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Skiing Aspen and Crested Butte

The double whammy of Aspen and Crested Butte covers every skiing base from luxe après to knee-knocking steeps—and everything in between.

A couple of days into my tour de Aspen, I was handed a bottle of Champagne. We’d stopped for lunch at Cloud 9, the resort’s celebrated mid-mountain, Swiss-inspired restaurant (the former ski patrol shack now dishes out the likes of elk stroganoff, raclette and fondue), and the music had just started to get, well, loud and ’80s. Dead or Alive rang over the loudspeakers, and two fifty-something women jumped up to dance. By the time “Blurred Lines” hit, the room exploded—as did a few expertly distributed bottles of Champagne, over the crowd.

And then we skied home.

Man skiing, Aspen, Colorado.
Aspen, Colorado

Ah, Aspen. The legendary ski resort has the ski vacation down to an art. From the dry powder dusting the hills that makes you feel like a better skier (as I discovered once I came back to the wet coastal stuff in my backyard) to the mandatory refuelling breaks of mile-high apple strudel at Bonnie’s restaurant on Ajax Mountain, to the impromptu afternoon dance parties at Cloud 9, this time fuelled with stronger stuff than strudel, it’s a ski resort that will have you planning your return visit before you’ve finished your first one. There’s no faux Swiss village but an original mining town at its base, dotted with Prada stores and microbreweries, celebrities and ski bums. That study in contrasts—fur boots in the village and locals hiking up the mountain under their own steam—only adds to its appeal.

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Photo by Nathan Bilow
Photo by Alex Fenlon
Photo by Alex Fenlon

And Just Around That Mountain

Good things come to those who wait, yes? Well, the four-hour-plus windy trip through a mountain pass to Crested Butte is bound to have great rewards—and the curse that is CB’s white-knuckle drive results in just what you’d hope for. Stock up on Gravol and brave the way in, and you’ll be one of only a handful on the mountain that day. Yes, there’s loads of extreme terrain for those who roll that way (the drive in wets that whistle for me), but also huge swaths of cruisy blues that seem to always be in sunshine. It also boasts the best ski town in America—and on a snowy day, wandering through its indie shops and restaurants, it’s hard to argue that title. Warm up over a wood-fired slice from Secret Stash pizzeria (go for the Notorious F.I.G.: mozzarella, blue and asiago with prosciutto and mission figs), and cool down again with a scoop of Ants on a Log ice cream from Third Bowl (turns out celery and peanut butter is the new Reese’s). Wrap up the night under resin antlers with a winter squash cocktail (vodka, butternut squash and spices) from the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin—it’s at least another day before you’re on the road again.

COMPARING ASPEN AND CRESTED BUTTE

STAY

Aspen: The recently renovated Limelight Hotel is central; many rooms have terraces kitted out with cozy sofas and great views.
Crested Butte: You’re here to ski, so stay on-mountain: the Lodge puts you 50 yards from the slope in spacious, if straightforward, rooms.

APRES SKI

Aspen: Ask for an Aspen Crud at J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome: it’s a Prohibition-era drink that’s essentially a milkshake—with a bourbon kick.
Crested Butte: Montanya’s distills their own rum on-site (CB’s great water source is what drew the owners here from Silverton, Colorado), and makes bombproof cocktails: go for the White Room, made with orgeat and cream.

GEAR

Aspen: Three local boys created Strafe—clothes designed to work for Aspen-bred hearty souls who hike up the mountain before they ski down.
Crested Butte: If you’re flying to a destination, carrying skis is a drag. It’s also the perfect opportunity to test out a sweet pair of demo skis before you buy your next pair—talk to the gear shop about their favourite set that day, and you’re in for a treat.

CAFFEINE FIX

Aspen: Bonnie’s on Ajax Mountain is a local fixture: 34 years of high-altitude baking. Make it a late breakfast with a side of oatmeal pancakes to your cuppa.
Crested Butte: Townie Books is paired with the Rumors Coffee and Tea House—grab a white mocha and curl up with Lena Dunham’s latest.

FUEL

Aspen: The fish is as fresh as it is on the coast at Matsuhisa, famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s local outpost.
Crested Butte: Secret Stash pizzeria is legendary all over Colorado—and inspires many a trip to CB just to get a slice of the winner of the World Pizza Challenge, the Notorious F.I.G.

IN THE KNOW

Aspen: If there’s four inches of powder, Element 47 in The Little Nell dishes out the Three Little Pigs: porchetta, pork belly and sausage gravy on French toasted waffles—with a sunny-side egg on top. You’re working it off, right?
Crested Butte: The Crested Butte Museum is a surprisingly sweet look into the history of skiing; located in “Tony’s Conoco,” it’s still stocked with many of the hardware items from Tony’s time managing the store.

IF YOU DON’T SKI

Aspen: The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers guided snowshoe tours at an easy pace for the elevation-challenged.
Crested Butte: A quick cat ride takes you to Uley’s Sleigh Ride dinner: a firelit, five-course dinner mid-mountain in a warm and woodsy cabin.

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