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A hot spot for cold sport, Colorado provides a year-round full of resort activities, though knowing what to see and what to do can be a bit overbearing. Recently, this writer embarked on a ski journey to this winter wonderland, so now as a self-titled Aspen Expert, let me provide some information on hotels, restaurants and some key vistas from the slopes at Aspen.
To some, half the vacationing fun is getting there. If that's you, flying into Denver and driving a rented car might be your cup of tea. A road trip west down Highway 70, which leads to all the major ski resorts, can be gorgeous during the winter season. However, the trek can be equally treacherous. At night, definitely keep your speed to a minimum as the slush and dirt from the road will darken your headlights. Remember that blizzard conditions can arise at a moment's notice, so be sure you have good tire treads, plenty of windshield wiper fluid and a full tank of gas before heading out. A cellular phone would also be a wise investment and to my surprise, the cellular service was accessible from just about anywhere.
Whether you arrive by plane, car or bus, Aspen's charm and beauty will immediately capture your heart. Turn of the century-style light posts guide you down the main street of this hundred year old silver mining community. My first stop was the Hotel Jerome (330 East Main Street, 970-920-1000), a five diamond service hotel. Built in 1889 by Jerome B. Wheeler, this beautiful building was modeled after the Ritz in Paris. Embellished with antique furniture and fixtures, this historical landmark is a must-see when in town. As it is located in the heart of Aspen, the best shopping and dining are within walking distance from the front door.
Upon my arrival, I was pleasantly greeted curbside by the Jerome staff, who efficiently brought my luggage directly to the room upon checking in. On the way, the Jerome staff provided a mini tour, highlighting the various features the hotel had to offer, some of which included:
Heated pool to 98 degrees.
Twin Jacuzzi hot tubs, set to 104 degrees with heated towels waiting.
Ballroom, where many people have renewed their wedding vows and corporate events have taken place.
The Jerome Bar A.K.A. J-Bar, a local hang out.
The Library Bar, an elegant room where one can sip a martini or cocktail while discussing where to invest the next million dollars.
Skis waiting at the front door every morning.
Concierge to answer any and all questions.
In the lobby lounge, there is morning tea and coffee alongside The New York Times. In the evening, one can warm up before the fireplace and enjoy the atmosphere.
All the rooms have their own personality, including color TV with cable and VCR. My particular room had lace bed coverings, antique furniture, his and her own sinks supplied with soaps, lotions, and very soft bath robes (that are for sale in the lobby). There was even a bathtub large enough for 2 people and room service, which included turndown service. It was a real treat to be treated so well, right down to the mint resting on my pillow besides the breakfast menu. Though I only stayed at the Hotel Jerome for a couple of days, this five-diamond hotel has certainly been a memory that will last a lifetime. A place with a wealth of history, definitely check out the Hotel Jerome when you visit Aspen.
My next stop was the Boomerang Lodge (500 W. Hopkins Ave, 970-925-3416), located minutes from the four local ski mountains and one block west of Main Street. The Boomerang was designed by Charlie Paterson, an architect who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1956, Paterson began with a three-unit building, which he has continuously added to throughout the years. Today, there are thirty-four rooms, each with its own custom amenities and unique charm. Units come equipped with special ambient lighting, some with fireplaces, balconies or garden terraces. As if this were not enough, a continental breakfast awaits you in the sitting room each morning. After a full day of skiing, head back to the Boomerang Lodge to soak in the luxurious outdoor jacuzzi hot tub or swimming pool. Or if you prefer, relax in the cushioned recreational lounge and bask in the warmth of a roaring fireplace while looking through a transparent glass wall that reveals the depths of the swimming pool. The Boomerang stocks the lounge with hot apple cider and hot chocolate with cookies. Take advantage of the convenient restaurant guide that lists menus and pricing for a large selection of restaurants in town, with phone numbers for reservations. The Boomerang Lodge attracts vacationers year round, with some of the guests coming for over forty years. No matter what you choose or what season you travel to Aspen, I know you will be pleased with the accommodations the Boomerang Lodge offers.
