Enter a Higher State: Colorado

So, I love Colorado. Now, I know I profess my love for any city I write about, but Colorado, and more specifically Aspen, is without a doubt somewhere where I could feasibly (since Hawaii is a bit too far) see myself living. My family and I decided that we hadn’t been on a big Western ski trip since 2003 when we went to Jackson Hole, WY. We all agreed that we missed the Wild West, and decided to go to Aspen. Hey, all the stars love it there, I’m sure we’ll have fun, we thought. And fun we did have.

Aspen_Snowmass_logoMountains

The second we landed in Aspen I was drooling. The airport was small, but the fresh air (and maybe it was also my altitude sickness) made me feel giddy…and a bit dizzy. My mother frantically tried to prepare us all for a week to guzzle down gallons of water so we were “hydrated” and “ready’ for the high altitudes in Aspen. I drank a ton of water, and still felt the altitude change, but I didn’t care! The town reminded me a lot of a European town, and from what other’s have said, it reminds them of Switzerland, which I could definitely see. The houses, condos, or buildings all had that little ski-chalet look and each were beautifully designed, so that one wasn’t like the other, which really reminded me of Europe and nowhere in the U.S., since a lot of our buildings all tend to look the same: massive and boring.

The Lobby of the Hyatt
The Lobby of the Hyatt

We stayed in the Grand Hyatt Aspen, which was authentic and real. We toured some other hotels just to see what they were like while we were there, and a lot of the hotels were very high end, very snooty, and clearly were where the stars stayed because they were incredibly modern with some “cool” and “sophisticated” woodsy touches. The Hyatt wasn’t like that. The staff was incredibly friendly (my brother and I even made a few friends with the staff members,) and the hotel was warm, inviting, and something you would find out of a magazine. It was rustic, yet elegant and fun at the same time.

The Aspen Grand Hyatt
The Aspen Grand Hyatt

Our first two days we spent walking around Aspen, which was quite exhausting since it takes (me at least) a little while to get used to the altitude change, so you constantly feel out of breath. Either way, it was a great way to explore Aspen a bit. We grabbed breakfast at BB’s Kitchen, which, by the way has the most amazing Monkey Bread ever. To balance out all of the sugar I was eating, I ordered a California Fresh Omelette, which was refreshing and filled with tomatoes, avocados and egg whites. We walked through town, stopping in different stores, grabbing some extra ski gear that we may have forgotten, and that’s when I found my beautifully authentic cowboy boots in Kemo Sabe. Kemo Sabe is a fun store that carries handmade cowboy boots, hats, and all kinds of leather goods including things from bracelets to wallets to belts. Right then and there, I knew I would have a hard time leaving this place.

Aspen
Aspen

After those first two adjustment days, we decided it was time to buckle into our skis. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Aspen, the town actually contains four mountains, going from easiest to hardest: Buttermilk, Snowmass, Highlands and Ajax. We naturally decided it would be best to work our way up, seeing as how my brother and I hadn’t done any skiing that winter. Buttermilk was definitely a more beginner mountain full of younger children and families, but contained very long trails, something we aren’t used to in the North East. The trails were a perfect warm-up, and my favorite part of Buttermilk would be that unlike the other mountains, it wasn’t located in a village. The other three mountains all had villages full of condos, apartments, homes, as well as shopping and restaurant offerings, which were very awesome and great to explore, but for me, I love the lodge experience of skiing, which Buttermilk gave me. Another exciting aspect of Buttermilk, besides the fact that they served wine in the cafeteria lodge, was that they were prepping and setting up for the Winter X Games.

Buttermilk Mountain
Buttermilk Mountain

The next day we skiied Snowmass Mountain, which is probably the most popular and well known since it’s what most people refer to all four mountains as. Snowmass is definitely a mountain containing a more young-adult crowd. It was of course a ton of fun, seeing as there were tons of bars, taverns, and restaurants at the base of the mountain, in Snowmass Village. The trails here are also easy to more difficult ones. I have been skiing since I could walk, but that doesn’t mean I consider myself an expert. I am a very good and well-trained skier, but after my ACL injury, I am more cautious, so Snowmass was another great mountain for me because I was able to ski a little harder and more vigorous trails, but wasn’t nervous.

Aspen Snowmass Mountain
Aspen Snowmass Mountain

Later that day, in between that awkward in between time when the mountain closes at 4pm, but your dinner reservations aren’t until 8 (to be honest, I can’t remember the name of the two restaurants we went to the first few nights, but I know they were delicious!) we walked through town and grabbed a bite to eat at the fresh and tasty Mezzaluna Italian cafe. We shared a flatbread pizza and some soup, and it was the perfect snack to hold us over, and a way to explore the other end of Aspen a bit more, including one of the gift shops with dream catchers. I will add, that each night, we stopped in a different hotel bar for a nightcap or hot chocolate to drink by their fireplaces. It was beyond perfect.

