Aspen Travel Guide [y]

[y] Aspen Visitors Guide

Aspen, Colorado is one of the premier ski towns in North America. Yes, it has glamour, money, and celebrities, but it also has an interesting history, both in skiing and mining, and boasts great skiing on four separate mountains. Ask a crowd of non-skiing Americans to name a ski resort, and you can bet a bundle that Aspen will be one of those, though they will probably know more about the rich and famous who frequent the resort than about its equally notable skiing. With four mountains within 12 miles of each other (one of those, Snowmass, is detailed separately), offering 44 lifts and more than 5,246 skiable acres, a trip to Aspen just for the skiing would be well worth it. But Aspen has much more.

Aspen Fun Guide

Aspen fits a niche unique among North American ski resorts. Sure, other resorts attract wealth, but Aspen’s wealth glitters and sparkles with a “look-this-way” flamboyance. Here, the well-to-do seem to want everyone else to know it. You’ll see the newest ski and city fashions on beautiful women as they pass turn-of-the-century brick façades. Private jets wait for their owners on the airport tarmac. Paparazzi aim their lenses at every celebrity in town so that supermarket tabloids can keep their pages filled. Visit our Aspen Ski Vacation Guide.

Aspen vacation guide
Aspen. Co view

Don’t head to Aspen purely to observe celebrities, however. You may not find any. They are most common during the Christmas-New Year holidays and March’s sunshine days, but they are difficult to spot when in ski clothes. If you want to mix with the upscale crowd, stay close to the Aspen Mountain gondola base, where the fanciest hotels and shops are clustered. You’ll find a mixed crowd here, which combines expensive and reasonably priced restaurants and bars. Beyond downtown, the outward signs of wealth disappear.

If all your information about Aspen comes from People magazine, you probably think you can’t afford to ski here. True, lift tickets are among the priciest in America, but it’s a little-known fact that lodging and restaurants have a wide price range, starting out with inexpensive dorm accommodations and topping out at stratospheric luxury suites.

Perhaps due to Aspen’s glamorous reputation, its adventurous nature is sometimes overlooked. Aspen also draws skiers and snowboarders who couldn’t care less about the off-mountain scene. They come for the slopes, which have received rave reviews for decades. Aspen Mountain challenges intermediate through expert skiers and snowboarders. Buttermilk is the perfect beginner and cruising mountain, plus it’s home to the ESPN Winter X Games and the and the Crazy T’rain Terrain Park. Highlands is the most varied for its size, with terrain for experts and beginners, cruisers and bumpers. In the 05/06 season Highlands unveiled Deep Temerity Lift and 180 new acres of advanced, expert and extreme terrain. This year more than 40 more acres will open in the area, bringing the total acreage for Highlands to1,010.

If you’re determined to see celebrities at Aspen, three sightings are guaranteed on Aspen Mountain. Look for shrines for Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Jerry Garcia. The Elvis shrine is in a grove of trees just below the Back of Bell 3. Marilyn’s shrine is on a cat track above the Elvis shrine and Jerry is memorialized in a grove of spruce trees to skiers’ right on Ruthie’s Run after you unload from the FIS chair. Ask an Aspen ambassador for directions and be sure to take your camera. For a little romance, check out Valentine’s shrine between Walsh’s and Hyrup’s on Aspen Mountain, where you’ll find a secluded “porch swing” to canoodle.

Aspen Attractions

Many winter visitors to Aspen never touch the slopes during their stay. This place is a shopper’s paradise, and even if you can’t afford the mostly high-end merchandise, browsing is part of the fun. High on the browsing scale is Boogie’s, 534 E. Cooper St. In addition to funky clothes and other stuff, you’ll find Elvis Presley’s 1955 red Corvette (but not for sale). Les Chefs D’Aspen, on the corner of Cooper and Hunter, sells imported kitchenware plus local gourmet foods and coffee.

Clothing stores are abundant and filled with unusual items. Some of our favorites: Goldies and the Kids, 525 E. Cooper, for delightful kids’ clothing; Gracy’s at the Cooper Street Mall and Susie’s Ltd. on E. Hopkins, to check out what the wear-it-once crowd has on consignment; Prada at 312 So. Galena; and Roots, near Prada, with Canadian imports.

