“THERE’S A MOOSE ON THE LOOSE.” It’s an unexpected utterance—and given we’re slowly pushing into Colorado’s most famous ski town, Aspen, it does amusingly jab one’s mind with an obtuse image of a heavy-set millionaire stumbling the streets after a rather well-oiled après. Turns out our driver was referring to an actual animal, that of palmate antler. It’s presence, we’re told, has brought an early end to things on the upper slopes of Buttermilk (a gentle neighbour to Aspen Mountain proper and one of the four main ski areas to inform this snowy region).
Discussion of the moose has certainly stirred me from a travelling fatigue framed by a longer than planned stopover in LAX. Despite many signs that have long claimed an amelioration of the sprawling Californian airport, it’s hard to find any firm evidence of such, time spent there still an experience of sufferance worse than sitting through anything that informs Hulu’s programming slate.
Out of the darkened SUV and into the Aspen air and a first chance to inhale the true wonder that the famed Coloradan town offers, Aspen’s main mountain—known as Ajax—rises sharply, anchoring the twinkling township and a triumphant trophy to what most come here to do. Despite the allure of the town itself—as if cut from a studio back lot on a saccharine, yet charming, Christmas movie—it’s Ajax that’s holds your gaze and sets your bearings.
The skiing, indeed, the celebs, inform but part of the Aspen equation—this very much a tale of two
cities, though one devoid of any real Dickensian moments. Sure, Aspen is somewhere you’ll witness a Weimaraner sporting a garish Moncler jacket that’s a match for that of an equally colourful owner. It’s also where you’ll eyeball a proper A-lister on a coffee run, catch glimpses of Presidents past and Packers present. At night, certain bars and tightly held clubs are weighed down under a tangible fog of east-coast hedge fund BDE, as whichever visiting ‘tech-mogul-of-the-moment’ opens their chalet (a $500,000 weekly rental) to host charity dinners.
Yet past the cashed-up clientele and what is a rather ludicrous Christmas / New Year period,
side—Aspen’s ‘normal’ side—involves a twinkling town of deep and driven community, one aiming to
keep things real and prove itself as more than a ski resort that can, at certain times, feed Page Six for
We landed in February—well removed from the silliness, so too the mid-January influx of Strine
carried by a wealth of Sydneysiders and most of Toorak. There’s a calm to the town—so too a sense of excitement given the dumping ways and bluebirds days of the season, one of the best to arrive in years. Fortunate to have become Aspen regulars means a well-formed routine that will have us cover most
mountains as we look to find our legs and reclaim our speed after a 12-month hiatus.
Aspen Snowmass—as the area is known—covers the four main ski areas of Aspen Mountain (Ajax),
Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass. Snowmass—a ten-minute ride out of Aspen by private chauffeur or what is an accessible and easy free bus network—is bigger than the other three areas combined; a wide-open wonder of linking runs and endless fun that caters to all levels, through sweeping black and blue runs and various terrain parks. Of the runs, Long Shot is a well-named leg burner covering a descent of 8.5 kilometres—an announcement of the resort’s expanse and the fact this singular playground surpasses anything on offer in the so-called Aussie Alps or across the ditch in New Zealand.
Set-up largely for those finding their feet and the beginner set, Buttermilk is an easy roller of fun, even
if locals also speak of some decent off-piste adventures. But it’s Highlands, and beyond, that hold our
appeal. It’s here you’ll find some true speed, the famous Highland Bowl (a pro-level hike to 12,392 feet before a steep descent that can reach a pitch of 48 degrees) and the equally illustrious Cloud Nine bar and restaurant (cue a daily afternoon display of excess as bottles of champagne are purchased not to drink, rather, to spray across the establishment and disrobed table-top dancers).
What’s new in Aspen?
More than any other season, ‘23/’24 sees Ajax wrapped in a sense of tangible excitement given the
anticipated opening of Hero’s—the mountain’s first major addition since the Silver Queen Gondola
began its service back in 1985.
