Most of my mountain trips have been in the Himalayas which are always high on rugged adventure but little in terms of luxury. But then, the Himalayas are Himalayas - where the gods call it home. Once in a while, there comes a time in every traveller’s life to dabble with luxury and that too up in the mountains. This is where Aspen is - Pure Mountain Indulgence.
And who can take the mantle of guiding you in the mountains better than Nepal’s iconic mountaineer, one of the world’s last breed of classical mountaineers - Ang Tshering Lama. Every time I decide to venture on anything that has got something to do with the mountains, I still rely upon his wizened advise as I used to in my childhood days when we shared the same T-shirts, same trousers, same food, same passions and above all the same love for the mountains at a Baptist Missionary school tucked away in one remote corner of India’s Marlboro Land - the North East of India.
As a mountaineer Ang has trained in the Tetons, WY with Jenny Lake Rescue rangers at the Grand Teton National Park, US. Voluntered as a Climbing Ranger, SAR (Search and Rescue) at Mt. Rainier National Park, WA. US and Denali National Park (Mc Kinley) Alaska. So, following his advice, I landed up in Aspen, one of the world’s premier ski resort destination, located at an elevation of 2,438 meters and with a population of just 6,871.
The moment you arrive at Aspen, something hits you hard - the fact that you are at a fortunate place. No wonder, Aspen’s magical snowy vistas and endless ski trails have catapulted this place not just as a Ski hotspot but also a millionaire holiday destination with its array of high quality dining outlets and world class entertainment options. Aspen is surreal in its backdrop with the White River National Forest and the snowy peaks of the Elk Mountains offering a truly outstanding natural milieu in which to indulge yourself. Apart from its sporting tag, not many are aware of the town’s rich virile past. I was told by Ang that the original inhabitants of Aspen were the Ute Indians and later on evolved as a much sought after silver mining hotspot in late 1800.
However, after the depreciation of silver, Aspen was witness to a great cultural renaissance. With the advent of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, in the 1940s, they introduced the concept of a community centred holistic philosophy that laid emphasis on the body, mind and spirit - “The Aspen Idea.” This philosophy is so profound that even today the town’s holistic tilt is amply reflected in the day to day activities of the locals. Back in the 1870s — the idea started to foment that fortunes could be amassed in difficult places and Aspen showed the way, evolving into a much preferred World War II ski destination. And the person who played a pioneering role in Aspen’s evolution as a unique“Body-Mind-Soul Rejuvenation Destination” was none other than the legendary 10th Mountain Divisioner - Friedl Pfeifer, who alongside industrialist Walter Paepcke and his adorable wife Elizabeth set out with all guns blazing to transform Aspen into one of the world’s most blissful mountain holiday destination.
Aspen’s potency at the time of repositioning itself as a “Wellness Destination” was fishing, mountain climbing and off course skiing - what with endless powdery snowy trails that offered not just the ideal landscape but also the rarefied realms in terms of altitude. For Walter and his exciting team of Inner Transformers, Aspen was an ideal mountain resort, not just in terms of its snow & mountain backdrop but also for its vibrant musical heritage, a truly inspiring art culture and significantly its highly valued education. When a place is blessed with such sterling value-based life enhancing attributes, it doesn’t take long for a connoisseur visionary like Walter Paepcke to advance with his transformative agenda.
Today’s Aspen with its world class institutes like The Aspen Institute and The Aspen Music Festival and School is amongst the world’s most esteemed cultural immersion institutes and for several decades has been playing a pioneering role in shaping the global cultural landscape in the surreal backdrop of the magnificent Elk Mountain Range.
Culture apart, Aspen’s first big exposure at the world stage as a Skiing destination was back in the year 1950 when this bewitching town played host to USA’s first world skiing competition, which truly catapulted Aspen into a world class Ski destination. Since then, Aspen did not have to look back. What followed in the years to come was nothing short of dramatic - the 1949 Goethe Festival, the Aspen Ideas Festival, X Games, the 2017 Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals, the Shigeru Ban inspired Aspen Art Museum to name just a few. What do you do when you land up in so gorgeous a place like Aspen? How best can you experience the true flavour? At times like this, which isn’t often, you require a wizened guide - “Been There, Done That” type of a guy.
