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]

Summer adventures in Aspen, Colorado

Apsen, Colorado is still a great adventure destination in the summer!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.

Even in the summer they're thinking about snow in Aspen, ColoradoFurther 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.

Take a custom fly fishing excursion in Colorado this summer

Anglers looking for a unique fly fishing experience will have some amazing new options later this year when The Little Nell, the famous upscale resort located in Aspen, Colorado, begins offering custom guided fishing tours. Visitors will gain access to the Roaring Fork Valley and its Gold Medal waters, including the Frying Pan, Colorado, and Crystal Rivers, which are well known for having the best trout fishing anywhere in the U.S.

These custom guided tours offer a wide array of exciting and unusual options. For instance, multi-day excursions are available, including overnight camping in the pristine Colorado backcountry, some of which is only accessible by horseback. Additionally, the resort’s on site equipment shop is the only retail outlet in the U.S. that exclusively sells the legendary tackle from Hardy of England, giving anglers a chance to rent or buy gear from one of the most renowned brands in the sport.

The resort’s Director of Fly Fishing (Yes, that’s his real title. How cool is that?), David Doerr has worked closely with the Aspen Trout Guides to build an extensive selection of options that can cater to any angler’s needs. These top guides, which include former Olympic skier turned pro angler Andy Mill, know all the best places to catch trophy fish and the best ways to put you in position to do just that.

If you’re interested in booking your own custom fishing experience with the Little Nell, you can do so on the resorts website or by calling (970) 920-4600.