Aspen Action: A Winter Vacation Jewel

Some trends in life are “in,” and some are “out.” But Aspen, Colorado, America’s winter vacation jewel, always has been, and always will be the epitome of in.

By Benjamin Minkus


Say the outdoors isn’t your thing. Just as well: Aspen has plenty for the cushy, indoor style that life calls for.

Slopes, shops, and sizzle-albeit in relaxingly chilly Rocky Mountain weather-are what define loveable Aspen, long known as the hottest winter getaway spot for the world’s richest globetrotters. And surely, this winter season and beyond will continue to prove that when it comes to haute destinations, Aspen is in a class by itself.

But knowing that Aspen is unparalleled and knowing why Aspen is unparalleled are two very different propositions, indeed. Nestled in Colorado’s Pitkin County, and covering 3.5 square miles of land, Aspen’s population of just fewer than 6,000 lucky souls roughly doubles during ski season, and with good reason. And while Aspen is certainly the place to be to enjoy the serenity and vast beauty of the great outdoors (the historic Aspen Skiing Company, which operates the Aspen/Snowmass resort complex, was founded by Walter Paepcke in 1946), the city has evolved into a cultural magnet as well, with everything a vacationer-or even a potential vacation-home buyer-could want.

With the fourth-highest per capita income of any county in the United States, Aspen hosts an elite crowd. The county’s total real estate value is an eye-opening $16.2 billion, and the average vacation home price is more than $3 million. The residents of this illustrious city include Prince Bandar bin Sultan (who recently sold his $65 million Aspen compound-likely to spend more time in his 90 acre, U.S.-record $135 million Aspen compound), former Disney CEO Michael Eisner (a member on the board of trustees of the prestigious Aspen Institute, a worldwide nonprofit dedicated to “fostering enlightened leadership”), and three-time Academy award-winning actor Jack Nicholson (never one to shy away from spotlight-unless he’s in Aspen, where privacy is as abundant as the aspen trees for which the city is named).

So exclusive is this city, that in the summer of 2006, only three Aspen homes listed on the market were going for LESS than $1 million. Compare that with the 35 homes on the market at the same time for MORE than $10 million (and that roughly three quarters of all sales were done with cash), and you begin to understand that there must be something special about this glorious mountain town.

Oh, and there is.

Let’s begin with the obligatory ski mention, though Aspen doesn’t host skiing so much as it redefines it. With four mountains-Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, and Snowmass-each corresponding to a different skill level, Aspen is the perfect place to ski the slopes, even for the novice. With 39 lifts spanning the four mountains, all connected by ski-bus, one would believe it difficult to pry someone away from the luscious, powder-white peaks of Aspen.

And yet, as one of the country’s top ten rafting and kayaking destinations, as well as Roaring Fork Valley, a haven for fly-fishing, Aspen’s outdoors scene is so much more than skiing. There are even hikes available to the top of the 14,130-foot Capitol Peak. And world-class golf and tennis facilities await at The River Valley Ranch Golf Club, the Snowmass Club, and the Aspen Golf & Tennis Club.

But, say the outdoors isn’t your thing. Just as well: Aspen has plenty for the cushy, indoor style that life calls for.

The aforementioned Aspen Institute, for example, calls the Aspen Meadows resort its home, and so should you. With 98 luxury, Bauhaus-style suites, this secluded resort features floor-to-ceiling windows, good for enjoying the great outdoors at close proximity to a toasty fireplace. The resort’s health club is also top-notch, with masseuses, a spa tub, and a pool, and, as home to the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival (a world-famous classical music festival), Aspen Meadows attracts a high-brow clientele that knows a thing or two about good taste.

Snowmass Club, which sits on 200 acres of beautiful Aspen land, isn’t exactly playing second fiddle. With some of the country’s most immaculate slopes, as well as a golf course open during the summer, Snowmass Club is unsurpassed in variety. Each condo has its own fireplace, yet the 24-hour staff provides the service of a hotel.

For a combination of new-world luxury and old-world class, the Hotel Jerome is the place to be for the rich and famous, whether it’s Donald Trump or Johnny Depp. Providing top-notch service since 1889, the Hotel Jerome’s elegance draws luxury wedding celebrations, but the hotel also houses the J-Bar and Library Lounge, two of Aspen’s most famous watering holes, in addition to The Century Room, one of the city’s famed restaurants, which is home to world-class chef Todd Slossberg.

And Slossberg isn’t Aspen’s only resident master chef named Todd. Todd English oversees Olives Aspen, the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant at the St. Regis Resort, which sits at the base of Aspen Mountain. An outdoor heated swimming pool gives the resort, which comprises 179 guest rooms, a unique touch. After an unprecedented $37-million renovation project, St. Regis Resort now features the 15,000-square-foot Remède Spa, which is adorned with a one of a kind warm and cold waterfall room, meant to reinvigorate the body, mind, and soul.

The Little Nell, Aspen’s only five-star/five-diamond hotel, does all the little things, from providing vaulted ceilings to lavishing guests with marble-covered bathrooms and every modern technological amenity available. Don’t let the casual feel fool you. The Little Nell is home to Montagna, the home to innovative “Alpine Cuisine,” as well as a private wine cellar of more than 15,000 bottles, cared for by Master Sommelier Richard Betts. So exclusive is the wine collection that Montagna was recently named the recipient of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award.

For real shoppers, though, the place to be is The Brand Building. Masterminded by the late Caribou Club owner Harley Baldwin, The Brand Building houses luxury shops for Gucci, Cashmere Aspen, and Louis Vuitton, among others, on the floor level. Just above, accessible only through an unmarked door, lie six opulent residences, each decadently adorned and equally exclusive.

Speaking of the Caribou Club, jetsetters descending upon Aspen no doubt must consider at least a temporary membership ($500 per couple for one week) at the all-inclusive paradise. And, after experiencing everything the Caribou Club has to offer, you may consider a one-year membership ($3,000 per couple for the first year, $2,000 thereafter), or, potentially, a lifetime membership (one-time fee of $15,000-and well worth it). Founded in 1989, the Caribou Club hosts an exclusive clientele list, including Julia Roberts, Vanna White, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Other top club options include Jimmy’s, an Aspen hot spot known as much for its tequila list as it is for its steaks. With 105 agave-based spirits, Jimmy’s is well-equipped for its famous and popular Saturday Night Latin Dance party, where the cold weather outside doesn’t matter when sex sizzles. Another possibility is Matsuhisa Lounge, just above the basement restaurant Matsuhisa Aspen, run by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Matsuhisa Lounge pairs some tasty sushi options with luscious cocktails, and provides a chic, comfortable atmosphere-a perfect place to end your day.

There is no doubt that, with hundreds of shops (including four dealing exclusively with cashmere), dozens of five-star dining options, and a very happening nightclub scene, Aspen is the place to be for the connoisseur who enjoys the finer things in life. And, after just one visit to this sparkling snow town, you’ll immediately realize:
This is no ordinary place.