Champagne Snow by Merle Wilkening | 1st December, 2023 | Playground
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the skiing resort Aspen is a sublime winter sports haven that effortlessly blends international sophistication with small-town charm.
When the winter months come around, Aspen in the U.S. state of Colorado is transformed into a snowy white wonderland. Thanks to its 300 days of sunshine per year, the conditions for outdoor activities are perfect, summer and winter alike. Where skiers now swoosh down endless slopes into the little town center that stands at around 2,400 meters above sea level, the Native American tribe of the Ute people once had a summer hunting camp – until settlers came to Aspen looking for silver. In the 19th century, the mining boom in one of the richest silver mines in the world brought money rushing into the little town – until the government stopped promoting the purchase of silver.It was skiing that drew a line under the quiet years that followed the end of mining. The Aspen Skiing Corporation, which later became the Aspen Skiing Company, was founded in the late 1940s and opened what was then the longest chair lift in the world in Aspen Mountain. Then, in 1950, the little town hosted the first Alpine World Ski Championships to be held outside Europe. Today Aspen boasts four ski areas: the challenging Aspen Mountain with its breathtaking view, Buttermilk (ideal for beginners and families), Aspen Highlands (with steep terrain more suitable for advanced skiers) and Snowmass (which is bigger than the other three mountains together). Ajax, as the locals call Aspen Mountain, can be accessed straight from the town center with the Silver Queen Gondola.Today tourism is the main motor driving the local economy. As one of the most popular and expensive ski areas in North America, Aspen attracts sports enthusiasts and thrill-seekers from all over the world. The exclusive resort with a population of around 7,000 residents also attracts a lot of celebrities – especially around Christmas and New Years. They’re drawn by the prospect of world-class culture in the mountains and roughly 80 restaurants and bars – from fine dining at Bosq all the way to hearty fare after a day on the slopes. In the winter, strings of lights twinkle above Main Street, the heart of this mountain community, where luxury brands and little boutiques populate the brick buildings on either side. Some of these testify to the silver mining city’s rich history. The three-story Wheeler Opera House, for instance, was built in 1889 and remains the town’s artistic hub to this day thanks to a packed program of concerts, dance and comedy shows. Guided tours of the building are available via the Aspen Historical Society. Then there’s Hotel Jerome, which is now part of the Auberge Resorts Collection and opened in the same year as the opera house. The Little Nell, a five-star ski-in/ski-out hotel at the foot of Aspen Mountain, is another luxurious icon, and high society gathers on the patio of its Ajax Tavern for apres-ski. The French-American menu features truffle fries, oysters and champagne. Perhaps that’s why the ultra soft, fluffy snow here in the Rocky Mountains is called Champagne Powder.