Aspen is known for its winter glitz and glam, but it also has a rich cultural atmosphere and offers travelers the ultimate outdoor lifestyle. Visitors to Aspen will find a Aspen has big-city mentality in a small-town casual setting, with world-class festivals, renowned shopping, and incredible cuisine, all against the backdrop of picturesque mountains. With plethora of outdoor delights available—skiing and snowboarding in the winter, hiking and biking in the summer—you’ll never be at a loss for things to do.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO ASPEN...
Aspen is a world-class ski resort in an area with an arid climate. That means fluffy powder in the winter, warm days and cool nights in the summer, and 300 days of sunshine. Ski season begins on Thanksgiving and runs through mid-April. For the best deal on a ski vacation package, book your trip for early December or April.
The epic powder days come in late February and March. Summer season kicks off in mid-June, when the town is bustling with activities and festivals, and starts winding down in September. Late July is a beautiful time to see the wildflowers in full bloom, and in September the mesmerizing foliage on brilliant yellow groves of aspen trees covers the hillsides. May, October, and November are considered the mud months, when many stores and restaurants close down and locals go on vacation. Even though not as vivacious as in summer or winter, Aspen is still a wonderful experience in these months—and they are definitely the cheapest times of year to visit.
Aspen Airport is three miles from downtown Aspen. Most hotels offer airport pickup service, and there is always a line of taxis waiting in the arrival area, ready to whisk you into town for around $24.
Most things in Aspen are within walking distance. RFTA, the public transportation system, is another great resource. It has free routes throughout the different neighborhoods of Aspen and to Snowmass Village.
In summer, another way to get around town is to rent a bike from We-Cycle. The bikes are available at stations throughout Aspen and, with credit card authorization, can be used for free for rides of 30 minutes. Anything longer and you'll be charged an extra fifty cents per minute.
Car rentals are available for day trips to remote hiking trails, a ride over Independence Pass, or a quick trip to Vail or the surrounding areas. Stay Aspen Snowmass offers a wealth of information about accommodations and can help you book your entire vacation package. Interstate 4, International Drive, and toll road State Road 528.
A ride up the Silver Queen Gondola can’t be beat. Get a bird’s-eye view of Aspen as you travel 3,267 vertical feet to the top of Aspen Mountain. Once on top, lounge at the sundeck as you take in the views of the Elk Mountain Range and its majestic snowcapped mountains.
A restaurant has to be good to survive in Aspen, given all the top-notch competition. Using fresh ingredients and supporting local producers are every chef’s mantras here. Classic standbys that have been in town for years and new innovative restaurateurs all vie to stake their claim in the Aspen food scene.
Visitors to Aspen enjoy a wonderfully diverse range of cultural activities. The Aspen Institute brings to town the best and brightest minds from around the world for seminars, workshops, and lectures. Take in a remarkable performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet or see Theater in the Park. Music lovers can enjoy the sounds of classical music in the summer and jazz throughout the year. Art aficionados may choose to explore exhibits at the Aspen Art Museum, a phenomenal repository of contemporary art, or tour the numerous galleries around Aspen⎯or both!
Aspen knows how to entertain, with a surplus of events and festivals throughout the year. One signature winter festival is Winterskol, Aspen’s “toast to winter.” A weeklong celebration of Aspen living with everything from ice-sculpture contests to dog shows, it finishes with fireworks cascading over Aspen Mountain. Summer is packed with festivals, some nights even proffering a double bill of entertainment. The fun begins with the Food & Wine Festival in June and doesn’t end till the JAS Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.
- The weather can change on a dime. What seems to be a glorious day can very quickly turn into a thunderous downpour of rain. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
- Aspen has four ski mountains to choose from, all accessed through one lift ticket. You could spend the morning skiing the bumps of Aspen and the afternoon cruising on Snowmass Mountain.
- RFTA, the public transportation system, offers skier shuttles that frequently leave Aspen for the other mountains.
Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.
Aspen is a glorious winter playground where the rich and famous hobnob with ski enthusiasts, both looking for excitement and an adventure-filled getaway.
In the winter, Aspen offers all things snowy, an abundance of outdoor adventures, and indoor coziness. Unique experiences and unparalleled scenery will make your Aspen getaway unforgettable.
Here’s what to do on a visit.
Aspen’s four mountain resorts have everything you need for your ultimate winter getaway. From double black diamonds to beginner slopes, every skier and snowboarder will find their favorite run, backcountry bowl, or hidden stash.
Aspen Snowmass, the most well-known resort, offers 3,339 acres of skiable terrain and the second-biggest vertical drop in the United States, a whopping 4,406 feet. Imagine the excitement of traversing that downhill run. Snowmass has a few beginner trails to get your snow mojo up and running. However, the majority of the runs are geared toward intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders.
Aspen Mountain -- known as Ajax to the locals -- offers 64 miles of skiable trails supported by eight lifts. Ajax is an intermediate and expert mountain with blue, black, and double black diamond trails for your skiing and snowboarding adventure. Ajax has spectacular views of the Rockies, runs right into downtown, and is a local favorite for lunchtime ski runs.
Aspen Highlands offers 84 miles of trails with five lifts. There are no beginner runs. You will find locals and visitors enjoying the view and powdery snow this complex has to offer. The Highlands is perfect for intermediate and expert skiers and boarders looking for a challenge.
Buttermilk is the best place for beginners in Aspen. With 21 miles of skiable trails supported by five lifts, 35 percent of Buttermilk’s trails are rated easy. If you are new to skiing, start your vacation here; later, you can move on to an intermediate mountain to hone your skills.