The next venture I visited was the Crystal Palace Dinner Theatre (300 Hyman Avenue, 970-925-1455) in downtown Aspen. Created by Mead Metcalf more than forty years ago, the Crystal Palace's combination restaurant and showplace have made it the place to go for a good meal and lots of great laughs. Stained glass windows and other ornamental fixtures that Metcalf has acquired over the years decorate the building, bathing it in beautiful colors. After dinner, stay in your seats as the waiters and waitresses will stage an elaborate show of singing, dancing and skits centered on current events, famous people and politics. Every act is superbly performed by the Crystal Palace staff, who will have you howling with laughter. Note: you will need reservations and the Crystal Palace is not open year-round.
If this is your first time to Aspen, choosing which mountain to ski can be a bit tricky. I've provided a list of mountains that should help you decide, based on your length of stay and how challenged you want to be, where to start.
Aspen has 4 separate ski mountains with an average of 300 inches of snowfall a year:
Aspen Mountain - "The Athlete's Mountain"
Located in the center of town.
Elevation top - 11,212 feet
Vertical rise - 3267 feet
Skiable terrain - 675 acres
Longest run - 3 miles
Easiest terrain - none
More difficult terrain - 35%
Most difficult terrain - 35%
Expert terrain - 30%
Snowboarding not welcomed
Season dates 11/22/97-4/19/98
Aspen Highland - "Local's Treasure"
Minutes from downtown.
Elevation top - 11,675feet
Vertical rise - 3635 feet
Skiable terrain - 651 acres
Longest run - 3.5 miles
Easiest terrain - 20%
More difficult terrain - 33%
Most difficult terrain - 17%
Expert terrain - 30%
Season dates 12/12/97-4/5/98
Snowmass Ski Area - "Colorado's finest high altitude cruise"
15 Minutes from downtown.
Elevation top of the Cirque - 12,510 feet
Elevation top of Big Burn - 11,835 feet
Lift serve vertical rise - 4,406 feet
Skiable terrain - 2670 acres
Longest run - 5.05 miles
Easiest terrain - 10%
More difficult terrain - 52%
Most difficult terrain - 18%
Expert terrain - 20%
Season dates 11/22/97-4/19-98
Buttermilk - "Finest learning mountain in America"
10 minutes from downtown
Elevation top - 9,900 feet
Vertical rise - 2030 feet
Skiable terrain - 410 acres
Longest run - 3 miles
Easiest terrain - 35%
More difficult terrain - 39%
Most difficult terrain - 26%
Expert terrain - NONE
Season dates 12/12/97-4/5/98
One lift ticket cost $59 daily or you can choose a package deal so that you can ski any of the four mountains. There are free shuttle service buses that run from mountain to mountain or back into town. I chose Snowmass Mountain for two days and Aspen Highlands for one, as Snowmass offered the most intermediate runs with the largest acreage (2670 acres). The Aspen Highlands would serve as my expert mountain as it provides steep vertical cliffs for mogul runs. During my stay, I spoke with many different people about the various mountains, all of which were extremely friendly. Aspen Mountain was a close second, though it offered a larger number of challenging runs for the advanced skier. Snowmass was among the favorites as it had the largest number of intermediate runs, with Buttermilk's beginner courses rounding them out.
Other amenities offered throughout the mountains and town are:
Local TV stations air the daily morning show "Aspen Today" that informs you of the happenings around town.
Parking attendants in the Snowmass, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands parking lots hand out trail maps, parking permits and let you know where the best skiing is to be found.
Free shuttle service daily from 8:15am to 4:45pm between Aspen and Snowmass Village stopping at all 4 mountains.
Concierge center on all 4 mountains to answer all questions.
Babysitters are available and can be sent to your hotel.
Kids club for early learning centers. Reservations required.
Several ski mountains have hot cider and cookies waiting on certain chair lifts and cups of water in the afternoon.
Aspen Historical Society.
Sledding At Aspen and Snowmass.
Cross country skiing.
Horse drawn carriage and sleigh rides.
Hot air balloon rides when in season.
Music festival certain times of the year.
Some highly recommended restaurants that are within walking distance from the center of town:
The Chart house -- (925-3525) - American
Skiers Chalet Steak House -- (925-2555) - American
The Mirabella -- (920-2555) - Mediterranean
Planet Hollywood -- (920-7817) - American
Ute City bar and grill -- (920-4699) - French
Mother Lodge -- (925-7700) - Italian
LaCocina -- (925-9714) - Mexican
Websites to Visit
Hotel Jerome -- www.aspen.com/aspenonline/dir/lodging/sponsors/jerome/index.html
Boomerang Lodge -- www.boomeranglodge.com