By Irvina Lew
For an extraordinary Colorado Rocky Mountain experience, head to Aspen and discover its pristine peaks, towering trees, flowing rivers and sprawling meadowlands. The 1880s mining town has transformed into a sophisticated mini-metropolis, swank ski resort and chic year-round destination. In winter, you can ski from atop an 11,775 ft summit on a black-diamond ski run; in warmer weather, you can hike, bike or do sun salutations atop the peak. After dark, savor fine food, including freshly-flown-in seafood, sip world-class wines, attend ballet, concert and jazz performances or simply hang out at a local pub. Culture gives a splendid sense of place to this environmentally caring, intellectually curious and ever-active community. Since 1899, when Jerome Wheeler launched a grand hotel and opera house, there’s been a vibrant cultural ambiance; in the mid-20th century, it expanded to a core value when Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke founded the “Aspen idea” dedicated to the mind, body and spirit and inaugurated the Aspen Institute.
BEST PLACE TO HAVE…
A View of Aspen Mountain
Enjoy the intimate, sleek, gray-washed contemporary space, or dine on a patio overlooking Wagner Park and Aspen Mountain. Local chef/owner Barclay Dodge was influenced by acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià at el Bulli and at Restaurant Gaig in Barcelona. His restaurant highlights creative new world dishes, and a great Peking duck.
Superlative Asian Cuisine
Arrive within a traditional—albeit blue—Aspen cottage to enjoy sushi and sashimi favorites in the ground floor lounge, with no reservations needed. Or book a table downstairs (there’s an elevator), where the bar has a bamboo “roof,” the huge dining room extends under high ceilings and the creative menu features Nobu specialties, including lobster in a spicy garlic sauce.
Special Drinks and Solid American Fare
Step up to a fun bar filled with beer, whiskey, mezcal and wine-sipping folks who appreciate the beverages that Jersey-raised owner, Jimmy Yeager, wine and beverage director, Greg Van Wagner, and Jimmy’s traveling team have discovered during their annual treks. Order authentic crab cakes or super steaks.
Wine Pairing Gastronomy
Savor Patrick Dunn’s five-star New American fare, which features Colorado trout, beef and lamb plus ingredients from his chef’s garden and a nearby farm. Ask one of the nearly 50 wine professionals of varying degrees of certification to select bottles from the 20,000-plus cellar, which you can tour. Or dine amidst the bins in the wood-paneled wine room.
IF YOU DO ONE THING…
The Silver Queen Gondola
Ride the Silver Queen Gondola, an iconic experience inside a clear-topped bubble, for the scenic (and scary) 18-minute ride to Aspen Mountain’s 11,212 ft summit. Whether it’s to ski the peak also known as Ajax, snowshoe Richmond Ridge or hike the trails, it’s always fun to lunch on the Sundeck restaurant and simply stare at the wonderful wilderness. Summer activities include hiking, disc golf, nature walks and concerts.
TAKE FIVE/// MUST-SEE SIGHTS
Aspen Art Museum
Lunch at So Cafe atop the Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum, an admission-free museum which showcases contemporary exhibits. Then, stroll to the nearby art galleries.
Woody Creek Distillery
Spend an afternoon at Woody Creek Distillery, which makes craft spirits including rye whiskey, bourbon, gin from their own junipers and potato vodka from various farms in the nearby Roaring Fork Valley.
Reserve summertime tickets for lectures at the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival
or for absorbing performances by the Aspen Music Festival And School, the Aspen Opera Theater Center, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company, Aspen Theater and Jazz Aspen Snowmass.
Get a sense of history at Aspen’s meticulously-upgraded Wheeler Opera House at J-Bar in the historic Hotel Jerome, or at Wheeler-Stallard House. The latter, an impressive 1880s Queen Anne residence, is home to the Aspen Historical Society, which offers a town tour.
Photograph the Maroon Bells. From late May through October—though hours are restricted to cars—it’s a short bus ride and a three-minute walk for the best views of
the “14ers,” the 14,000 ft mountains that reflect off Maroon Lake. And there are scenic hiking trails, too, including a two-hour hike to Crater Lake.
The St. Regis Aspen Resort
The fifth floor Presidential Suite offers coffered ceilings, a large living and dining room with tufted leather furnishings and a balcony facing Aspen Mountain, two bedrooms, grand marble bathroom, a service kitchen and full butler service. There’s a timeless feel about the red-brick walls, steep pointed peaks and castle-like porte-cochère entry. The superb subterranean Remède Spa features pebble flooring, a confluence waterfall feature and an oxygen room adjacent to the lounge.
From $3,499 per night. Contact Heather Steenge-Hart, general manager, email@example.com, +1 970 920 3300, stregisaspen.com
THE WHEELER SUITE
The 1,265 sq ft suite boasts an entry foyer, a large living and dining room overlooking the town and Aspen Mountain, a master bedroom and two bathrooms. Todd-Avery Lenahan of TAL Studio has refurbished the space incorporating rustic textures such as cowhide and corduroy, with cashmere drapes plus tasteful western and Native American decorative objects. An additional bedroom and complimentary drivers and private cars are available.
From $3,500 per night. Contact Tony DiLucia, general manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 970 429 7612, hoteljerome.aubergeresorts.com
THE PAEPCKE SUITE
The Little Nell
The 2,500 sq ft, one-bedroom Paepcke Suite within the art-filled, ski-in ski-out, five-star lodging features a fireplace, dining area and a custom-designed game table with crystal chess and backgammon pieces. A windowed wall leads out to an expansive terrace seemingly within touching distance of the Silver Queen Gondola and “Ajax,” as locals call the mountain. Two additional bedrooms and complimentary drivers and private cars are available.
From $2,400 per night. Contact Simon Chen, managing director, email@example.com, +1 855 920 4600, thelittlenell.com
This article appears in the 26 Aug 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Fall 2021