Virgin powder untouched by skis awaits at Aspen Snowmass’ First Tracks. Skiers and snowboarders with solid skills are invited to join the staff in the first run of the day. Play at being an Aspen insider and be the first to cut tracks in the freshly groomed snow or fluffy, new powder. Experience the thrill of having the entire mountain mostly to yourself during your early-bird run. It is a unique treat to be out on this huge mountain enjoying the quiet beauty of a nearly solo run.
Have you ever wondered what riding down a luge would be like? Now’s your chance to get that feeling (with the dangerous aspect eliminated!). The Breathtaker Alpine Coaster allows you to experience the sensation of speeding down the track, banking tight curves, and watching the trees whistle by as you ride a tandem coaster car. The mile-long track gets you up to about 28 miles per hour -- not quite a luge speed, but fast enough for a thrilling ride.
Ride the Breathtaker at night for an eerie, speedy adventure illuminated only by your coaster car light and the moon.
Aspen Powder Tours will take you on the wilderness snow adventure of your life. Pack up your ski and boarding gear and jump on the snowcat, where you will be driven to the ungroomed backcountry. Your group’s personal guides will show you where to find expansive open bowls, pristine meadows, and relaxing glades as you spend the day exploring Aspen Mountain’s quiet side.
You can also sign up for a private guided experience at Aspen Snowmass with an expert guide. The experience includes priority lift access to help you make the most of your time on the mountain. You will enjoy exploring the mountain's gifts with a knowledgeable local leading the way. You can book a half- or full-day tour for up to five people. All tours are tailored to your abilities.
The John Denver Sanctuary is a memorial to the legendary country singer, composer, and guitar player. His love for Colorado and the wide-open country was ever-present in his music. This small park is a tribute to Denver’s love for the natural world. It is a nice spot to stop and reflect upon the beauty of the gifts Mother Nature allows us to enjoy.
Breathe in a meditative breath and contemplate the glory of Denver’s beloved Rocky Mountains.
The Maroon Bells area is one of the most visited and hiked scenic areas in the White River National Forest. The picturesque Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are two of Colorado’s 58 14ers (mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet).
The Maroon Bells are a challenge to hike in the summer months, even for the most experienced climbers. In the winter, they are best viewed from a distance at Maroon Lake. The crystal-clear lake is accessible by Moon Creek Road. When the weather is good, you can drive up or take the shuttle; in the winter, you’ll need to get creative.
Cross-country skiing, snow biking, snowshoeing, or hiking with crampons will get you to Maroon Lake. If you want to ride, the T-Lazy-7 Ranch offers a Maroon Bells snowmobile tour. The 2-hour tour takes you through the breathtaking backwoods scenery of the White River area. Single and tandem snowmobiles are available, and driving instructions are provided.
Dogsledding is a fun and energizing adventure. During the day, watching the winter landscape pass by as you glide over snow-packed mountain passes is an experience you won’t soon forget.
The New Krabloonik Dogsledding offers a unique twist on dogsledding fun: a twilight ride. Traveling through the Rocky Mountain backcountry at dusk is a magical, romantic experience. The play of shadows on the snow in the setting sun creates beautiful scenery framed by the forest backdrop.
This Colorado charmer packs in plenty of appeal—restaurants, galleries, museums, hot springs, and spas—all with lodging priced at a fraction of the cost of an Aspen-based vacation.
Carbondale is located only 30 miles west of Aspen but feels a world apart. Once viewed as a sleepy bedroom community for staffers of Aspen’s glammy ski resorts, the charming western town has come into its own in recent years.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Sopris, deep in the Rockies, Carbondale is home to nearly 7,000 residents. It’s a curious mix, too, with generations of ranchers, potato farmers, and coal miners who were joined by free-wheeling hippies in the 1970s. That merging spawned a motley but creative populace interested in everything from organic farming and solar energy to music, art, and food.
The Carbondale of today is packed with restaurants and galleries; slightly farther afield are hot springs and world-class art museums. If you’re turned off by the see-and-be-seen peacockery and astronomical pricing of Aspen, it’s high time you got to know its chiller, more down-to-earth sister.
Carbondale is one of the stops along the year-old Colorado Creative Corridor, a 331-mile route linking five artsy small towns. Each has been designated by the state as a “creative district,” so it makes sense to start your exploration in the galleries. Carbondale Clay Center has been getting locals fired up about pottery since 1997; R2 Gallery at the Launchpad showcases pieces by multimedia artists hailing from the broader Roaring Fork Valley. The 15,000-square-foot Powers Art Center is a must-see for fans of Jasper Johns’s works on paper and Takashi Nakazato’s ceramics. If you aren’t familiar with either artist’s work, go anyway: The Hiroshi Nanamori–designed architecture, complete with a reflecting pool set against knockout mountains, is worth the trip.
Although many visitors flock to the trio of natural, tiered hot springs at Avalanche Ranch in nearby Redstone or the clothing-optional Penny Hot Springs, accessible via Highway 133, a less crowded and more rewarding option is spending a languorous morning at True Nature Healing Arts. Carbondale’s new chakra-aligning, spirit-healing retreat and meditation center features a state-of-the-art ceremonial kiva, five-element peace garden, outdoor labyrinth and reflexology path, an Ayurvedic-leaning kitchen and tea lounge, and what might be the best-curated spa boutique in America. Even the antique decor—sourced from India, Morocco, and Bali—is a breath of fresh air.
Behind the soul escape are co-owners Eaden and Deva Shantay. The couple has pumped an enormous amount of energy and resources into growing True Nature. Its event calendar is stacked with both in-person and virtual offerings of yoga classes, meditations, and workshops.
