Michelle Obama loves Aspen. Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom smooched and snowboarded in equal amounts this winter. The CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bluzos rode his horse into the iconic Western shop, Kemo Sabe for some reason. James Packer is there as I write this. Demi Lovato was there, Kevin Costner is a regular visitor and Elton John and the Kardashians strutted their way into town as well.
The rich and famous like Aspen because the airport is long enough for fancy private jets and close enough to town that your private driver could have you sitting at Bad Harriet’s with a Harlot cocktail in your hand within 20 minutes of deplaning. Even for mere mortals who have to take taxis or hotel shuttle buses, everything is close.
Which mountain is best for you?
Three of Aspen’s four alpine playgrounds are close to the town, with Snowmass 20 minutes away. Number-one stop for Australians should be Buttermilk, which at 3017 metres is the lowest of the four. With Aspen Highlands at 3559 (or 3777 if you are mad and want to hike to Highlands Peak), Aspen Mountain at 3417 and Snowmass at 3803, Buttermilk is a kinder way to introduce your body to the altitude.
Buttermilk also has easier terrain so you don’t go straight into smashing double blacks or leaping off cliffs on your first day. It has mostly beginner and intermediate terrain, has a cruisy vibe, and if you are into riding rails and getting air, the terrain park down Teaser is a cracker.
Aspen Highlands, 10 minutes on the free shuttle from town, is the locals’ favourite on a powder day, which I witnessed for myself when I was there. Mind you, everyone was frothing as there had been 55 inches (139 centimetres) of snow in three days. Highlands has no beginner runs, so don’t take your friend/partner/kids there unless they are strong intermediates at least. At the top of Loge chairlift, there was a long, conga line of people happily spending 40 minutes hiking up to the Bowl in the oxygen-depleted air, skiing or snowboarding down the vertigo-inducing walls, before catching the chair up to do it all again.
Aspen Mountain, known to the locals as Ajax, rears up behind the town and has a raft of intermediate and advanced terrain, a heap of shrines to various celebrities hidden in trees, and beautiful, long runs. People watch at the Sun Deck on top of the mountain and at the end of the day, ski straight to Ajax Tavern for some après.
Snowmass is bigger than the other three combined, and it has the most ski-in, ski-out accommodation, ensuring everything is easy peasy. I stayed at the brand-new Limelight Hotel Snowmass which had a ski valet. In the morning you just get your boots on, grab your skis or snowboard, stroll out the door and around to the Elk Camp Gondola. At the end of the day, you can ski right to the Limelight’s ski valet door. The Limelight has an ice rink out the front and you can watch the action, drink in hand, sitting around the firepits.
Best places to stay
The Limelight has been hugely successful since it opened as part of the new Snowmass Base Village in December 2018. The rooms and suites are spacious, modern and have plenty of storage. Apart from the Limelight, Snowmass also has the luxurious Viceroy, which has an exceptional spa, and the Westin, which is on the mountain and has a run right out the front door.
In Aspen, THE place to stay, and where most of the visiting celebrities stay, is The Little Nell. Smack bang at the base of Aspen Mountain, this place has the number-one location in town but also arguably the best service of any hotel I have ever stayed. For families or groups, The Fasching Haus has large multi-room apartments with all the bells and whistles as well as an on-site concierge to organise everything for you. It is about a three-minute walk from the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain and so handy for all the shops and restaurants.
While you’re there
Definitely get your outerwear on and explore the shops in town. Check out the cowboy hats and leather boots in Kemo Sabe, check the latest ski gear at Ute Mountaineer or the very fancy Moncler, and do as the locals do and hunt for bargains at Susie’s Limited Consignments or Little Bird. Take a peek into Gorsuch and Dennis Basso to see the kind of thing that the glamorazi might buy
While your plastic recovers, head to the sexy Aspen Art Museum, that started life as a power plant and was transformed into something exquisite by Japanese architectural superstar, Shigeru Ban. The Margaret Kilgallen exhibition is excellent, and so is the rooftop café.
Food for thought
There are so many wonderful places to dine. Element 47 at The Little Nell is very special. Meat and Cheese has divine share boards and Ellina is another top spot. For drinks before dinner, or some casual fare, stop off at the J Bar at the historic Jerome, and for after dinner drinks, head next door to Bad Harriet with its speakeasy style blended with elegance, or opt for a flight of vodkas at The Marble Bar at the Hyatt Residences.
For the best coffee in town, head to Victoria’s, which also has some good value meals at night. They even do a decent flat white.
Hire your gear through Four Mountain Sports and when you finish at one mountain, tell them where you’re going to ski the next day and your skis or board will be waiting there for you. It’s a great service.
If you don’t want to do lessons but want to get a feel for the lay of the land and brush off the cobwebs, there are free Ambassador Tours on all four mountains for intermediate skiers and boarders. The tours run for one to two hours.
If you want to improve your skiing or snowboarding, do sign up for lessons. Your skills will skyrocket under their expert tutelage. Kids are treated like VIPs too at The Hideout at Buttermilk and The Treehouse Adventure Center at Snowmass, with exceptional instructors for both group and private lessons. The Treehouse also offers child care for babies from eight weeks old.
For more information, visit aspensnowmass.com