A few months back we wrote a post on ways you could stretch your dollar in Aspen and Snowmass Village during the winter. Now that we’re in the throws of summer, we thought we’d offer up some similar budget-conscious suggestions with a decidedly summer twist.
This past Friday, Aspen Snowmass kept the Elk Camp Gondola running until sunset as a mix of locals and vacationers, families and couples, foodies and revelers headed up to Elk Camp for the first of 10 Valhalla Nights this summer.
Held every Friday through the end of August (as well as select Tuesdays), this evening party serves up delicious food, drinks on the Elk Camp patio, live music, and classic summer pastimes from s’mores to hula hooping to mountain biking to badminton. It’s the summer rendition of the popular Ullr Nights, which is held at the same locale in winter.
I came up with my wife and two daughters — ages 4 and 5 months — and I’m convinced it was the mellow vibe that kept the kiddos tantrum-free well-past their bedtime. The event offers up several kid-friendly activities that appeal across a spectrum of ages. So while the older kids tackled the climbing wall (or could enjoy Bike Snowmass’ mountain biking trails), our oldest played in the giant sandbox, explored wildflowers on a nearby nature trail, and danced a jig to the live music.
But most of all, she enjoyed the gondola ride — her first since she was a baby. The views of the forest as the sun set, the promise of a playground at the top … she was downright giddy with anticipation. (And here I was, thinking that s’mores or the Strider bikes would be her favorite part).
As for my wife and I, we are foodies, so the roast chicken with golden beet salad and asparagus, and creamy mac-and-cheese was an immediate dose of comfort. And it was especially cool to see a few selections of Colorado wine (yes, Colorado makes excellent wine) on the wine list.
Valhalla Nights will be held this upcoming Friday (July 18) from 4pm to 8:30pm. For more information on future dates and other details, check out the official page for Valhalla Nights.
When it comes to “reasons why we all love summer,” few things rank higher on the list than the classic family vacation. Its that rare time in the year when you can reconnect and rejuvenate as a family, and build memories for your kids that they’ll carry into adulthood.
With all that in mind, there is also nothing wrong in cherishing time away with your spouse while your kids dive head-first into the Camp Aspen Snowmass experience. Reconnect? Rejuvenate? Build memories to last a lifetime? Do for each other what you’re doing for your kids by enjoying these six “grown-up-centric” things to do in and around Aspen Snowmass.
While there are plenty of kid-friendly mountain biking trails at Bike Snowmass — as well as around the valley — there are plenty you’ll pass up due to difficulty if the kids come along. Chase each other up and down the mountain on such trails as the Vapor Trail and Cross Mountain Trail. It’s the ultimate couples workout.
2. Yoga at Sundeck
At 10:20am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the summer, we offer free yoga classes at the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain (with gondola ticket purchase). It’s the perfect opportunity for couples to open their minds, stretch their bodies and savor the remarkable views of the Elk Mountains. Follow the class with an easy mountain-top hike.
With the kids at Camp Aspen Snowmass for the day, now is the time for you two to indulge your inner foodie and not worry about pleasing a fussy eater or two (or three). No other mountain town in the United States offers a better collection of gourmet restaurants than Aspen (there’s a reason the FOOD & WINE Classic is held here). This higher standard of dining even carries over to the on-mountain offerings at Elk Camp, Sundeck and Ajax Tavern, where you’ll savor exceptional cuisine in a casual, laidback environment.
4. Indulge in a Little Shopping
If you are in need of some new threads — or just want to rediscover the joys of shopping without the kids in tow — Aspen is tailor-made for this moment. Throughout the walkable and charming downtown, you’ll find a blend of haute couture brands (e.g. Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Burberry), upscale consignment stores, shoe boutiques, jewelers, art galleries and wine shops.
Rediscover the joys of solitude with each other by taking a pulse-quickening hike in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Here, in the shadows of six 14,000-foot peaks, you can reach unbelievable heights and take in some of Colorado’s best scenic vistas. Find trail suggestions on our complete guide to the area.