In the summer, Carbondale is a draw for fly fishing, white-water rafting, and adrenaline-pumping Jeep tours. Hiking Mushroom Rock is a sure-fire way to catch sweeping views of Mount Sopris and the Crystal and Roaring Fork Valleys. The Red Hill Recreation Area offers myriad mountain biking trails, if that’s more your thing.
For spectators, a Thursday night in summer at the Wild West Rodeo is always a grand ol’ time. Families of all stripes turn out to watch white-knuckle bull riding, calf roping, steer wrangling, and mutton busting. It’s a slice of Roaring Fork life you won’t find anywhere else.
In winter, skiing is the sport of choice, and convenient public buses between Carbondale and Aspen make commuting to the resorts a cinch. When in service, the Carbondale Circulator is free and can drop you off at the station you need to get the Aspen bus.
At breakfast, try a take-out of simple duck eggs or toast with milk and honey from Silo, a locavore-minded café hidden in a nondescript office park. Good coffee, too. For something more filling, dig into a Santiago Skillet (hashbrowns, eggs, black beans, chicken, corn, and green chiles) from the Village Smithy. Stop by the pop-up Landmark Café at the Way Home to see what regional ingredients are currently inspiring the chef.
Spacious and welcoming, Bonfire Coffee is the best spot to refuel. And for dinner, there is no shortage of tempting options, from Austrian forager Andreas Fischbacher’s rustic Italian home-cooking at Allegria (offering pickup and delivery) to fresh sashimi or rich curries from Izakaya, a more casual offshoot of Aspen’s glitzy Kenichi.
Refined cocktails await at Marble Distilling Company, a nearly five-year-old distillery that makes its small-batch spirits (vodka, gin, whiskey, and various liqueurs) with Colorado-grown grains and spring water from the Crystal River. Or pick up some Slaughterhouse lagers from Batch, the two-year-old taproom from the beloved Roaring Fork Beer Company, to close out the night.
On Wednesdays from June to September, drop by the Carbondale Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to browse locally thrown “mountain mugs” by G Clay, tumbled rocks by RKO Designs, and infused Colorado honey from Roaring Fork Spice Company.
Gallery has a sweet little gift shop, good for scouting jewelry, candles, and books, while the aforementioned spa boutique at True Nature takes the top prize for its well-edited selection of indie-cool perfumes, incense, and healing crystals. Lastly, don’t miss the nature-worshipping goodies at Osmia Organics. Black clay and pumpkin facial soaps and nourishing lip balms infused with Colorado-grown lavender make ideal gifts for the folks back home (and yourself).
The family-run Cedar Ridge Ranch is a 20-year-old working organic farm and horse-training facility on the outskirts of Carbondale. Just out of range of most cell phone carriers, the bucolic property offers a variety of glamping options, including a king-size yurt, plus a menagerie of animals to coo over (heritage pigs and cows among them). Sign up for a farm tour, morning yoga with the alpacas, or a fiber felting class in CRR’s three-year-old studio space—options you can discuss over sundowners with cheerful equestrian champ Merrill Johnson and her genial, ranch-owning parents, Pam and Randy.
For those looking to book an Airbnb, Carbondale’s offerings are much more affordable compared to Aspen, which can cost five or even seven times more on average for a three-day trip in the winter months. The Way Home books two handsome suites for overnight stays; between the cozy designer textiles and Aesop bath products, you may never want to leave. And the Distillery Inn is uniquely located inside Marble Distilling’s working distillery, where five luxury suites (and a commitment to contactless hospitality) are available in downtown Carbondale.
Fewer crowds, a little less glitz, and equally great outdoor adventure
What’s a traveler to do when seeking a Colorado mountain vacation without Aspen’s flashiness? Stay in Snowmass, Aspen’s all-season alternative. When it comes to Colorado’s best runs, family-friendly activities, and panoramic vistas, Snowmass is winning over tourists and locals.
A 15-minute drive northwest of Aspen, Snowmass offers access to the same snow-capped peaks and green valleys with thinner crowds, more adventure activities, and fewer paparazzi. From navigating ski moguls to biking switchbacks, visitors can get a dreamy mountain vacation among Snowmass’s renowned mountain, slope-side hotels, classic restaurants, and family experiences—no competition (or trust fund) required.
No matter where you choose to stay in Snowmass, you won’t be far from the mountain; 95 percent of all tourist accommodations are ski-in/ski-out.
Halfway up the north side of the mountain is Stonebridge Inn, a go-to for small groups planning to hit the slopes. There, guests are just a short walk from Base Village, Snowmass Mall, and various hiking and mountain biking trails. Onsite, the property boasts one of the best restaurants in town (see The Artisan, below), cozy lodging, and a large outdoor pool area for the warmer months.
Travelers during the 2018 winter season or later will also have the option of staying at the Limelight Hotel, currently under construction at Snowmass’s Base Village; this will be the third property for the brand, which also has properties in Aspen and Ketchum, Idaho.
With more than 3,300 acres of terrain, adventure is the name of the game in Snowmass. During winter, a single lift ticket gains access to all four mountains in the area—but after checking out scenic (and scene-y) Aspen, local favorite Buttermilk, and the hike-up, ski-down Highland Bowl, die-hard skiers and snowboarders return to Snowmass Mountain’s 96 trails of top-quality terrain.
The mountain’s outdoor entertainment isn’t restricted to winter sports; snowmelt exposes the downhill mountain biking trails of the Snowmass Bike Park, open throughout the summer season. Tourists can rent gear from Four Mountain Sports at Base Village and take the Elk Camp Gondola up (no need to pedal uphill!). Those unfamiliar with the sport should consider hiring a bike pro to coach them through the runs.
