The Aspen ski holiday indulgence guide: the very best restaurants, runs and après

The Aspen ski holiday indulgence guide: the very best restaurants, runs and après

This Aspen guide will take you to the best restaurants and bars and finds the best skiing across all four resorts. From Aspen Snowmass and Buttermilk to Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain.

Even before the flight from Los Angeles International to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport takes off, it’s clear that you are heading to a special place. “The flight from LAX should take one hour and thirty-five minutes, as scheduled unless we get some private jet traffic in the Aspen area,” says the pilot.

Aspen’s folkloric ecosystem of indulgence materialises further as the Bombardier CRJ700 parts Roaring Fork Valley’s cloud-blanket and chirps onto the snow-fringed runway. A throng of black-windowed Escalades and Suburbans stand ready to deliver the chosen few (you) to discreet high-end stays or 15-million-dollar mansions, which often lie empty in off-season.

With four ski areas and a city-like ski town, Aspen can be a nebulous conundrum for first-timers. So here’s where to find skiing gold and premium pockets of indulgence in this US alpine mecca, mountain by mountain.

Ski-town shopping mecca: Where are Aspen’s best high-end boutiques and galleries?

Stoll down Aspen’s Main Street and adjacent avenues to browse the best boutique shops. Downtown offers shopportunities galore to update your ski ensemble with the very latest and greatest.

The Chanel boutique on East Hyman Avenue offers basic black-and-white Chanel-branded skis for US$9,000. And a matte-black, pizza-sized sled for US$10,500. Prada skis are a steal at US$4,000. Add a matching ASPENX Prada Extreme Graphic parka – a collaboration between the label, ‘Aspen’s ski professionals’ and artist Paula Crown for a mere US$5,400.

For Colorado ranch-style après wear, head to Kemo Sabe. “Proudly helping soccer moms lead double lives since 1990,” says the slogan. Its cowboy/girl hats and boots range from subtle to yee-haw, peaking at US$3,600 for slick caiman skin zip-ups. Browse-worthy bespoke accessories include black bison-leather handbags and an ancient cave bear jaw-handled ornamental knife: US$20,000 by Jake 2 Jake.

Simply following your nose either side of Main Street is rewarded with endless eccentricities. Browsing downtown consignment stores, such as Susie’s on East Main Street, for that pre-loved Balenciaga bargain, and boutique gallery-hopping are recommended. Galerie Maximillian and Baldwin Gallery are noteworthy. While the Aspen Art Museum is renowned for its New York-quality exhibitions, its architecture and its Saturday rooftop cafe après.

Aspen Highlands highlights: Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro and Hiking the Highland Bowl

Aspen Highlands is replete with cruisy blues and glade-gliding double black runs, with not a green to be seen. The ski area also harbours two of Aspen’s signature experiences, each extreme in their own way.

‘Hiking the [Highland] Bowl’ is peak skiing nirvana on the ‘local’s mountain’. From the top of Loge Peak lift, simply stomp up to the resort’s 3,777-metre highpoint (45 minutes with ski/board on your back) and then chose a suitable double black line (experts only).

It is customary to bring up this achievement at every single social occasion. Particularly if you have booked a Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro afternoon session. The daily party at this bacchanalian bistro, where you could conceivably run into the likes of Kendall Jenner or Will Ferrell, is judged by the number of US$175 Veuve Clicquot ‘champagne showers’. Note: the only way down from Cloud 9 is to ski or snowboard, there is no lift access.

Is First Tracks on Aspen Mountain the best skiing experience in Colorado?

‘First Tracks’ at Aspen Mountain is skis-down the most invigorating on-snow experience in Aspen. Before the relative masses are unleashed on ‘official’ first lifts, carve up the blank corduroy canvas (accompanied by a guide) under the Silver Queen Gondola. This gondola is a virtual sky-limo in comparison with Lift 1, the chairlift that started it all 75 years ago.

Local knowledge Aspen Mountain helps you locate some of the scores of makeshift shrines hidden deep in the trees. The shrines pay homage to the likes of Aspen’s canines, John Denver and Major League Baseball teams.

