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Destination Aspen: Colorado’s Ski and Mountain Star

Dubbed the Beverly Hills of the mountains, Aspen has it all—clean air, culture, designer shops and fine dining, and of course the world’s best skiing and outdoor pursuits

Few towns can truly claim to be a year-round locale, particularly for outdoor recreation, but Aspen really does have something special to offer visitors—and homebuyers—in whichever season they visit.

As little as three-and-a-half hours from New York and two from Los Angeles by private jet, the Colorado hotspot has been the escape destination of choice for discerning travelers for more than a century, offering world-class skiing and snowboarding, trekking, and trail walking, as well as upscale retail and dining.

Skiing in Aspen Colorado Snowmass
One of four mountain destinations in Colorado, Aspen Snowmass attracts expert skiers and snowboarders. Image: Catherine Aeppel. Banner image: Matt Power

Renowned former residents include singer John Denver and gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson. Incomers today include heads of industry and entrepreneurs relocating from California to this emerging tech hub; consequently, real estate here is some of the most sought after in the United States.

As Chris Flynn of the Aspen office of Christie’s International Real Estate puts it, “Aspen offers big-city services, events, entertainment, restaurants, shopping, and culture in a small-town atmosphere.”

The town was originally founded as a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom of the 1880s and took its name from the proliferation of aspen trees in and around it. Today Aspen is referred to as the Beverly Hills of the Rockies thanks to its upscale retail and dining opportunities. Notable restaurants include hip Japanese Matsuhisa, part of the Nobu group, and charming bistro The Wild Fig, while the likes of Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Van Cleef & Arpels should satisfy any designer shopping itch.

Horseback riding Aspen Colorado
Riding in the gentle foothills is a popular summer pursuit in Aspen. Image: Getty Images

Come Winter or Summer

Snow lovers from the world over come to the Aspen Snowmass resort, in White River National Forest, lured by its slopes—from the gentle hills of Buttermilk to the expert terrain of the Aspen Highlands—and beguiled by the forest’s Flat Tops Wilderness Area, with its alpine meadows, cliffs, and wildlife. Another natural wonder is Maroon Lake, which gently reflects the soaring peaks of Maroon Bells mountains. Visitors who come during warmer months can also explore Independence Pass, a high mountain corridor east of Aspen, which affords views of Colorado’s highest peaks. “Summer can be even better than winter, and winter is amazing,” says Flynn.

Highlights of a summer weekend spent in Aspen might include taking in a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, hosted by the renowned Aspen Institute and running June 20–29, 2019. Another option is a stroll around the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, which sees some of the world’s most accomplished chefs gather to offer cooking demonstrations, tastings, and discussions over three days, June 14-16, 2019.

Aspen Art Museum Colorado Shigeru Ban architects
Founded in 1979, Aspen Art Museum was given a contemporary new home in 2014 by award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The galleries show important solo exhibitions from emerging contemporary artists from around the globe. Image: Getty Images

An Artistic and Musical Hub

Aspen’s cultural heart is the Wheeler Opera House. The first property in town to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the establishment hosts everything from classical music to comedy, and its events are linked to the annual Aspen Music Festival and School, which is widely regarded as one of the top classical music festivals in the United States. This year’s event takes place between June 27 and August 18.

Wheeler Opera House Aspen
Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House, on the corner of Hyman Avenue and Mill Street, is at the center of the town’s cultural life. Image: Chip Kalback

Many of Aspen’s homes boast impressive art collections, so it makes sense that one of the United States’ premier art institutions is located here. Over on East Hyman Avenue, Aspen Art Museum was given a newer, larger home for its contemporary art collection in 2014 by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, whose exterior woven wood screen allows visitors to see in and out of the building. And up on the rooftop, there’s a café with a garden and an outdoor screening space.

Rest and Relaxation

If you’re here for the skiing then you’ll also want to make sure that you have a comfortable bed for the night, and a way to ease tired muscles. The Little Nell offers both, with sumptuous yet cozy bedrooms recently given an elegant makeover by interior designer Holly Hunt, and a large heated outdoor pool and hot tub.

Elsewhere, elegance radiates from Hotel Jerome, an Aspen icon since 1889. The only Aspen hotel to survive the silver crash and the Great Depression, the cozy J-Bar is still the place to see and be seen in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Hotel Jerome Aspen lounge bar
Hotel Jerome is an icon in Aspen, Colorado. Its lounge bar, now known as J-Bar, has been a social hub since 1889.

Not far from Aspen is Carbondale, which sits in a picturesque valley in the shadow of Mount Sopris, at the junction of two rivers. Known as “Aspen’s feisty little sister” the town is synonymous with trail running and whitewater paddling. There is Gold Medal fishing to be enjoyed too, along with cycling along the paved 42-mile (68-km) Rio Grande Trail, which runs from Aspen through Snowmass and Carbondale before ending in Glenwood.

Art figures largely in Carbondale in the shape of The Powers Art Center, home to the nation’s preeminent collection of works on paper by Jasper Johns, and the Carbondale Public Arts Commission actively promotes the work of local artists and looks at where to display public art.