Tag Archives: Aspen

Merry Go Round at Aspen Highlands

If you live in the Roaring Fork Valley, you have good reason to consider Wednesday your favorite day of the week. Starting tomorrow (January 14), Aspen Snowmass will once again be having a local’s appreciation day every Wednesday at Aspen Highlands, which includes such Hump Day bennies as free parking at the base, and lunch and beer specials at the Merry-Go-Round.

But here’s the best part: even if you aren’t a local, no one cares. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the perks of “the local’s mountain” on Hump Day (local’s can simply enjoy it every week because, well, they live here).

Last week was a dry run for the festivities at Merry-Go-Round, and being the resident foodie, I felt it was my obligation to head up the Exhibition Lift shortly after 9am, burn through as many groomers as I could (you know: to work up an appetite), and offer a taste test of the Hump Day Grill which they set up on the patio.

Here’s what my investigation turned up:

Golden Horn and Thunderbowl: Still Untouched at 10am

Gunbarrel run at Aspen Highlands

At 9:40am, there were only two sets of tracks on Gunbarrel below the Cloud Nine lift.

I was celebrating Hump Day by taking it easy a bit, so groomers were the order of the day. After a few warm-up runs off of Cloud Nine, I worked my way over to Golden Horn and Thunderbowl. It had been two days since the last snow, and I was still finding fresh places to turn at the top of Golden Horn Woods and even when I cut over to Limelight near the base. Look: free parking is nice, but finding stashes days after a storm is the really reason to hit up Aspen Highlands.

Brats + Sunshine & Beer = Appreciation

Tommy Knocker Brat at Merry-Go-Round, Aspen Highlands

The Tommy Knocker Ale Bratwurst at Merry-Go-Round. Not pictured: beer to wash it down.

At lunch, I went over to the Merry-Go-Round where they had set up an outdoor grilling station for the day’s Hump Day special.

Each week they will be changing up the special, but you can always expect that (a) it’ll be grilled, (b) it’ll be $8 for a main and two sides, and (c) there will be $4 beers to wash it all down.

Last Wednesday, they were offering a choice between Kielbasa, a Tommy Knocker Ale Bratwurst, or a more traditional Pork Bratwurst, each served on a pretzel bun. And of course — this being Aspen Snowmass — there was even a mustard menu. I went half-and-half: whole grain on one side, truffle mustard on the other.

The Merry-Go-Round terrace is perfectly positioned to absorb the sun rays at that hour. A catnap just about happened.

A Glass of Red at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro

There isn’t really a lunch hour at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro; it stretches from noon until the lifts close. This Swiss-inspired restaurant — which doles out pots of fondue and raclette — has long been a hot spot for locals and out-of-towners alike, who often order bottles of Veuve Clicquot and by 2pm, start dancing on the tables.

Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Aspen Highlands

The place to be in the afternoon on Hump Day (or any day for that matter).

I was more interested in a glass of wine and the lounge chairs on the deck, which takes in a stellar view of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.

Wine at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro

Opening a bottle of Beaujolais Cru at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, because, why not?

As an avid wine drinker, one thing I appreciate about the on-mountain restaurants here is the well-curated wine lists, even by the glass. As I bellied up to the ice bar, I expected to find the usual suspects: a Napa Cab, a Sonoma Chard, maybe a Super Tuscan if I was lucky.

But instead, they were offering a handful of under-the-radar gems: an Oregon Pinot Noir from Domaine Serene, a Nebbiolo Langhe from Barbaresco producer De Forville, and even a Morgon, one of the top Crus of Beaujolais. It was like hearing a bunch of B-sides on the stereo instead of the greatest hits.

I noticed the Morgon was unopened. “No one is drinking the Beaujolais Cru yet?” I asked.

“Nope,” the bartender noted. Then he smiled: “Let’s open it.”

Such is the spirit of afternoons at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro.

New Years Eve fireworks at Aspen Snowmass

For Aspen-Snowmass, 2014 was a year bookended by huge snow storms (such as more than two feet in the last two weeks), with some incredible stashes and a gorgeous summer in between.

You’d think we might have a hard time saying goodbye to a year that was so good to us, but that’s not our style. We’re as optimistic as ever for 2015, and — as if to show it — the whole community is upping its game for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Whether you’re in town already, or looking to make last-minute plans, here are seven area events to enjoy an indelible New Year’s Eve in Aspen and Snowmass.