The mountain also recently broke ground on a new all-season activity park, Lost Forest, which will feature an alpine coaster, zip line, climbing wall, and ropes course.
Of course, adventure activities at Snowmass aren’t restricted to the mountain; visitors who enjoy the great outdoors will find thrills—and views—on local hiking trails, including the scenic Rim Trail and the Nature Trail. Just a short drive or bus ride away is Maroon Bells, one of the most picturesque natural landscapes I’ve ever seen; you’d be hard-pressed to find a single establishment in Snowmass without a piece of art depicting the lake flagged by duel snow-capped mountains. Not sure where to start among the hundreds of trails? ACES, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, offers free guided hikes open to all.
But for each adventure activity in Snowmass, visitors have just as many opportunities to get out of activewear and into an R&R state of mind—and not just by visiting the 7,000-square-foot, Jean Michel-Gathy-designed spa at Viceroy Snowmass (although you should also put that on your list). Snowmass offers a packed calendar of events, including the annual Snowmass Balloon Festival and Jazz Aspen Snowmass music festival, where Keith Urban, Hall & Oates, and Maroon 5 will headline this upcoming Labor Day.
This year, Snowmass also hosted its first Cochon555 Heritage Fire and Bluebird Art + Sound festival and, in December, will celebrate the resort’s 50th anniversary with weekend-long specials, events, and deals. During summer, locals’ favorites include the weekly free concert series, Friday “auctionettes” at the world-famous Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and the Snowmass Rodeo, which will celebrate its 45th year in 2018; locals and tourists flock to the stadium each week during summer to eat barbecue, root for bull riders, and watch kiddos compete in the mutton busting and cow scramble.
Without the fanfare—or price tag—of Aspen’s culinary scene, Snowmass has quietly built up a range of options friendly to both foodies and families. Start the day with breakfast at Fuel, a beloved go-to serving up tropical smoothies, inventive cream cheeses, and breakfast burritos. From there, lunch venues include Woody Creek Tavern, a quirky favorite of bikers and the late Hunter S. Thompson, located just outside of Snowmass. For something quick, hit Elk Camp, a cafeteria-style eatery halfway up Snowmass Mountain. Come happy hour, locals and tourists gather to grab a beer—or hot toddy—on the New Belgium Ranger Station’s outdoor patio overlooking the mountain.
For dinner, check out The Artisan, Stonebridge Inn’s onsite restaurant that serves seasonal menus and cocktails with a side of close-up magic by the talented Doc Eason, and the swanky Eight K at Viceroy Snowmass. Up the hill, diners can order Swiss-German specialties like fondue and bratwursts at The Edge, or check skis at the Snowmass Mall valet and warm up with home-cooked meals at The Stew Pot. A fixture of the mall, The Stew Pot has been around as long as the resort; it’s common to spot grandparents bringing their families to try the same stew they remember eating as children.
After all, that is the beauty of this place—so scenic, welcoming, and accessible that you’ll feel compelled to bring loved ones back to experience the magic of Snowmass for themselves.
Pitkin County Dry Goods is where the locals have been shopping since they opened their doors in 1969. Always up on the latest trends, Pitkin County Dry Goods carries a number of boutique designers to mix a sophisticated look with the casual lifestyle of Aspen living.
Housed in a Victorian home in the center of town, Explore Booksellers is an Aspen institution. Inside, books on business, history, art, travel, and more are crammed into every corner, with an entire room dedicated to children’s literature. The shop also stocks numerous regional titles as well as cards, journals, and gifts and regularly hosts events with local and visiting authors. When you’ve finished shopping, grab lunch on the second floor, where Pyramid Bistro serves healthy, veggie-forward fare.
There is only one place in town where you can get real western wear: Kemo Sabe. As you walk through the door the distinct smell of leather hits you. Almost everything in there is made out of leather or has leather on it. One wall is lined with cowboy hats and the other lined with cowboy boots. If it had horses inside, it would be a cowboy's paradise. All the retailers are as friendly as could be—and are dressed in their own cowboy attire. One thing you should know about cowboy boots so you don’t get discouraged when you try them on is that they are rigid at first and might not be that comfortable. Once you wear them in, they will become the most comfortable shoes you own.
Walking around town and you are bound to see bright pink, green and blue colored leopard print bags. Those are from Amen Wardy, the home décor store, and the bags are a little insight into the charismatic items they have to accent your home. The store is named after its owner who has been in the business of home design and entertaining since 1954. The showcased décor has a vivacious vibe with simple elegance. It runs the gamut from tortious shape plates to sophisticated table cloth rings. Shopping here for the perfect table setting for your next dinner party to make all your neighbors jealous. This is not your cookie cutter garden variety style. They have one-of-a-kind pieces to spice up your home and some very special gifts.
Carl’s Pharmacy is more than a pharmacy. Opened in 1965 as a drug store, it is an extended version of a mom and pop’s store with a little bit of everything. On the first floor, they have a liquor department, a food department, a cosmetic department, the biggest greeting card selection in town, and of course the pharmacy and all the medical tools and remedies that go along with a pharmacy. The second floor is the fun stuff with souvenirs and costumes for the next upcoming holiday but the best part is the toy and arts and crafts area. For a small store they have a wide selection. They have everything from the modern computerized toys to the old-school wooden toys to the silly putty. I enjoy going up there and looking at all the entertaining knick knacks. On your way up the stairs make sure you get a pin to mark where you are visiting from on the large map.
