Adventure Guide 2013: Aspen

If you’ve ever yearned to visit Aspen, this is the time. Aspen is hot right now, fresh off the X Games, because it’s just opened its first sidecountry terrain (see below). The revamped Limelight Hotel is also making headlines for having the coolest après ski spot in town. If you crave adventure and think Aspen is out of your budget, time to reconsider: the hardcore outdoor opps are boundless, regardless of season.

Aspen’s got some of the best downhill skiing, lift-accessed extreme terrain, and parks-and-pipes in the country, even if lift prices are stiff. The key is to cash in on the incredible hotel/ski packages on offer at places like the Limelight or The Little Nell, or bunk at some of the surprising budget options in the area.

New this year is sidecountry terrain at Snowmass. The Burnt Mountain Expansion has added on 230 acres, bringing total skiable acreage to 3,362 – making it the second largest ski area in the state. The Roaring Fork Valley, which includes all four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass – the latter has a whopping 21 lifts), has some of Colorado’s best scenery, as well as a free, 60-mile Nordic trail system. You can also cross-country ski 18 miles down-valley, from Aspen to Basalt on the Rio Grande Trail (take the bus back if you’re tired).

If adventure is your thing, however, you’re going to want to head into the backcountry. Get your adrenaline pumping by mountaineering, ice-climbing (beginners can try this sport out at a waterfall just 10 minutes from downtown Aspen), or skiing/riding in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. For an overnight trip, cross-country ski to one of the historic 10th Mountain Division Huts (some are even accessible via chairlift, although they’re still in what’s considered backcountry).

If you’re in need of a not-too-tame recovery day, try taking a Snowcat Dinner Ride, or take a horse-drawn sleigh out to Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Hotels

Limelight Hotel: Formerly known as Limelight Lodge, Aspen’s sweetest, sleekest remodel, completed in 2010, this boutique property is just yards from the slopes. Sunny, spacious rooms are tasteful and subdued to better let the mountain take center stage.
The lobby, however, is the newest hot spot in town. Guests can avail themselves of the all-inclusive breakfast (think smoked salmon, waffles, and housemade granola), but après-ski locals, guests, and tourists alike descend for Aspen’s longest happy hour (3-7 p.m.), which includes free cookies and other snacks, $10 pizzas, drink specials and live music. Pet-friendly, wheelchair accessible, and kitchenette rooms available. From $285.
limelighthotel.com 335 S. Monarch Street

St. Moritz Lodge: Even if you’re not on a budget (but, let’s face it, all those toys cost a fortune, and you’re not planning to spend much time in your room, now are you?), this classic ski chalet is a cheerful slice of ’70s kitsch. With clean, bright rooms ranging from dorms to private rooms with or without shared bath or kitchenettes, the St. Moritz is the best deal in the Valley, and beloved for its friendly, homey atmosphere and plentiful free Continental breakfasts. And while you’ll definitely find the expected international backpackers and their ilk, the majority of the clientele is more aging ski bum and bohemian ski bunny. This is Aspen, after all. From $44.
stmoritzlodge.com 334 W. Hyman Avenue

Aspenalt Lodge, Basalt: If you have a car or don’t mind taking the shuttle, one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s best-kept secrets is this no-frills hotel located right on the Frying Pan River (there’s an outdoor hot tub, too). Basalt is a sweet little town, and one of the Valley’s most desirable (and tourist-free) places to live, thanks to the multitude of outdoorsy activities out the back door. The lodge is 20 minutes down-valley from Aspen; the RFTA transit stop is one block away and costs four dollars, one-way. From $99.
aspenalt.com 157 Basalt Center Circle, Basalt

Eat and Drink

Louis’ Swiss Bakery: Aspenites all know and love this old-school-style bakery, tucked within the ABC (Aspen Business Center) across from the airport. Swiss immigrant/skilled baker/rancher Felix Tornare turns out buttery pastry and the best meat pies (made with his grass-finished beef) on this side of the UK. The breakfast burritos are also the bomb, and provide all the fuel you need for a day on the slopes.
No website, closed Sundays; 400 Aspen Airport Business Center

The Meatball Shack: Since opening last June, this casual eatery and bar has been drawing crowds because it’s a hell of a bargain. Two heaping plates of delicious pasta (with meatballs, of course) and drinks will set you back just $50, and in Aspen, that’s not too shabby for a meal at a place with cloth napkins. Service is warm, the drinks are strong, and daily specials run the gamut from ribeye steak to sandwiches.
themeatballshack.com 312 S. Mill Street

