Mountain Madness Vacation – Aspen

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Aspen was the third destination on our Mountain Madness Vacation. After Crested Butte and Telluride we are actually disappointed with Aspen. At first we found that pretty crazy too, after all Aspen is one of those places that’s iconic in the mountain town realm and a must see by all accounts. We also admit that if you are a skier, and especially a really good one, the slopes here are sure to be the cat’s meow. But we weren’t skiing, and though there are lots of slope areas to choose from, the scenery just wasn’t as striking, reminding us more of the foothills of Denver than the mountain peaks we expected.

Bighorn sheep we saw on the way

The town does have a lot to offer as far as dining, shopping, sightseeing (especially the art scene it seems), and events is concerned. But be ready to open those wallets (or be extra vigilant about not opening them too much depending on your budgeting situation) because it is pricey. K did some reading online and read that (at least during some point recently if not still currently), Aspen had the most expensive real estate in the U.S. I think it was in one of the magazines in our hotel that I saw something about billionaires pushing millionaires further into outlying areas of Aspen. What a shame. Also, get this, there are HOV lanes in Aspen. What?! That was our reaction too. We just couldn’t imagine what traffic must get like to warrant that. But we’d rather not be there to witness it either.

While there we checked out the Snowmass area, and took the free shuttle over to Aspen Highlands Village where we walked through the village and had lunch right off the slopes. Despite our overall disappointment, we were curious to see the place and are glad that we did. We’d like to go back to the region to spend some time in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, but we’ll probably camp out there when we go.

Here’s the scoop on the hotel and restaurants we tried out while there.
Aspen Square Condominium Hotel – Great location downtown, right near the Gondola and one of the free shuttle stops. Though the front blends in with the storefronts around it and the lobby, elevator, and hallways leave something to be desired (and making you wonder if you made the right choice as you’re walking to your room), we were very happy with our condo. The impression we got was that the condos are privately owned but managed and rented out as nightly hotel rooms when the owners are away. So we can’t speak for the other suites but ours was a very nice country sort of rustic with an updated kitchen, balcony, and wood-burning fireplace.

Pyramid Bistro – OMG the best restaurant in Aspen. No matter that we haven’t tried all of the others so we can’t definitively say that, but this is a must visit. Housed in a cute little building, above a bookstore, the decor is simple and elegant, with large windows and a view of the hills. The restaurant describes itself as a nutritarian restaurant and their website’s stated mission is “to offer you delicious flavorful foods that have the highest nutritional profile and prepare them in ways to maximize their health benefits.” Not only is the food healthy and packed with nutritional benefits for you, it was colorful and gorgeously prepared and arranged, and exceedingly delicious. K and I gushed multiple times throughout the meal how great this was. And if we (ok I) weren’t the type that likes to try out new places, especially when we’re on vacation, we’d probably have come back for a second night. Here’s what we had: crispy parsnip & flax seed gnocchi with wild mushrooms, butternut squash, swiss chard, walnuts, crispy kale, hibiscus syrup and chicken stir fry with forbidden rice, asparagus, collard green, scallions, carrot-ginger and sesame coulis.
Highlands Alehouse – Best thing about this place was its convenience to the Aspen Highlands Village slopes. We sat at a both by the window and were basically immediately off the slopes with a great view. Food was quick and decent, seemingly just what folks were looking for between runs. Pizza was the main food of choice but there were other options like the incredibly cheesy and rich mac and cheese that I had.
Mezzaluna – This seems to be one of the places the locals go. The bar area was packed with what seemed to be legit Aspenites. Conveniently located across from our hotel, we had a view out the window at the downtown. I had the grilled salmon with cauliflower mash, seared brussel sprouts, and roasted red bell pepper coulis which was very good. K had a pasta dish which I believe was a special. The pasta was definitely unlike anything we’d had before, kind of like a really long spaetzle.

The Basics

Who: For those willing to pay a bit more for the excursion, experience world-class skiing, and bask in the ritzy restaurant, shopping, and art scene.

What: World class skiing by all accounts. What began as another mining town and gained incredible renown for its popularity with the rich and famous, is another iconic mountain town worth seeing just for the heck of it. Plenty of other year round activities both outdoor and indoor, in the mountains and in the town. Much more swanky and fancy than the other towns we checked out.
Where: 3.5 hours from Denver. West on I-70 and south on CO-82. We came up from Telluride which was actually a 4 hour drive.

When: Any time of year depending on what activities you plan to do or if you want to arrive in time for a certain event. Considering the name of the town, and the abundance of Aspen trees in the area, fall is probably a pretty good time if you’re not making a trip specifically for the skiing.
Why: Like we’ve said before, if you live in Colorado like us, we feel like it’s worth exploring and checking out its many different areas and towns. 
How: Fly to and/or drive from Denver, or look into the local airport. There is a free shuttle in the Aspen and Snowmass areas and you can pay to get to the surrounding towns.
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