I feel truly blessed, I have somebody of the stature of Ang Tshering Lama - ‘Mountaineer Extraordinaire” who has been guiding me with his informative narratives on mountain destinations, whenever I go on assignments. I did nothing different, didn’t try experimenting. Just followed the Master mountaineer’s advise and needless to say, I had the trip of my lifetime here in Aspen. Aspen prides itself for its four gorgeous ski mountains. Aspen Mountain in particular, popularly referred to as “Ajax”, which rises dramatically, almost touching the sky, is the cynosure of all eyes. Buttermilk Mountain, on the other hand is great for kids and it was such a delight to see children hitting the ski slopes with such enthusiasm! There is also the unmistakable Highland, where The Bowl is located offering visitors and ski enthusiasts with perhaps the biggest skiing trail in terms of acres. Yah, acres!
In Aspen, nothing is ordinary. On Day 3, as I ambled leisurely across the boulevard where the Aspen Chamber of Commerce is located, I came across the buzzword - “Aspen - Defy Ordinary”, which inspired me to visit inside their plush office. The Receptionist put me in touch with a PR lady (Sarah), well built and with loads of attitude, explaining to me all about Aspen - the best places to dine, the many vantage locales, the finest pubs, the shopping scene, nightlife etc... and finally courteously handed me with a set of brochures to flip through over a cuppa piping hot Cappuccino Coffee.
As I flipped through the pages, I came across perhaps one of the most positive Tourism tagline I ever saw printed in a Tourist brochure -“Aspen is no place for ordinary. Your heart is racing, but you move at your own pace. One breathtaking step after another, you make your way to the top. All your worries and cares are behind you. Ordinary lives for tomorrow. This moment belongs to you.” That, kind of sums up Aspen for the prospective visitors.
Since I was travelling in the summertime, coz couldn’t muster up the courage to be here in the harsh winter months, I can vouch that Aspen comes out with a bewildering array of outdoor recreation options. Skiing apart, you can have a date with Mother Nature - rafting, mountain biking, fishing, hiking, hot air ballooning, paragliding, golfing and horse riding. The later in particular was terrific as the horse trail passed through intriguing mountain hairpin bends offering majestic panoramic vistas of the Aspen countryside. Driving to Aspen can be exhilarating stuff. Ang Tshering Lama’s counsel stood me in good stead as I hit the unmistakable Independence Pass via Highway 82. The mesmerising views of the countryside over Independence Pass is absolutely dramatic. Other fabulous routes open for navigation are the Indy Pass, Highway 285, the switchback turns of Highway 24 starting from Minturn, the classic: I-70 passes through Glenwood Canyon and the stretch from Gypsum to Glenwood Springs offer some of the world’s most memorable mountain driving panoramas.
Aspen does defy the ordinary and in the words of a native poet - “In Aspen, you are riding on the edge of control, but strangely you feel at home here. As the river rushes below you, you can’t help but gaze in awe towards the sky at the sun-kissed cliffs above you. This is the rush you have been searching for. Ordinary conquers nothing, but you do while you are in Aspen.”
Traveler’s Fact File
Aspen has an awesome repertoire of lodging options ranging from campsites and luxurious properties, most of which offer unmatched views of the fabulous Maroon Bells - the most-photographed mountain peaks in North America. If you are looking for an authentic resort type accommodation, Aspen Snowmass located ideally in Pitkin County is the best option where guests have exclusive access to skiing trails and the Snowmass Village put together has been rated to be the best winter resort in the world. Outstanding romantic hideaways include Hotel Aspen and St.Regis Aspen Resort. The later in particular has carved a niche for itself with its Remède Spa offering a bewildering array of Spa treatments. For family friendly options Aspen Meadows is a good option as is the Limelight Hotel which offers free continental breakfast daily in their rugged lounge comprising of locally baked products, granolas, smoked fish and sliced meats.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport
Downtown Aspen can be reached easily from Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), which is by far the most convenient airport in the whole of Rocky Mountain region. Being a round the year destination, transportation to and from ASE is pretty graceful! Eagle County Regional Airport, located at a distance of 70 miles from Aspen is well connected by routine flights operated by Air Canada, American, Delta and United Express all of which fly nonstop from 11 U.S. cities. For further information and reservations, please feel free to get in touch with Aspen Chamber Resort Association.