Ajax Tavern: Located on the upper deck of The Little Nell Hotel, and steps from the Gondola, this is the spot to scope celebs if you care about that kind of thing. More important, it’s got a killer view, and the best après ski deal in town: a juicy burger served with Ajax’s famously addictive fries and a beer for just $15.
ajaxtavernaspen.com 685 E. Durant Avenue

Chefs Club: Aspen’s packed with great restaurants, but if you want to go big, this innovative, 8-month-old restaurant in the St. Regis Hotel is the place to do it. The menu changes seasonally, and is designed by a rotating cast of former Food & Wine Best New Chefs (Aspen is home to the famous FOOD & WINE Classic, held every June). Whether you order a la carte or spring for the tasting menu, be prepared to dine very well. If nothing else, have a drink; top mixologist Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT designs the seasonal cocktail menu, and you won’t be disappointed.
chefsclubaspen.com 315 E. Dean Street

Like most Colorado ski towns, you don’t need a car in Aspen. Most accommodations are walking distance to the slopes, or provide free shuttle service; the town transportation center at the base of the mountain makes getting out of Aspen-proper easy. RFTA transit runs the length of the entire Roaring Fork Valley, from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70; Colorado Mountain Express also provides round-trip transportation from DIA.

Adventure Tip

Best get up before the sun if you want to be the first to carve tracks in the backcountry; you’re going to have competition in this neck of the woods. Remember, safety first: never head out without telling someone where you’re headed (ideally, take a buddy with you), and carry an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user a4gpa]

Aspen’s Little Nell Hotel Offers Free Fly-Fishing And Biking Now Through October 15

fly fishingColorado is a big state, and most of it remained unscathed during June’s wildfires. The Aspen region in particular is known for its knockout scenery, which includes the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells, wildflower-festooned meadows, shimmering aspen groves and crystalline rivers.

With fall foliage (if you’ve never witnessed the turning of aspens, it’s worth seeing) just around the corner, The Little Nell is offering complimentary fly-fishing or road/mountain biking, available exclusively for those who stay three nights or longer through October 15, 2012. Both activities are valued at $400.

Aspen’s beloved “Nell” is justifiably famous for its luxe standards and excellent food and wine, as well as its thoroughly unpretentious staff and atmosphere. You can even bring your furry friend on vacation with you (that means your dog, not your hirsute significant other)

The Fly-Fishing Package includes a three-hour guided trip, drinks and snacks from the Nell’s pastry chef, transportation to and from a custom-selected fishing destination, gear and gratuity. Custom add-ons include a streamside picnic lunch with wine, or (ahem) helicopter excursions to secluded fishing grounds. Guests are permitted to keep their catch, and have it prepared by the Nell’s chef.

The “Bike to Nirvana Package” includes two Orbea bike rentals (with Garmin GPS) for one day. Add-ons include guided tours, custom fitting, training and instruction from Aspen’s top athletes – featuring championship cyclist Scott Kasin – and custom lunches served off-road or trail.

Aspen doesn’t shut down in “shoulder season” like many Rocky Mountain resort towns, either. There’s AspenFILM and the farmers market, which runs through mid-October, and excellent dining (and imbibing) options abound. Bonus: Fall guests who stay at the Nell for two nights receive a third night free, based upon availability.

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago.

Favorite Travel Destinations: Where’s Your ‘Happy Place?’

maroon bellsLong ago, a friend of mine referred to Colorado as my “spiritual homeland.” I frequently jest that I’m spiritually bankrupt except when it comes to the outdoors, and she was referring to my long-held love affair with the Centennial State.

My friend was right. There are parts of Colorado that are my “happy place,” where I immediately feel I can breathe more deeply, shelve my neuroses and just live in the moment. Places like Aspen’s Maroon Bells, Telluride, and Clark, near Steamboat Springs, are my cure for existential angst. I love the mountains and rivers, but when combined with shimmering aspens, wildflower-festooned meadows and crystalline skies and alpine lakes, it’s pure magic.

There are other places in the world that have a similar soporific effect on me: Hanalei, Kauai; almost anywhere in Australia; Krabi, Thailand; Atacama, Chile.

I’ve been in Colorado for work the last two weeks, and have devoted a lot of thought to this topic. Everyone, even if they’ve never left their home state, must have a happy place. Not a hotel or spa, but a region, town, beach, park, or viewpoint that melts stress, clears the mind and restores inner peace.

