Intoxicated skiers force Aspen restaurant to impose drink limit

Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, a popular on-mountain restaurant in Aspen, Colorado, has made the decision to limit the number of alcoholic beverages it serves to patrons. Starting last week, the restaurant instituted a three-drink maximum to help limit the number of intoxicated skiers who need to be escorted down the mountain on a snowmobile, or worse yet, try to ski down while under the influence.

Since it opened in 1998, Cloud Nine has been a popular watering hole for skiers on the hill. The establishment is well known for its raucous atmosphere and downing shots of Obstler Schnapps was practically a required rite of passage. That has all changed now however, as the restaurant has done away with hard alcohol altogether, serving only beer and wine during its lunch service. Management is quick to point out that the full bar is open during dinner however, as skiers can elect to use a snowcat to go up and down the mountain safely.

Considering the fact that Cloud Nine is located at an altitude of 10,740 feet, it is a wonder it has taken this long to institute a limit on the number of drinks that skiers can imbibe while lounging at the bar. It is also surprising that no one has gotten seriously injured after taking to the slopes following a prolonged drinking session. I have a hard enough time skiing or snowboarding while sober, and a few drinks wouldn’t help the situation at all.

[Photo credit: Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia]

Aspen offers $25,000 ‘Ultimate Ski Pass’

The Aspen Ski Company is offering a very exclusive – and very expensive– option for anyone who wants to hit the slopes in the Colorado mountain town this season. Skiers and snowboarders with deep pockets can opt for the Ultimate Ski Pass, which grants them a bevy of special privileges but comes with a hefty $25,000 price tag. Before you experience cardiac arrested brought on by sticker-shock however, you should know that money raised is going to a variety of good causes.

The perks for Ultimate Ski Pass holders include the opportunity to meet the U.S. Women’s Ski Team when they compete in Aspen later this month at the 2011 Winternational World Cup. They’ll also receive two VIP passes to that event, as well as breakfast with Bill Marolt, the President of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Additionally, they’ll be entitled to a behind the scenes tour of Aspen-Snowmass and be allowed to ride along on a snowcat grooming session.

While those opportunities may be intriguing to some, the real benefit for avid skiers is that the pass includes unlimited first tracks on fresh powder. What that means is that pass grants its holder, and three of their friends, access to the mountain before it opens to the public, on any day of the season, giving them the opportunity to be the first down the hill on those days.

The Ultimate Ski Pass provides access to four different hills, including Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. Additionally, there are only 18 Ultimate Passes available for sale, one of which has already been sold.

Proceeds from the sale of these rather pricey tickets will go to public schools in Aspen and toward supporting World Cup skiing events that take place there as well.

[Photo courtesy Aspen Snowmass]

Summer adventures in Aspen, Colorado

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.

Contemplating the risks and rewards of extreme adventure

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Outside in Aspen event held annually in Aspen, Colorado. The three-day festival is a gathering of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who get together to enjoy some fantastic activities such as hiking, climbing, and mountain biking, while basking in the great spring weather of the Rocky Mountains.

One of the highlights of this year’s Outside in Aspen was a symposium held on the final day, during which a panel of elite adventure athletes discussed the risks and rewards of extreme adventure, something that they were all very familiar with. The hour-long discussion gave them the opportunity to share their own stories and to give the audience a glimpse of why they go to the remote corners of the Earth to pursue the activities that they love.

The panel consisted of kayakers Brad Ludden, and Ben Stooksberry, mountaineer and adventure filmmaker Michael Brown, professional skier Nick DeVore, and three-time Everest summiteer Melissa Arnot. Each of these speakers shared stories, experiences, and thoughts on what compels them to take sometimes substantial risks in order to accomplish their goals. For instance, Arnot had arrived in Aspen straight from a Kathmandu hospital where she had been recovering from pneumonia, which she had contracted while attempting to climb Makalu and Mt. Everest. Similarly, Stookesberry talked about a recent kayaking expedition to Africa, during which one of his teammates was pulled from his boat by a crocodile, and was never seen again.
Sitting in the small crowd that had gathered to listen to the panel, it occurred to me that the risks involved in these adventures were very real and tangible, while the rewards were often more nebulous and personal. Those rewards were something that were far more difficult to explain to people who didn’t “get” why someone would push themselves to the extreme just to reach the summit of a mountain or paddle an unexplored river. The panelists had weighed those risks many times in their lives, and yet they still found reasons to go ahead with their expeditions, saying the incredible sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction was worth the dangers they faced.

Several of the speakers mentioned times when they had taken a look at both the risks and the rewards and elected to not move ahead with their plans. In the case of Arnott, she turned back on both Makalu and Everest this spring because due to illness. Both Ludden and Stooksberry cited whitewater rapids that they portaged around to avoid the inherent dangers as well. each of them noted that those choices were the ones that stuck with them long after they had gone home, often leaving them with a sense of unfinished business.

For many, it is difficult to understand what drives these adventurers to do the things they do, and oddly enough, they didn’t seem to have a complete understanding of it themselves. When asked to explain it to the audience, these adventures would often rambled on with some explanation about challenging themselves or pushing their limits, but in the end, it really boiled down to the fact that they were most happy while out on their expeditions, even if that meant suffering for weeks on end without the creature comforts of home.

Now, happiness is something that we can all relate to. After all, we all want to be happy in our daily lives, whether we’re at work or home or off on some amazing trip. We may not understand all the risks and rewards that go into climbing a mountain or paddling a raging river, but we all know those feelings of happiness and contentment that we get when we’re doing something that we really really love. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if we find those feeling on the top of a remote Himalayan peak or sitting in our favorite comfy chair in the safety of our living room. The important thing is that we do find it, and grab on to it as best we can.

Now that sounds like an extreme adventure.

Aspen to host ultimate adventure weekend in June

This June, Aspen, Colorado will be ground zero for the outdoor adventure crowd when the city plays host to the second annual Outside in Aspen weekend. The event, which is sponsored by Outside magazine, features top adventure athletes, numerous outdoor activities, and plenty of rockin’ parties as well.

The event kicks off with a welcome party at the Sky Hotel on Friday, June 10, but the real festivities get going the following day. At 8 AM on both Saturday and Sunday, a host of adventure activities get underway, giving visitors the chance to mountain bike, paddle, cycle, hike, and climb with top outdoor athletes, including professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton and pro kayaker Brad Ludden. There will also be an adventure filmmaking and photography workshop, and the annual Aspen Triathlon will also take place on Saturday as well.

When not participating in these great activities, visitors can hang out at the Adventure Base Camp, which will offer a number of outdoor related exhibits, gear giveaways, and refreshments as well. The Base Camp will also be the site of the Adventure Symposium on Sunday, where a panel of adventurers and explorers will discuss the risks and rewards of extreme adventure.

All in all, it should be another fantastic weekend for outdoor enthusiasts, and two-night lodging packages are available for attendees at very reasonable prices. Visitors to the event can stay for as little as $99 per person in double occupancy rooms at a number of hotels in the city. Visit the Outside in Aspen website for all the details. Adventure activities are priced separately and can also be booked via the website.

Outside in Aspen looks like it will be a great way to kick off the summer, with a fantastic weekend of adventure in the middle of June. From what I understand, last year’s event was a lot of fun, and it looks like the second iteration will be even better. Besides, do you really need much of an excuse to go play in the mountains of Colorado?

[Photo credit: Outside in Aspen]