart of Aspen).