6. Speaking of Indulgence … Hit the Spa
Everybody could use a little pampering now and again, and here’s your chance. Swing by the Remède Spa at the St. Regis Aspen, the Auberge Spa at the Hotel Jerome, the Aspen Club & Spa at the Sky Hotel, or any of a number of local day spas and take your unwinding to a new level.
7. Savor a Night on the Town
Camp Aspen Snowmass’ overnight campouts for kids serve a dual purpose. Foremost is the unforgettable experience your children will have sleeping out under the stars. But we also can’t forget what it affords the two of you: the chance to savor Aspen and Snowmass’ dining, nightlife, and arts and culture scene on your own terms. Begin your evening with a stroll through the Aspen Art Museum, take in a performance by the renowned Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, dine at any of a handful of acclaimed restaurants (such as Element 47, Rustique or Matsuhisa) and then take in a concert at Belly Up. When you pick-up the kids in the morning, they might think they had more fun than the two of you… just let them believe what they want.
Shuttles to Camp Aspen Snowmass
Parents: as you plan out your day without the kiddos, take note that we offer free shuttles from Aspen (pickup is at 8am at the Yellow Brick Schoolhouse between First & Garmisch on Bleeker St.) to Camp Aspen Snowmass. This gives you a great option to get your day together started quickly if you are Aspen-based. Learn more on our Parent Information page for Camp Aspen Snowmass.
Now that summer is in full swing — after a winter that wouldn’t let go — we’re happy to say that we’ve once again started up outdoor yoga classes on Aspen Mountain. Join us for a few sun salutations from the Sundeck.
These one-hour Hatha yoga classes are the perfect way to open-up your mind, body and spirit before an afternoon of hiking, mountain biking, disc golf or stand-up paddleboarding.
After class, replenish with a light lunch at Sundeck.
Here are the details:
Yoga at Sundeck
When: Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through August 29.
Time: 10:20am, meet at the top of the Silver Queen Gondola
Cost: The class is free, however a gondola ticket is required to reach the Sundeck
Reservations: Class size is limited, and reservations are required. Book your yoga class online today and while you are in our eStore, you can also purchase a gondola ticket to reach the Sundeck.
This summer, as part of our $29 Perfect Summer gondola ticket package, we’re offering a guided tour of the Maroon Bells. They are said to be “the most photographed mountains in America.” How they can quantify that statistic, we’re not sure. All we know is, they’re gorgeous, and being able to visit them in our own backyard is a pretty huge privilege.
Whether you are joining us for this tour, or looking to spend a day of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure underneath their shadow, we have rounded up a complete guide to enjoying the area below.
For the thrill of seeing the Maroon Bells. There is an exact moment when the twin peaks come into view along Maroon Creek Road, and it can only be described as exhilarating. Up ahead, it only gets better: the postcard view and reflection from Maroon Lake is so perfect, it almost seems deliberately composed. And if you burn some calories and reach Crater Lake, 1.5 miles into the wilderness, you’ll get a whole different view of the Bells from right underneath their imposing eastern face.
The Valley’s Mountains
Maroon Peak (14,156 feet) & North Maroon Peak (14,014 feet) – Together, these two peaks comprise the Maroon Bells. Separated by a treacherous saddle, the snow-striated peaks are comprised of mudstone, a loose, sedimentary rock that gives them their distinctive color and a nasty reputation among mountain climbers. From Maroon Lake, North Maroon Peak appears taller, but it is an optical illusion since it is merely closer.
- The Sleeping Sexton (13,460 feet) – The disorganized jumble of striped cliffs and towers that rest to the north of the Bells is known collectively as The Sleeping Sexton. Topping out above 13,000 feet, if this mountain stood alone, it would warrant a lot more attention.
- Pyramid Peak (14,018 feet) – Visible from Buttermilk, many first-time visitors confuse Pyramid Peak for the Maroon Bells. It’s snow-striped sides and sheer, angular features certainly bare a resemblance. From Maroon Lake, much of Pyramid Peak is obscured by the sheer rise of its northern ridges.
What Else You’ll See
- Wildflowers – The Elk Mountains are home to a great diversity of wildflowers. The combination of rich soil and heavy winter snowpack contribute to a profusion of color. In the aspen groves, look for Colorado’s state flower, the blue columbine, while along water-courses you will likely see bluebells, parry primrose and shooting stars. Alpine meadows above treeline offer a glimpse into some of the heartiest plants on earth, such as alpine sunflower, alpine forget-me-not and sky pilot.
