No ski town in America is at once as cosmopolitan and mountain chic as Aspen. This hub of 7,300 is the beating heart of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, blending end-of-the-highway seclusion with world-class culture, nightlife, and dining. It’s bougie but so damn cool, with the chops to attract both movie stars and famous mountaineers to the same party - somehow unironically, and always with an extra splash of Veuve Clicquot.
Beyond city limits, towering 14,000-foot peaks and rugged mountain passes lure alpine adventurers from across the globe in all seasons, and the town’s four - yes, four - ski resorts are as well-known for eco-friendly innovation as they are for unparalleled in-bounds and hike-to terrain. At first glance, Aspen is pricey and intimidating, but by chasing peaks and endless powder turns and hanging where the locals hang, a trip here can be done affordably. No matter the season, come with your best outdoor gear and your finest evening attire - because this town is all about the full experience.
A visit to Aspen is starkly different in each season. In winter, the town's busiest time of year, the outdoor and social scenes revolve almost entirely around the ski hills. The town wakes up early, with lifts open by 9:00 AM and the cafes, coffee shops, and rental stores in full swing well beforehand. Live music takes place both on the mountain and in pubs around town throughout the week, starting in the early afternoon for aprés-ski action. Restaurants and bars ill in the early evening, and most close by midnight or earlier.
In summer, the schedule relaxes a bit. Though you'll see early birds on the trails and lifts, which access higher-level mountain biking and hiking routes, the town itself doesn't reach full swing until mid-morning. Sunny days and cool evenings lend themselves to outdoor festivals, jam sessions in the park, and patio cocktails and beers galore. Nearly every weekend sees a festival of some sort, celebrating everything from art to wine to theater.
During the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, known by locals as "mud season," the town can feel eerily quiet. The mountains light up in vibrant colors as the snow melts in spring, while fall is optimal for mountain biking and leaf-peeping hikes on near-empty trails. Downtown, some restaurants and bars lock their doors until the tourists come back. But don't worry: This is still Aspen. The beer flows no matter the season. Should the urge to let loose creep in, you're sure to find a gold-plated party in a house on the hill.
Aspen is one hour south of Interstate 70, the main east-west thoroughfare passing through Colorado. Aspen and Snowmass Village are served directly by the regional Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE); Denver International Airport (DIA), 3.5 hours east; or Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT), two hours west. If flying into ASE, shuttle service is provided by hotels, cabs, and private limo operators. Epic Mountain Express shuttles passengers arriving into Denver to Aspen and Snowmass in WiFi-enabled vans. From Grand Junction, ride with Charm Chauffeurs.
Parking in Aspen, like lodging, is expensive. Expect to pay upwards of $15 or more per day for parking, even in a hotel property where you have a reservation. Visitors who've been priced out of Aspen proper stay in the surrounding towns of the Roaring Fork Valley, including Glenwood Springs, Basalt, and Carbondale. No matter where you stay, moving throughout the valley car-free - ski gear in tow - is efficient and cheap thanks to the Roaring Fork Transit Authority, which reaches as far as Rifle and costs between $2 and $7 in-valley. Bus service between Aspen and Snowmass Village, including all four ski areas, is free and runs every 30 minutes. Aspen is also served by Uber, Lyft, and High Mountain Taxi.
In the grand tradition of mountain town life in Colorado, cannabis is readily available in Aspen. Amendment 64 has allowed recreational sales of cannabis since January 1, 2014. Dispensaries - stores that sell recreational cannabis to consumers 21 and over - are open until 10:00 PM and sell goods from flower and edibles to tinctures and topicals. To expedite your process, get that state-issued picture ID out before you walk in the door because you'll be asked for it at least twice.
Note that while buying cannabis is a straightforward process, actually consuming it legally poses a challenge for visitors. Hotels in Aspen are smoke-free, and it is illegal to consume marijuana in public places, including on federal land (such as the ski hill). If you're staying in a private lodging or home - think Airbnb - the policy is up to the discretion of the homeowner. Unless your spot is explicitly noted as "420 friendly," your best bet may be to make friends with a local and hope for an invite to their home. Or, keep it legit in your hotel and opt for edibles or other forms of THC.
Turning profit into radical activism.
Visiting this ski town during summer is super underrated.
Just don’t call it “sidecountry.”