BY Lisa Lindblad
June 22, 2016
There is a magic to this valley, they say, with its flowered meadows
and aspen groves cut by the Roaring Fork.
And those sublime snowcapped peaks that dominate it all.
There is a kinship here, nurtured in the mountain’s fold,
as well as a fierce commitment to protect what is so dearly loved.
Photo: Forest Woodward
Location: Aspen, CO
“There is a magic to the valley”, they say. I know it. Its seduction lies in the staggering natural beauty of its mountains, rivers, lakes and forests, and in the colorful history so well preserved in the neat and intimate town, the surrounding mines, the museums. There is also the lovely surrounding ranchland, the territory in to which this town of 6000 retreated during the first half of the 20th century when the silver mines went bust, which produces cheese and meats, fruits and vegetables – all, it must be added, organic, artisanal, award-winning. And, finally, there is the contemporary thriving Aspen, the reinvented Aspen so deftly defined and designed by fiercely committed families like the Paepckes. It was these thinkers and doers who founded and funded its arts and environmental studies institutions – the Aspen Festival and ACES. This is a place ‘not out of time’ but, in many ways, ‘ahead of its time’ and that, also, is why it is so appealing. Aspen offers fun, health, intellectual stimulation, artistic outlet – in sum, a way of life that favors its citizens and is hard to come by elsewhere.
DO visit in spring, summer and fall as well as in ski season
DO outfit yourself with the correct clothing – this is the epitome of four seasons in one day
DO allow yourself to get acclimatized to the altitude (7200 feet at Ajax mountain’s base)
DO prepare to explore the secret athlete in you
DO join the full moon cemetery visit with Aspen Historical Society
DO take a dusk badger walk at Hallam Lake
DO take your dog..Aspen is not only dog friendly but dog central. Your pooch will have the time of his life
Little Nell: A Relais & Chateau property, is the boutique hotel ski in/ski out option and it is terrific. The Paepcke Suite (same family) offers a front row seat to the skiers in winter and a view onto Ajax Mountain’s impossibly green flank in summer. The residences are quieter and more private.
The St. Regis: Just down the road, is a larger hotel with a good spa and varied room combos.
Hotel Jerome: Located in the center of town on Main Street, is a combination of luxury and historic heritage.
Aspen Meadows Resort: The 98 suites look out on to the 40 acres of meadows that are framed by the Roaring Fork River and Castle Creek. This is the home of the Aspen Institute and Festival and, while just steps from town, you feel like you are in the countryside.
The Limelight: Owned by the Little Nell, LL has good-sized room at more reasonable prices, an relaxed atmosphere, pool, and delicious food.
The Mountains: There are mountains for every activity – from hiking, biking and rock climbing to skiing and paragliding – but Ajax is the mountain that literally falls in to Aspen’s lap. Snowmass mountain, handy for children’s activities, is within 15 minutes, while the other peaks – called collectively the 14ers – call on a range of skills and expertise.
The Rivers: The Roaring Fork is Aspen’s river but, along with others like the Shoshone and the Colorado, all or parts offer themselves for different sports at different times of year. All classes of rafting are available, from a lazy cruise to full on rapids. Kayaking in inflatable duckies is a great afternoon activity. Fly fishing for veterans or newbies is also hugely popular.
Ballooning: Pam does one departure a day at 5:15AM, but it is spectacular.
Paragliding: Alex has two launches in the morning that can be filmed if you wish. Depending on the thermals, the flight can range from 15 minutes to 45.
Horses: Take a long day’s ride up to Maroon Lake, hike around it and then bike back down.
Pure Nature: Visit Hallam Lake, located in town and the seat of ACES, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Gorgeous 40 acres of pristine creeks, meadows and cottonwoods is preserved as a teaching environment for Aspen’s local schoolchildren as well as for visitors. Offering classes, walks, stories and respite.
ACES also operates Rockbottom Ranch which it also uses as a teaching tool about sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry and wetlands preservation.
Pure Culture: Visit the Stallard Museum for an understanding of Aspen’s tumultuous history. Pop over the Aspen Historical Society’s other museum, the Holden Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, to understand what the silver boom and bust meant to the town. Tour Smuggler’s mine which, over the course of about 20 years, produced, along with other local silver mines, 1/6 of the US’s silver back in the day. AHS offers other wonderful programs from a full moon storytelling tour in the local cemetery to bike rides around town that stop at significant sites.
Mind Body & Soul: The Aspen Institute is a remarkable nonprofit whose mission is to promote wellbeing in mind, body and soul. It produces the Aspen Ideas Festival and the Aspen Music Festival and School. The Music Festival takes place during the month of August, providing classical music performances both by renowned musicians and by its 600 students from around the world. The Ideas Festival draws together leading thinkers to discuss and share ideas.
And… Plenty of Retail Therapy
Best Day Trip: If you have kids with you, maybe drive to Paonia, CO to Avalanche Dairy Farm to get a bit of loving from some other kids – goat kids. Here, Wendy Mitchell of Meat & Cheese (see below) raises nanny goats to produce her award-winning cheese. 2-hour drive each way. If you have an overnight, drive four hours each way (or charter a Pilatus) and fly to Moab, UT to visit three gorgeous national parks - Canyonlands, Zion or Arches – and be amazed by the sandstone sculptured outcroppings and the dinosaur and Anasazi remains: tracks, bones and rock art. If you overnight, stay at Sorrel River Ranch Resort.
TO EAT & DRINK
Cache Cache French and old school
Element 47 is Little Nell’s restaurant. It has the deepest cellar in Aspen and hosts a sommelier’s event each year
Ajax Tavern is Little Nell’s informal venue at the base of the mountain offering great burgers and truffle fries 11-9.
Chefs Club by Food & Wine, located at the St. Regis, brings a roster of Best New Chefs for successive star turns
White House Tavern, located in town, has outdoor seating that is coveted at all times of day. Great guac and salads.
Meat & Cheese across the street from White House Tavern is owned by Wendy Mitchell, proprietor of Avalanche Farm in Paonia which raises goats and her creamerie in Basalt that makes delicious cheeses and the sausage. Great vibe and delicious.
Mezzaluna of New York fame, good for pizza
Casa Tua of Miami fame is a club as well as a restaurant
Matsuhisu, Nobu Matsuhisu’s Aspen outpost
Hooch, Wendy Mitchell’s bar and newest venture