Join the complimentary 11am two-hour ‘Mountain Ambassador’ tour, or opt for a private lesson for US$889/day to get your trail bearings. You’ll also get to hear unrivalled celebrity goss (FYI: Elton John was lovely but a “one-run-then-done” skier).

Arguably, the base of Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola (where it ‘lands’ in town) is the best place for après. Try truffle fries and a Colorado ale on Ajax Tavern’s patio. Or a caviar flight and bottle of Dom Pérignon at the Little Nell Wine Bar for US$1,100. Or ‘buy out’ the Little Nell’s private speakeasy, The Board Room, hidden behind a sliding bookshelf and featuring a pool table-cum dining-table and plush furnishings.

In a town with surprisingly few five-star hotels (because of the number of private residences), the Little Nell best reflects Aspen’s heightened style and raison d’être. With rooms and shared spaces adorned with bold geometrical symmetry and old-world textures, it is cosy without being stuffy, and well-appointed without being busy. The ski concierge, outdoor heated pool and 24-hour room service should have you wanting for nothing.

Snowmass: big terrain, chilled village, super chic on-mountain restaurants

Aspen Snowmass is a less intimidating version of the Aspen ‘scene’. It is accessed by free shuttle bus, 13 kilometres west of town. Its three-peaked ski area is the most diverse of the quartet, best exemplified by the blue and black groomers that surge from the Big Burn lift.

Snowmass also sports two of Colorado’s most debonair on-snow restaurant options. Swap your unyielding ski boots for slippers to pad into Alpin Room for a long lunch of ‘reimagined Alsatian home-cooking’. The meal is highlighted by the high-cal tartiflette – a dense potato and caramelised onion fondue – and a supreme California- and French-dominated wine list.

Atop Village Express Gondola, Sam’s has big atmosphere and even bigger servings of tomatoey and burrata-rich Italian goodness. The Grandma Style Pizza and the ‘flavour of the moment’ cannoli will power your afternoon.

The Sky Cab connects Snowmass’s on-snow Village Mall to the Base Village. It is home to the Viceroy Hotel, a refined accommodation choice and location of an ancient Ute-inspired wellness spa. As well as the sophisticated yet lively Toro Kitchen & Lounge, with theatrical cocktails like the Smokey Colorado Old Fashioned.

Viewline Resort is at the centre of Village Mall’s action; the new 254-room resort has an expansive Lobby Bar that offers live jazz and valley vistas, the fast-maturing Stark’s Alpine Grill and the genuinely ski-in, ski-out Mountain Front suites.

Why Buttermilk Mountain is not just for beginner skiers and snowboarders

Buttermilk is pigeonholed as a family-friendly green-run dream of forgiving nursery-esque slopes, which in a Colorado context is true. But it also hosts an X Games terrain park, with a killer halfpipe (just ask 2019 champion Scotty James). And a lesser-known network of lively, uncrowded blues and blacks accessed from Tiehack Express.

Take the afternoon off to immerse yourself in Aspen town’s food and drink scene. Start at decadent lunch favourite French Alpine Bistro, with fare as rich as its clientele, and furnishings as eccentric. The raclette, truffle gnocchi-flette and sweet crepes act as decadent fuel.

Hotel Jerome is an elegant choice of stay and its Living Room bar is a quintessentially cosy place for a hot cocktail. I recommend you try the spicy Little Theodore. From the hard-working mining town days to the Hunter S. Thompson-esque chaos of the cocaine ’80s, Jerome has always held up a mirror to Aspen’s fortunes.

Trying the ‘new place’ is always de rigueur. Cresting Aspen’s new wave is Chica. A high-end Latin American eatery that pays serious attention to its fun-fusion fare. Meals range from lobster mac-and-cheese to the arresting ‘Flaming Skull’ – a gold-sugared cranium that ‘melts’ to reveal a lava cake.

For a final peek behind Aspen’s opulent curtain, plunge into the Caribou Club. It is an eccentric private members’ cave with Warhols on the walls, stacked antler chandeliers and a wine room where price is not discussed. Usually, you need to know ‘somebody’. But if you’re determined, there are temporary memberships available. These memberships cost up to US$2,000 per week for two people.

This article originally appeared in volume 41 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

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