December 11, 2015
As Colorado’s best known ski resort with outstanding slopes and a buzzing aprs ski scene, Aspen is the playground of both avid skiers and the celebrities and high-flyers that have given this mountain town its name. Follow our guide to Aspen to get the most out of your time, from discovering its most glamorous restaurants to finding the best ski slopes to carve your way down.
The town lies at the foot of Aspen Mountain – commonly known as Ajax – amidst four ski areas, which together make up Aspen Snowmass. Of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, the former three are clustered together in the Roaring Fork Valley, with Snowmass situated nearby. With so much choice, there are ideal slopes for all abilities, whether it’s your first time in the snow or you’re there for the black and off-piste runs.
Beginners start out on the gentle slopes of Buttermilk, then Snowmass and Aspen are for the more experienced, while Highlands is the one to head to if you want more of a challenge. Hopping between the four areas is a breeze, with buses shuttling skiers back and forth each day. For ski lessons and ski hire, get in touch with Aspen Skiing Company.
Famous for drawing in the A-listers, Aspen’s apres ski scene combines spectacular mountainous surroundings with glamorous dining and an abundance of hip alpine bars. A resoundingly popular spot is award winning fine dining restaurant Cache Cache, which fuses American and French cuisine, with a 5,000-bottle-strong wine list. As the evening progresses diners move from the restaurant or outdoor patio to the venue’s slick wine bar. Classic French restaurant Brexi Brasserie is another Aspen favourite for its faultless service and well-executed dishes, like lobster carbonara and escargot with Parisienne gnocchi gratinée.
For flavourful Italian-influenced cuisine in a casual café setting, head to The Meatball Shack. Diners sit out on the patio or gather within the warm wooden interior to fill up on dishes like rigatoni Bolognese and veal meatballs with fettuccine, with an excellent selection of beers and wines helping to round the meal off nicely. With a more eclectic international influence, bb’s offers a menu of dishes inspired by both the chef’s and owner’s travels, from seared foie gras with fig tart and balsamic gastrique, to wild boar Bolognese and veal osso buco. Settle into a booth in the dining room or sip on cocktails in the Lively Lounge bar. Out on the patio, bb’s Raw Bar serves up oysters and ceviche, with live music performances each Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa has his own restaurant in Aspen, too. Matsuhisa Aspen focuses on the chef’s signature culinary style, combining haute Japanese cuisine with ingredients from South America. Savour each bite in the fittingly Japanese-inspired dining space. Just outside town, Pine Creek Cookhouse lies at the base of the Elk Mountain Range. Reach the cookhouse with a guided cross-country ski or snowshoe tour, before settling in at the cosy lodge for American alpine cuisine using locally sourced and organic ingredients. Then, with a full belly, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride back.
The music scene is another side to Aspen’s nightlife that’s worth shouting about. Catch live music at renowned local venue, Belly Up, which draws in the big names. Aspen Brewing Co showcases local, regional and international musicians, who perform live in the brewery’s Tap Room (the ideal spot to settle into after a brewery tour). Within the Wheeler Opera House, the hip, vintage-style restaurant and bar Justice Snow’s also hosts live music in the evenings, while serving up hearty dishes like slow roasted lamb shank. The bar takes pride in their handcrafted cocktails, which incorporate rare spirits and liquors that are house-infused. Many people stop by for the brunch, with classic plates like Belgian waffles and eggs benedict on offer.
Despite being predominantly known for its snow-sports, these aren’t the only outdoor activities on offer in Aspen. Try paragliding through the mountains with outfitters Aspen Paragliding, and try your hand at fishing in the valley’s lakes with Aspen Flyfishing.
The glorious summer months are the ideal time to go hiking along the Roaring Fork River, through the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness area, and to the Grottos caves on Independence Pass. Alternatively, get around on two wheels by hiring a bicycle or booking a guided cycling tour with Aspen Bike Tours & Rentals. Aspen Wilderness Outfitters leads horseback trail rides through the surrounding scenery. The more adventurous can set out on ice climbing, rock climbing and camping trips with Aspen Expeditions, or rafting, paddleboarding and kayaking with Blazing Adventures.
In town, take a walk through Rio Grande Park, and glide across the ice at Aspen Ice Garden or the Winter Wonderland. The town also has a well-established arts scene with a number of boutique galleries. Aspen Art Museum – set in a contemporary wood-woven, light-flooded building designed by architect Shigeru Ban – aims to showcase the evolution of international contemporary art and has a rooftop sculpture garden with a café, bar and outdoor film screenings.
A full calendar of vibrant festivals and events keeps people coming back to Aspen year after year. The Jazz Aspen Snowmass organisation aims to showcase the diversity of this genre, with festivals that include the JAS June Experience, The Labor Day Experience, and a series of concerts in the JAS Café.
One of the most in-demand places to stay is luxury hotel The Little Nell, which has town-side and mountain-side rooms and a number of opulent suites, as well as fine dining restaurant Element 47 and the stylish alpine-style apres-ski venue Ajax Tavern for casual fine dining and cocktails. The historic and luxurious Hotel Jerome is another of Aspen’s most highly regarded places to stay, with cosy interiors, a mountain spa, and wining and dining venues Prospect bistro, The Living Room, and the popular drinking spot for skiers, Jerome Bar.
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Written by Lauren Hill