- Wildlife – On Maroon Lake, there is a decent chance you will see beaver, particularly around the inlet. In the forests and meadows, mule deer and elk are frequent visitors, while on the rocky alpine slopes above, look for marmots, pika, mountain goats, and Colorado’s state animal, bighorn sheep.
Maroon Lake to Crater Lake (easy) – From where the shuttle drops you off (Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead), it is an easy, flat stroll through meadows along the northern edge of Maroon Lake. Beyond, you enter a grove of aspens and climb almost two miles to the lake, which sits at the foot of the Maroon Bells.
- East Maroon Creek (fairly strenuous and long) – For a little bit of solitude, visit the East Maroon Trailhead and travel into the beautiful depths of the wilderness area. Passing beneath the eastern face of Pyramid Peak, the trail eventually climbs to the top of Conundrum Pass some 8.5 miles in.
- Buckskin Pass (strenuous, short but steep) – For a glimpse over the mountaintops of the Elk Mountains, few views are better than the one from atop Buckskin Pass. Located on a rolling-green notch north of the Sleeping Sexton, the pass offers a vista that takes in Pyramid Peak, an unusual view of North Maroon Peak, and distant views of Snowmass Mountain and Snowmass Lake.
(Note: The Maroon Bells are two of the most challenging and dangerous mountains to climb in Colorado. This post is geared to those who want to take it down a notch, and does not include route info for making an ascent on the summit.
Three small, intimate and perfectly gorgeous campgrounds can be found along Maroon Creek Road — Silver Bell, Silver Bar and Silver Queen. Operated by the U.S. National Forest Service, you can make reservations online at www.recreation.gov. One advantage to camping in the valley is that your vehicle is free of usage restrictions on Maroon Creek Road.
Driving There On Your Own
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Maroon Creek Road has several restrictions on vehicular traffic, including:
- Personal Vehicles – Access in summer is restricted to 7am–9am, with an entrance fee of $10. From 9am to 5pm, you must take the shuttle bus from Aspen Highlands. Some exceptions apply. Visit the White River National Forest website for more.
- Shuttles – Regular shuttles travel up Maroon Creek Road to Maroon Lake. Pickup occurs every 20 minutes at the Aspen Highlands Village parking lot. Bus passes can be purchased for $6 at Four-Mountain Sports. Shuttles operate every day from mid-June to Labor Day, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall. The road is closed in mid-November.
The Food & Wine Classic is coming up, June 20-22, and it is easily the most prestigious annual event for foodies and wine connoisseurs in the United States.
More importantly, it’s the most fun.
We talked to two insiders — Carlton McCoy (Master Sommelier at The Little Nell) and Jim Butchart (Executive Chef at Aspen Skiing Company) — to find out the best way to experience this world-class event.
It’s safe to say this is one of the biggest annual events in the restaurant industry, pretty much anywhere in the country. How did that come to be?
Jim Butchart: Well, for one, Aspen has always been a food town. I know, personally — when I was considering moving to a ski town — there were only so many that took food and beverage seriously, and Aspen is still king of the crop.
The Classic has such a long rich history, and again, because of these high-profile chefs who come, they want to be a part of it. I mean, who doesn’t want to come to Aspen? The town just turns it on: there’s a buzz in the air about 10 or 12 days out when the tents get put up in Wagner Park, and you feel it coming. All the local chefs start talking about it, because, after all, we’re hosting the out-of-town chefs at our restaurants. They need space to work out of. There’s just a great buzz around town and it really kicks off our summer.
From your unique perspectives, as a chef and a master sommelier, what do you look forward to about the event?
Carlton McCoy: We have a very forward-thinking and vibrant wine program at the Little Nell, and while that is something we like to champion every day, the Food & Wine Classic gives us the chance to showcase it on the national level. Given where Aspen is located, its not every day that sommeliers come to us … we normally go to them. During the Classic, we get to do what we do for our everyday guest — only now for the who’s-who of the food and beverage industry, and that’s exciting.
