Snow and tell
A dazzling mix of haute-sport and apres-ski action
FROM GREEN TO EXTREME Aspen, the ritzy low-rise town tucked into the Rockies 320km southwest of Denver, is also one of the US’s most desirable ski destinations. The Aspen Snowmass resort offers a mind-boggling range of terrain over four mountains. Novices, or those who need to rediscover their ski legs, should head to Buttermilk, which offers the most beginner (or green) terrain of all the peaks. The next step up is Snowmass, where most of the resort’s 1000-plus instructors, clad in grey and red, ply their trade over 241km of trails. Child-friendly Snowmass also offers tubing (ask staff to spin the tube for an extra thrill) and three terrain parks. Intermediate to expert skiers can skip the mountain shuttles and clomp along Aspen’s heated footpaths to the Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain (nicknamed Ajax), which looms over the town. The most hard-core action is found on Highlands, home to the fabled Highlands Bowl — extreme terrain accessible via a lung-busting ridgeline hike. Free shuttles and one lift ticket connect all four mountains. Aspen’s ski season runs from November to April. More: aspensnowmass.com.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH The 1.6ha John Denver Sanctuary, next to the Roaring Fork River in Aspen’s north, features the lyrics of Denver’s best-known songs — Rocky Mountain High, Sunshine on my Shoulders, Annie’s Song and more — etched into granite boulders. The grounds include a perennial flower garden, but even when Aspen is blanketed with snow, it’s possible to soak up the riverside memorial’s serene beauty. The bespectacled singer-songwriter, whose looks were deceptively placid (he once sliced his marital bed in half with a chainsaw), lived in Aspen most of his life. After he died in 1997, at age 53 while flying an experimental aircraft, his ashes were scattered in his beloved Rocky Mountains. More: aspenrecreation.com.
GO GONZO J John Denver wasn’t the only extreme personality attracted to Aspen. Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist and counterculture hero best remembered for penning Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and for his love of guns, lived on a ranch outside town. His widow, Anita, is reportedly contemplating turning Owl Farm into a Thompson museum. Until then, fans can pore over memorabilia lining the walls of one of Thompson’s local haunts. Woody Creek Tavern, 12km down the valley from Aspen, attracts cowboys and their hounds, locals looking for a lunch of fish tacos or black bean burritos, and tourists who snap pictures of everything from the pressed-metal ceiling to the poster commemorating Thompson’s ill-fated 1970 bid for sheriff. More: woodycreektavern.com.
DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY Temporary membership of the Caribou Club — a private bolthole that’s all tartan carpets, sinkinto sofas and art-filled walls (it also featured in the 2014 novel by Andi Bryce, Billionaires Make Bad Lovers) – starts from $US500 ($670) a week for two in non-holiday periods. Speak to an in-the-know Aspen concierge, though, and it’s possible to score one-off entry for $US125 a person. Dine on a grilled bison tomahawk, tomatodusted rack of Colorado lamb and chocolate bourbon pecan tart before working them off on the dance floor where the DJ spins hits to suit Gens X and Y. Tunes are also multi-generational at the Rec Room, the alpine outpost of the hip NYC-born dance lounge. The vinyl-lined room, which opened in December, pulls in cowboys keen on a spin across the dance floor as well as out-of-towners ordering bottle service from hostesses in tight red dresses. For sheer excess, though, no venue beats the infamous mid-mountain Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro on Highlands. The coveted 2pm lunch sitting usually ends with skiers dancing on tables and spraying bottles of Veuve Clicquot as though they’ve just won Le Mans. Diners must be at least intermediate skiers to negotiate the run home. More: caribouclub.com; recroomies.com.
FIND A FLAT WHITE Australian accents can be heard all over the streets of Aspen during ski season so it’s hardly a surprise to find an Australian-run cafe in a prime spot near the Rubey Park transit centre. At Victoria’s Espresso, the chalkboard proclaims “We speak flat white!” and the menu includes familiar touches such as sausage rolls, vanilla slices, Milo and Vegemite on toast. More: aspenespressobar.com.
SILVER SERVICE The name of The Little Nell resort hotel’s fined diner, element 47, pays homage to Aspen’s silvermining past. The restaurant, which last year earned a coveted five stars from the Forbes Travel Guide, serves fare ranging from the ultra-indulgent (caviar with traditional accoutrements) to the hearty (antelope loin with kale and huckleberry). To add a little drama to dinner, order a silver leaf-topped margarita mixed tableside with liquid nitrogen ($US47). The hotel also has some 22,000 bottles stashed in its wine cellar. Some guests get to visit the cellar with the sommeliers and scribble a comment on the walls. When asked how diners secure an invitation to the hallowed lair, wine director and master sommelier Carlton McCoy says, “Be nice — and have an appreciation for the product.” More: eataspen.com.
SUSHI IN THE SNOW If you hanker for haute-Japanese bites, try Matsuhisa, part of the Nobu empire (regular visitor
The picturesque town of Aspen at night; from the slopes; and downtown