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I Spent 3 Days in Aspen in Summer, This is the Ultimate Itinerary

I Spent 3 Days in Aspen in Summer, This is the Ultimate Itinerary

The winter skiing is out of this world, and that’s the initial attraction for most who move to this ritzy Rocky Mountains hamlet in the Roaring Fork Valley. Many secured jobs as guides, wait staff and valets so they could tear down more than 2000ha of skiable terrain. But really, the attractions of a winter holiday in Aspen-Snowmass sound one-dimensional compared to a summer stay, when longer days, added variety and guaranteed warmth during a long Australian winter make an “off-season” visit all the more appealing.


DAY 1: Morning

Aspen’s tourism literature likes to boast about the Maroon Bells being the most photographed alpine peaks in North America, but the closest I’ve come to preserving them on film – or pixels, more accurately – is when I whipped out my phone and snapped a shot or two during a winter hike to the summit of Aspen Highlands, ahead of skiing down what’s said to be the steepest inbounds skiing in the US.

So here I am, back in Aspen during summer, when riding out to the pyramidal twin peaks on an electric bike is a thing. Why electric? Because most of the ride would be an uphill slog on a conventional bike, whereas you barely need to work up a sweat on e-bikes.

The bikes are delivered to our Aspen hotel by Silver City Cycles, after which we follow the Maroon Creek up through the White Forest National Reserve to Maroon Lake, passing chirpy marmots and riders on horseback. 



Following a picnic lunch beside picturesque Maroon Lake, it’s downhill all the way back to Aspen, riding through residential backstreets to the sprawling grounds of the Aspen Institute, the world-renowned think tank that unashamedly leverages its access to wealthy visitors to solve some of the globe’s most complex problems.

We pause to appreciate geopolitical artworks inside the Herbert Bayer Museum then continue on to the Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies, a 10ha nature preserve and environmental learning centre around Hallam Lake. When I last visited here during winter, a black bear was hibernating beneath the rear porch.

Following a leafy, mixed-use trail along the Roaring Fork River, we reach the John Denver Sanctuary garden memorial honouring the Rocky Mountain High singer who called Aspen home. There’s a rugby pitch nearby – one of two in town hosting the Ruggerfest tournament each September. 



The Aspen Music Festival and School is an eight-week program featuring 400 classical music recitals by some of the world’s top performers and 600 visiting students. Performances take place at numerous venues around town, including the Aspen Art Museum, where we attend Music With a View – a free, hour-long chamber concert on the museum’s roof terrace. Following the concert, we stroll a couple of blocks down to Aspen’s oldest – and, arguably, grandest – accommodation house, the Hotel Jerome. Dinner is inside the J-Bar, where I order a tender flat iron steak while our waiter regales us with stories of gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson’s drug and booze-filled shenanigans, and drinks resembling milkshakes that were designed to sidestep alcoholic prohibition.

But the night is still young, and while the hotel’s cocktail bar, Bad Harriet, is closed, the nearby basement bar, Hooch, isn’t. We sink into comfortable couches, surrounded by old-time photos and artworks on the walls, ordering gin and whisky-infused concoctions beneath dimly lit chandeliers from which bras used to hang.

It’s too early for bed, so an unscheduled nightcap at the members-only Caribou Club bookends our evening. It’s nicknamed the “Wrinkle Club”, and we amuse ourselves by playing a game called Daughter or Dating, trying to guess whether the ladies accompanying the moneyed captains of industry are their offspring or girlfriends. 


DAY 2: Morning

Winter snowmelts are still tumbling from the mountains by late July, translating into class III rapids along the Upper Roaring Fork River. Three boatloads of thrillseekers have signed up for a half-day of white-water rafting with Aspen-based Blazing Adventures and we bounce and splash through a series of rocky minefields, tumbling voluntarily into the water for an invigorating swim just before the put-out point. In between rapids, we spot ospreys, Canadian geese and grey herons, while we’re advised to be watchful for bears and moose. 



I’ve got a free afternoon. I could go shopping for cowboy boots in Kemo Sabe or canine ski jackets in Moncler. Or maybe see if I can pick up a belt buckle offloaded by Kevin Costner in Susie’s Consignments. But I’d rather walk the streets in search of some of Aspen’s historical buildings – the 1889 Wheeler Opera House, the turn-of-the-century Independence Building that’s now home to a Ralph Lauren store, the Andre Building housing a Prada outlet, and the Red Onion restaurant and bar. Each surely has stories to tell. 



It’s a 20-minute transfer from Aspen to Snowmass, where families tend to focus more on daytime adventures rather than evening debauchery. A tapas dinner at Mawita steels us for an evening attending the Snowmass Rodeo, a bucking 90-minute funfest that takes place each Wednesday night during summer. 


DAY 3: Morning

Snowmass Mountain Bike Park is one of just five mountain bike parks in the US accredited with Gold-Level certification. Fifteen downhill trails with a vertical descent of just under 1000 metres snake down the slopes to Snowmass Base Village. Hire bikes, helmets and body armour from Four Mountain Sports then ride the Elk Camp Gondola up to the midway point. From there, continue up the Elk Camp Chairlift to the summit or tear down runs suitable for all levels, including the signature trail, Valhalla.



Lunch is a buffet selection of American staples – pizza slices, mac and cheese, pulled pork – at Elk Camp restaurant, halfway up the mountain. After spending the morning riding the mountain bike trails on the mountain’s lower reaches, we ride the quad chair to the summit for some fun, top-to-bottom hijinks over berms, jumps and bridges. Storm clouds roll in by midafternoon. The sprinkle of rain helps settle the dust and add grip for our tyres. My guide wants to stay out all afternoon but the lifts close when the thunder grows louder. One day on these trails definitely isn’t enough.


Dinner is in The Lounge: Snowmass Restaurant at the Limelight Hotel before we take advantage of Snowmass’s Free Concert Series outside, on the Fanny Hill Concert Stage each Thursday night. Hundreds of concertgoers have brought picnic rugs and deck chairs to listen to a rousing country rock band from Illinois. Slowly, I find myself being drawn towards a crowd of people all kicking their boots up in the dust beneath the stage.

The writer was a guest of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Snowmass Tourism.


Where to stay in Aspen-Snowmass:

The W Aspen has 93 guest rooms and suites and is conveniently near the foot of the Silver Queen Gondola up Aspen Mountain. It features a rooftop terrace pool bar. Rooms are from $510 per night, including mandatory resort fee.

Nightly tariffs at The Crestwood Snowmass Village start from $425 for a standard one-bedroom condominium. 


By: Mark Daffey I The Courier Mail I July 2, 2024

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