Passing Through: Aspen

Home to a toned-down local vibe and four world-class ski areas

One of the most famous ski towns in the world, Aspen, Colorado, has a reputation for luxurious living, pricey real estate, hoards of European tourists, and celebs arriving in private jets to ski in spandex and fur hats. And Aspen does have all that, but you’re Dumb and Dumber if you think that’s all it has to offer. The famed mountain town is also home to a toned-down local vibe that tastes a lot more like the Champagne of Beers rather than Dom Perignon.

Situated in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains’ Elk Range just below 8,000 feet, Aspen offers access to four world-class ski areas—all accessible with just one lift ticket. The largest vertical descent of any resort in North America, Snowmass is as vast as it is varied with 3,362 acres of terrain and 94 trails.

For the hard charging, Aspen Mountain offers tight glades, bumps, and steeps, and is revered for it’s black-diamond terrain and out-of-bounds access. You’ll also be closest to town, which means you can be last on the mountain and first at the bar.

Just over the ridge is Aspen Highlands. You’ll leave any crowds behind any crowds when you and hike the ridge to Highland Bowl. There are a few mid mountain groomers, but of the 1,040 acres of terrain, more than half are of the black diamond variety.

Home to Winter X Games, Aspen’s fourth mountain, Buttermilk, is most known for it’s 22-foot superpipe and a pair of massive terrain parks build for the pros. If you’d rather ski past the giant kickers than launch off them, Buttermilk’s 470 acres are filled with more casual, groomed terrain.

Whatever peak tickles your fancy, you’ll be thinking of your stomach by the time you catch the last chair. Luckily, tiny Aspen is a foodie’s delight—and though it’s not easy to find cheap eats in this town, it can be done. Zane’s Tavern Aspen is open to midnight for wings and the cheapest Guinness on tap (This is the place where beer flows like wine). To catch your team on the big screen, post up at the Tavern’s second location in Snowmass and order the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich.

New Belgium Ranger Station is the new kid on Aspen’s block and, this is the place to be for a fresh pour of the seasonal brew and your favorite comfort foods—soft pretzels, buffalo chili, and S’mores.

For first chair fuel, grab a breakfast bagel sammy to go from Main Street Bakery and Cafe before heading out.
Should have a taste for caviar—or at least the cash flow for it—Creperie du Village is worth indulging. Hot, savory crepes with fillings like smoked salmon, Thai curry chicken, and for dessert, something with Nutella.

Established in the wake of the 1870s Silver Boom, one of Aspen’s founders, Walter Paepcke, saw the valley as a place to be reinvigorated. He once said, “Aspen had fishing, climbing, skiing. Aspen had so much to add to leisure, to the renewal of the inner spirit. It was the perfect setting for music, art, education…all the things that make life worth living.”

Today, Aspen is home to the Wheeler Opera House, the Aspen Music Festival, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and a myriad of other cultural centers. The City of Aspen obtains its power from 100 percent renewable sources. Aspen gets 75 percent of its energy from carbon-free sources, like wind and hydroelectric. Wherever you go, take a deep breath, and know that you’re breathing some of the cleanest mountain air in the country.

Marquee image: Willie Volkhausen skis Harris’s in Aspen, Colorado. PHOTO: Tom Zuccareno