Aspen’s ultimate ski mountain turns out to be a hidden gem
Buttermilk offers a rare treat, as do the luxe après eateries and sophisticated atmosphere of this iconic Colorado ski town.
Early morning light stretches across the bottom of Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain, and there’s barely a soul in sight as we hop on the lift.
The fresh coating of powder that fell overnight remains virtually untouched; pillowy slopes fall away under our skis as we head to the summit, a few feathery clouds scudding across an otherwise-unmarked blue sky.
It’s early February and as we coast down the mountain at the end of what will become many runs, the air practically crackles with a kind of giddy electricity. Pristine snow, wide-open trails, bracing alpine air, and nary a crowd in eyeshot? It doesn’t get much better, unless you slap lavish vibes, world-class shopping, and indulgent après eateries on the menu to boot.
And you’d be in luck, as all this and more awaits in Aspen – arguably the most famous ski destination in the United States.
Originally a silver mining town, Aspen was founded in 1878 and boomed for several years before declining when silver prices plummeted in the 1890s.
Its resurgence didn’t arrive until 40 years later, when businessman Walter Paepcke had a vision of a different Aspen – one that traded the disrepair and dilapidation for a thriving community of the world’s foremost economists, artists, and scientists.
The idea was for Aspen to become a mecca of culture and enlightenment – to embody a new and rejuvenated age of “mind, body, and spirit” – but today, Aspen’s perhaps better known as a haven for the ultra-wealthy and famous, and a magnet for winter sports fans interested in a dollop or two of pure luxury.
Where to ski, eat, and stay in the iconic Aspen
Impeccable street fashion, a see-and-be-seen scene, twinkling lights illuminating snow-covered lanes at night: Aspen is the centre of glitz and glamour in Colorado, if not of all winter destinations in the US.
Nestled at 8,000 feet (2,438 metres), it exudes style down to the last detail, including its reputation as a hotspot for the rich and famous. Don’t be surprised if you’re there at the same time as Kate Hudson, Jeff Bezos, or Elton John – or run into Taika Waititi on the way to your après-ski.
A smorgasbord of culinary adventure
Speaking of cuisine: Aspen’s streets are packed with first-rate restaurants whipping up dishes of every ilk, from the sought-after sushi of legendary chef Nobu Matsuhisa to the famous spicy margarita of Woody Creek Tavern, a favourite haunt of the late Hunter S. Thompson.
For pumping après vibes and A-plus people-watching, head to Clark’s Oyster Bar, where you can savour a dirty martini for half-price (but certainly not half-strength) during happy hour, plus choose from an excellent selection of East and West Coast oysters, caviar, juicy burgers, and more.
Prospect, the in-house bar at the historic Hotel Jerome, offers upscale-yet-grounded fare from a chef who’s notched time at some of the US’s most prestigious restaurants.
Those interested in Aspen's storied lineage should absolutely pay it a visit, with its location inside the town’s oldest hotel (founded in 1889) and rustic, mountain-chic decor that nods to Aspen’s mining yesteryear.
And then there’s the must-visit French Alpine Bistro.
Tucked away practically underground, this cosy spot vibes with a plush ski chalet atmosphere reminiscent of Chamonix, complete with warm candlelit lighting and antique chandeliers, chairs draped in soft furs, and walls adorned with classy gilt frames and cast iron cookware.
Make sure you order the fondue, and toss in a Nutella crêpe for good measure. Your appetite’s likely sky-high after an epic day on…
The immaculate (and less crowded) slopes of Buttermilk Mountain
This hidden gem is rarely as busy as the other mountains in the area. Buttermilk may see its fair share of traffic on weekends and holidays, but Aspen’s other three peaks (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass) get the lion’s share of the roughly 1.5 million skiers and snowboarders who trek to the area each year.
Perhaps this is due to Buttermilk’s reputation as a beginner’s mountain. But as the saying goes, you snooze, you lose.
It’s a standout amid Colorado’s best ski resorts – Telluride and Breckenridge should also be on your hitlist – and in fact there’s terrain here for all levels.
Buttermilk even hosts the Winter X Games (a three-day event attracting the skiing elite), so you can test out the park used by the pros if you're looking for a rush — and if you’ve got the skills to back it up.
The mountain is easily accessible via shuttle or car, and you can also rent gear right at the base if you don’t have your own.
If you’d rather just watch, park up at Buttermilk Mountain Lodge, one of two spots to eat on the mountain. The other, Cliffhouse, sits at the summit and is reachable at the top of the Summit Express and Tiehack Express lifts.
The epitome of hotel luxury and leisure
Cap off your snow day with some relaxation in a spa; they’re staples at most lodging here.
The Spa at St Regis Aspen Resort is what you might call the pièce de resistance; lauded among the best hotel spas in the world, it boasts cold plunge pools, steam caves, and an oxygen lounge.
There are also outdoor hot tubs gazing up at Aspen Mountain, as well as the full slate of luxury amenities you’d expect from an illustrious name such as this.
If you’re looking for the best of the best, head to The Little Nell – Aspen’s only five-star hotel and the only lodging in town offering true ski-to-your-door access. Enjoy the slopes of Aspen Mountain literally at your feet, and then return to revel in the sophisticated atmosphere within Little Nell’s walls.
Modern mountain-town hotel the Limelight is also worth considering. Newly renovated, it features contemporary furnishings and upscale rooms, as well as two hot tubs with views of the surrounding peaks, lined with the graceful silver trees that give Aspen its name.
Relaxing is an understatement, and you may just find yourself tipping your head back, closing your eyes, and dreaming of the next time you can escape to the immaculate powder of Buttermilk.
As for getting to Aspen, you can fly direct from Denver or from hubs like Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago. If you’re road trip-inclined, make the four-hour drive from Denver to Aspen for unforgettable scenery.
The writer travelled as a guest of Colorado Tourism.
Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Aspen’s ultimate ski mountain turns out to be a hidden gem
13 May 2020
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ok aspen is ok, but expensive. There are another dozen or so resorts in Colorado, let alone Utah etc. that have great skiing as well & a lot cheaper.