Walking Around Aspen
Walking Around Aspen

Day four’s agenda included skiing Aspen Highlands. This mountain was more secluded, yet still had a small village surrounding it. It was quieter, which was a nice break from the slight crush of people in Buttermilk and Snowmass, but the one problem I had with the mountain were the trail signs. When skiing, especially hard mountains or mountains you don’t know, it’s essential to follow the trail signs so you don’t end up on a double black diamond, gulch, or on a glades only (through the woods) trail. The trail signs on Highlands were very small and harder to read, which was surprising because everything else in Aspen was very neatly kept up. Other than that, Highlands was definitely more difficult, but still a great mountain.

Aspen Highlands Mountain
Aspen Highlands Mountain

Winterskol is one of Aspen’s most beloved winter activities, where the town is full of ice sculptures, free ice skating, outdoor concerts, and the shops are all open late and have great sales. Soupskol was one of the activities during this week of winter fun, and it had an amazing turnout. Soupskol is a town-wide event where each restaurant within Aspen (the ones who want to participate, that is,) enters vats and gallons of their favorite soups, set up tents throughout the town square, and pass out little cups of soup for everyone to vote for their favorites. It was so much fun, and I don’t think I ate a soup that I disliked. Soupskol was a fun way to mingle with locals and visitors, and just be outside and enjoy the beautiful Aspen night sky. The town square was buzzing with people, the stores were all open and welcoming, and it was just all around great energy to be a part of.

Soupskol
Soupskol

After all of that soup, we were still a little hungry, so we decided to stop into one of the famed restaurants, Boogies Diner. Boogie is the man who opened the restaurant’s nickname. We actually got to meet him, since he typically walks around the restaurant, set like a 50’s style diner, and greets customers. He was in a few major films, the names of which of course I can’t for the life of me remember, but will obviously recall them at 3am, and decided to leave his acting career in NY and move to Aspen after visiting it and loving it. I think I should add that pretty much anyone I met in Aspen that either owned a business or just currently lives and works in Aspen had the same thing: they visited, loved it, and made the eventual move, or just never went home!

Image Courtesy of: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g29141-d381771-Reviews-Boogie_s_Diner-Aspen_Colorado.html
Image Courtesy of: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g29141-d381771-Reviews-Boogie_s_Diner-Aspen_Colorado.html

Day five was devoted to Ajax mountain, since it was the last on our list and the hardest. I did not ski any double black diamonds, although I did ski a few challenging black diamonds, and can say that the mountain is definitely a challenge and very steep, but a great workout! What I loved about all four mountains is that they all have very long trails, so you feel like you actually did something, instead of the shorter ones I am used to up here in the North East. I didn’t feel like I was constantly getting back on the gondola or chairlift, and I felt like I was getting a good workout in. Ajax is located in the center of Aspen, where all of the action mainly is (our hotel, soupskol was in this area, as well as many of the main shopping and restaurants.) It was nice because when my mom and I decided to call it a day, we just walked our skis back to the hotel instead of having to wait for the shuttle. The shuttle, I should have added earlier, goes from the city center of Aspen to all four mountains and villages and…get this…is FREE for everyone who wants to ride it! How wonderful is that?!

Ajax Mountain
Ajax Mountain

Our last day after skiing was spent walking around the center of Aspen to check out some of the Winterskol activities. They were giving out free kettle corn by one of the giant fire pits, the Marines’ band played a concert, and the children and adult ice sculptures were on display and ready for voting. It was so much fun and a great way to end the trip. That night, we headed for our last dinner in Aspen to Cantina’s Mexican Restaurant. A lot of the restaurants, besides this one and Boogie’s were a little higher end, and while being very nice, we just wanted a normal restaurant where we could relax. Cantina’s was it. With a great atmosphere, big screen TV’s so my dad and brother could watch the football game, and some of the best food I’ve eaten, we had a great time.

Winterskol Fun
Winterskol Fun

Later that night, like we did on most nights, we headed back to our hotel’s bar and lounge for a few drinks. There was a live band that night, and we got to hang out by the giant fireplace, play cards and relax. Overall, you can obviously tell I had an amazing time in Aspen. Not only was every single person you met here friendly and laid back, but the skiing was phenomenal, and our hotel was the most perfect hotel I could ever think of. I can’t wait to get back there one day, and hope you all can visit, too!

Ajax Mountain
Ajax Mountain
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