A constant stream of celebrities and moneyed folk tend to define Aspen.
Sure, it is around Christmas time and well into January and February that some very fortunate folk from far and wide pack up their skis and decamp for the Christmas holidays. But never fear, Aspen life isn't just about the top end of town.
Sure, it always sounds incredibly glam with Mariah Carey, James Packer, Elle Macpherson all regulars, but with the advent of airbnb rentals, the old mining town is determined to keep some long-held traditions going. Like the yearly 'history play', held in the Historical Centre in the middle of the city.
Yes, there is money but there is an earthiness. Here are some of the highlights:
The Aspen Skiing Company operates the four mountains in the Aspen Snowmass area — Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk — as well as the Ski & Snowboard Schools of Aspen Snowmass. The entire area basically offers unparalleled night-life and off-piste action as well.
Aspen Snowmass is accessible by two of the most convenient airports in the mountains — Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (which is 5km from Aspen) or Eagle County Airport (112km from Aspen). In the whole precinct, there are four different mountains:
• Aspen Mountain is a classic North American ski mountain with no beginner trails. Also referred to as 'Ajax', it offers 76 trails spread across 675 acres with 8 chairlifts and 1 gondola. Rising straight out of downtown Aspen since 1947, the mountain offers challenging bumps, steeps and varied terrain for the adventurous snowboarder and skier. Rules me out.
• Buttermilk is a beginner mountain and home of the ESPN X Games. Rules me in. Buttermilk is rated as the easiest of Aspen's four mountains and this gem of an area is the perfect environment for beginners to find their ski-legs. Seven lifts service 43 trails that are predominately rated for beginners and intermediates.
Most of the mountain is groomed nightly to raise your skiing confidence. Buttermilk is a great place to drop off the kids while the parents ski another one of the mountains. Tricksters will enjoy two terrain parks and an Olympic size half pipe.
• Aspen Highlands is the local's favourite mountain and home of the Highland Bowl: a 45 minute hike.
• Snowmass is Colorado's second largest mountain and is a mountain with something for everyone. Located in Snowmass Village, it has 90 ski trails and 23 lifts. Snowmass has 3362 acres of terrain and an average of 300 inches of snow a year. Snowmass is known for wide, groomed cruisers and trails.
WHERE TO EAT
• You can lunch at the newly-remodelled Cloud Nine restaurant. Dine at 10,740 feet, you ski or snowboard to a cozy, alpine ski hut with an outdoor deck and full-service gourmet restaurant with European flair.
There is authentic, traditional Austrian raclette, fondue, international wine, as well as majestic views of the Maroon Bells. This place is totally and brilliantly insane. Guests buy bottles of champagne (hello Veuve Clicquot!) like they are water, shake them up and let them fizz over the entire restaurant and its inhabitants..
• If you have lunch at The Cliffhouse the high-altitude lunch, with world-class views of the Pyramid Peak, you can create your own and very affordable culinary masterpiece to your liking with a made-to-order Mongolian BBQ.
• If you're after a triple-dining act it should include Matsuhisa — Aspen's one and only Nobu-famed gourmet Japanese Seafood & Sushi Restaurant while at Jimmy's, you can't miss their lobster and macaroni cheese while dessert is perfect at L'Hostaria where you can watch out for Scotty Gibson, the Kiwi bar tender, who will try to get you "Gibsoned".
• Breakfast or lunch mid-mountain has to be had at Bonnie's which is famous for it solid mountain food, homemade salads, soups, desserts — especially the apple strudel.
• One of the favourite Aspen restaurants is The Little Nell's element 47. The Little Nell hotel is a slice of heaven with incredible rooms and friendly, caring people that know service inside and out. There is a reason why this hotel has a 70 per cent customer return rate and earns the prestigious Forbes Five Star Award every year, as well as the AAA Five Diamond Award.
The Nell's fine-dining restaurant was remodelled in 2012 and reinvented as element 47 - the periodic number for silver, to play off the town's booming silver mining era. The restaurant architects, Bentel & Bentel, were behind the renovation with elements that include fine natural wood booths and tables and a general glow to the restaurant that beckons diners in for a casual meal or a killer feast.
Chef de Cuisine Matt Padilla's undeniably fab food complements the space with thoughtful, seasonally-driven contemporary cuisine, highlighted with global influences.
Favourite "e47" dishes include: the lemon souffle pancakes and fresh fruit parfait for breakfast; for lunch or dinner, the top sellers include Maine lobster pot pie, pine nut crusted chicken breast and pan seared ruby red trout.
On the dinner menu, staples include the harvest vegetable salad, Chef Matt's pastas, which are fantastic, and an array of shared plates from oysters to blue crab.
