When we think of iconic winter destinations in the United States, Aspen, Colorado immediately comes to mind, especially among well-heeled travelers. It is the most expensive town in America, with last year’s lowest single-family home priced at $559,000 (located, incidentally, in a trailer park). It is also the location of America’s most expensive house, which went on sale a few years ago for $135 million.
What does all this mean for tourists? Well, it’s expensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
Visiting and hitting the slopes of Aspen should be on every skier/snowboarder’s bucket list, even if you have to put a small crack in the piggy bank to do it. Most ski trips for out-of-state visitors are on the expensive side given the unavoidable costs associated with skiing (lift tickets, equipment, clothing, a minimum of two après-ski beers, etc.), but Aspen ups the ante by applying big-city prices to what's essentially a town in the middle of the mountains.
A buddy of mine let me in on a local secret while I was in town, one that could save a party of four anywhere from $50 to $100 on a single meal. Most restaurants in town have a “bar menu,” aka a “locals menu,” that is only available when you sit in the bar area. While the bar menu is not a mirror of the one in the dining room, it has plenty of options and many of them are the same entrees – smaller portions, but just as tasty. The bar menu items are significantly cheaper – for example, at Italian eatery L'Hostaria a regular entree of fettuccine bolognese costs $18; meanwhile, a corresponding pasta dish on the bar menu starts at just $9.50. (You can either pocket the extra cash or grab another bottle of wine for the table, both of which are recipes for a fun night out.)
Speaking of, one of the things that really surprised me about Aspen was how hard the town partied. I had always heard Aspen being described as “posh” or “expensive” or “snobbish” or “beautiful,” but no one ever told me about the packed bars and feel-good buzz. For as many wealthy patrons in town, there is also a subculture of blue-collar workers, most young and in the hospitality and tourism industry, getting their “ski-bum” on. Be sure to have an open mind when you visit, as there are plenty of down-to-earth, approachable people willing to share their tips for making the most of the town.