Maison Ullens is a new boutique that recently opened in Aspen and more recently, Paris. Their line of clothing is designed for women with active lifestyles that don’t want to compromise on luxury. Using elegant materials like silk, linen, perforated leather, and cashmere to create the sophisticate clothing that allows freedom of movement. The color palate for both the cloths and the décor in the store is very simple. There are no flashy patterns and the use of bright colors is minimal, which almost adds to their classiness. The private fitting room is lavish with a secluded waiting room with plush couches. Try cloths on at your leisure while your husband or boyfriend comfortably waits for you.
Daniel’s Antiques is one of the coolest stores in town. Step inside and you feel like you have stepped back in time with WWII Binoculars in pristine condition and old Louis Vuitton Trunks. Throughout the store are Black Forest sculptures circa the late 1800’s. The craftsmanship in every piece is truly remarkable. Family owned and operated by the Daniel’s, they truly know the business of antiques.
When people think of consignment shopping they may be turned off by the notion until they visit Little Bird. It brings a whole new meaning to second hand wear especially in Aspen. Most the time the garments still have tags on them and have never been worn. They have top brand labels like Prada and Gucci in the mix. Take your time and sort through the masses but if you are lucky you will find some real treasures.
Covet Bright & Shiny Things is one of my favorite jewelry stores because it showcases many local designers. It still has diamonds and all the glitz and glam but it also has other precious stones and metal. There is not one over encompassing style that emulates throughout the store but rather pockets of varied and creative motifs. One style might focus in metal work and another might be thematic of the Indian heritage with strong use of turquoise. It is as if you have stepped into five stores at once. Everyone is lovely and will help you try on anything you like. Plus they will truly educate you on the jewelry especially if you get the jeweler that designed it helping you. A few of them work in the store as well.
The Ute Mountaineer in Aspen was, like many shops of its ilk, born of a love for being outdoors. In this case, it started as a dream between two friends who were climbing in Europe one summer, one of whom had already owned the Boulder Mountaineer shop. They opened the new store in 1977, and it's still family run to this day, in the historic Elks Building (once the Aspen Post Office). Their mission extends to the employees they hire, “the people who know and use the gear they sell,” and also to their community involvement: The store sponsors and runs several local races throughout the year, and hosts the Banff Mountain film festival.
Aspen loves its one of kind vintage wear and Magasin, located on the Hyman Avenue mall provides. There collection contains many vintage coats and accessories sourced from around the world like a Black Mink ¾ Length from Paris or Rex Fur Hat and Scarf from Spain. They have pieces from new designers and secondhand. To complement any outfit they have fabulous jewelry and to die for purses. Add their accessories to any drab outfit to turn it around and make it a complete success.
For those of the sporting lifestyle with discerning taste, this local boutique houses European brands of elegant and decadent alpine chic wear. There are very rare finds, from rich leather blazers embellished with horn detailing, to handmade, embroidered Austrian cashmere ski sweaters. It also dabbles in mountain lifestyle décor with furnishings, dishware, and fixtures to outfit any house in to the ultimate Colorado ski lodge.
The bad news: As nationally acclaimed as her products are, Wendy Mitchell recently announced that she’s shutting down Paonia’s Avalanche Cheese Company. The better news: Her creative integrity will remain intact at this equally esteemed market-bistro, where elaborate and superb charcuterie and cheese boards come supplemented by smart, seasonal composed plates such as pork-stuffed rice dumplings, crispy duck confit in orange jus with roasted-fennel purée and chocolate-peppermint pot de crème. With its emphasis on organic and biodynamic producers, the wine list charms as well.
Must-order: Besides a board, the Thai-style coconut soup (pictured) has been a lunchtime signature since day one. Thumbs up also go to the daily taco special, be it fried chicken with cilantro chimichurri or fried avocado with cactus salsa and cotija.
Insider tip: Though Meat & Cheese doesn’t take reservations, it does use the Nowait app to ease seating pressures; better still, sibling Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar awaits just downstairs.
319 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen; 970-710-7120
When you need a breather from the Beverly Hills of the Rockies, step into this subterranean stunner (pictured top), which comes by its warm, rustic and twinkling Alpine chalet atmosphere honestly, run as it is by a French-Austrian couple with a French chef. The food follows suit, from steak tartare to coq au vin.
Must-order: The house specialties are fondue and raclette as well as, of course, crêpes — so you’re getting melted cheese for two or more, followed by dessert. Even if you can’t get the word "Schokoladepalatschinke" out of your mouth, you can get the thing itself in with ease: a chocolate crêpe filled with chocolate ganache, dulce de leche, strawberries and bananas (pictured).
Insider tip: If you’ve got a party of six, request table 9 — and do it at least six weeks in advance for dinner, or plan on coming for lunch instead. If, on the other hand, you're a party of one, sit at the bar, where they'll kindly let you get an individual sample of raclette off-menu.
400 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen; 970-925-1566
The bar at the Hotel Jerome plays host to a capital-S Scene. Amid the gorgeous Wild West decor (the property was built in 1889), there's the if-walls-could-talk history of celebrity guests, from Hollywood stars to Hunter S. Thompson.
Must-order: The burger is legendary, and it's worth springing for the $9 topping of lobster salad. The equally famous Aspen Crud, which is basically a bourbon milkshake, doubles as dessert.
Insider tip: Having just pointed out that walls can’t talk, we should add that bartenders can — and the best ones here have got stories to tell that rival the burgers for juiciness.
330 E. Main St., Aspen; 970-920-1000
Urbane decor and polished service befit the worldliness of the cuisine at this chic New American hot spot from C. Barclay Dodge, a veteran of the Aspen hospitality industry starting with the critically acclaimed (but now-shuttered) Mogador, which was influenced by the season he spent working at elBulli. Though not overtly Spanish, Bosq’s menu reveals his continued passion for Mediterranean cooking, combined with an exploration of Asian flavors.
