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Aspen Spotlight

Schuss where the celebs do and experience Hollywood in the Rockies

By Jordan Simon

November 30th, 2005

Aspen. One of the world's most fabled, fabulous resorts, where the rich and famous sow their wild hautes (literally). Where dog collars sparkle more than many an engagement ring and the word mogul applies equally to the legendary steeps and Forbes/Fortune crowd: Hollywood in the Rockies (and sometimes on the rocks). Celebrities here need only be identified by first name: Antonio and Melanie, Kurt and Goldie, Ivana, Jack, Kevin, Mariah . . . And, fittingly, unlike many pre-fab faux Alpine ski developments, Aspen is almost movie-set perfect, a gorgeously restored Victorian mining town nestled in the Elk Mountain Range.

That said, fashionable assumes many meanings in Aspen, which is a wonderful study in contrasts and contradictions, from blueblood to blue-collar and refined to relaxed. The majestic setting has long lured cultural and counter-cultural types seeking to escape conformity and drop out (or drop acid). After all, Hunter S. Thompson, the late bad boy of journalism, was an Aspen fixture, and unabashed hippie Jon Barnes still patrols the streets in his Ultimate Taxi, redolent of dry ice and incense and plastered with 3-D glasses, crystal disco balls, and neon necklaces. This freewheeling town welcomes a diversity of personal expression – it doesn't matter what you wear so long as you wear it with conviction.

Indeed, the historic town and its more (in)famous denizens represents only one facet of the diamond. The resort actually embraces four distinct ski areas in the White River National Forest, all connected by free shuttles: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass (whose base village is experiencing a renaissance thanks to a partnership between industry leader Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Company, or SkiCo in local parlance). Of course, many non-skier/boarders come for the scene: there's plenty to do between shopping, dining, spa-hopping, people watching, and less strenuous winter activities from dogsledding to snowmobiling around the nearby glorious twin fourteeners (Colorado speak for peaks over 14,000 feet), the Maroon Bells. The SkiCo even employs a concierge who'll dispense free advice, make restaurant reservations, arrange massages, etc. And even those without trust funds will be pleasantly surprised by the blizzard of bargains and freebies.

With so much to savor in the town of Aspen alone, where should you ski, let alone stay? If you have little more than a long weekend, we'd recommend restricting your activities to Aspen and Aspen Mountain. With five days, you can expand your ski/board horizons to include either Snowmass or Aspen Highlands, perhaps even taking a day to glide, skate or snowshoe along the extensive, scenic Nordic trail network. A week permits sampling of all four areas. We'd also advise taking a half-day (or evening) to go dogsledding and dining at Krabloonik and/or cross-country skiing at the Ashcroft Ski Touring Center (one of the most splendid settings in the Rockies, replete with ghost town and gourmet hut hotspot, Pine Creek Cookhouse).

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