Weekend Getaway: Aspen
Written by Alexa Owen • Jul 25, 2016
On Snowpak these days, we just can’t stop praising Aspen.
It doesn’t escape us that Aspen has come up as a top getaway in nearly all of our relevant guides, including but not limited to Eco Friendly Vacations and our Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Colorado. And it’s all a reflection of the simple truth that when it comes to the ideal ski vacation, Aspen just nails it. Four mountains, sustainability-minded infrastructure, sincerely hospitable locals and (of course) those bluebird Colorado skies rank Aspen as a leading ski vacation destination in North America. And the great news is, you can glimpse it all in a short but sweet weekend getaway.
Tucked just far enough away from the I-70 corridor to dodge a lot of the weekend traffic from Denver, Aspen boasts a utopic little ski town of its own. In the ‘80s and ‘90s – partly because of hit movies like Aspen Extreme and (we’ve got to admit it) Dumb & Dumber -- Aspen gained the reputation as an exclusive getaway for the rich and famous. This rings true to some degree, but the idyllic Colorado resort is also home to fun-loving ski bums, environmentally conscious outdoor enthusiasts, and vacationers from across the world. Bottom line: you’ll fit right in.
Four resorts – Aspen, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk – make up the entire area, and a free shuttle runs between them. Both Aspen and Snowmass Villages are pedestrian and biker friendly (you can even ride fat bikes around the snowy streets all winter). The resort and downtown are a foodie’s paradise, with eclectic menus ranging from contemporary American West cuisine to high-end sushi to fine French eats. You can truly kick back and relax in many of the lodges and hotels knowing that they were designed to meet the highest environmental sustainability standards. So enjoy. Go green. Go ski. Go soon!
Local tip: Get your lift tickets online 7 days ahead of time to save some cash; don’t forget -- they’re valid at all 4 resorts! – Tim L.
The closest airport is Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE), which is located just 10 minutes from downtown Aspen. Most hotels, including the Limelight in this guide, offer complimentary pickups and drop-offs. Non-stop flights are available from eight major U.S. cities, and several more each day from Denver International Airport. The drive from Denver is just over 3 hours, and a viable option for local Coloradans.
Aspen is known for its eco-conscious pursuits in building and policy; if you're interested in environmentalism, consider swapping out the Saturday spa afternoon in this guide for a naturalist tour.
You'll be staying and sleeping at a base elevation of 7,900 feet; save yourself the headache by drinking plenty of water before heading there for the weekend; you can also visit the oxygen bar at the St. Regis when you arrive.
Fly into Aspen-Pitkin County Airport for the most direct option. Ground transportation services are available for travel to Aspen Village and Snowmass Village, but most high-end hotels offer complimentary shuttle service (the drive is 10 minutes). Most direct flights arrive late morning and into the afternoon; if you want to hit the slopes for the last few runs of the day, plan to fly in by 1 p.m.
You could go ultra-luxe at the St Regis, but our top pick for a weekend getaway is the Limelight Hotel. This hip, eco-friendly downtown hotel boasts newly renovated rooms and an exceptionally friendly staff that will get you wherever you want to go (including your downtown destinations with their complimentary shuttle). Aspen mountain is a short 5 minute walk away, and dining and shopping are around every corner. When booking, ask for a room with mountain views.
Step into the candlelit dining room of The Wild Fig, which reads more European brasserie than Colorado chop house. Influences from France, Spain, and the Mediterranean make for delectable dishes like braised short rib pappardelle and fig & honey glazed duck breast. Reservations are recommended; ask for a booth table near the window for the best seat in the house.
Unwind in style at the long-time local favorite J-Bar at Hotel Jerome. Modern and sophisticated with subtle hints of the Wild West, you’ll find an eclectic mix of ranchers, ski bums, hipsters and tourists saddled up at the spacious bar area and cozied around tables. Seasonal craft beers are on tap; bartenders shake a good vintage cocktail.
Breakfasts at the Limelight are not to be missed – especially when you can stroll downstairs in your slippers to get there. The complimentary buffet includes wholesome staples like crunchy granola and fruit, as well as hot eats like eggs, crispy bacon, and steel cut oats to fuel guests for a full day on the slopes.
At 675 skiable acres, Aspen is small compared to its I-70 counterparts; that’s part of why we love it for a weekend excursion. Load the Silver Queen Gondola to get directly to the summit, then head skier’s left for intermediate terrain or skier’s right for advanced and expert slopes. Copper Bowl is a good morning warm-up for intermediates and up; advanced skiers can then explore Face of Bell for powder stashes and open tree fields. Intermediates will enjoy wide slopes and good views on Summer Road and surrounding area.
Tucked inside The Little Nell, Element 47 holds casual fine dining lunches at the base of the gondola. Chefs use locally sourced fruits and vegetables, as well as hormone-free meats to craft gourmet bits. Try the turkey Cuban with gruyere on a pretzel bun, or the element 47 burger with gouda and house made bbq mayo. Vegetarians, opt for the kale salad with curried almonds – delish.
Indulge in therapeutic offerings at Vida Medi Spa, newly opened in 2015. Staff specialize in deep tissue massage as well as Structural Integration, which brings the body back into its natural alignment to relieve chronic aches and pains. Men can indulge in the specialized Gentleman’s Facial, which includes cleansing, toning, and enzyme mask specially designed for men’s skin. This spa is small and intimate; it’s best to book ahead.
Roll over to Ajax Tavern at the base of Silver Queen Gondola by 4 for prime patio seating. Soak up the Colorado sun and kick back with one of The Tavern’s killer cocktails and signature truffle fries as skiers make their way down the last run of the day. This number one après spot is known for its casual but classy atmosphere, and people watching is a favorite pastime. Live music starts around 3 p.m.
Ease into a late dinner at Piñons, which has nourished Aspen locals and visitors for nearly 30 years with its locally-sourced, contemporary bistro menu. You’ll find a lengthy wine list and classic Rocky Mountain west entrees like pan seared buffalo tenderloin glazed in huckleberry compote and herb crusted Colorado trout in a course grain mustard sauce. Décor is rustic elegance; cozy up to the bar if you drop in without a reservation.
For a high-energy bar scene, head to Jimmy’s. A neighborhood institution known for fun-loving hospitality and stiff cocktails, tequila lovers in particular will love the selection of over 120 top-shelf brands. Bonus? It’s also stumbling distance from the Limelight.
Consider venturing to Snowmass for the morning; an 8 mile shuttle drive away, this mountain offers more expansive terrain (3,332 acres) and more trail options for intermediates. Cruisers, you’ll get the most laps in off Elk Camp peak; experts, make your way up the High Alpine lift and across the Headwall to find some of Colorado’s most challenging glades.
On-mountain dining is redefined at the Lynn Britt Cabin. Just below the mid-way station of the Village Express lift, step into the sophisticated Western dining room for creative Colorado classics like elk stroganoff and bison prime rib sandwich. The 5 or so patio tables offer prime seating on sunny days. Move to the adirondack chairs just off the deck for lounging and dessert wine.
Head back to Aspen Village for last-minute shopping. Kemo Sabe is the go-to for classic Western ware, fur and leather goods, and quintessential Colorado gifts. You’ll find a wide selection of clothing items at Pitkin County Dry Goods, which opened its doors in summer 1969 and has been outfitting fashion-forward mountain towners ever since. Stop into family-owned Ute Mountaineer for high quality outdoor gear and inspiration for your next adventure.
Take one last ride around downtown local style on fat bikes, complimentary at the Limelight. The tires are specially designed to grip hard-packed snow.