Must-order: Call ahead to place an order for the signature Peking duck, which tends to sell out. Current favorites include the shiitake tempura with soy aïoli and Sichuan-inspired steak tartare.
Insider tip: If you're ever here in mud season, stop by for the three-course prix fixe, rich in comfort foods like roast chicken and butterscotch pudding.
312 S. Mill St., Aspen; 970-710-7299
From Austrian-born chef Martin Oswald, this Joel Fuhrman–approved "nutritarian" bistro above Explore Booksellers enjoys an avid following of health-conscious diners for its colorful, thoughtful and produce-heavy New American cuisine and airy, sunny locale complete with a view-blessed deck.
Must-order: Sweet-potato gnocchi — currently tossed with Swiss chard, apricot chutney and oregano — is a consistent favorite. And you might feel guiltier for skipping a dessert like ginger-lime crème brûlée or carrot-apricot-macadamia cake than for ordering it.
Insider tip: Oswald displays his passion for eating well on his restaurant’s Facebook page, where he shares short videos with recipes and nutritional tips, so you can keep the good vibes going long after you’ve left town.
221 E. Main St., Aspen; 970-925-5338
The name refers to silver — the element on which Aspen, originally a mining town, was built — and the color scheme of the posh dining room underscores the allusion, but The Little Nell’s contemporary fine-dining venue aims to meet the gold standard. With a team that includes seasoned resort chef Matt Zubrod and celebrated master sommelier Carlton McCoy, it almost always succeeds.
Must-order: It all starts with a bottle of wine from the world-class 20,000-bottle cellar; whether you’re a newbie or a geek, ask the somm team for recommendations for the sheer thrill of its expertise. Then go for broke with either the dry-aged duck breast or the Emma Farms Wagyu fillet, preceded by a housemade pasta like cavatelli with sweetbreads or truffled cauliflower tortellini.
Insider tip: You don’t actually have to fork over a lot of silver to eat well here. Come for breakfast, brunch or lunch, or dine in the bar, for a still-elegant meal — think duck confit chilaquiles or strozzapreti with braised Wagyu — that’s relatively affordable. Alternatively, if you're here during the off-season, consider the three-course prix fixe, which offers ample choices from the regular menu for, yes, $47.
675 E. Durant Ave., Aspen; 970-920-6330
Get a taste of the Lowcountry high in the Rockies at this South Carolina–based smokehouse, which opened in 2016 to dish up not only heaps of low-and-slow-cooked meat with all the fixings but also boiled peanuts, Brunswick stew, dry-rubbed wings with Alabama white sauce and more in a divey, TV-filled setting that covers all the Aspen glitter in a comforting layer of grit.
Must-order: Go whole hog with pork cracklings with pimiento cheese in addition to a platter of pulled pork and ribs — hey, you’ve earned it after a day on the slopes — plus baked beans on the side. To drink, the rum slushie called the Game Changer goes down easy.
Insider tip: There’s live music every Friday night, so you can boogie down to burn off a few more calories.
38750 CO-82, Aspen; 970-236-2040
At nearly 20 years old, in the setting of a Victorian home that dates back to the 19th century, Nobu Matsuhisa’s first Colorado venue still has the buzz of a newcomer. As well it should: The quality of the food is still impeccable.
Must-order: Beyond the obvious — miso black cod, rock-shrimp tempura, new-style sashimi — we’ll never say no to ankimo pâté with caviar or anything uni-based.
Insider tip: Make reservations well in advance if you want the full-scale experience in the dining room downstairs; otherwise, you’ll likely be seated in the upstairs lounge, where the menu’s more streamlined.
303 E. Main St., Aspen; 970-544-6628
High-concept and high-dollar, the snow-toned signature dining room at the St. Regis showcases dishes from famous chefs around the country — Marcus Samuelsson, Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud among them — on a seasonal menu executed by Todd Slossberg, who supplements them with creations of his own, and paired with wines from yet another world-class cellar overseen by yet another master sommelier, Jonathan Pullis.
Must-order: Look for anything by Cassia’s Bryant Ng — could be cauliflower tempura with fish sauce one visit, stir-fried Singapore king crab the next — as well as Slossberg’s rack of lamb (because when in Rome, or in this case Colorado).
Insider tip: Put your name on the restaurant’s mailing list to find out when the featured chefs are flying in for guest dinners.
315 E. Dean St., Aspen; 970-920-3300
A local institution for 20 years and counting, Jimmy Yeager’s place is as unpretentious as fine dining gets in Aspen: true-blue American fare with friendly yet efficient service. Which doesn’t mean the wine list isn’t special — it's well worth the splurge on something grand.
Must-order: Classics include the crab cakes, the meatloaf (pictured) and the bacon-jalapeño mac ‘n’ cheese, in addition to good old steak, of course.
Insider tip: Given that the majority of wines by the glass are $14 and up, oenophiles would do well to take the blind-tasting challenge — if you guess what the sommelier has poured, you get a glass for free. (And if you don’t, hey, you’re still one sip ahead of the game.)
205 S. Mill St., Aspen; 970-925-6020
Whether you do it by ski, snowshoe or nighttime sleigh ride, getting to this little wooden cabin is half the breathtaking fun. Seasoned chef Chris Keating provides the other half with a hearty yet haute Alpine-inspired menu. Note that reservations are required for dinner, and optional but highly recommended for lunch.
