48 Hours In Aspen
Get ready to mark your calendar for a vacation that has it all. No longer just a mountain retreat, Aspen, Colorado, ignites the senses of athletes, shoppers, foodies and artists alike.
It’s an early evening in March. The air is crisp, and a light snow is falling as I descend the outdoor steps of the United Airlines 319 aircraft.
After entering the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport to collect my luggage, I’m greeted by an old friend who generously offered his house for a reunion weekend. It would be nice if time weren’t a factor, but I have just 48 hours to experience the ski, art and food cultures that set Aspen, Colorado, apart from other jet-setting locations.
Although it’s 10 p.m., the 15-minute car ride to the condo is radiant. Scattered glittery stars twinkle against the jet-black sky and flushed moonlight illuminates the prominent peaks. As we near Aspen Village, there’s a glow on the faces from mountain groomers working hard to prime the snow for tomorrow’s skiers.
Approximately 220 miles southwest of Denver, the 3.5-square-mile town was originally founded as a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom, though, when the Panic of 1893 set in, the silver market collapsed and the city was in shock. Economic devastation lasted until Aspen Mountain was developed into a ski resort in the late 1930s.
While Aspen has transformed to please fashion-forward-meets-outdoorsy individuals, a die-hard ski culture endures. By sunrise, Aspen Mountain is groomed to perfection.
After riding the gondola up the face of Ajax, one of Aspen’s four peaks, I snap on my skis and pull down my goggles. With some wiggling and shuffling, I lead a pack of six friends to make our first carves upon the fresh, corduroy fluff beneath our skis.
A sensational feeling: The spring sun reflects off the glistening snow, warming our windswept cheeks. The crisp morning shifts to a warm afternoon, and we become ravenous. Our weary legs have one last power-wedged run in them.
At the bottom we impatiently take off our skis, ditch them on a metal ski stand and hurry into a cramped burger joint.
Instead of call numbers on receipts, each customer is assigned a celebrity name at CP Burger. After ordering, at the counter, my posse opts for outdoor seating. We convene at an industrial metal table next to the Silver Circle Ice Rink. Within seven minutes, the faint call of “Serena Williams” sounds from inside. I collect my sizzling burger topped with crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, melted blue cheese and the signature CP sauce, accompanied by a creamy black-and-white milkshake on an old-fashioned red diner tray.
After fulfilling sweet and savory cravings, we do as the Aspeners do. Après-ski is calling our name, and, lucky for us, one of the best après-ski lounges is nearby. We stroll to Chair 9 Lounge where the sidewalk faintly vibrates from a local DJ bumping rock anthems.
Hip bohemians and local Aspenites fill the contemporary bar. Perched on cowhide couches, they sip Champagne while cheering their favorite teams on the big screen TV.
Slowly, the purple-red sky bends into the room, and that’s our cue for a quick trip home to refresh ourselves. After a day on the slopes in heavy ski gear, we relish the opportunity to beautify and head to the acclaimed Japanese restaurant, Matsuhisa.
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa used his last name for the chic, zen-basement setting in an effort to diverge from the high-class Nobu locations in cities like Manhattan and London, but quality is not sacrificed. After handcrafted salmon rolls topped with asparagus and truffle oil melt in our mouths, we make our way to Belly Up Aspen, one of the best music venues in the nation. The intimate space that holds just under 500 people has hosted artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Snoop Dog and John Legend. The magical musical experience allows attendees to get within feet from the artists who hop around a neon-lit stage.
Nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Aspen’s high altitude can be daunting, but, with good sleep and hydration, we wake up the next morning ready to tackle another one of Aspen’s four mountains: the Highlands.
About 10 minutes away from Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands has its own ski prestige at the top. We ride one of the free buses that runs every 30 minutes and wander through the small village of condos and outdoor equipment shops until we get to the base of the mountain.
A long chairlift ride to the top takes us closer to the impressive Highland Bowl. The higher we go, the more I realize the skill and endurance it takes to not only trek up the steep side of the bowl, but also to ski down its unkempt, powder terrain.
Highland ski runs are strikingly more difficult than those at Aspen Mountain. By the time I get to the bottom of a strenuous mogul run, my legs are burning as if after a torturous wall-sit. Thankful to survive in one piece, we decide to trade the Highland Bowl for Cloud 9.
A less strenuous adventure: Ski to the middle of the mountain and ride the Cloud 9 Lift to Cloud 9 Alpine Bistro. As we ride our way to the top it’s hard to miss the boozing crowd outside the small, hunter-green cabin. On rows of picnic tables, trendy skiers call it quits at 2 p.m. by unzipping coats and soaking up the Colorado sun. Lunch is served inside. The atmosphere is less rowdy, and we pamper ourselves with succulent short ribs that melt off the bone and freshly made pappardelle topped with creamy pesto and served in a hot iron skillet.
Although tired, we’ve only seen a bit of Aspen, and we can’t miss an opportunity to explore.
We make our way back to Aspen Village to experience the acclaimed art scene that attracts passersby, art aficionados and socialites. In 2014, the Aspen Art Museum, a woven, box-shaped structure, was completed downtown. The international attraction has since drawn an array of top-tier galleries.
“The Aspen art culture is diverse and elite,” says local, Alex Katz. “From festivals to workshops that showcase individual talents, the small town is a hub for craftsmen and buyers.”
With minimal time left to imbibe in all of Aspen, we treat ourselves to one last dinner at Campo De Fiori. The chic trattoria serves quality dishes, and the dim lighting and Italian waiters make you feel as if you’re dining in Rome, Italy.
After treating ourselves to mushroom ravioli and cinnamon-sprinkled tiramisu, we head home to pack our bags for an early morning departure.
Aspen proved itself on our brief visit. The chic mountain hamlet is more than just a ski town; it’s a lifestyle.