Everyone knows Aspen, even when you don’t know Aspen. It’s the home of the X-Games, the home of skiing and snowboarding in the US, and the spiritual home of many Aussies as they crave to go back there winter after winter.
There’s so much to love, from the variety of terrain (hello Highlands Bowl) to the après scene to beat all après (safely socially distanced of course), along with the chance that you may spot Orlando Bloom wandering the streets.
When it’s safe to return, Aspen will be waiting for us; here’s our ultimate guide to get you started on your dreams about it.
1. Getting there is simple
There’s a reason why, pre-COVID times, Australians were number one for international visitation rates to Aspen. It’s one of the most accessible Rocky Mountain destinations thanks to the slopeside airport of Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) – just 4.8km from Aspen. Your best bet is to fly there via Los Angeles, Dallas or San Francisco, making for easy connections.
2. The variety of mountains
One lift ticket covers four different mountains – Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, with 5500 acres of terrain across all four of them.
Aspen Mountain is where the first lift was installed in 1946, the world’s longest at the time. Think 76 runs, the longest of which is almost 5km to get the legs burning, and too many fun spots and powder stashes to name.
Beyond there, wander to Aspen Highlands, where the locals flock for the steep and deep. From groomers that race down the ridge to the Highland Bowl of double black diamonds, the views from the 144 runs are incredible.
Buttermilk is the land of fun, where the Scotty James’ of the world come to throw down at X Games among the Shaun Whites and Jaime Andersons. Although it gets wild on the course, it’s also a super safe and playful place for anyone to pick up basic ski and board skills across the 44 runs.
And last but not least – Snowmass literally offers everything from wide-open glades to rock gardens and secret trails to explore, along with gigantic steeps and narrow gullies, 98 runs all up and even an Alpine Coaster.
3. The perfect mix of sunshine and snow
When you’ve travelled across the world to get to the powder days, you want the ultimate bluebird – and Colorado is the mostly likely place to hit the jackpot with those. They enjoy an average of over 300 days of sunshine and blue skies annually, but also receives over 7m of snowfall every season thanks to its combination of interior positioning and altitude.
4. The ski-in, ski-out lodging
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an Aussie skier in possession of a heavy pair of skis, does not want to get the bus to the chairlift, though when the bus is free, fast and has wi-fi it’s a little easier (thanks Apen). And that’s where ski-in, ski-out delivers in Aspen.
There’s a lot of it, too, 95% of the lodging at Snowmass is ski-in, ski-out with plenty of condos to be found and Aspen Mountain is home to The Little Nell, a slopeside institution for pre ski breakfast (lemon souffle pancakes), mid afternoon truffle fries and lodging.
5. The culture
Oh, you want your ski town with a slice of rustic mining history? The longtime culture centre of Aspen runs deep and goes far beyond its indulgent side.
You’ll find people of all nations, ages and abilities here with the wildest stories you’ve ever heard. Those who once arrived to chase the silver ore have led to generations of those here to chase the powder, the art and the discovery of adventure all to be made along the way – Hunter S Thompson, for example, used to write and drink at the bar of Hotel Jerome.
You’ll also Gucci, Burberry and Moncler right alongside thrift shops and bakeries; despite the luxury, there are still plenty of bargains to be found.
6. The après. Oh, the après.
When the ski day winds up and the slopes say goodbye, the après says hello.
It’s no secret that Aspen thrives on the party-driven nature of Aussies, and have been holding Australia Day events since 2014 with Tim Tams and vegemite on toast for complimentary breakfast at the gondola. Keep an eye out for the flag as you ski around and wait for the stoke levels of those who will welcome you when it’s finally time to head back to their mountain.
Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is the place to go for a late lunch that will be long, guaranteed; at 10,900 feet, you’ll be dancing on tables in your ski boots until the lifts close and mountain guides ensure everyone gets back down in one piece.
Of course all Aspen dining and après establishments are adhering to social distance rules, which just makes it all that more exclusive.
7. The famous folk to be spotted
Going beyond Scotty James, of course; keep an eye out in town, because you might spot the likes of Torah Bright, Orlando Bloom, Neil Perry, Curtis Stone, Matt Moran, Jane Flemming, the Obamas, Elle Macpherson, Kate Hudson and even the Kardashians.
There’s a lot more to love about Aspen than just the rich and famous, like the multitude of offerings to entertain the smallest people of the family.
The littlest ones will plant themselves at The Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center at Snowmass and never want to leave. Complete with Colorado-themed play rooms, there’s a lot of hands-on exploration to be had here.
Going up a notch to kids up to 12, you’ll find on-mountain surprises to cater accordingly, including art installations and adventure trails at Buttermilk and Snowmass. There’s also Elk Camp with its alpine coaster and tubing lanes during the day, and Ullr Nights by night, a weekly party with a bonfire, s’mores and live music.
There’s also snow biking, an indoor climbing well, ice skating and so much more for older kids to try while parents enjoy a drink or two.
9. The COVID-19 precautions
Social distancing isn’t so difficult when life in Aspen is so outdoorsey; but that didn’t stop the mountain from putting extensive procedures early on that keep guests, employees, and community safe and healthy.
Even when it’s safe to travel again, you can continue to expect socially distanced lift lines and modified loading procedures on the mountain, along with the COVID-19 Protection Clause, which is designed to protect guests against extreme and currently unknown circumstances that could impede their travel.
Find out more about all things Aspen here.