High style hits the Rockies in the super famous small town of Aspen (population: approximately 6,000). Peak ski season may conjure tabloid images of Mariah Carey in head-to-toe spandex, but in the summer months fur-trimmed ski bunnies are swapped for sizzling pool parties and an all-terrain playground for adrenaline junkies.
Sure, few spectacles are as stunning as Aspen Mountain draped in snow, but the beauteous scenery of Aspen in the summer makes it a top destination for getting away from it all. Once the winter crowds have gone home, the quieter and perhaps more cultural side of the swanky mountain town shines.
WHERE TO STAY
An exclusive clientele and a who's who of celebrities stay at the luxe 92-room The Little Nell. Sitting pretty at the base of Aspen Mountain within steps of the gondola (an all-season attraction), the hotel's 2009 makeover revealed mod urban guest rooms while maintaining the impeccable service the property is known for.
The St. Regis Aspen Resort recently completed a $40 million redesign inspired by St. Regis founder John Jacob Astor and the late 19th-century Gilded Age mountain manor he might have lived in. That translates as a mix of old-fashioned yet comfortable touelegane with totally modern and thoughtful amenities.
Bright, fresh, and lively, The Sky Hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain is the choice for cool travelers who want to be in the center of the action but don't want to break the bank.
Cost-conscious travelers find respite at the clean and comfortable The Limelight Lodge. It may lack the glitz and flash of other five-star hotels in town, but spacious rooms, a down-to-earth staff, and pet-friendly accommodations make up for the lack of over-the-top amenities.
WHERE TO EAT
Sip perfectly foamed lattes alongside the local police force at breakfast and lunch spot Peach's Corner Café, a cheery space that serves affordable fare like FTW — a why-didn't-I-think-of-this dish where French toast meets waffle. A side of pistachio sausage is a breakfast meat must. Free Wi-Fi and take-out are also available.
Slip on SPF and your most stylish sunglasses and head to the patio at Ajax Tavern at The Little Nell, where people-watching competes with the natural beauty and backdrop of Aspen Mountain. Small plates like a Tuscan kale Caesar salad sate lighter appetites. For more substance, try Colorado lamb Bolognese paired with Dig Pale Ale, a locally brewed beer.
Serving elevated versions of everyday French food, Brexi Brasserie succeeds at creating a casual setting for food, wine, and conviviality. Professional pow-wows and larger parties rule the Art Deco dining room, while couples cozy up to the bar for traditional plats du jour like hearty cassoulet and white-wine soaked mussels meunière.
WHAT TO DO
Brew It Up
Find warm weather relief with apint or pitcher of Ajax Pilsner at Aspen Brewing Company. Offering year-round and seasonal selections, the tasting room and tap room attract laid-back imbibers and beer geeks alike. Frequent live music and Tappin' Tuesday bustle with locals. Brewery tours are coming soon.
Take a Hike
You don't have to be a hardcore hiker to appreciate Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. Located ten miles southwest of Aspen in the White River National Forest, its two 14,000-foot peaks are among the most photographed spots in the United States. Bring your four-legged friend for the trail around the lake; approximate round-trip hiking time is just over two hours.
Indulge in Cheese
Face it: Everyone has a favorite John Denver song.The singer-songwriter paid homage to the mountain town of Aspen in several tunes, including "Aspenglow," which appears on four albums. In turn, Aspen pays tribute to the musician at John Denver Sanctuary, a memorial near the Aspen Art Museum in Rio Grande Park. The tribute consists of several granite stone slabs etched with Denver's name and famous lyrics.
Meet the Chefs
Chefs Club by Food and Wine at The St Regis Aspen Resort is a new restaurant concept of seasonally inspired menus curated by the magazine's Best New Chefs, like George Mendes of Aldea and Susan Zemanick of Gautreau's Restaurant. In addition, Food and Wine's executive wine editor Ray Isle will pair wines and contributing editor and mixologist Jim Meehan will craft a menu of inspired cocktails. The space also features an open kitchen, a chef's table, and private dining areas.
Meet the Authors
An Aspen institution for more than 30 years, Explore Booksellers has a rare book section, a new room for author events, and a shaded outdoor patio. During the summer, they host book signings by nationally prominent authors almost daily.
See and Be Scene
The poolside scene is red-hot at The Sky Hotel, where models mingle with want-to-be-seen hipsters and dance and groove on the always-packed patio on the weekend. The adjacent bar and nightclub, 39 Degrees, attracts an equally stylish crowd of girl and boy eye-candy.
Summer Roll Call
Jazz Aspen Snowmass, June 22-July 7, 2012 – The JAS June Festival includes four nights of headline concerts from world-class musicians at the beautiful Benedict Music Tent in downtown Aspen, along with weekly JAS Café Downstairs @ the Nell jazz performances, free concerts, and other events.
Aspen Ideas Festival, June 27-July 3, 2012 – In its eighth year, the Aspen Ideas Festival focuses on "ideas that matter" with a spectacular array of lectures, presentations, debates, and panel discussions by leading thinkers who span a vast range of critical topics from the economy and the environment to science to the arts.
10th Annual Aspen Arts Festival, July 28-29, 2012 – Wagner Park comes to life with the bold, vibrant, and whimsical art of the country's leading artists. The artistic media represented include paintings, sculptures, photography, glass, wood, jewelry, collage, and ceramics with prices ranging from $25 hand-designed earrings to $50,000 metal, life-sized sculptures.
40th Annual Motherlode Volleyball Classic, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2012 – Celebrating a landmark anniversary in 2012, The Motherlode, the largest doubles volleyball tournament in the US, brings more than 550 teams to compete on outdoor grass and sand courts.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly: Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is located three miles from downtown Aspen.
Drive: From Denver, Aspen is 220 miles or approximately three and a half hours via I-70 West to Glenwood Springs. During summer months, another scenic route from Denver is I-70 West to 91 South through Leadville to 24 South, then west onto Highway 82 over Independence Pass.
Shuttle: Several carriers will pick Aspen guests up at the Denver, Grand Junction, or Eagle airport and transport them to Aspen for a fee.
Public Transportation: The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) provides routes between Aspen and Snowmass, extending to other Roaring Fork Valley communities, including Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and beyond.
Aspen's summer weather is warm and dry with temperatures topping 90 degrees during the day. Brief afternoon showers are frequent, so bring a raincoat. Evening temperatures can drop below 50 degrees, so pack a light coat or warm sweater. Sunglasses and sunscreen are recommended for all seasons; sunshine can be intense, especially at 8,000 feet.
Altitude sickness is very real. Forewarned is forearmed.
Aspen: Official City Website
Aspen Daily News
The Aspen Times
Photos: White Mountain National Forest courtesy of USDA Forest Service; Courtesy of Jazz Snowmass; courtesy of Motherlode Volleyball Classic.