Must-order: Keating’s justly proud of the trout appetizer — he brines and smokes the fish daily, then plates it with horseradish dressing, honey mustard, capers, red onions and herb crackers — as well as the elk chop in smoked-cherry sauce over white-cheddar grits. At lunch, find out why the patty melt is worth 25 bucks (because it is), and pair it with the mother of all holiday cocktails, a hot buttered rum.
Insider tip: Make a (half) day of your dining adventure with a tour conducted by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which takes you by snowshoe through a ghost town in addition to lunch at the Cookhouse.
1255 Castle Creek Rd., Aspen; 970-925-1044
This tiny, longtime mom-and-pop bakery has quite a reputation for, shall we say, crusty service. But take it in stride and you’ll stride back out with equally crusty sandwiches and pastries worth every moment of (often-amusing) discomfort.
Must-order: If the surprise of the Secret Sandwich isn't for you (and don't even try asking what's in it), go for the meatball sub, and get some macarons and donuts while you’re at it.
Insider tip: Bring cash. Enough said.
420 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen; 970-544-1806
Say “apres-ski,” and most people picture something strikingly similar to Ajax Tavern – glamorous yet easy. You can see Ajax Tavern’s sun-drenched, mountainside patio from halfway up the mountain – a simple target for lunch or cocktails. Arrive and let the people-watching begin; there’s no better seat in town. Located at the base of Aspen Mountain and next to the Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Tavern is the restaurant in Aspen for casual fine dining in an unbeatable atmosphere. The Tavern comes to life at lunch, and the party rolls on well into the night. If you go no further on the menu, try the truffle fries and Ajax wagyu double cheeseburger – they have earned their reputation.
This refined, London-style steak house boasts the best manhattans in town along with variations on the classic. Paired with a rib eye, any one of them is glorious. 411 S. Monarch St., monarchaspen.com
Try: Burning Man
The swank bar at The Little Nell’s flagship restaurant also draws from a 20,000-bottle wine cellar and is ground zero for New Year’s Eve partying. 675 E. Durant Ave., thelittlenell.com
Try: Xavier’s White Cosmo
This glam, lower-level hideout emphasizes seasonal, local, and house-made ingredients mixed with boutique spirits. 301 E. Hopkins Ave., hooch.avalancheaspen.com
Try: The Last Rose of Oaxaca
The innovative restaurant in the St. Regis Aspen Resort is known for equally inventive cocktails, often made with esoteric ingredients or syrups poached from the pastry department. 315 E. Dean St., chefsclub.com
Try: Raindrops on Roses
Besides boasting Aspen’s only beer garden in summer, this buzzy bar and restaurant on the pedestrian mall has 30 rotating craft brews on tap and 200 in the bottle, including hard-to-find domestics and imports. 414 E. Hyman Ave., hopsculture.com
Try: Anything from Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, which specializes in seasonal sours made with Colorado fruit and botanicals.
The thoughtfully curated beer selection at this locals’ favorite includes drafts from 12 taps. 319 E. Hopkins Ave., meatcheese.avalancheaspen.com
Try: Split a 750-milliliter bottle of barrel-aged beer from Glenwood Springs’s exquisite Casey Brewing and Blending (made almost entirely from local ingredients, including Western Slope fruit), or try a nano-batched hoppy ale from Carbondale’s Idylwilde Brewing.
This tiny Snowmass outpost, located slopeside at the end of the Mall, does great bar food and carries year-round and seasonal selections from the Fort Collins brewery it’s named for. 100 Elbert Lane, #115, rangerstation.org
Try: Refreshing, wood-aged brews from the Lips of Faith series, like Transatlantique Kriek, a lambic made with sour cherries.
Reserve a spot at one of the bimonthly winter beer dinners in the popular lounge, featuring three courses paired with celebrated regional and domestic breweries; at $45 per person, it’s one of the best dining deals in town. 355 S. Monarch St., limelighthotels.com
Try: Breweries slated for this winter include Poncha Springs’s Elevation Beer and Boulder’s Avery Brewing.
Nature lovers will enjoy the tucked-away location of Aspen Meadows. Set on 40 acres, just on the edge of downtown Aspen, the resort is surrounded by hiking trails, and all 98 suites have Rocky Mountain views. The resort was designed in a classic Bauhaus style. Rooms are incredibly spacious, each with a living, working, and sleeping area and floor-to-ceiling windows. Design nerds will appreciate the collectible furnishings and decor, including IDCA posters and Bertoia chairs. The resort is home to the Aspen Institute and is well-equipped to host large groups and meetings. It’s also a popular retreat for families and active travelers who can take advantage of tennis courts, an outdoor lap pool, and one of Aspen’s best health clubs. Guests should set aside time to browse the exhibits at the on-site Paepcke Gallery.
Aspen is known for its glitz and glamour, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a millionaire to vacation here. If your first priority is to be outside, then Hotel Aspen is an ideal and affordable base, located downtown at Main Street and Garmisch. The hotel boasts that it offers four-star amenities at three-star pricing. You won’t find a sceney restaurant and plush spa, but the hotel compensates with thoughtful staff and tons of complimentary services. While many hotels charge hidden extras, Hotel Aspen prides itself on free guest parking, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and even a free après-ski reception with wine and cheese. Even the most basic rooms—Deluxe Rooms—feel roomy and come with a refrigerator and coffeemaker. Families will like the spaciousness of Junior Suites, while anyone looking for a home away from home will want to book the one-bedroom apartment, which has a living room and fully stocked kitchen. Pets are also welcome, for a $20 daily fee.
