MICHELIN-RATED GASTRONOMY, LEGENDARY POWDER, STUNNING MOUNTAIN SCENERY, A-LIST VISITORS, WORLD-CLASS SHOPPING, AND MORE: THIS IDYLLIC ALPINE VILLAGE HAS EARNED ITS PLACE AS ONE OF THE ROCKIES’ MOST ENCHANTING WINTERTIME DESTINATIONS
BY AMANDA MCCOY
Nestled high in the Rockies of northwest Colorado, the small resort city of Aspen is an alpine dreamland. Officially incorporated in the late 1880s during the state’s silver boom (the area previously served as the summer hunting grounds for the Ute Native American Tribe, its verdant setting rich in elk, bears, and mountain lions), the town is dotted with posh, 19th century Victorian mansions and cultural landmarks like the Wheeler Opera House and Hotel Jerome, both still in operation today. Though it’s globally revered as a world-class ski destination, drawing nearly 1.5 million powder thirsty visitors each winter, Aspen packs year-round appeal with plenty to offer outside the slopes. In the summer, hike one of the 80-plus trails to find mirror-like alpine lakes, thundering waterfalls, and dramatic mountain expanses with sweeping views of chiseled peaks piercing a bluebird sky. A vibrant downtown hosts a booming gastronomy scene (the town even nabbed one of the five Michelin stars awarded to Colorado in the state’s inaugural guide; more on that below!), plus a full suite of upscale boutiques a la Gucci and Ralph Lauren. A stroll down Main Street or apres-ski cocktail by an outdoor fi re pit is often served with a celebrity sighting or two, as the enclave is one of Hollywood’s most popular holiday hotspots. Regulars include the Kardashians, Mariah Carey, Goldie Hawn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry, Elton John, Gigi Hadid…the list continues.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The closest major airport is Denver, located about a four-hour drive from Aspen. The 200-mile route offers a stunning backdrop of Rocky Mountain scenery, though it can get very icy in the winter, thus it’s wise to rent a vehicle with snow tires and four wheel drive capability. As an alternative, the Aspen/Pitkin Co. Airport, located only three miles from town, boasts more regular service from major carriers than any other regional ski town airport in the country with daily routes on Delta, American, and United. Winter is high season, so be sure to book accommodations far in advance as hotels and short-term rentals tend to fill up quickly, especially during special events. The town dons a packed social calendar, with several festivals, high-pro le sporting competitions, and cultural events throughout the year, including ESPN’s Winter X Games in late January, the Palm Tree Music Festival in February, the three-day Food & Wine Classic in June, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience in September, and the festive Wintersköl in early January, among several others.
There are four skiable mountains in Aspen: Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain (or AJAX), Buttermilk, and Snowmass, offering an astounding 362 trails and 41 chairlifts in total. Lift tickets don’t come cheap (a single day costs around $235), but one ticket grants access to all four mountains, and free shuttle buses run daily between the different areas.
SNOWMASS SKI RESORT
Of Aspen’s four ski resorts, Snowmass Mountain is the largest, stretching 3,339 acres about ten miles outside the city. Because it offers trails for all skill levels, as opposed to the expert-favorite double-blacks of Aspen Highlands or gentle slopes of Buttermilk, it’s also the most popular, though it boasts a robust lift system that can easily handle the crowds. There is a total of 94 runs (more than half fall onto the intermediate shelf) along with a buzzy base village brimming with cozy restaurants, high-end shops, and a massive outdoor ice rink cradled by fire pits. There’s also a variety of on-mountain dining options to rest your bones in-between runs. For first timers, the scenic, five-mile Long Shot (off the Elk Camp chair) and the single mile Naked Lady (off the Alpine Spring chair), both blues, are fan favorites.