1. Bottomless Cristal at the Little Nell

You read that right: not bottomless Bud Light, or bottomless margaritas … bottomless Cristal. That’s just how they roll over at the Little Nell, where this year’s Winter Wonderland New Year’s Eve party includes two stages of live music (jazz musician Steve Peer on one, electronica-violinist virtuoso Katerina Visnevska) and all the fine Champagne you could ever want beneath the Aspen Mountain fireworks.

2. Dinner at the Lynn Britt Cabin

Already one of the most memorable vacation experiences you can have at Aspen-Snowmass, the snowcat dinner on New Year’s Eve at Lynn Britt Cabin will be even more magical than usual. Ring in the New Year with extraordinary gourmet cuisine at this cozy restaurant midway up the mountain.

3. Party and View Fireworks at the Limelight Lounge

Consistently one of Aspen’s best apres ski spots, the Limelight Lounge at the Limelight Hotel will be hosting a New Year’s Eve party complete with a DJ, gala buffet and a Veuve Clicquot Champagne toast at midnight. An added bonus: the excellent views of the Aspen Mountain fireworks display.

4. Huey Lewis & the News at Belly Up

Aspen’s acclaimed live music club will be hosting Huey Lewis & the News to its stage on New Year’s Eve. Now in their 36th year together, the rock legends are best known for “I Want a New Drug,” “The Power of Love” and “Workin’ For a Livin’.” Will they play their Back to the Future hit “Back in Time” at some point, given the occasion? We’ll find out.

5. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Wheeler Opera House

Get down to the sounds of New Orleans with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Wheeler Opera House. Tickets include the performance, an open bar and delicious noshes. You’ll be grooving to the band’s infectious rhythms long after the show ends.

6. Multi-Course Tasting Menus Around Town

Aspen’s nationally acclaimed restaurants have plenty of opportunity to flaunt their culinary creativity (see also the Food & Wine Classic in June) but New Year’s Eve is tailor-made for multi-course tasting menus. Some reservations can still be snagged, but they’re going fast.

7. Plenty of Parties Around Town

Aspen’s nightlife cranks it up every night, but particularly on New Year’s Eve. From the Vintage Hollywood Soiree at The Sky Hotel to the swanky to-the-nines party at the St. Regis Aspen, options abound. The Aspen Resort Chamber has a complete roundup.

Bike Snowmass in fall color, Aspen mountain biking

While its true that Maroon Bells has already been dusted with snow — and as a result, everyone is fired up for ski season — there is still a full month left to ride the singletrack and freeride trails at Bike Snowmass. Earlier this summer, we made a little movie on what its like to ride this mountain’s varied terrain (check it out below).

Throughout September, the Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp Lift will remain open on weekends through October 5. Come on up and ride through the aspens as they start their annual transition from green to gold, and while you’re at it, grab lunch at the Elk Camp Restaurant, or enjoy any of the free on-mountain activities that go along with your lift ticket.

The Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain will also continue to run on weekends through October 5, giving you access to the Sundeck restaurant, hiking trails, disc golf, the climbing wall and other kid-friendly activities, and best of all: that view.

Head to our website to buy your lift tickets for September.

Bike Snowmass from Aspen Snowmass on Vimeo.

Gondola ride, Aspen Snowmass, Colorado

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.

Continue reading

Maroon Bells, Aspen, CO

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.

Why Go

Maroon Creek Road Maroon Bells view, Aspen, CO

That first glimpse of the Bells. ©Kevin Day

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

  • Pinnacles to the north of Maroon Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Pinnacles to the north of Maroon Lake. ©Kevin Day

    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

Paintbrush Maroon Bells, wildflowers, Aspen, CO

Paintbrush near the inlet to Maroon Lake, with Maroon Bells in the distance. ©Kevin Day

  • 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.

Hiking Trails

  • The rushing waters of Maroon Creek en route to Crater Lake. ©Kevin Day

    The rushing waters of Maroon Creek en route to Crater Lake. ©Kevin Day

    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.

Camping

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.
Aspen Food + Wine festival

Carlton McCoyExecutive Chef Jim ButchartThe 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 square thumbnailJim 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 square thumbnailCarlton 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 square thumbnailJim 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 square thumbnailCarlton 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.

Aspen Food & Wine Classic

How would you recommend a visitor approach the event?

Jim square thumbnailJim 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 square thumbnailCarlton 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.

Valhalla Nights
Enjoying the climbing wall at Snowmass.

Enjoying the climbing wall at Snowmass.

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