Jim Butchart: A lot of it is networking. At this stage of my career, I’m most excited about hosting a great chef and helping our young cooks by having them cook for them. I remember when I was at Ajax Tavern, having someone like Mario Batali or Thomas Keller sitting outside for lunch and calling the guys on the line and being like “do you know who you are cooking for right now?” It pumps them up. They’re going to call their mom. They’re going to post it to Facebook. “I just cooked for so-and-so…” or “I just got to watch Daniel Boulud dice up an onion.” That kind of thing is enough to carry these young chefs for a year.
It’s always a heavy-hitting roster of chefs who come to town. Carlton, are there certain “rock stars” of the wine world that you look forward to seeing every year?
Carlton McCoy: Yes, and they’ll all be at the Little Nell. Every night we have guest sommeliers on the floor, people who are friends and that I look up to — mentors who I truly enjoy learning from during that weekend. People like the Jay Fletcher, Bobby Stuckey, Richard Betts, Rajat Parr, Michael Madrigale … These are all people I look up to in the industry, and all of them will be on the floor, so it is a very exciting event for me personally.
How would you recommend a visitor approach the event?
Jim Butchart: Well, No 1: it’s a marathon, not a race. There are so many people who come into Aspen and hit the ground running Thursday, and they’re spent come Friday night. So remember: slow down, pace yourself, because it’s a long weekend.
I would say, get your calendar out and decide what’s really important to you, and plan around that. Get a little exercise in every day. I think it is important to get some oxygen in your lungs, and drink lots of water. Other than that, you have to hit the Cochon at the Hotel Jerome to get your pork fix. The Sunday Grand Tasting is something that I really look forward to every year. And over the last three years, we have hosted the industry party on Monday — “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — in which we do a pop-up, roast a couple of whole lambs, usually at a local park in town. It is kind of an invite only, but we usually tell people to bring friends and we end up with a couple hundred people.
Carlton McCoy: The first thing I would do is come find me and beg me for an invite to the opening party at The Little Nell (laughs). And you’ve got to dine at element 47 during the event, at least once or twice.
Obviously, you’ll want to hit the tent everyday. It’s a big tent, so if you hit all of it in a single day, you’ve been too aggressive! (laughs). Take one corner, or one side of it, and take your time. Sit outside, have a margarita, relax, and then you will definitely want to come to the Nell for the late-night parties. From 10pm to 2am, there is really no better place to be during the event. The Living Room area is so much fun. This year, we are going to continue our tradition of our champagne cart which will have its own sommelier.
And yes, definitely pace yourself. It’s a long weekend.
Summer is just around the corner, and we’re eagerly getting ready to reopen the Snowmass Mountain and Aspen Mountain to mountain bikers, hikers, nature lovers, and of course, families.
So what do families have to look forward to this summer? Continue reading
With his training in classical French cuisine — and a background that includes stints at Joel Restaurant in Atlanta, Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, and Thomas Keller’s acclaimed restaurant The French Laundry — Jim understands that great cuisine always begins with great ingredients.
One look at the salad bar at Elk Camp, or the Mongolian barbecue at The Cliffhouse, and you’ll see his passion for ingredients firsthand. We chatted recently about how his team pulls it off … and how he plans his powder days around his appetite.
Overseeing so many restaurants on three different mountains has to be a big challenge. How do you approach this task? Do you have a common theme for all of those restaurants, or do you tailor each menu to the unique clientele on each mountain?
We have a really unique situation with our restaurants. They all have their own character and their own identity. We have a broad palate and can go all-in on what we want to serve, and yet its also very specific at each restaurant.
Sam’s Smokehouse is a good example of that. It’s a traditional smokehouse barbecue, and that’s it. We want to do it and do it very well, and not muddle it with something else.
Also, at Cliffhouse, we’re driving for an authentic Asian feel. Everything starts with the Mongolian grill concept. We still serve a burger or chicken sandwich there, but we’ll give those a teriyaki or Polynesian twist. Our chef — we’re just so fortunate — his girlfriend is Thai and he spends a ton of time there and in Vietnam and Cambodia and so he immerses himself in the culture and cuisine there, and then he brings that back to us.
