There are two Aspens, really. There’s the Aspen that graces the pages of whichever magazine is left in the doctor’s waiting room when they run short of GQ, showing an enchanting town of snow-filled streets, muted lighting and Moncler-clad celebrities swanning about. Then there’s the other enchanting town of snow-filled streets and muted lighting – sans Moncler – that operates without celebs the other 50 weeks of the year.
The famous folk land for Christmas and New Year, a two-week block where things become ludicrous – the airport plays host to hundreds of private jets, forced to top and tail for space, weekly chalet rents can run to $500,000 and the likes of Will Smith/James Packer/ Heidi Klum/ tech-mogul-of-the-moment host charity dinners as Jack Nicholson holds court with Bill Clinton in the back room of a local boozer. It’s mythical, this side of Aspen.
Yet past the cashed-up clientele and the heady festive period, the flip side – the ‘normal’ side – involves a twinkling town (as if cut from a studio back lot on a saccharine, yet charming, Christmas movie) and a community aiming to keep things real; to maintain its own as a former mining town, and prove that it’s much more than another ski resort.
Aspen Snowmass – as it’s known – covers the four main ski areas of Aspen Mountain (the peak that looms over the town, also known as Ajax), Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass. It means 241km of trails and more than 1335 hectares of terrain in which to play. And being the furthest resort from Denver means far fewer crowds – lift waiting times on our last trip not exceeding a minute, if that. A five-day lift pass across all four mountains starts at approx. $645, with free and regular bus services linking the mountains. Most high-end accommodation also provides gratis, on-demand van services and a daily ‘ski concierge’, which lets snow seekers leave their skis/ board on the slope and have them ferried and prepped at a new mountain the following day.