Don’t miss a visit to Explore Booksellers and Bistro, 221 E. Main. It’s a legend in Aspen. Here you can pick up your favorite novel or ski guidebook and have dinner too (see Dining).

Most of Aspen’s 30 art galleries are within a four-by-three-block area between Spring and Monarch Streets and Hopkins Ave. and Durant St. Our favorites are Omnibus Gallery for vintage poster art; Galerie Du Bois for Impressionism; Highline Gallery for glass art; Pam Driscol Gallery for life-size bronze sculptures; and Baldwin Gallery for contemporary collections.

Sleigh rides take place at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch with Maroon Bells Outfitters and Lodge (920-4677). The T-Lazy-7 leads snowmobile tours around the Maroon Bells and through the ghost town of Independence. For winter fly-fishing trips call Aspen Outfitting Co. (925-3406), Oxbow Outfitting Co. (925-1505) or Aspen Sports (925-6332).

The 83,000-square-foot Aspen Recreation Center (544-4100) near the base of Aspen Highlands has an NHL-sized ice rink for public ice skating (skate rentals available), an aquatic area with a six-lane, 25-yard competitive swimming pool, a leisure pool with a two-story water slide, hot tubs, steam rooms, a 32-foot climbing tower, weight room, batting cages, locker rooms and a concession stand. You also can ice skate across from the transportation center at Silver Circle Ice Rink (925-6360) and indoors at Aspen Ice Garden (920-5141).

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (925-5756) is a non-profit organization that holds many interesting programs, including Naturalist Nights every Thursday evening and Potbelly Perspectives, tales of travels and adventures, every Wednesday. They also have snowshoe tours on top of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.

Cooking School of Aspen offers classes from Aspen’s finest chefs for adults and kids (920-1879). Kids and adults can make and paint their own ceramics at Kolor Wheel (544-6191) at 720 E. Durant.

The Wheeler Opera House (920-5770) hosts a variety of big-time entertainers throughout the season. Belly Up Aspen (450 So. Galena; 544-9800) is a live music venue for major attractions, such as Ben Harper, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Jurassic 5

When you’re in Aspen you expect the best, the most state-of-the-art, the highest quality and the trendiest. SpaAspen delivers all that and more. By purchasing a SpaAspen service at the 77,000-square-foot Aspen Club & Spa (952-8900 or 866-484-8245), you have access to The Aspen Club for the day, which encompasses a health and fitness center and the Aspen Club Sports Medicine Institute. The facilities include everything you’d expect and more: 34 treatment rooms, swimming, tennis, child care, relaxation lounges and healthful food at the Variety Cafe. Services include 17 types of massage, seven types of body treatments, numerous skin care programs and a full salon. Signature services are the high altitude and apres-ski massages (both $125 for 50 minutes), and the Alpine rejuvenator body treatment ($180 for 80 minutes). Acupuncture, sports medicine, nutrition, lifestyle assessment, mental performance training, and other well-being programs are available as are health and fitness programs including yoga, qi gong, Feldenkrais and others. John Clendenin’s Ski and Board Doctors provide one-hour skiing and snowboarding lessons on a machine here.

Remède Spa at the St. Regis Resort Aspen (920-3300) is a 15,000-square-foot facility that includes a fitness center with on-staff certified trainers and nutritionists, full-service salon and full-service spa with 15 treatment rooms for massages, facials, and body treatments. The spa offers signature treatments incorporating Aspen’s Alpine and mineral environment. Other amenities include complimentary oxygen in the post-treatment oxygen rooms, chilled champagne, and truffles. The spa’s unique water feature, the Confluence, is reminiscent of the hot springs found throughout Colorado.

Aspen Restaurant Guide

We can’t possibly review all the restaurants in Aspen, because the region’s packed with worthy places to eat, but this list will get you started. Exotic ingredients and ethnic foods are definitely trendy in Aspen. Aspen is a place where you can enjoy the fine restaurants thoroughly, knowing that the next day you’ll ski off those calories. But be careful—most menu items are separately priced and the bill can add up.

