by Holly Crawford
IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a wintry getaway, few destinations compare to Colorado’s ski country. Picturesque mountain towns cluster around the soaring Rocky Mountains, peaks rising up against bright blue, clear skies. Postcard downtowns lead up hillsides to chalets dotted along twisting mountain roads, all draped in a blanket of fresh snow. Everywhere you turn, looks like a storybook winter scene.
The slopes of Aspen-Snowmass draw skiers from across the globe, but Aspen is also known as a magnet for the jet-set, celebrities and wannabe’s. This is where you’re as likely to find a Hollywood starlet popping into a designer boutique, as hopping off the gondola on Ajax Mountain.
This mountain town is a mecca for good reason, it’s almost unrealistically pretty. Turn-of-the-century brick buildings that now house the world’s top designer brands are lined up along streets dotted with twinkling lights, the slope of Ajax Mountain soaring just in the distance.
Aspen is comprised of four ski centres in the Elk Mountain Range of the Rockies: Aspen, known for rising up from the historic downtown; Snowmass, the largest with the widest variety of terrain; Aspen Highlands, known for its large bowl runs and fresh powder; and Buttermilk and its spacious groomed runs and terrain for every age and ability. You can stay at one or play at all four. Four Mountain Sports makes moving equipment from place to place easy with their ski valet program. Just drop equipment at the end of day and it will be waiting for you the next morning at your ski centre of choice; all you need do is hop on the hotel shuttle and grab your gear at the gondola line.
The Limelight Hotel has two locations in Aspen; one right in downtown Aspen and the newest at Snowmass. I’ve stayed at both, and the Limelight is one of those rare hotels that feels both a bit indulgent and completely laid back at the same time. Maybe it’s the fresh Colorado air, maybe it’s the dog-friendly policy… but the Limelight has a great vibe. Stay in town if you want to be within walking distance of nightlife, stay at Snowmass if you want the convenience of waking up slope side to get your first run of the day in early.
EAT + DRINK
A must-see in Aspen is the Little Nell Hotel (one of the town’s best known) and its fine dining restaurant Element 47. They have received the Wine Spectator Grand Award for more than 20 years running, and the kitchen has its own private wagyu supplier. You can’t make a wrong choice on this menu. For a seriously intimate experience, ask for a cellar tour with the sommelier. The Little Nell has a well respected wine program with more than 20,000 bottles in the cellar and 50 sommeliers on staff. This tour takes guests on a back-of-house route to the cellar, where you can indulge in a glass of bubbly among the enormous stash of bottles from around the world. Celeb guests have taken to signing their name on the walls of the cellar; search the walls for your favourite star and add your own. The aprés ski scene at the hotel’s slope side bar and outdoor patio Ajax Tavern is also not to be missed.
A darling of Aspen’s local food lovers, Meat & Cheese offers a little bit of everything, from rustic cuisine to craft beers, an eclectic wine list, fresh juices, and coffee. A great place to grab a mid-day bite but be sure to come back after dinner to grab a drink at the moody “speakeasy” Hooch hidden away downstairs. CBD Gin and Tonic anyone?
J-Bar at Hotel Jerome is one of my faves in Aspen, I love the mountain cabin meets men’s club vibe of the décor at this hotel, and drinks at J-Bar feel like you’ve settled in with the locals. The hotel has been one of Aspen’s social settings since 1889, when it served up “Aspen Crud” during prohibition (a spiked milkshake that is still on the menu). Order up something brown in a rocks glass and enjoy the scene.
The distance from Aspen to Telluride is just over 320 kilometres, about a four-hour drive and incredibly scenic. Each bend of the road opens up to reveal a new valley view or mountain rising up in the distance. It’s a nose-to-the-glass kind of drive, elk and deer spotting along the way. If you’re looking for authenticity in your getaway, Telluride has it in spades. While this is another Colorado ski town that dares you to look away from its natural beauty, the town is alive with locals going about their day-to-day like there was nothing to see. The town, in the San Juan Mountain Range, was founded as a mining camp in 1878, and today is populated by less than 2,500 full-time residents. The Telluride Historic District (most of the town) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Telluride is really two towns: the historic Town at the base of the mountain, and the purpose-built Mountain Village. Mountain Village is where the large hotels, restaurants and shops are strung along pedestrian walkways, all set in place to access the runs.
Telluride is revered for having something for everyone. A large array of runs for all skill levels, along with bowls, chutes, cliffs and glades. Experts are wowed by the variety of everything from double-blacks to hike-to runs; and beginners and intermediates will find ample runs to keep them challenged all day.
Fairmont Heritage Place, Franz Klammer Lodge is perfectly situated in Mountain Village and oozes rustic mountain appeal. The resort offers two- and three bedroom residences just steps from the gondola and mountain, shops and restaurants of the Village. Opened in 1996 as Colorado’s first private residence club, the 63-residence resort was named after legendary Austrian skiing star, Franz Klammer, and is located at almost 10,000 feet above sea level. The residences are spacious with full kitchen, living and dining areas, and each bedroom has its own large bath. It’s perfect lodging for families or groups, offering the convenience and comfort of home, with ample dining opportunities just outside the door.
EAT + DRINK
One of the most unique aspects of a stay in Telluride is riding the gondola from the Mountain Village to the Town. Leaving the Village from Gondola Plaza you first ascend to San Sophia Station (10,540 feet) where you can jump off to the slopes, or Allred’s Restaurant. Or, continue the descent to the Town of Telluride (8,750 feet). It’s an eight-mile, 13-minute ride with epic views. After the slopes are closed to skiers, blankets are added to the seats to add comfort from the chill. It’s the only free transportation of its kind in the United States, and what a ride to dinner it makes.
Allred’s sits at 10,551 feet and offers the best dinner view on the mountain. This is fine dining in a rustic, mountain cabin-chic setting. The menu is filled with handcrafted cocktails and items sourced from Colorado including the elk and lamb. Allred’s is seasonal, and closes April, May, October and November. The restaurant has been recognized by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.
Take the gondola all the way into town and stroll over to New Sheridan Hotel for what feels like a trip back in time. Opened in 1895, the New Sheridan bar looks like a western movie set. The building still boasts its original tin tile ceiling, mahogany paneling and filigree light fixtures. This is the place to pull up a stool at the bar and order a drink, elbow to elbow with the locals, and tell tales about the best run of the day.