Overview and History
To people who are in the know, Aspen means one thing: the sleepy hidden artists' colony is now priced right out of the stratosphere.
The city takes is name from the area's abundant groves of aspen trees, technically called "quaking aspen" for the way they flip around in the breeze.
The leaf stems of the aspen are slim and flexible, and the leaves have a silvery-white color underneath. When the wind blows you see them changing from dark green to silvery green, waving back and forth like flipping coins. A field of these is unbelievable and during the autumn the golden color they change into makes it a sight to be seen and marveled at. The sound they make is also quite soothing, like a rustling whisper with little pat-pats as the thousands of leaves slap into each other.
Within one hundred years of its inception, Aspen changed from a sleepy silver mining town into a world-class winter holiday resort. There was a brief few decades when the town had only hundreds of people, not thousands, and the ones who weren't grizzled mountain men were artists. Neither group cared much for popular opinion or TV, and they all got along fine. Then came skiing.
There are four major ski areas connected to Aspen and its sister town Snowmass Village -- Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.
Aspen is located in the Elk Mountains region of the Colorado Rockies, western United States. It began as a silver-mining town in 1879 back when Indian raids were still a serious threat. Silver production peaked before the year 1900 and by the 1930's the town was nearly abandoned, hosting a population of only 700.
After World War Two the city breathed new life, gaining new residents as well as paved roads. The U.S. Forest Service approved ski resorts opening trails in the mountains, a golf course sprang up and artists working in ceramics and textiles scratched their heads at the shiny hubcaps on the expensive cars.
Eventually the tourist industry came to attract the clientele of such designer shops as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry.
Aspen now has the reputation of one of the world's premier winter vacation lands. From shopping to restaurants to outdoor fun, the city proves its claim as being among the best place to go for a vacation -- provided you've got the loot.
You can rent a car from the airport to get into town. The major American bus and train companies do not stop here (Amtrak, Greyhound... forget it.)
However, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority does provide free bus service from the airport to and within the city. You can also use these buses to get between the four ski resorts.
You are driving a car or flying a private plane around Aspen, if you're not on horseback or mountain bike. I would not put this city into the category of "accessible" for city people who like to buy tokens or tickets to get around. It's way up in the mountains, man! People DIED trying to ride across these mountains with horses and wagons, back in the frontier days.
Here are some links to taxi companies in and around Aspen that you can use for shuttle services with all your ski gear.
You can also use the RFTA busses within the city and to get between the four ski resorts.
People and Culture
Well, besides the tourists, people you find here are either celebrities or servants. The wealthy can afford to buy second and third homes in Aspen to play with, but everyone else drives in from Basalt and Carbondale, two nearby bedroom communities, to do all the dirty work. Famous local personalities have included John Denver, Jack Nicholson and Hunter S. Thompson.
This means that local culture is sophisticated and any city-dweller will find all the usual amenities and standards of service. Punk rock bands are not on the bill.
Surprise surprise, people in Aspen like to be involved in outdoor community events like the Hike for Hope, an UPHILL race and fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy.
Things to do & Recommendations
It's very simple in the big land of the Rocky Mountains -- just show up and go outside! Go skiing. Go snowboarding. Rip around clouds of fresh powder on a snowmobile!
Even better, the outdoor activities available in and around Aspen are in no way limited to the winter season. You can take a guided tour on horseback, go rafting or kayaking, fishing, rock climbing, off road ATV trail riding, play golf or even take a hot air balloon ride! There are also to be found a number of quality hunting guide outfits to lead you to where the game is.
For those interested in the arts, Aspen offers a full range of performance venues, restaurants, spa services and night life entertainment. Check out Club Chelsea when you still have energy to stay up all night after a day of physical activity.
The Aspen Music Festival has been a draw for almost fifty years. The Wheeler Opera House is billed as "the Art and Soul of Aspen", and the Aspen Art Museum fills the visual world with color and light, as if the mountain scenes weren't enough.
Lastly, remember to bring your sunblock! At high altitudes like this, even in the winter time the strength of the sun can burn your little nose pink!
Text by Steve Smith.