Snow and tell

A daz­zling mix of haute-sport and apres-ski ac­tion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KA­T­RINA LOB­LEY

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

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