If cost is what you’re worried about, many restaurants in Aspen have a “bar” menu. Bar menus are the locals’ secrets to eating well, and they aren’t your usual hot wings and nachos. Their culinary delights running $8–$15, such as roast sirloin steak with gourmet mashed potatoes at Cache Cache, spinach-and-ricotta-cheese ravioli in a light smoked-ricotta-and-sage sauce at L’Hostaria or the Sambal shrimp quesadilla at Elevation.

Montagna (675 E. Durant; 920-6313; $$$$; above) at the Little Nell specializes in contemporary American Alpine cuisine. Executive Chef Ryan Hardy delights with an intricate blend of flavors, textures, and colors. Montagna is a Grand Award recipient, the highest achievement from Wine Spectator. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch.

Syzygy (520 E. Hyman Ave.; 925-3700, reservations required; $$$–$$$$) has a menu that combines French, Southwestern, Asian and Italian influences. Don’t be put off by the hard-to-pronounce name (Siz-i-je) or the obscure explanation of its meaning on the menu. The food here is simply exquisite. The atmosphere is intimate yet casual, with live jazz performers who seem to make the food dance across your tongue.

Go to Piñons (second floor at 105 S. Mill; 920-2021; $$$$) to dine in what feels like a cozy Western ranch, with stucco walls, a leather bar and menus and huge brass bowls. All meats and fish are grilled over mesquite and cherry wood. Desserts vary daily.

If you think that at these prices, you should be entertained and have your apartment cleaned for a year, one man will at least do the former. Owner Mead Metcalf has been playing to The Crystal Palace sellout crowds each evening at 6:45 nightly for more than four decades (300 E. Hyman Ave.; 925-1455; $$$$, reservations may be necessary several weeks in advance). The Crystal Palace’s talented staff not only cranks out a full dinner and bar service, but then belts out a cabaret revue spoofing the media’s latest victims. You can choose from perfectly pink beef tenderloin with Madeira sauce, roast duckling, rack of lamb or prime rib. The food doesn’t have to be good, but it is. The Piano Bar at Crystal Palace features New York City cabaret artist Michael McAssey following the dinner show.

World-renowned chef-owner Charles Dale should be commended for his newest venture, Range (304 E. Hopkins; 925-2402; $$$), where he lowered prices but didn’t lower standards. Dale (who grew up in the palace in Monaco with Caroline and Albert) showcases Western ingredients such as salmon from Alaska’s Copper River, Oregon morels and Idaho trout. The regional twist extends to the wines, which are all American.

Cache Cache (lower level of the Mill St. Plaza; 925-3835; $$–$$$; above right) gets a thumbs-up from locals for French provincial cuisine, especially the half-price early-bird specials. The polenta Nicoise, wild mushroom cannelloni and perfectly grilled yellowtail are favorites. Rustique (216 S. Monarch; 920-2555; $$–$$$) serves a wonderful cassoulet Toulousain with duck confit and sausage. It also has a child-friendly menu with 25 classic French favorites called “Small Plates.”

Kenichi (533 E. Hopkins; 920-2212; $$$) and Takah Sushi (320 So. Mill; 925-8588; $$–$$$; left) are the locals’ favorite for Pan Asian cuisine and sushi. Always crowded, reservations are a must, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

Matthew Zubrod, who used to be executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton, opened AspenDish (430 E. Hyman; 925-1421; $$$) in the former Mogador Restaurant space on the Hyman St. Mall in spring of 2006. He serves creative American comfort foods like lobster corn dogs, truffle mac ‘n cheese and C.L.T. sandwiches made of crab, lettuce, and tomato.

Outstanding gourmet Italian restaurants are Campo de Fiori (205 E. Mill; 920-7717; $$–$$$) and Campo’s cousin (same owner) Gusto Ristorante (415 E. Main; 925-8222; $$–$$$). Gusto’s contemporary cuisine is refreshingly different than the classic dishes of Campo de Fiori and a tad less expensive. Olives Aspen (920-7356; $$$) at the St. Regis has a broad Mediterranean-based menu with subtle Cajun influences inspired by new chef Patrick Dahms who hails from New Orleans. Valet parking is complimentary.

