Welcome to Aspen
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Welcome to Aspen
Aspen was founded in 1879 as a humble mining town, and the silver industry gave the town a decade of considerable prosperity before its eventual economic collapse. After a rapid decline, Aspen was all but abandoned for almost half a century. Then, at last, a few ambitious and well-heeled investors recognized the city for one abundant and renewable resource: snow.
Envisioning a resort of aesthetic, cultural and athletic appeal, they developed Aspen around what would for some time be the world's longest chairlift and worked to build within it a community of artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals. Through the creation of the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Aspen Institute, they were largely successful. The Aspen of today is not an elitist utopia, but it is awash with creative types who find inspiration in its natural beauty and celebrity ski-bums who enjoy high culture at high altitudes.
Despite its reputation as a lofty playground for the rich and famous, Aspen is welcoming and surprisingly accessible to visitors of more moderate income. As for quality, it deserves its high regard: According to many knowledgeable sources, its slopes are among the best in North America, and its restaurants, nightlife and cultural events are of similar repute. Much of this is fuelled by unusually large numbers of visitors with money to burn, but most of it runs year-round, even after the snow has melted. This is when an Aspen vacation is most affordable. Luckily, it's also the season for the legendary Aspen Music Festival, frequent free concerts, art gallery openings and spectacular outdoor activities.
Attractions in Aspen
Skiing and Hiking in Aspen
Aspen's slopes are divided into 4 resorts -- Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass -- all run by the same Aspen Skiing Company. Together, they offer some of North America's best trails.
Aspen Mountain - This mountain is not for beginners. With more than 20 of its runs ranked double-diamond (experts only), it is a haven for advanced and intermediate skiers seeking an exciting challenge.
Aspen Highlands - This area is popular for its variety of terrain, allowing all levels from novice to expert to enjoy its slopes. It also offers spectacular views of the Maroon Bells.
Buttermilk Mountain - As Aspen's smallest mountain, Buttermilk is a great place to learn to ski or to improve upon rusty technique. More than two thirds of its 42 trails are ranked for beginning to intermediate skiers.
Snowmass -- This is the area's largest mountain, and its four subdivisions feature more skiable terrain than Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain combined. Each subdivision has its own lifts and offers varying degrees of difficulty, including a few of Aspen's better beginner trails as well as some of most challenging runs.
During the summer months, some of the same terrain is accessible by foot. This, for many outdoor enthusiasts, is the best way to see appreciate its beauty. One of the most popular trails is the 30-mile trek to Crested Butte, which passes the famous Maroon Bells. Trail lodgings are provided by two hut systems, whose huts are minimalist but clean, cozy and warm -- especially in comparison to nights in the cold mountain air.
Dining in Aspen
In time, Aspen's restaurants may become as famous as its ski slopes. They represent dining par excellence and undergo the same expert scrutiny that drives the city's community of creative competition and pushes all its members to their peaks. In order to meet even the highest expectations, Aspen's restaurants offer the best of the best. Prices often climb high, too, but good meals are available even on a budget. From top to bottom dollar, international cuisines are prepared with flair, and old-fashioned western grub is served with passion.
Nightlife in Aspen
After a long day of skiing or hiking and a revitalizing dinner, Aspen offers up a host of options for nighttime indulgence. Art aficionados find charming galleries, jazz and blues heads find clubs to sit back and sway, and dancers congregate at DJ-driven digs. Of course, there's still more: from classical music at Wheeler Opera House to free public theater outdoors, Aspen makes year-round, all-night entertainment look easy.
Shopping in Aspen
Shopping in Aspen, in terms of price and variety, is like dining in Aspen. Unlike the restaurants, however, Aspen's shops do not accommodate budgeters. After all, they reflect the tastes of the city's less than frugal clientele and, more than the restaurants, reveal their penchant for conspicuous consumption.
For the same reasons, Aspen's storefronts are perfect for window-shopping. There are gallery shops with paintings, graphics and sculpture for sale. There are boutiques featuring the fashions of major designers and country-chic, Western-themed shops selling buckles, belts, hats. There's jewelry, lingerie, sportswear and sporting goods. From one shop to the next, there may be no overlap, and lots of shops sell unique items that just won't be found anyplace else. This leads to a temptation that can put shoppers in a pinch. Weak-willed shopaholics beware, and leave the plastic at the hotel.