Once the snow begins to fall, Instagram feeds inevitably become littered with images of influencers donning faux-fur accessories and posing against mountainous vistas with skis and snowboards in hand. More often than not, those travel photos feature a geotag of Aspen, Colorado, arguably North America’s chicest mountain town. Both spectacularly beautiful and just-hard-enough-to-get-to, Aspen has maintained an allure since it first became a popular ski destination in the mid-19th century.
So what is it about Aspen that continues to make it such a bucket-list destination for skiers and non-skiers alike? “Aspen obviously gets the most attention for its skiing, but what this community has done to diversify itself and make it a year-round destination is astonishing,” says David Cook, publisher and partner in the Aspen Daily News. “The summer season is now every bit as busy as winter.”
It’s true, Aspen is one of the most aspirational winter destinations in the country — if not the world — thanks to its four world-class mountains to ski and ride on, a top-notch dining scene, endless cultural and outdoor activities, and shopping worthy of the most discerning fashion enthusiast. Here, an insider’s guide to what’s new, cool and not-to-be-missed in the country’s top mountain town.
What To Do In Aspen
While the Aspen area boasts four incredible mountains for skiing and snowboarding—Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass — there are still countless activities (beyond shopping and eating) for non-skiers. For one, instead of going downhill, you can become one of the many people now going uphill. Skinning is one of the fastest growing sports in Aspen. A phenomenal workout, it involves special alpine touring equipment and skins strapped to the bottom of your skis, enabling you to ascend the mountain with ease. Cross-country skiing is another way to enjoy the scenic surroundings. Head to the Aspen Nordic Center at the Aspen Golf Course just outside of town to rent equipment, and they will get you on the trails in no time.
And while Aspen is small, its cultural scene is anything but, giving visitors one more reason to come even if carving turns isn’t on the itinerary. The Aspen Art Museum features a rotating roster of contemporary exhibits, including a Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room currently on display until May. While in town, make sure to keep an eye on the consistently impressive lineup — from on-the-rise bands to major acts — at the intimate live-music venue Belly Up Aspen. And the historic Wheeler Opera House’s calendar is also always filled with a wide array of entertainment, from bands to films to comics.
Searching for something more heady? Aspen Winter Words brings best-selling authors to the Valley for lectures throughout the colder months, and The Aspen Institute presents thought-provoking speakers and talks that run the subject gamut from climate change to international affairs. “Aspen offers an authentic experience that cannot be duplicated through social engineering,” says Jeff Hanle, VP of communications for Aspen Skiing Co. “It combines world-class skiing, dining, culture, and nightlife in an extraordinary alpine environment.”
Where To Shop In Aspen
When it comes to retail therapy, this year may be Aspen’s most exciting yet thanks to a slew of exciting pop-ups. Chanel opened an ephemeral boutique on Aspen’s cobblestone Cooper walking mall in December. While Aspen’s streets are lined with designer stores, Chanel feels surprisingly at home in the mountains thanks to an impeccably edited range of pieces chosen specifically for Aspen crowd. Just steps from Chanel on the Cooper Avenue mall is the Goop pop-up where skincare and wellness must-haves reign supreme. Next door to Goop is Max-Bone, the spot to splurge on a ski sweater or down puffer for your four-legged friend.
While new boutiques are always welcome additions to Aspen’s retail scene, there are also plenty of established stores that have helped make Aspen a serious shopping destination. If you’re in the market for a new ski look, you have options ranging from the high-fashion pieces at Moncler and sophisticated, logo-light men’s and women’s designs at AETHER to a huge selection of top skiwear labels at Gorsuch and tried-and-true functional pieces from The North Face. Gently used treasures— many of them from top designers — can be found at The Little Bird, and local mainstay Pitkin County Dry Goods offers a dizzying curation of contemporary designers, jewelry, accessories and shearling and leather coats. Make sure not to leave town without making your way to the cowboy-hat and -boot heaven that is Kemo Sabe, arguably Aspen’s most Insta- famous store.
Where To Eat In Aspen
As for Aspen’s culinary scene, that too has gotten a shot in the arm thanks to several new restaurants opening their doors this winter. The owners of Montauk’s famed Surf Lodge have made their way from the ocean to the mountains with The Snow Lodge, located at the base of Aspen Mountain (aka Ajax). It’s the latest hot spot for après-ski revelry thanks to a roster of free live-music shows throughout the winter. Duemani, a new, upscale Italian restaurant with a focus on seafood features a menu of ceviche, crudo, tartare and carpaccio, in addition to meat dishes and, of course, pastas. Just steps away is Bear Den, the brand-new bakery-slash-café set in a charming Victorian cottage that starts the day with coffee and homemade pastries for breakfast and then transitions into soups, salads and even wine for lunch. Almresi is all about German delicacies from schnitzel to rosti to schnapps. Fondue rounds out the Alps-inspired menu.
As for classic Aspen eateries, Cache Cache is known for divine French cuisine, including an escargot you won’t soon forget. Home Team BBQ (located at the base of the nearby Buttermilk Mountain) boasts the same head chef as Cache Cache and serves up seriously scrumptious barbecue (don’t miss the tater tots). Jimmy’s, An American Restaurant & Bar is known for its crab cakes, while Clark’s Aspen has a martini happy hour too good to miss — as are the oysters and menu of fish specialties. Get cozy at the alpine chic Creperie where the fondue and — naturally — the crepes are divine. Steak House No. 316 is the ideal spot when you’re looking to reward yourself with a hearty steak after a big day on the mountain. Not a meat eater? The sides are good enough to constitute their own meal. And the 1892-established Red Onion may be Aspen’s most historic restaurant, but it remains a great place to saddle up to the bar for a drink and a casual bite.
For lunch, make sure to make time for a wrap or a salad at The Big Wrap, the grab-and-go locals’ favorite spot that nearly always has a line out the door—for good reason. And don’t leave town without trying a Paradise Bakery chocolate-chip cookie. Trust. For a memory-making lunch or dinner, take a sleigh or cross-country ski to Pine Creek Cookhouse where the food is awesome, and the views are jaw-dropping. “There isn’t a singular reason to explain Aspen's unparalleled reign atop the resort town heap,” says Cook. “It can certainly be argued that Aspen's proximity to skiing, world-class cultural landscape, dining and lodging options, remote location, and nightlife all make it stand apart from other like-minded communities. Add to that the fact Aspen is a real community, populated by locals who live the dream, and it becomes a no-brainer.”