The contemporary and casual Elevation (304 E. Hopkins; 544-5166; $$–$$$) serves New American cuisine with Asian influences. Genre (316 E Hopkins; 925-1260; $$–$$$), an intimate French bistro owned by local ski competitor Vince Lahey, has a strong local following, serving authentic French cuisine at reasonable prices. L’Hostaria (620 E. Hyman; 925-9022; $$–$$$) showcases decor and recipes direct from Italy. The specialty is a two-pound Chilean sea bass express-shipped daily and baked with olive oil, herbs, clams, and mussels.

For more affordable dining, try Asie ($$), the “hottest place in town” for Asian fare and Blue Maize (308 S. Hunter; 925-6698, $$; right) for Southwest and Latin American food. How about a bistro in a bookstore—Explore Bookstore’s upper-level graduates into a smart vegetarian bistro with summa cum laude desserts and aptly named Explore Bistro (221 E. Main; 925-5338; $$). The Steak Pit (corner of Hopkins and Monarch; 925-3459; $$) has been in business since 1960, serving some of the best steaks in Aspen along with a sumptuous all-you-can-eat salad bar.

Little Ollie’s (downstairs at 308 S. Hunter; 544-9888; $) has healthy Chinese food and offers take-out. The Cantina (corner of Mill and Main; 925-3663; $–$$) is a trendier Mexican alternative with the “best Mexican food north of San Antonio.”

The Big Wrap (520 E. Durant; 544-1700; $) features burrito-like wraps but with a variety of exotic fillings. Boogie’s Diner (534 E. Cooper; 925-6610; $) is a real ’50s diner with oldies music, blue plate specials and meatloaf (great milkshakes, too).

For a real adventure, head out to the Pine Creek Cookhouse (925-1044; $$$; below left), rebuilt in 2004. At an elevation of 9,725 feet, the log cabin is in the midst of towering pines beneath Elk Mountain peaks some 12 miles up Castle Creek Road. It is accessible by a 1.5-mile snowshoe or cross-country trek or by a sleigh drawn by a team of Percheron horses. Views are outstanding. Reservations are essential (at times two to four weeks in advance), as the logistics of running a kitchen not reached by road in winter is no small matter. The Cookhouse feeds several hundred people each day, and all that food (the wild game is its specialty) comes in by snowmobile. Meals are prepared right in front of you in the open kitchen and are served by one of your cross-country guides.

Breakfast Restaurants

Let’s start with the place to eat breakfast, The Wienerstube, a.k.a. “the Stube” (633 E. Hyman 925-3357; $). Come here for Eggs Benny, omelets, Austrian sausages, and homemade Viennese pastries.

Believe it or not, Hickory House (730 W. Main St.; 925-2313; $), known for its baby-back ribs, serves one of the best breakfasts around. Poppycock’s (609 E. Cooper; 925-1245; $), a contemporary cafe with fancy pancakes, crepes, and eggs, is delightful.

Main Street Bakery Cafe (201 E. Main St.; 925-6446; $) has homemade baked goods, granola, fruit, eggs and great coffee. For the best coffee in town, head to Bagel Bites (300 Puppy Smith St in Clark’s shopping center; 920-3489), or Ink! Coffee (inside the D&E Snowboard Shop in the Aspen Mountain Building).

Resturants on the mountains

The crown jewel of Aspen’s on-mountain dining is the Sundeck Restaurant (429-6971; $$; right), housed in a magnificent lodge that replaces the old Sundeck building at the top of the gondola. It’s a favorite spot for spectacular views, people-watching and innovative cuisine served from individual food stations. Check out the priceless old ski photos.

Ajax Tavern (920-9333; $$$), at the base of Silver Queen Gondola, boasts Tuscan influences in a richly wood-paneled room. Lunch is a hearty selection of Colorado lamb, roasted mussels, pasta, salads and sandwiches with a Napa Valley wine list and outdoor seating for prime people-watching.

