Everyone knows that Aspen, Colorado is one of the top skiing and snowboarding destinations in all of North America, if not the world. With an average of about 300 inches of powder falling on an annual basis, the place is a veritable winter wonderland for anyone looking to spend some time on the slopes. Add in an interesting mix of culture, cuisine, and shopping, and you truly have a world-class ski town that will keep you entertained whether you’re on the slopes or off.
The opportunities for adventure don’t disappear with the snow however, and Aspen has plenty to offer visitors in the warmer months as well. The town is an epicenter for outdoor activities serving up fantastic options for climbing, rafting, fly fishing, mountain biking, and more. I recently got a taste of this first hand when I visited the Colorado town to attend Outside in Aspen, an annual event sponsored by Outside magazine that celebrates the outdoor and adventure lifestyle.
Residents of Colorado are proud of their famously rugged mountains, and with 53 peaks rising above 14,000 feet in height, they have good reason to be. Six of those “14ers”, as they are known locally, lie within a short distance of Aspen, offering a variety of climbing challenges depending on skill levels and the time of the year. The tallest of these is Castle Peak, a 14,265-foot mountain that is a challenging, although non-technical, climb, which features an exposed knife-edge ridge on the final approach to the summit. It is an excellent introduction to mountaineering, and a great place for would-be climbers to notch their first 14er.This past winter brought record snowfalls to the Rocky Mountains, and the spring melt-off has resulted in some epic kayaking and rafting opportunities. The Upper Roaring Fork River is just minutes away from Aspen, and offers fantastic paddling in any year, although 2011 is proving to be even more exceptional that usual. Traditionally, this leg of the river provides Class III rapids, but this spring they’ve been running a little higher and wilder than usual.
Further downstream, that same river has been designated a Gold Medal fishery as well, making it the perfect location for beginner and experienced fly fishermen alike. After a bit of instruction and practice, nearly anyone can wade out into the Roaring Fork and start reeling in large trout. But unfortunately, the same spring thaws that have made the rafting in Aspen so good this year, have also made it difficult for those looking to fish the river. Prospective anglers will want to call ahead to check the conditions, as the Roaring Fork was closed for fishing while I was in town.
Of course, a visit to Aspen isn’t just about the outdoor adventure activities, although they are a large part of what gives the city its identity. Because of its status as a world-class ski destination, Aspen is home to a number of fantastic hotels and restaurants as well, which ensures that no matter which season you visit, you’ll find excellent dining and entertainment. For a night out on the town, I recommend dropping by Casa Tua or Pacifica to dinner, then stopping by the Belly-Up for drinks and live music. With the likes of B.B. King, Lyle Lovett, and Slash all having played their in the past, you just never know who might show up.
As for where to stay, you’ll find that Aspen has no shortage of luxury hotels and condos available to serve as your personal base camp. I was lucky enough to spend my weekend in town at The Little Nell, a five star resort that has been a fixture in the Aspen community for more than two decades. The hotel is the only ski-in/ski-out lodge in town, which makes it a perfect place for skiers to maximize their time on the mountains in the winter. During the summer, the hotel features an on-staff adventure concierge who is always standing by to help you plan everything form Jeep tours and hot air ballooning to stand-up paddling and mountain biking. And when you’re done playing outside all day, you can return to a comfortable, spacious room that doesn’t skimp on the amenities. My suite featured a flat screen HDTV, a gas-log fireplace, and a massive bathroom that couples are sure to appreciate. This travel writer appreciated the included WiFi Internet access even more.
My recent trip to Aspen also happened to be my first visit to the iconic mountain town, but after spending a few days there, it isn’t likely to be my last. Even during my brief stay there, it was clear that it was a great destination for adventure travelers year-round. Obviously, it is much busier and more crowded in the winter, when the ski season is in full swing, but the summer has its own charms and opens up the possibilities for many more activities. No matter which time you decide to go, you won’t be disappointed however, as Aspen just happens to be one of those magical places where there always seems to be more to see and do than you can possibly fit in.