Our first flight to Aspen occurred on a beautiful day in 1996. After beginning an IFR approach at 13,700 feet msl and passing through a very thin layer, we were cleared for the visual. All went well, but after seeing how the mountains encroach from the west on short final, we made a mental note not to fly here in lousy weather or at night. Even on the visual approach to Runway 15 you’ll be descending rather steeply below mountain peaks before you are able to see the airport.
For great skiing, you might go after the holidays, when it’s not as crowded and more snow has accumulated. And you’ll have no shortage of slopes to choose from! One lift ticket lets you play on all four Aspen-Snowmass resort mountains. Aspen Mountain rises right above downtown and offers the greatest proportion of expert terrain. Local favorite Aspen Highlands Mountain has intermediate, expert, and backcountry terrain. Beginners and families often prefer Buttermilk Mountain, closest to the airport, which also hosts the ESPN Winter X Games at the end of January. Snowmass Mountain has the most acreage and trails, with something for every skier, from double-black diamonds to long, relaxing runs and beginner hills. Purchasing lift tickets at least a week in advance and for multiple days saves money.
Aspen’s après-ski scene is recognized by Conde Nast Traveler magazine as the best in North America. You don’t even have to leave the slopes: The Oasis is a pop-up champagne bar towed around the slopes by snowcat, while the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro can be found at the top of its namesake chairlift. Or just stroll downtown, where restaurants and bars begin to rev up around 4 p.m. J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome is the Aspen tradition for après-ski drinks, but don’t forget Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain (truffle fries, please), Chair 9 at the Little Nell, and Elk Camp or Lynn Britt Cabin at Snowmass.
Skiing and nightlife are Aspen’s biggest claims to fame, but, have you heard about the snow polo? Each year in mid-December, the St. Regis, nestled right at the base of Aspen Mountain, hosts the snow polo world championships. Spectator attire tends toward Armani, cashmere, and fur. If that’s not your speed, you could try a snowmobile tour through the White River Forest with T-Lazy-7. See the iconic Maroon Bells (recently protected from a proposed dam project!), weave through an aspen forest, or head up to a mountain cabin for lunch.
In summer, you can spend the day fly-fishing the T-Lazy-7 Ranch private beaver ponds with the Little Nell Adventure Center or ride horses through the high country with Maroon Bells Outfitters. Many other outdoor activities are possible, depending on the season, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, dog sledding, hot air ballooning, concerts, and mountain-side yoga. Some hotels offer discounts spring to fall. Any time of year, shopping, even window shopping or browsing the art galleries, is superlative in Aspen. I love the thrift and consignment shops, where well-to-do visitors sometimes drop off their barely worn ski clothes, rather than schlep them home.
Book accommodations well in advance and if the sky is the limit, choose the Forbes 5-star and AAA 5-Diamond Little Nell Hotel, right at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola. It’s like the finest European chalet with exceptional service. Not to be outdone, the St. Regis offers a superlative spa, complimentary Lexus shuttle, and luxurious rooms at the base of Aspen Mountain. Pets are welcome here, as they are at the historic Hotel Jerome, built in 1889 and beautifully restored, with superb spa, furnishings, and leather-lined elevator. We always enjoy Aspen at downtown’s very affordable St. Moritz Lodge & Condominiums, which even offer complimentary breakfast and afternoon snacks. For ultimate convenience, especially for families, ski-in/ski-out at the Snowmass Mountain Chalet, also with complimentary breakfast, wintertime soup lunch, and airport shuttle.
Sure, you can spend a lot here, but Aspen is accessible even to those on a smaller budget. So if your airplane can handle the heights, fly in to this little slice of heaven in the Rockies.
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