For additional sipping, The Nell's wine list is spectacular, housing over 20,000 bottles found in the wine cellar and prominently showcased in a clear glass wine wall in the dining room.
And hey, they make the BEST. CHIPS. EVER.
WHERE TO RENT YOUR GEAR
Check out your rental equipment from Four Mountain Sports rentals. If you are staying at The Little Nell, you are able to use their ski concierge at the base of each mountain to store and/or transfer your equipment from mountain to mountain at the end of your ski day and for the following ski day. How crazily brilliant is that?
WHERE TO PARTY
To be honest there is just one answer to this: and the name is The Caribou Club.
It's a member's only club where any star or celeb in town hangs out in its extraordinary surrounds with the odd Warhol on the wall, a killer wine cellar, a mighty dance floor, great restaurant and a swarm of comfy leather lounges making it THE place to be seen.
And the best thing? Seasonal memberships CAN be bought for $650 for a week in the low season and (gulp) $1950 in peak season.
WHERE TO STAY
• The Limelight Hotel is located within walking distance to Aspen Mountain and all of Aspen's shopping, dining and outdoor activities. The 126-room hotel offers a range of spacious accommodations, including suites with full kitchens, fireplaces and terraces.
Guest amenities include an outdoor pool, two hot tubs, ski valet/lockers, underground parking, conference room and expanded continental breakfast. The hotel provides free airport transit and shuttles to all four local ski areas to lighten the load of a skiing traveller. The Limelight Lounge features light Italian foods a full bar and lively local music scene. Even dogs are welcome. And this year, it was Central Control for Gay Ski Week.
• The Little Nell is possibly the best hotel in Aspen. And it is a Colorado destination for all seasons. The Little Nell is the only ski in/ski out hotel in Aspen and is also the only Five Star, Five Diamond property. The hotel is pet-friendly, offering gourmet pet menu selections and more to make sure your pooch has just as good a vacation as you do.
The property boasts a variety of amenities, including a ski concierge team with services including ski waxing, boot dryers, equipment storage, ski tuning and repair. Rentals and instruction may also be arranged and the hotel offers exclusive ski programs including "First Tracks" where guests get early access to Aspen Mountain before the gondola opens to the general public.
The Nell's customised Adventure Programme includes fly fishing in the hotel's handcrafted wooden boat, yoga atop Aspen Mountain, heli-skiing, hiking and stand up paddling.
This ski season, The Little Nell will continue its "Snowmobile Tour & Apres-Ski" at T-Lazy-7 Guest Ranch where guests set off from T-Lazy-7 lodge on a guided snowmobile tour to the scenic Maroon Bells followed by an apres-ski reception at Klondike Cabin, a mining era setting with sweeping views of Pyramid Peak.
Element 47's culinary team prepare a rustic interpretation of Colorado cuisine; house-cured charcuterie, grilled meats from partner ranches, fresh salads and fruit cobblers, warm chocolate cakes, and even a sommelier from The Nell serve a selection of wines, including their own private label Champagne from Robert Moncuit.
But very few seats are more coveted than one on the Snowcat Powder Tours as The Little Nell and Limelight Powder Cat lets you have a 'powder' ski day to yourself (well, with up to 11 others) on the backside of Aspen Mountain.
Aspen Snowmass ambassador, Australian chef Neil Perry is a mega fan.
Each tour averages 10-15 uncracked runs on a blank canvas of intermediate to expert terrain, followed by an intimate late lunch at a wood stove-heated cabin in the heart of the Elk Mountains. To be honest, the skiing part is too hard for this bungling ski chick, but being in the snowmobile and the lunch was a pretty darn fabulous experience.
Other things to do
• If you can, check out the Ski Patrol Sweep where, in conjunction with Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol and part of Patrol's safety measures, they must "sweep" the mountain every night to make sure everyone is safely down and everything is in order.
This isn't something that everyone can do . . . but if you speak to the right people it can happen.
• Seeking the perfect night out? Visit The J Bar at the historic Hotel Jerome (for an "Aspen Crud" signature drink from the Prohibition days); make a stop at Justice Snow's for hand crafted cocktails (pick out your favourite adjectives, liquor, mixers and let the bartender create a signature drink) and conclude with entry to the good old Caribou Club.
• Between lunch and dinner you can continue skiing, relax or just mosey in town with a visit to the Aspen Art Museum and a walk around every designer store imaginable. This is the part when you wish your credit card wasn't already over its festive limit.
Further information: Aspen Skiing Company operates the four mountains in the Aspen Snowmass area — Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk — as well as the award-winning Ski & Snowboard Schools of Aspen Snowmass.
Melissa was a guest on this media famil of Aspen Snowmass and Qantas.