Aspen’s crystalline energy runs from peak to piste. Whether you schuss down Aspen Highlands or hike up to the Maroon Bells, it delivers Rocky Mountain highs in all seasons. A ghost of the Old West hovers, a legacy of its silver-mining past, even with its uber-wealthy denizens and world-class events such as the Aspen Music Festival, which are almost as big a draw as the untouched wilderness that surrounds it. At its heart, it’s a mountain town.
A comfortable bed
At the base of Aspen Mountain, The Little Nell (www.thelittlenell.com; 001 970 920 4600) is the only ski-in/ski-out resort in town. The exceptional, friendly staff are always one step ahead, and every detail is thought out, from the ski concierge service to the nightly bedside decanter of water. Cosying up by the double-sided fireplace in the hotel's inviting Living Room is the perfect way to end the day. Rooms start from US$980 (Dh3,599) per night.
The historic Hotel Jerome (www.hoteljerome.aubergeresorts.com; 001 855 331 7213) has a charming mix of period and contemporary touches – antlered deer heads, tartan curtains, a portrait of Mr Jerome himself – that transport you to the 19th century in modern style. The Living Room is a plush spot for a warm drink, and the well-appointed guest rooms have ribbed leather beds and touchable cashmere drapes. Rooms start from $675 (Dh2,479) per night.
Find your feet
Aspen sits in the Roaring Fork Valley, cradled by mountains on all sides. Base elevation is about 2,400 metres – it can take time to acclimatise. In town, the grid of streets is filled with colourful low-rise Victorian residences and Old West-style brick buildings. The paved Rio Grande Trail winds along Roaring Fork Creek, past the John Denver Sanctuary and the jet set's very grand and mostly empty homes. Walk back from the West End to the centre of town past sweet clapboard houses and the Aspen Historical Society (www.aspenhistory.org; 001 970 925 3721).
Meet the locals
As a resort town, Aspen has a somewhat transient nature, but before 8am in Victoria's Espresso bar (www.aspenespressobar.com; 001 970 920 3001) you'll queue with locals getting their flat whites on their way to work. Owned and staffed by Australians, it's a cheery way to start the day.
Just a few blocks away, Meat & Cheese (www.meatandcheeseaspen.com; 001 970 710 7120) is a farm shop and restaurant owned by the local Avalanche Cheese Company. Shoppers can sample excellent cheeses and salumi or sit down to a meal of locally sourced produce and proteins.
Book a table
The ultimate après-ski spot, the indoor/outdoor Ajax Tavern (www.thelittlenell.com/dining; 001 970 920 6334) sits right at the base of Aspen Mountain. Soak up the sun and a juicy burger made from beef raised at the actor Kurt Russell's nearby Home Run Ranch, with some addictive truffle fries. Lunch costs about $40 (Dh147).
SO Café, on the roof of the Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum (www.aspenartmuseum.org; 001 970 925 8050), provides light fare such as burrata with winter-greens pesto, plus a spectacular view. The line of the diagonal roof truss pulls your eye directly up the valley towards Independence Pass. Lunch costs about $20 (Dh73).
Sit at the bar at Cache Cache (www.cachecache.com; 001 970 925 3835) for a view of the grandees walking in and some conversation with the locals, who drop in for a salad or a hot apple crisp. Dinner at this Aspen institution costs about $65 (Dh239).
Super high-end ski shops such as Performance Ski (001 970 925 8657) and Gorsuch (001 970 920 9388) sell brands such as Frauenschuh and Moncler, but bargain hunters head to the Thrift Shop of Aspen (www.aspenthriftshop.org; 001 970 925 3121) for great finds such as Sorel Caribou boots for $20 (Dh73).
Kemo Sabe (www.kemosabe.com; 001 970 925 7878) sells a fantasy of the Old West – hats, belt buckles, cowboy boots, plus real Americana like supple deerskin gloves from Geier Glove Co (and adorable baby moccasins made from the same leather).
Explore Booksellers (www.explorebooksellers.com; 001 970 925 5336) is a bookworm's dream house – every room of this two-storey historic Victorian building is crammed.
What to avoid
The busiest weeks in Aspen are over Christmas and New Year, plus mid-February to mid-March, when many American children are on school holidays. Hotels are booked and the slopes are packed, so if you’re looking for most of a run to yourself, it’s better to book in January or at the end of March.
Take the Silver Queen Gondola from the base of Aspen Mountain to the summit, a glorious 15-minute ride (www.aspensnowmass.com; lift ticket from $109 [Dh400] or a $30 [Dh110] pass, which includes $10 [Dh37] lunch credit). Whether you ride up for early morning yoga, lunch on the Sundeck (001 970 923 8715) or to ski a powder-perfect trail, you'll have a 360-degree view of the mountains framed against a wide-open sky.
British Airways (www.ba.com) flies from Abu Dhabi or Dubai to Denver via London from Dh4,331 return, including taxes. Aspen is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver; for more info visit www.aspensnowmass.com.
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