Bump’s (925-4027; $–$$), at the Buttermilk base area, features foods from a wood-fired rotisserie, brick ovens and a pit smoker, as well as huge salads, pasta, and stews. Bonnie’s ($–$$), just above Lift 3 on Aspen Mountain, feeds some 1,500 hungry skiers per day between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Go before noon or after 2 p.m. unless you love lines. The double decks outside are the places to be during the day. Owner Bonnie Rayburn’s gourmet pizza on the freshly made crust is a huge crowd-pleaser. Homemade soups, such as the Colorado white-bean chili, are served with large crusty pieces of fresh French bread. Save room for her world-famous apple strudel.

Other on-mountain options include the Cliffhouse ($) atop Buttermilk with an outdoor deck serving its famous custom-cooked Mongolian Barbecue. Cloud Nine, a European-style bistro with a fixed-price menu, is decorated in early evacuation gear since it shares space with the Aspen Highlands ski patrol. It has killer views of the Maroon Bells, Aspen’s world-famous peaks. Snowcats can bring you there for evening dining; call 544-3063. Merry-Go-Round ($), mid-mountain at Highlands, serves grilled bratwursts, burgers and Mexican fare and is the location for the legendary jumping show on Freestyle Fridays.

The Village at Aspen Highlands is shaping up nicely, although it’s a bit dark in color for our tastes and the buildings block the mountain view. Retail shops and restaurants are filling the empty spaces. We like Willow Creek at the Ritz Carlton Club and Iguanas for lunch and dinner. A new gourmet pizza place called Crust ($) opened the summer of ’06 in the village.

Dining Legend: $$$$–Entrees $30+; $$$–$20–$30; $$–$10–$20; $–less than $10

Aspen Nightlife

Slopeside Ajax Tavern is a big draw for catching afternoon rays as the lifts start to close. If you don’t find what you want there, the crowd spreads out to The Terrace Room Bar at the Little Nell Hotel, Mezzaluna, 39 Degrees at the SKY Hotel, Little Annie’s, Cooper Street Pier, the J-Bar (Jack Nicholson’s hangout at the Jerome) and the Red Onion. Apres-ski comes in all varieties here, from The Cantina, with its very happy hour (have a margarita in the compadre size), to the quiet and genteel Hotel Jerome Bar. At Aspen Highlands, Iguana’s is the place to be and be seen.

At night, the music and dance beat begins to take over. Earlier in the evening, the high-energy place to find out who’s in town is Mezzaluna with its brassy horseshoe-shaped bar. It’s a good singles bar and gives you the best in upscale people-watching. The Shadow Mountain Lounge at the St. Regis has live music. The Little Nell bar and Syzygy have jazz. DJs rule at Bar Aspen, Club Chelsea, The Speakeasy and The Lava Room.

Jimmy’s, an American restaurant and bar, is where the swank dinner crowd hits the dance floor on Saturday night for its signature Salsa Night. You’ll also find what they claim to be one of the largest tequila menus in the country (more than 65).

Eric’s Bar, Cigar Bar and Aspen Billiards all attract singles and have lots of microbrews on tap (great scotch, too). Another beer spot is McStorlie’s Pub. A relatively mixed crowd congregates in the Red Onion and Little Annie’s. Cooper Street Pier is very much a local and college student hangout.

There are many other nightspots in town; pick up a copy of Aspen Magazine’s Traveler’s Guide for a list, or check local papers, The Aspen Times and The Aspen Daily News for current happenings.

Aspen Hotels

Accommodations in Aspen range from luxurious and pricey to modest and inexpensive. StayAspenSnowmass, (800) 262-7736 or 925-9000, can reserve nearly all properties listed here. Multi-day lift-and-lodging packages are the best deal. You also can log on to www.stayaspensnowmass.com and check out the “Virtual Hostel” for last-minute, discounted lodging packages.

Hotel Jerome (920-1000 or 800-331-7213; $$$$) and The Sardy House (920-2525 or 800-321-3457; $$$$), both on East Main Street, reflect Aspen’s glory days. The Sardy House is a Victorian home, elegantly transformed into an intimate Bed and Breakfast. A modern addition has been added, but try to get one of the original rooms. The Jerome—on the National Register of Historic Places—is a grand old hotel restored to more elegance than the silver barons ever knew. Even if you don’t stay there, this Aspen landmark is worth a walk-through to view the antiques and old photos.

