Credit: Robert Millman
Songs, children’s books, and stories from throughout the ages have described winter wonderlands that smack of sugary snow-covered forests, giant icicles, and streets lined with thousands of twinkling white lights. Lovers vacationing in cold weather climates return with rosy cheeks, telling tales of romantic, cozy chalets replete with wood-burning fireplaces and dreamy people mulling about. I suspect the inspiration for all of these descriptions is none other than Aspen, Colorado. Colorado is home to numerous fabulous resorts but even with its stiff competition statewide, Aspen takes the cake.
This enchanting place will do a lot more than improve your athletic ability. If your skiing skills don’t progress dramatically, then your outlook on life certainly will. Aspen can be a dangerous place to visit because it’s so hard to leave behind. In fact, many people can’t say goodbye to the mountain town and choose instead to simply relocate there. You’ll find yourself missing it before you finish packing to return home. And for those of you who will indeed have to eventually go back to the reality from whence you came, the only cure for missing Aspen is another trip there. This winterized fairyland for grown-ups is more than an ultimate luxury getaway. A world-class ski resort, culinary leader, and whopping social scene make Aspen the preferred winter destination by, oh say, many of the world’s sophisticates.
|Horse and Carriage
If people watching, outdoor heated pools, and a thriving happy hour is what you seek, make a beeline for Kimpton’s Sky Hotel. While at first glance it may appear exceedingly trendy, and it is, the hotel is also terribly cozy and the service, exceptional.
With 84 guest rooms some of which feature gas fireplaces and jetted tubs, you’ll awaken to vintage black and white mountain sports photos, pine furniture, and quilted headboards. The hotel is blessed with uber-ambiance, courtesy of San Francisco designer Mike Moore.
The après ski scene at the Sky’s 39 Degrees is the best thanks in large part to head mixologist Denis Cote, who speaks with a French accent. The adrenaline junkie spends his nights welcoming the elite from across the globe to the 39 Degrees Lounge. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a good seat at a table big enough to try a few of Executive Chef Shawn Lawrence’s appetizers or his blue cheese burger. The diverse menu is a perfect way to end a morning and afternoon of skiing before heading out for the evening. The "play and action" focus of the Sky Hotel managed by mountain resort destination veteran Alan Cardenas is an intoxicating cocktail of atmosphere, people, and service. Simply put, if during a trip to Aspen you never left the premises, you would still have a blast.
Skiing is obviously a big part of Aspen. The base of the difficult, but worth it Aspen Mountain is conveniently located adjacent to the entrance of the Sky Hotel. Neighboring Snowmass and Buttermilk are far easier, so beginners are advised to start there. Whatever your skill level, we highly recommend help from a capable ski instructor like Tami Word. This Alpine Certified III and Freestyle Certified II lady ski coach is a force to be reckoned with. Her lessons will take your skiing from bad to great, or from great to greater. And there’s no better place to find out what’s happening around town than from your friendly local ski instructor. Word was an invaluable resource and expert on all things Aspen.
Credit: Kelly Gray
Snowmobiling through this spectacular backcountry was a positively uplifting, thrilling experience. The able guides from Western Adventures in nearby Woody Creek took us to the next level of winter wonderland exceeding anything that even Santa could have dreamed up for the North Pole. Over hill and dale we went, at high-flying speeds through vast snow-filled meadows and casually buzzing through ice forests. The guided tours are led by expert snowmobile riders who help make the jaunt really special. Before embarking on your snowmobile excursion, be sure to spend some quality time with colorful owner Howard Vagneur, whose spinning of Colorado tales is the perfect way to begin your snowmobiling journey. Western Adventures also provides a lovely stop midway through the day to refuel with hot chocolate and hearty snacks.
Entertainment is easy to find in Aspen. In the evening the town comes to life in a different way. Calling all partygoers, Aspen welcomes you to do a number of things at night. Live music or DJs at most restaurants and night clubs are the norm, but no place fits the bill for entertainment better than the Crystal Palace, which we learned about from you guessed it, our ski instructor. It’s Aspen’s answer to Broadway. Get there early. The Little Nell boasts a thriving après ski scene for the rich, famous, and the ever present social climber, but serious partiers gravitate to 39 Degrees.
Spa services are a good idea after strenuous activities. The Aspen Club is the preferred spa destination for working out and chilling back with all of the requisite amenities, impeccable waiting areas, therapy rooms, and a complete gym.
If massage therapy is in order, it is the miracle-working hands of Christopher Tudge you should seek. Tudge is one of Aspen’s many treasures. And you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your beautifully appointed room to indulge - he’ll come to you. Tudge is the very definition of what a massage therapist should be, delivering wellness therapy that relaxes you and also generates results.
|Ski Instructor Tami Word
Credit: Kelly Gray
Dining well in Aspen is like shooting fish in a barrel. We tried several fine restaurants including the Caribou Club, Pinions, Jimmy’s, and The Little Nell. Jimmy’s answered our craving for steak and potatoes. A perfectly grilled filet was presented along with dreamy side dishes and a good cabernet. The service was, like most places in Aspen, fantastic. One of our goals on this trip was to enjoy a classic cut of elk. Prepared perfectly at Pinon’s it was one of the most tender pieces of meat we’ve had and was followed by a scrumptious chocolate cake for dessert. At The Little Nell, what will forever be known as "the best truffle mashed potatoes ever made" was our favorite dish.
But one place stood out even among so many other fabulous places to eat in Aspen. The Caribou Club is known for many things. It’s known for the alarmingly lovely décor and lodge-style cozy atmosphere. It is famous for its famous guests who include movie stars and presidents. But most of all, it’s known for its most masterfully prepared food courtesy of Chef Miles Angelo. We nicknamed Angelo "Stepford chef" for the many appetizers he recommended, which we were only too happy to scarf down with some of the best wine ever to grace our lips. Suffice to say that the dynamite shrimp appetizers and trout and rack of lamb entrees will only make leaving Aspen all the harder.
We can’t conclude without mentioning the shopping in Aspen. Our pick for the best of the best is Pitkin County Dry Goods. Nestled amidst the likes of typical A-list favorites like Gucci and Fendi, Pitkin has a different feel. The store carries memorable sportswear, jeans, accessories, and leather outerwear for men and women as well as our latest favorite product - "Be" perfume.
Below we’ve short-listed what we experienced as the best Aspen has to offer. But we barely scratched the surface. Visit Aspen and you’re sure to find a variety of shops you’ll want to return to time after time.
-- Kelly Gray
Best Hotel: The Sky Hotel, http://www.theskyhotel.com
Best Snowmobiling: Western Adventures Snowmobiling (970) 923-3337
Best Massage: Christopher Tudge (970) 274-2529
Best Ski Instructor: Tami Word (970) 920-0789
Best Shop: Pitkin County Dry Goods (970) 925-1681
Best Entertainment Venue: Crystal Palace (970) 925-1459
Best Restaurant: The Caribou Club, http://www.caribouclub.com
Best Steak: Jimmy’s Restaurant, http://www.jimmysaspen.com
Best Game Dish: Pinon’s, http://www.pinons.net
Best Apres Ski: The Sky Hotel
Best Dish: Truffle mashed potatoes at The Little Nell, http://www.thelittlenell.com
Best Martinis: 39 Degrees in the Sky Hotel
Best Breakfast: Wienerstube Restaurant (970) 925-3357
Best Concierge: Trixie at Sky Hotel
Best Pick Up Bar: 39 Degrees in the Sky Hotel
Best Place for Celebrity Watching: The Little Nell Apres Ski and the Caribou Club
Best Place to take a Date: Pinons