When it opened in 1889, the Jerome lured New York City socialites and European aristocrats with its mix of rough-and-tumble mountain swagger and “modern” amenities (plumbing and electricity). In December 2012, the 94-room property emerged from a five-month renovation overseen by designer Todd-Avery Lenahan. The original front desk remains, and the tile floors have patterns inspired by Ute Indian weavings. The new lobby bar, the Living Room, serves craft cocktails amid mounted deer heads, mining artifacts, and a framed antique American flag. The rooms and common spaces feel inspired by a Ralph Lauren men’s collection, with lots of plaid, leather, and rich fabrics. Even the elevators are lined with old leather belts. Minibars are stocked with complimentary snacks such as organic chocolate peanut butter cups, and downstairs, guests can dine in the Living Room, the signature restaurant Prospect, or the legendary J Bar, which once poured pints for 10th Mountain Division soldiers and Hunter S. Thompson. The new Jerome proves that a hotel can step into the future while completely respecting the past. This grande dame remains the epitome of mountain town luxury.
The Gant feels like your mountain home away from home. Tucked away on five acres at the base of Aspen Mountain, the Gant’s condos offer the comforts of staying in a home but with the service perks of a hotel. Guests can choose from one-, two-, three-, or four-bedroom condos, making this a great option for families and friends on ski getaways. Condos feature full kitchens so you don’t have to worry about booking reservations in town each night, and the staff can arrange for grocery and liquor delivery right to your door. Condos also have wood-burning fireplaces, large living rooms for lounging, and patios or balconies to soak in the fresh mountain air. A housekeeper comes to tidy up each day while you’re off hiking or skiing, and families have the option to book child care. The Gant is just steps from the Silver Queen Gondola and offers ski storage and overnight tuning. After a day outdoors, guests can relax weary muscles in one of the Gant’s three hot tubs.
The Little Nell exudes understated mountain-town luxury. This five-star property has Aspen’s most coveted location, set at the base of Aspen Mountain, just steps from the Silver Queen Gondola. Interior designer Holly Hunt refreshed the rooms with a stylish yet cozy new look in 2012. The Nell is all about options and offers a range of accommodations, including residences. All come with gas log fireplaces, and most have private balconies. The service is what sets the Nell apart. A team of ski concierges can help with everything from boot warming to tune-ups; in summer, the team connects guests with top guides for fly-fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. Ajax Tavern is the place to be for après-ski, and it’s the ultimate spot to people watch during the annual Aspen Food & Wine Classic. Even pets get VIP service and amenities such as puppy jet-lag kits and epicurean dog treats.
Discreetly tucked away down Dean Street in the heart of Aspen, the St. Regis is a bastion of mountain town luxury. Fresh from an interior remodel (completed in 2012) the property brings urban sophistication to the Rockies. Every guest room features a large marble bathroom with a separate bathtub (perfect for soaking after a day on the slopes). The lobby becomes a social hub in ski season and during big events such as the annual Food & Wine Classic. Order a drink and watch for star chefs as you take in the views of Aspen Mountain. If you’d rather be discreet, sneak away to the Library, and lounge on one of the couches. The signature St. Regis butler service caters to every whim at any hour, from securing lift tickets to scoring dinner reservations. When the weather turns cold, there’s no better place to warm up than the Remède Spa with its hot and cool plunge pools, steam caves, and an oxygen lounge, not to mention some of the best therapists in Colorado.
The Limelight has a storied past. The property was originally the Ski and Spur Bar, serving outlaws and skiers. In the 1950s, new owners dubbed it “the Limelite,” and it became a popular nightclub. In 2005, a brand-new lodge went up on the site, and in 2008 the Limelight received a makeover ushering it into eco-chic modernity. Rooms come in a range of styles, from dog-friendly one-bedrooms to two-bedroom suites with full kitchens and dining rooms. All rooms have balconies to take in mountain views. The Lounge has become an après hangout and is known for its great beer selection and for hosting local bands Thursday through Monday nights. The hot tub is the perfect spot to relax after a day of hiking or skiing, while the rooftop terrace is a private oasis to take in mountain views. Travelers who want to get a local’s perspective of Aspen will love the hotel’s complimentary activities.
Directly across the street from Aspen Mountain's Silver Queen Gondola, the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel occupies a premier location in the heart of downtown Aspen. Aspen Square offers 101 uniquely decorated condominiums, from fireplace studio suites to larger apartments, for nightly rental. All condominiums include a fully-equipped kitchen, wood-burning fireplace, private balcony and central air-conditioning. Full hotel-style services and amenities include front desk, concierge and bell assistance, daily housekeeping, heated outdoor pool and hot tubs, private fitness center and complimentary wireless internet access. Parking is free for guests staying at the hotel. Aspen Square is a fully non-smoking property, excluding all smoking materials from guest rooms and public areas. Sorry, pets cannot be accommodated at Aspen Square.
As one of the only Alpine Escapes in North America, W Aspen is poised to carve out a new era of luxury. You'll find our hotel nestled at the base of one of the world's most fabled mountains, with access to all of its coveted slopes and trails - plus stunning 360° mountain views and striking architectural and interior design. Discover a bold point of view in this iconic town and enjoy a year-round pass to sky-high adventure. Our slope-side access gets you on the mountain for morning runs and our street-adjacent bike shop can get you outfitted in biking gear for any style of riding experience. Our boutique hotel is within minutes of many additional outdoor activities, including paragliding, rock climbing, paddle boarding and white water rafting. In addition to adventure experiences, we're surrounded by museums, art galleries and music venues. If you prefer a luxury shopping experience, we are only footsteps away from high-fashion boutiques. W Aspen is truly an immersive experience. Live it up and soak it in.