The Little Nell (920-4600 or 888-843-6355; $$$$) is just steps from the Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain. It has received the highest rating (five on a 1–5 scale) from several rating services, such as AAA and Mobil. All rooms have fireplaces, sofas, oversized beds with comforters and marble bathrooms. There is a spa and a heated outdoor pool.

The St. Regis, Aspen (920-3300 or 888-454-9005; $$$$) is richly appointed, with a tasteful decor that brings to mind an exclusive hunting club. It has a fitness center and various ski packages. Its restaurants are top-flight. Though the red brick building is just a few years old, it looks like it belongs to historic Aspen.

The Residence (920-6532; $$$$) has world-class European suites in a historic downtown landmark building. Also luxurious are the SKY Hotel (800-882-2582; 925-6760; $$$$) and the delightful award-winning Hotel Lenado (925-6246 or 800-321-3457; $$$$). The latter, another property of the Sardy House owners, may be small, but it’s huge in amenities, personality, and service. A delicious hot breakfast is included in the room price, which drops into the $$$ category during shoulder seasons. Look for the funky-colored building on South Aspen St.

The Snowflake Inn (925-3221 or 800-247-2069; $$$; right), a block from the transportation center on East Hyman Avenue, is clean and roomy. It’s within walking distance from the gondola, buses to the other areas and downtown. And it has very friendly staff, laundry facilities, a heated pool and spa, free continental breakfast and apres-Ski snacks. What more does one need?

One of our readers tells us Hotel Durant (877-438-7268; 925-8500; $$–$$$$) is one of his favorite “little hotels.” Beautifully renovated in 1996, it’s just two blocks from downtown and one-and-a-half blocks from lift 1-A. The lounge fireplace and outdoor Jacuzzi are nice amenities.

Our favorite place in Aspen, a lodge of a kind that’s disappearing all too fast, is The Mountain Chalet (925-7797 or 800-321-7813; $–$$$). This place is just plain friendly to everyone, including families. If you can’t stand a 3-year-old crawling over a lounge chair in the lobby or families howling over a game of Monopoly, then don’t stay here. Rates are reasonable and include a hearty breakfast served family-style. It’s a few blocks from Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen gondola, and across the street from the transportation center (ideally situated, in other words). Call early for rooms, because folks reserve space here well in advance. Package deals for lodging, lift tickets, and full breakfast are as low as $84 per person per day in a dorm bunk or a four-person room; about $94 per person per night for two to a room. To get these prices, call the chalet directly.

Other places that treat guests very well are the Mountain House Lodge (866-920-2550; 920-3440; $$), the Hotel Aspen (925-3441 or 800-527-7369; $$) and the Molly Gibson Lodge (925-3434 or 800-356-6559; $$). Also, try the Limelight (925-3025 or 800-433-0832; $$), and the St. Moritz Lodge (800-817-2069; 925-3220; $), a hostel only five blocks from the center of town.

You can still find inexpensive rooms at the Christmas Inn (925-3822; $$), Innsbruck Inn (925-2980; $$) renovated and reopening for winter ’06, Ullr Lodge (925-7696; above left) and budget champion Tyrolean Lodge (925-4595 or 888-220-3809; $).

The Heatherbed Lodge (925-7077; 800-356-6782; $$) is a good place to stay near Aspen Highlands. Rates include a full breakfast.

Resort Quest and Frias are the largest condo management companies in the area. Resort Quest (720 East Hyman; 925-1400 or 800-222-7736), manages the Fasching Haus (925-2260) and Durant Condominiums (925-7910), both on the slopes. Chateau Eau Claire and Chateau Roaring Fork are two of their popular units. Shadow Mountain is not so luxurious but has a ski-in/ski-out location. Frias (877-636-4626) books for the new Hyatt Grand Aspen and St. Regis Residence Club and also manage a large portfolio of privately owned condos. Fifth Avenue (925-7397) is also slopeside and is available through StayAspenSnowmass (888-290-1324). For luxury, three-bedroom condos on the slopes, try Mountain Queen Condominiums (925-6366). The Gant (925-5000 or 800-345-1471; above right) at the foot of Aspen Mountain is another choice.

Accommodations Legend: (double room) $$$$–$200+; $$$–$141–$200; $$–$81–$140; $–$80 and less