KRABLOONIK DOG SLEDDING TOURS
Aside from skiing, another exhilarating (and adorable) way to explore the untamed majesty of Colorado’s backcountry is on an Alaskan husky-led sledding adventure. Don your warmest winter garb and curl up with your partner in a sled as ten eager pups slice through powdery, spruce-lined trails on Snowmass Mountain. Each sled can fit two adults and one child and is guided by an experienced musher. The hour long expedition concludes with a cup of hot chocolate or cider at Krabloonik’s on-site restaurant, where patrons can feast on old mountain favorites like elk tartare, buffalo burgers, and wild mushroom soup. $585 per adult, $295 per child. krabloonik.com
WHERE TO STAY
THE LITTLE NELL
Located at the base of Aspen Mountain, this posh grande dame is one of just a few five-star, five diamond hotels in the state, and the only ski-in, ski-out resort in town. Launched in 1989, the Little Nell features 92 uniquely laid out guestrooms and suites, each dressed in an alpine-inspired palette of soft blue, tan, and gray and finished with oversized spa bathrooms with heated marble floors. Expansive balconies overlook either the lively town or snow-blanketed slopes, while gas log replaces ensure languid afternoons remain cozy and warm. Apres-ski culture is thriving here, and the hotel is home to five restaurants and lounges. Feast on Regiis Ova Caviar and hand-rolled pastas at the swanky Element 47, or sip post-mountain cocktails at Ajax Tavern, famed for epic people watching and a stacked Wagyu double cheeseburger. Just last month, the hotel unveiled a new luxury spa in partnership with Dr. Barbara Sturm, featuring three large treatment rooms, a departure lounge, and a state-of-the art fitness center. Winter rooms begin around $1,000 per night. 675 E Durant Avenue, thelittlenell.com
- REGIS ASPEN
A magnificent manor mere minutes from the base of Aspen Mountain delicately balances European grandeur with Colorado charisma. Its stately red brick exterior, half hidden by snowy pines, is dotted with the oversized arched windows of 179 guestrooms and suites. Expect five-star luxuries like 400-thread-count Frette linens, custom Ralph Lauren beds, marble replaces, and spacious marble bathrooms with heated floors and deep soaking tubs. There are 25 suites on the property, including the top-end Presidential Suite, which spans 1,900 square feet and features thoughtful touches like a baby grand piano, Bang & Olufsen sound system, wine chiller, and antiqued brown leather club chairs. Velvet Buck, the resort’s flagship eatery named for the fur that grows on a male deer’s antlers, serves throwback mountain fare like bison tenderloin and seared trout atop leather placements. Follow dinner with a signature St. Regis Bloody Mary at the Mountain Social Bar & Lounge. Winter rooms begin around $1,600 per night. 315 E Dean Street, marriott.com/ en-us/hotels/aspen
DINE AND DRINK
When the inaugural Michelin Guide to Colorado launched last September, five Centennial State establishments were awarded a holy star, including this cozy downtown contemporary. The dining room perfectly captures the city’s après-ski charm; small and intimate, it features linen-free dark wooden tables, bleached timber walls, and whimsical glass bulb chandeliers. Chef C. Barclay Dodge’s menu is creative and diverse, inspired by the 30-year culinary veteran’s global travels. Diners are given the opportunity to customize their own five-course tasting menus or opt for the nine-course Chef ’s Choice, featuring dishes like forest broth with black truffle gougères, duck liver mousse with winter spice bread, and lobster grilled over juniper branches. 312 S Mill Street, bosqaspen.com
Helmed by the global leader in Japanese finery and a perennial entry on any best-of Aspen restaurants list this upscale Asian eatery was celebrity chef Nobu’s second Matsuhisa outpost when it debuted in 1998 (the original landed in Beverly Hills in 1987). Housed in a 120-year-old Victorian Mansion on Main Street, the dual-level restaurant features all the Nobu signatures: yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, white fish tiradito, and the cult-classic black cod miso. The main dining room, located downstairs, dons a handsome natural walnut cocktail bar, bamboo-wrapped ceilings, and sprawling sushi bar, while the upstairs nook features a more casual setting, complete with its own intimate sushi bar. 303 E Main Street, matsuhisarestaurants.com/ aspen
This wholesome, locally loved hotspot has been an Aspen institution since it opened in 1966 by the German ski racer, Gretl Uhl. Located halfway up Aspen Mountain, the mom-and-pop-style eatery serves breakfast, lunch, and legendary apple strudel in super cozy digs. Additional standouts include hearty oatmeal pancakes, German bratwurst with sauerkraut and potato salad, freshly baked mu ns, and a soul-satiating white bean chili. Bonnie’s is a far cry from the five-star glamour of Main Street, but it’s a quintessential Aspen experience that will warm your heart as much as your bones. Aspen Mountain, aspensnowmass.com/visit/dining/aspen-mountain/bonnies