I asked a few of my Gadling colleagues this question, and their replies were immediate. Check them out following the jump.

Ruby BeachPam Mandel: Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Kyle Ellison: Playa Santispac, Baja, and Kipahulu, Maui.

Grant Martin, Editor: “Happy place number one is a fifth-floor patio in the West Village with my friends, and a few beers. A garden and a quiet spot in a city surrounded by madness. Number two is at the sand dunes at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, Michigan. Hop over the fence in the large camping loop head up the hill and towards the lake and you’ll find the quietest row of sand dunes in West Michigan. It’s a great place to camp out and gaze over lake, and also a good spot to take a date.”

Jeremy Kressman: “There’s a tiny little park buried in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona – one side of it is flanked by a Roman wall and there are balconies all around. It’s far enough off Las Ramblas that there’s not a lot of tourist foot traffic and the little side alleys off it are lined with little tapas bars and fire escapes thick with little gardens. I’d like to be there right now!”
lake cabin
Meg Nesterov: “Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. My family has a 100-year-old cabin on the lake with very basic plumbing and a very wonderful view. I’ve spent many childhood summers there and honeymooned there, like my parents did 35 years ago. I travel a lot to find great beach towns, but few match the bliss of bathing in the lake and eating fresh blueberries from the forest.”

Jessica Marati: The banks of the Tiber just outside Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

David Farley: “I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs where the gridded streets were flanked by nearly identical houses and the stripmalls were dominated by the same chain stores that were in the next town (and the next town and the next ..). Few people walked anywhere. The civic planning implicitly left little room to stimulate the imagination.

So when I moved to a medieval hilltown near Rome, I felt like I’d found the place – my happy place, the spot I’d been looking for. Calcata, about the size of half a football field, is a ramshackle of stone houses, a church and a diminutive castle that sits atop 450-foot cliffs. There’s only one way in and out – which is not even big enough to fit an automobile – making the village completely pedestrian free. I would often stroll its crooked cobbled lanes or sit on the bench-lined square thinking that I was literally thousands of miles, but also a dimension or so from my suburban upbringing. I don’t live there anymore but I’ll be going back later this year to participate in a documentary that’s being made about my book (which was set there).”
calcata
Melanie Renzulli: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Chris Owen: “Predictably, mine would be at sea, on any ship, completely surrounded by water in all directions as far as the eye can see.”

Jessica Festa: Sydney, Australia.

McLean Robbins: Telluride. “Descending into town on the gondola, in the middle of falling snow and pure silence, felt like heaven.”

Alex Robertson Textor: “My happy place is La Taqueria, at 2889 Mission Street in San Francisco.” To which I add, “Hell, yes.”

Where’s your happy place (keep your mind out of the gutter, please)? Let us know!

[Photo credit: Maroon Bells, Laurel Miller; Ruby Beach, Pam Mandel; cabin, Meg Nesterov; Calcata, David Farley]

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen celebrates 29th year; get discount tickets until March 15th

food and wine AspenBetter put your cardiologist on speed-dial; it’s almost time for the 29th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. The nation’s most-lauded culinary festival will be held June 17-19, featuring food, wine, and cocktail seminars, cooking demos and competitions, grand tastings, and book signings by celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, and Michael Symon. Get your tickets before March 15th, and you’ll save $100 off the $1,185 ticket price. Hey, no one said gastronomic blowouts in Colorado’s ski town Shangri-la come cheap.

The price includes attendance at five Grand Tastings, where you can sample the goods from over 300 vineyards, breweries, and distilleries, as well as charcuterie, cheese, olive oil, and chocolate.

Think it sounds a little too high-falutin’? Take note of a few of this year’s witty new seminars: “Sauce on the Side: Wine, Wieners & the Works,” with restaurateur Danny Meyer; “Global Street Food” with chef/one of half of Two Hot Tamales’ Susan Feniger, and “One Pot Meals” with Ming Tsai. Also sure to be popular: “Sophisticated Sipping Rums,” “Top Chef: Salty and Sweet,” with Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, and “Cheeses and Wine from Spain.”

FOOD & WINE donates two percent of the net proceeds from all Classic tickets sold to Grow for Good, benefiting Wholesome Wave Foundation. Grow for Good is FOOD & WINE’s national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. To purchase, call 877-900-WINE or click here.