ASPEN: Colorado mecca for the arts, outdoors and the intellect
Skiing down the ghastly expert black slopes of Aspen’s Ajax mountain on fresh powder snow day feels like flying downhill. A fearless, free but for others a hair-rising sensation, that many skiers long for.
The superb snow quality means that skiing in Colorado is more often an exciting off-piste adventure, than sliding elegantly down the sleek groomed tracks. Watching the bold snowboarders, skiers and snowmobile freestylers leaping and somersaulting high in the sky, when competing in the notorious XGames on Buttermilk Mountain, draws awes in the spectators faces. While hiking or mountain biking up and down the tree spiked peaks rises one’s adrenalin during the snow-free months (late April-early November).
There is always something entertaining to do in Aspen and it does not need to be just fraternal to the outdoor activities. The sport ‘anti-ficionados’ can savor culinary delicacies at the Grand Tasting tent of the Food and Wine Classics in June, admire the abundant art galleries and the controversial, but gorgeously designed Aspen Art Museum or frequent one of the bountiful music venues in town. Classical music fans should arrive for the summer-long Aspen Music Festival.
In a place where art, food, science, sports, wine and even fly-fishing thrive, the intellectual domain gets also plenty of attention. During the weeklong Aspen Ideas Festival at the end of June, multiple disciplines from culture and economy to environment and philosophy, pinnacle in heated panel debates organised by the Aspen Institute. Yet another summer attraction pulling thousands of visitors to the thin air of Aspen.
The town clings to the foothill of the Aspen peak belonging to the Rocky mountains. The indigenous local Indians called the area “The Shining Mountains” for the silver deposits once found there. After the silver was all mined, the town was lucky not to end up as one of theghost cities scattered throughout by the mining-hyped Colorado. Sprouting through its identity crisis, Aspen reinvented itself in the ski mania of the 1930s. Ever since its seclusion has been attracting the healthy lifestyle seekers from hollywood divas, bestselling writers, the tax conscious Californians and contemporary tabloid regulars. With the cream of society flowing into Aspen, the birth of exclusive members clubs was just a natural evolution. The Caribou Club (411 East Hopkins Avenue) opened it’s doors in 1989 as the Aspen’s first private members-only club. Founded by Harley Baldwin, the space hosts a classy restaurant, a popular bar and a nightclub. A quirky nugget is that everyone is obliged to check their coat upon entry. Very old school, indeed. Baldwin also owns a contemporary american art gallery (209 S. Galena Street) bearing his name.
The dynamic town hums with galleries. One of the last still artist-run studio cum exposition space is the Christopher Martin Gallery (525 E. Cooper Avenue). The world’s top art is a beacon of the Maximilian Gallery (602 E. Cooper Avenue). There, secluded inconspicuously at the back, hide exquisite treasures from the European masters of the Chagall, Picasso and Matisse fame. The bright main room showcases contemporary American and British art catering for the Anish Kappor and Damien Hirst collectors and fans. Its owner Albert Sanford brings his 35-year career in art dealership under this by precious pieces adorned roof. Emerging American art is showcased at the Gallery 212. If you crave more and for best orientation in the Aspen’s crowded art scene pick up the ‘Aspen Gallery Guide’ or ‘Art in Aspen’ brochures inside one of the popular galleries.
The local dinner scene is highly competitive. American, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, vegetarian, organic, raw, casual or fancy, name it and you will eat it. It is both easy to indulge but also stay healthy in Aspen.
The beauty of Aspen dwells not only in its nature, vibrant gastronomy and cultural diversity, but also in the highly invested personal involvement of its residents. Some own and work at their restaurants (L’Hostaria), others run their hotels and the rest travels the world while selecting the lovable art pieces for their gallery.
The Residence Hotel (305 S. Galena Street) has perhaps the most distinctive and unrestricted owner’s touch. Terry Butler, a former performance artist and an avid traveller, set up her flamboyant eight room boutique hotel in 1986. Living on the premises, she picks up the phone while taking reservations, books your dinner, a ski instructor, concert tickets, and more. The townhouse hotel is equipped with her own antiques, luxurious Ralph Lauren bed linens, real wood-fired fireplaces, together creating an eclectic melange of styles. Some rooms even have a kitchen, generally welcomed by families and budding chefs. Many celebrities seeking privacy and luxury stayed here.
The recently revamped historic Jerome Hotel (330 E. Main Street) is the social beacon of Aspen. Have a drink at the time-tested, Colorado authentic J-Bar or at the dimly lit and cosy Living Room lounge. The lounge entertains with a live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays and has become since its re-opening the hottest drink spot in town. Since 1889, the red brick building has remained one of the main landmarks alongside the Wheeler Opera House.
Another luxurious,but more family-friendly five star retreat is St. Regis. Its sprawling spa boosts with fancy oxygen rooms making the high elevation more pleasant for the newly arrived visitors. The Chefs Club organised by the US Food&Wine magazine features emerging new American chefs worth sampling out.
As the only ski-in-ski-out hotel in Aspen, The Little Nell Hotel (675 E. Durant Avenue) is still the most popular lodging in town, and has to be booked months in advance.The amenities include a wide array of privileges and services including a highly effective transport and entry to the coveted Caribou members club. The rooms have been modernised, but still offer the cosy feel and gas fire places, that draw its loyal guests back every year. The lounge bar, the gastronomic restaurant, a casual tavern as well as the very Americana sports bar are the volcano of local activities.
For live music the JAS Club downstairs rings with piano and sultry voices of the jazz singers regularly performing here. More youthful, but still attracting more of the local, healthy-spirited, mature generation, are the rock, punk, hip hop and any style that rocks your booties concerts at the down-to-earth Belly Up.
Shopping in Aspen is a high rolling pastime. Next to the American styled Ralph Lauren, haute Dior or a cashmere clad Italian outfits by Loro Piana, there are also many unique local brands selling high quality goods often winning over the glitzy international sartorial race. In a true Colorado vibe is Kemo Sabe (434 E. Cooper Avenue) offering fringed leather pieces, cowboy/girl hats, boots and belts. Locally designed jewellery, cashmere sweaters as well as the ‘uber‘ cool sunglasses by biking lifestyle inspired US brand Chrome Hearts catch your eye at the eclectic luxurious design boutique Silver Threads (308 Galena St).
Aspen is a popular residential area for all those who can afford its lofty lifestyle. Original mountain style home decoration shops are dusted all over the town catering to the distinct styles of the mainly affluent locals. The current and past residents like Jack Nicholson, Cher, Goldie Hawn, and number of billionaires created a stable local market for all this luxury.
For a more practical shopping, Aspen’s Hunter Street is the best for ski wear. For a chic slope style and ski rentals head to the newly extended, husband and wife owned, Performance Ski (408 S Hunter St). You will find everything ski related high up to glitzy Fendi suites and the fruist of the owners’ collaboration on the relaunch of the ski apparel by Authier, a centenary Italian ski manufacturer and clothing company. Next door is Miller Sports, a smaller outlet focused on the trendy American line Toni Sailer and other cutting edge ski wear brands. The former Austrian olympic skiing family owns the luxurious Gorsuch. The classy store under the Silver Queen gondola station dresses you up in cashmere for apres-ski, fashionable German Bogner suits for the slopes, rents out boots and has a wide-choice of ski equipment and house decorations from candles to furniture.
Whether your pockets are full or half empty Aspen has something for almost every budget, taste and age. The pristine nature lovers will be impressed and charmed by its mundane abundance. Just watch the forecast as the small local airport is not always accessible, when a snow storm strikes the town. This, on the other hand, is for the skiers welcoming news.