Let’s talk specifically about Elk Camp. What’s the driving philosophy behind the menu there?
With Elk Camp, we really threw everything out when it came to “on-mountain dining.” We didn’t want to do what had already been done. Instead, we looked to Italy and Chelsea Market in New York and even Whole Foods. Places where food is the center stage and you pick what you want to eat with your eyes rather than a menu board. So we really had that concept and started off with a message focused on local, sustainable food.
We made a conscious decision not to have burgers and French fries up there. We didn’t want a fryer or grill on the main line. Instead, we wanted three anchors: the rotisserie, the pizza oven and the salad bar. We make sure that every chicken we serve is born and raised in Colorado — some 75 miles down the road from us, in fact. We get a lot of our greens from a local producer … we’ve really opened ourselves up to having a market approach. Instead of having things dictated on a menu of have-to-haves, we have a broad concept that allows chefs to create daily specials.
Elk Camp has been so popular, and its been very refreshing for people to have it. We have this beautiful building — I think of it as we have someone’s living room and we’re just entertaining from the kitchen. The serving area flows into the dining room and you feel like you are in one great room. We have beautiful subway, white-tile back walls, and that allows the food to pop and speak to people. The guys are prepping right on the line, working with fresh ingredients and you can see that freshness right there. The rotisserie is huge. We spent a lot of time and research on it, and we went with a Rotisol, which is like the Cadillac of rotisseries. Its such a visually appealing piece of equipment, we wanted to put it right there for everyone to see. As a result, people come up the gondola just to eat there — whether they’re skiing or not.
Where do you get produce in winter?
There are two things that we’ve been able to do. We work with Eagle Springs Organics who are located in Silt to get our chickens, and they also have four high-tunnels which allows them to grow produce year-round. In winter, they grow our salad greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and other things.
We also use Source Local Foods — a coop that utilizes growers on the Front Range where the growing season is longer — and they ship it to us in Aspen. They also help us on the backend with our used fry oil from our restaurants. They take it and give us a credit toward buying our produce.
But it can be a challenge in the winter. The meats, the dairy, the cheese we buy — what we ask our chefs to do is be mindful when they source their ingredients. We want 15 to 20 percent of our foods to be from Colorado.
What are the main differences between the winter menu at Elk Camp, and the summer menu?
In the summer, it is much more grill-oriented. We have an outdoor grill that we are able to run. Everything pops a little more in the summer because we have this bountiful array of produce that is available to us. We have so many nearby farms we can deal with in the summer, like Rendezvouz Farm in Paonia, and some of the co-ops available in Crawford. Everyone looks forward to a season-change when you are cooking. You know, you’re tired of cooking with butternut squash and heavy creams and root vegetables (laughs), so its nice to get into more of the delicate tomatoes, basil, summer squashes. It’s just refreshing.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu at Elk Camp?
I’m just a big, big fan of our slice of cheese pizza. The dough is done every single day, and the chef who helped me open Elk Camp brought the starter for the dough from Sundeck, and before that, it was from an ancient recipe from San Francisco. While we were waiting for Elk Camp to open, my chef kept the starter in his own refrigerator at home, and he kept feeding it every day. So we have a great starting point for that pizza. I think our slice of cheese pizza rivals anything in the valley … and the brussel sprouts are damn good, too. They do a sweet-soy glaze of pineapple on them.
What can a guest expect from the cuisine and food offerings at Ullr Nights and Valhalla Nights, especially if they have eaten at Elk Camp during the day?
We definitely supplement the fare with more dinner items. The first thing they would notice is that half the salad bar is converted into a raw bar, where we offer poached shrimp, mussels, ceviche, crab legs and crab claws — whatever we can get that is fresh and good. And then over on the pizza station we offer more appetizer options like flatbread. And on the rotisserie, we have prime rib or whole roasting sucking pig or leg of lamb, and additionally we’ll do a salt-crusted fish or cedar-planked whole salmon. We bring heartier dinner items to the concept.
And then we bring out the s’mores kits which you can take out to the fire, beautiful desserts. Again, its that ala carte approach where, if you just want to grab a snack and a bottle of wine and enjoy some bluegrass in the summer, you can do that. Or, you can go for a full dinner. It’s non-commital.
