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]

The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

Hotel Employees Dish Industry Dirt In Reddit Discussion

maidReddit, the popular social news website, has been hosting a lively discussion amongst (alleged) current and former hotel employees across the globe, in which they serve up tantalizing tales of misdeeds, mishaps, scams and shocking industry policies.

Note that there is no verification if any of these anecdotes are real, but they still make for some mighty entertaining reading. If there’s any truth to even half of these stories, just bear them in mind next time you’re tempted to treat a hotel employee like crap. And remember, never sit on the bedspreads.

Some of our picks are below. And yes, they most definitely have the potential to be offensive to some readers. You’ve been warned.

“Check the seals on the things in the minibar. I once had a guest who had drunk the whiskey and then peed in the bottle, closed it, and put it back.”

“Use a towel or sheet on the chairs or sofa, a LOT of people sit on them naked. It’s nasty but there is often a brown streak on the desk chair that no one think about.”

“Your breakfast food is likely always been handled in an unsanitary manner during set up. (typically desk clerk in lower end hotels).”

“During my training, I once found an obvious [semen] crust on the coverlet. I told the woman I was working with that it needed to be cleaned and she responded ‘Just wipe it with a damp cloth until you can’t see it any more,’ like it was no big deal.

“Bedbugs often travel around on luggage. Most guests don’t seem to notice that. Guests who stay at higher-end hotels often spend more time traveling, and thus have a higher chance of taking bedbugs from hotel to hotel.”

toilet“I’ve worked as a chambermaid and the job itself I don’t mind (although I’ve seen some disgusting things) but you have a time limit for each room. I hated leaving a room not fully cleaned but there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. I tried explaining this to the manager there and he basically said if I needed X amount of time on a room I had two options: work through my break to spend longer on each room, or be replaced by someone else. So I stopped bothering to check under the beds or mattresses and only cleaned what you could see. I didn’t stay there very long…”


“As an ex-housekeeper we used to wash the glasses in the bathroom sink and dry them with a clean pillow case. If they looked unused they wouldn’t get washed.”

“Currently a night auditor for a large hotel chain. Recently a lady had a miscarriage in one of our bath tubs. She didn’t say anything and left us to find it on our own.”

“The front desk will NOT call you at an ungodly late hour, if our “computer crashes” and ask for your credit card information. We will not give you a 50% discount for your cooperation, and no, I would not be calling you if “there is a line at the front desk, so giving me the information over the phone will be quicker.”

“I’ve seen a couple deaths, an alcoholic coma, attempted suicide and a dead maintenance man.”

“The guests shouldn’t be the ones scared in a hotel room (at least not in the hotel where I work). We have to hold our breath every time we enter a room that needs thorough cleaning. You can’t believe the shit we have to deal with sometimes. Most guests are friendly and thankful, but some people truly are animals.”
cowboy
“There’s a pet fee at our hotel. There’s also a ‘dogs and cats only’ policy. During rodeo season a man actually tried to smuggle his horse into his room because he thought it would get lonely outside. The horse clearly did not want to come inside, given the amount of noise it was making. We also do not charge by the hour. We do not set the prices, some suit on the East Coast does. If you need help, please ask as the staff actually might know something. Do not hit on the staff, we will not sleep with you. Do not try to convince the staff to marry your grandson, even if he is a doctor, we will not. We cannot control the weather/road conditions, so don’t bitch at us like we can do anything about a blizzard.

“There is a fine line between haggling and being an asshole. Pro tip for hagglers, do not try to haggle a lower rate in front of other guests. If I agree to give you a lower rate in front of 10 other people, I’m going to have to give 10 more discounts. Pick your moment and negotiate when nobody else is around.”

“Don’t book your hotel room online! The reservations are a pain in the ass to deal with. They were almost always impossible to cancel/refund. They also charge MORE than the actual rate and pay us LESS. (You pay $80 online, we charge $70, we get $50.) I always found it really frustrating that we could be booking the rooms ourselves and making an extra $20 while saving you $10-plus.”

“Just one more piece of advice…be nice to people. If you have a valid complaint bring it to our attention and give us the opportunity to recover. Don’t keep it inside and then blast us on the surveys for something we could’ve fixed. In that same regard don’t come down to the front desk screaming and demanding free nights. The is a compensation matrix that 99% of hotels use, so just because you found one stray hair on your carpet does not mean you will get a free night. However we are more inclined to give a shit if you aren’t a complete asshat.”

[Photo credits: maid, Flickr user Saptarshi Biswas; toilet, Flickr user Ugg Boy; cowboy, Flickr user chefranden]

British backpackers spreading sexually transmitted diseases

“No sex please, we’re British.”

That old joke has been proven wrong by a new medical study that found British backpackers in Australia are picking up more than just short-term partners; they’re picking up infections that they spread around Australia and back home.

A survey of 1,008 backpackers at youth hostels in Sydney and Cairns revealed that 24 percent of British backpackers had unprotected sex with multiple partners, meaning 24 percent of British backpackers are total idiots. About half of those interviewed reported inconsistent condom use. The report found that even those who arrived with a partner were getting in on the act, with almost 20 percent them hopping into bed with someone else.

Australia receives an influx of almost 700,000 Britons a year, many of them backpackers, and while the study did not specifically check for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (called Sexually Transmitted Infections by those randy Brits) it doesn’t take a medical expert to put two and two together. In fact, the UK government last year reported that chlamydia, genital herpes, and genital warts are at an all-time high, with the 16-24 age group being the most affected.

Please, guys, wrap your John Thomas. And ladies, make the guys wrap their John Thomas. If you’re British, why not use a Big Ben condom like the one shown here? It’s a great way to inject some of your national culture into the local population.