The new terrain means a 20% increase in skiable acreage—as serviced by a new high-speed quad
chairlift—and more than 150 acres of new chutes, glades and trails. Better yet, the area’s elevated
position (all above 10,000 feet) means an ability to hold snow and for longer—though also know it’s a
double-black suite of runs aimed at those of heightened ability.
Ajax, generally speaking, is a fast and steep offering, where the limited blues would work as Southern
Hemisphere blacks. It’s also a fun mountain, the original and still the place to be seen (and not make
a mess of the ride down given the Ajax Tavern crew taking in the outdoor sun and ogling those
Where are the best places to eat in Aspen?
For a break from the roller-coaster—up down, up down, up down—head for the recently renovated and warming charms of Sam’s restaurant, atop the Village Express lift. Menus are Italian-focused (think house-made pastas and antipasti), served with a wonderful side of views across the Elk Mountains. Elsewhere, Lynn Britt Cabin is a tightly-held on-mountain wood cabin of historic appeal—aim for the elk stroganoff or duck risotto, washed down by an impressive international wine list.
Off mountain adventures are plentiful in Aspen. Beyond a nightly ritual that should include J Bar (at
The Jerome Hotel) and cocktails at Hooch, be sure to secure dinners reservations at Ellina as well as
Parc Restaurant (notable for its use of local ingredients and its very proud local ownership).
Element 47 remains Aspen’s ultimate fine diner (be sure to ask for a cellar tour – a dream room for
those interested in grapes), while nearby Chica is all South American and saucy (in a positive way).
Elsewhere, Steakhouse 316 is a den of velour and dimly lit fun with the finest cuts, imported fois gras
and a pleasurable and unmatched ambiance.
Where are the best places to stay in Aspen?
As for where to rest one’s head, The Little Nell is the lure for impeccable service and luxury suites, so
too its boast of being the town’s only ski-in ski-out option (with Colorado’s finest ski concierge). It’s
here you’ll find the Packers and the Obamas, so too a refined après scene built around a central
fireplace, rare wines and an immediate feeling of homeliness.
It’s similar, if pared back, at The Limelight—an accessible standout of space and warmth opposite
Aspen’s rugby field (a game they seemingly play in both heaven and Colorado) and within easy
access of the slopes and the highlights.
What is there to do in Aspen besides skiing?
Rest the legs for a day and indulge a retail run that easily covers the likes of Cuccinelli, RL, Valentino,
Loro Piana, Gucci, Prada, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Roger Dubuis, among others. Local cowboy outfitter
Kemo Sabe is a must (true!!), so too ‘70s-inspired cult label Aviator Nation as well as Kith and Ogier.
Meander the streets, picking a path between Aspen Tress adorned by muted lights, past colourful
Victorian-era shopfronts, to discover a potent art scene that extends beyond the rotating and free
exhibitions held within the Shigeru Ban designed Aspen Art Museum. Galerie Maximillian is a strong
steer for contemporary pieces and some insightful chat about local artists, with Forré Fine Art and the
recently opened Sotheby’s other notable excursions.
Further afield—a ten-minute trudge towards the bottom of town—lies the Resnick Centre for Herbert
Bayer Studies. Opened in June 2022, it’s a must for anyone with even a passing interest in Bauhaus,
specifically the work of Bayer, who emigrated to the US from Germany in 1938 and became a central
figure in the implementation and growth of the lauded societal thinktank, Aspen Institute.
As for achieving some true Rocky Mountain highs—that’s right, we’re talking legal recreational
cannabis—know the only place we’d ever stamp with an Esquire seal is Aspen’s Silverpeak. A designer downstairs dispensary that’s pleasantly devoid of marijuana leaf insignia or any whiff of tie-dye—the interiors are a mid-century match for Don Draper’s expansive office with products displayed within glass cloches with purchases (ahem, we’re told), served on silver platters.
Time, then, to pull out the passport. And be sure to avoid any moose.