aspen-mountains

The glitzy Colorado town of Aspen needs little introduction. It’s been attracting well-heeled visitors and snow-sports enthusiasts since the 1950s and is perhaps equally notorious for being a Hollywood party hot spot – Gigi and Bella Hadid, Elton John and Mariah Carey saw in the New Year here.

But what makes this former mining town a draw for Europeans who have the French Alps and Italian Dolomites on their doorstep? Well, the champagne-light snow for one. Along the list of pros you’ll find famously quiet pistes and non-existent lift queues. Plus, who doesn’t need a free Lavazza coffee at the base of the mountain to pep you up for a day’s skiing? Or a tissue from one of the numerous “sniffle stations” before you hop on the next chairlift? This resort is one slick operator, and more affordable than you might think.

Peak experience

Aspen resort comprises four mountains that are included in your ski pass and connected by a free shuttle-bus service. Aspen mountain (locals call it Ajax) is accessed by the Silver Queen Gondola at the centre of town and has a good mix of terrain for those who like to cruise wide blues and others looking for the thrill of tight-knit glades. For mid-morning break, in-the-know skiers head to Bonnie’s for its doorstop wedges of apple strudel and whipped cream.

A five-minute bus ride will get you to Highlands, home to the mighty Highland Bowl – a decent challenge for experts and backcountry junkies, if you’re up for the 3,777 metre hike across the alpine ridge. Afterwards, Refuel with pho noodles or protein bowls at Merry-Go-Round.

Next up is Buttermilk, a touch further down the road, and the place to go if you love miles of leisurely groomed pistes or fancy brushing up on your freestyle skills in the park and pipe.

The biggest mountain is Snowmass, and especially suited to groups due to its varied terrain and 94 runs. When you’re feeling peckish, head to Ullrhof for free popcorn (and to make use of the phone charging stations), or Up4Pizza to grab a slice of pie and one of their satisfyingly squidgy cookies. Hot foot it to the Wine Cabin in the afternoon – it’s BYO so be prepared to jostle for your spot.

Mountain etiquette

If you’re a seasoned European skier, you’ll know there are pretty much no rules when it comes to piste etiquette. All the more reason to appreciate the well-organised lift queuing systems in Aspen – don’t barge – and carefully managed, hazard-marked bowls and glades. Ski patrol define perimeters with boundary rope, but otherwise you’re safe to ride anywhere. Another thing to note is lifts close earlier here at around 3.30PM.

Some of the words you might hear frequently are “lifties” (lift attendants), “trail” (piste), “groomers” (groomed runs) and “cat track” (a flat connecting run). Even snow plough and parallel techniques have affectionate nicknames – “pizza” and “French fries”.

Après and late-night hangouts

Aspen is suitably geared up for après activity. However, here it’s all about guacamole-laden nachos and beer rather than vin chaud and charcuterie. One of the favourite spots is Base Camp Bar & Grill at the bottom of Snowmass mountain, where you can tuck into complimentary s’mores from a pop-up truck between 3.30-4.30PM every day. Alternatively, bag one of the fire-side tables at State Thirty-Eight.

In town, Hops Culture has a choice of over 200 craft beers, but their Colorado mule with fresh ginger is also particularly good. To experience a slice of Aspen history, head to Justice Snow’s, located in a former opera house originally built in 1889. Red Onion is the closest you’ll come to a traditional pub and is the ideal spot for post-dinner drinks. Alternatively, Hooch is the local drinking hole of choice for artisan cocktails and is accessed by a hidden black door off the street. Don’t miss the “Jalisco Campfire”, a spicy concoction of Chinese tea-infused tequila, lime and Thai-chilli agave.

Eat local

The threat of an expanding waistline is heightened when faced with three-course chalet dinners and fondues in European ski resorts. Fear not, clean-eating and vegan options are readily available in Aspen incase you’ve overdone it on the nachos.

Start the day right at Spring Café, where breakfast is a virtuous affair of coconut yoghurt bowls, avocado on gluten-free toast and almond-milk coffee. Alternatively, try the fluffy oatmeal pancake stack bathed in maple syrup at Poppycock’s. If it’s a powder day, grab one of Victoria & Co’s famous muffin tops or mezcal-cured lox bagels to go, along with the best flat white in town.

You wouldn’t be in Colorado without an ample choice of steak restaurants, and Monarch has the feel of a hip gentleman’s club. Try the bison filet or cowboy rib eye with apple butter steak sauce and wild mushroom gnocchi. At Jimmy’s the beef is sourced from Kurt Russell’s ranch – one of Aspen’s most iconic residents. If you’re not a meat-eater, the truffle fries and crab cakes are a winner. Its sister restaurant, Jimmy’s Bodega, is also loved for its raw bar, oysters and ceviche.

White House Tavern is a no-reservations sandwich joint but don’t let that fool you. White House Tavern is one of the most notoriously difficult places to get in to, with people queuing out the door for their French dips and crispy fish in brioche buns, topped with thousand-island slaw. L’Hostaria is another hot spot for its homemade pasta and osso bucco. The Korean pork and biscuit sharing boards at Meat & Cheese are a welcome change to the usual Savoie fare.

Gucci, Prada and the boutiques in between

Shopping is an elite past time in Aspen, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to Dior, Bruno Cucinelli or Loro Piana, there are some lovely little boutiques to browse through in between. American high-street stalwarts J Crew, Free People and Club Monaco are more affordable options – and cheaper in dollars. Pitkin County Dry Goods is a mecca for jewellery, and you can pick up beautiful delicate pieces from Chan Luu, Wwake and Jennie Kwon. Snowboarders will find all the latest gear in D&E and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is filled with sweet treats and candy-covered caramel apples that are great for gifts.

Best places to stay on a (relative) budget

Let’s be frank, Aspen isn’t cheap, but if you know where to look there are some great hotels and condos that provide fantastic service without the squeeze on your wallet.

Hotel Durant has 19 rooms – a standard costs around £200 a night, including breakfast. After a long day’s skiing you can enjoy relaxing in the hot tub or treat yourself to their complimentary après wine and cheese.

Mountain Chalet couldn’t be better positioned right by the Silver Queen Gondola, and offers cosy rooms for around £175 a night with breakfast. They’ll pick you up and drop you off at the airport too for a small tip.

If you prefer your own space, The Gant has condos with fully equipped kitchens for around £500 a night based on four people sharing. Head to the nearby Citi Market using their free shuttle service and pick up your own groceries to save some cash.

How do I get there?

British Airways flies to Aspen Pitkin Country airport from Heathrow – going via Dallas, Denver or Chicago is your best bet. Then it’s just a 10-minute taxi ride into town, and most hotels provide free collection and drop-off services.

 

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