So much of being a chef is knowing what goes well together. What ski runs pair well with lunch at Elk Camp?
It’s funny, because before Elk Camp was on my radar, I didn’t head to that side of the mountain much, but now … (laughs). If you are parked at Two Creeks, and you take the Two Creeks Lift up, you can then base out of Elk Camp, and get great access to Longshot, where you get a small hike in and a great long run, then reward yourself with lunch at Elk Camp. Personally, when I am out skiing, I like to get a hike in as well, so something like Headwall, when the conditions are good — then you feel like you earned that decadent lunch.
When you look at the on-mountain restaurants across all four mountains, what stands out to you as a must-taste menu item?
I always make the joke when I am with my kids and we’re trying to decide where we are going to ski, it is more about “where do we want to have lunch?” My go-to’s are the Cliffhouse — I love the Vietnamese Pho and fresh-vegetable spring rolls with peanut sauce in the fridge case … nobody knows about them — and if we’re going to be anywhere on Snowmass we are going to get the barbecue fries at Sam’s Smokehouse, a cookie at Up 4 Pizza, a slice of pizza or a barbecue chicken Panini at Elk Camp, a huckleberry shake or the classic double cheeseburger at the Ullrhof. I mean, if I want a burger, I’m definitely going there. It’s tough. There’s also Lynn Britt Cabin when I want a glass of wine and rustic Colorado fare.
Some days, an hour-long lunch just doesn’t feel right. All morning long you’ve been skiing in choice conditions, and despite your grumbling stomach, you just want to keep going. Continue reading
On a recent powder day, my wife and I, along with some friends, enjoyed a late lunch at Lynn Britt Cabin. We’d spent the first four-and-a-half hours of our day covering Snowmass from top to bottom — blasting down runs in the Elk Camp, Two Creeks, Alpine Springs, Big Burn and Sam’s Knob sections of the mountain.
By 1:30pm, we were famished, and yet — to be totally honest with you —it took some convincing for me to stop and have lunch at Lynn Britt Cabin. It had nothing to do with the restaurant … and everything to do with just “sitting down” for lunch.
You see, ever since I learned to ski, lunch has always been a grab-and-go affair. Load up, refresh, resume. If its warm and ready now, I’m there. Finger foods? Even better. Until this day, that was just how it was done for me.
But 90 minutes after we ducked into the small cabin set against a small grove of aspens, I was rethinking what “on-mountain dining” could be. Heck: I was rethinking what defined a great day on the mountain.
Here are a few quick reasons to love this gem of a restaurant.
- The Colorado Twist to the Cuisine – This being Colorado, it only makes sense that Chef de Cuisine Robert C. McConnell would emphasize game and locally sourced ingredients on his menu. As it snowed outside, we all opted for the three-course prix fixe menu. My main course was a toss-up between two dishes: Butternut Squash Agnolotti or the Tuesday special, Bison Meatloaf. At the last second, I changed my mind, going for the Elk Stroganoff. No regrets: it was divine.
- The Cozy, Ranch Cookhouse Feel – Intimate only begins to describe the interior of Lynn Britt Cabin. Vaulted wood ceilings and rustic log-backed chairs are nicely contrasted with white-linen tablecloths and elegant place settings. Western memorabilia and art lines the walls, and picture windows bring the beauty of Snowmass Mountain indoors. The cozy setting was enough to make me linger: “Sure, we’ll stay for a hot chocolate.”
- The Backstory – Lynn Britt Cabin is inspired by the homesteaders’ cabins that dotted Snowmass Mountain in the early 1900s (one of these homes — Burlingame Cabin — is now another popular restaurant on the mountain). It is named after a popular Snowmass ski instructor who lost his battle with cancer in the 1980s.
- The Encore: Snowcat Dinners – We breezed out of Lynn Britt Cabin and squeezed in a few more runs before the lifts closed. However, you can enjoy this charming little spot afterhours with a snowcat-chartered dinner, every Tuesday and Thursday night in winter. Live entertainment, a special four-course meal, undisturbed views of the stars, and the unique thrill of a snowcat ride up the mountain make it a stand-out highlight for many skiers’ vacations.