Summer in Ute City is chock full of all manner of fun, depending on what you’re into. And in this town, there is truly something for everyone—from teenagers to grandparents. If you’re one of the Lear Jet crowd, you can skip this; serious money goes a long way toward making food and lodging decisions moot. But if you’re not into plunking down a car payment for a night’s rest or dinner for two, read on.
My ideal (long) Aspen summer weekend goes something like this:
After work on Friday, stock up on supplies, strap my Wing Commander into the co-pilot seat in addition to any other companions and head for Independence Pass, which opens to vehicle traffic on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. The pass carves about an hour off the I-70 Denver to Aspen drive and routes you through Leadville, which in itself is full of great distractions.
Rolling into Aspen at about 8pm, I connect with friends and, depending on who’s playing, catch some live music at the Belly Up (bellyupaspen.com). An intimate place to see live bands, the Belly Up has great sound and books some top shelf acts, including Umphrey’s McGee, Gov’t Mule, The Pretenders, B.B. King, Rufus Wainwright, George Clinton…need I say more?
I’m usually inclined to abuse the hospitality of friends because the price is right, they’re more fun, it’s a chance to catch up and the comfort level is superior. But if you have no friends (in Aspen), check into the Innsbruck, Molly Gibson Lodge or L’auberge, all on Main Street. They’re centrally located and will only set you back about a C-note per night, but they are clean, neat and comfortable. Don’t expect high-thread-count sheets here, but then again, you’re paying a fraction of what you would down the street where they put mints on your pillow and have shoe-shine service. But if you must upgrade your lodging, or don’t mind winging it, check with Stay Aspen Snowmass (stayaspensnowmass.com) for some great last minute lodging deals.
A word of warning: being the small town it is, supply and demand is always at play in Aspen. And never is this simple economic principle more apparent than during the annual Food and Wine Classic (June 18–20; always a sell-out) and Fourth of July weekend, among others. Lodging prices can easily be triple normal rates.
Depending on what’s on tap, I could be starting Saturday teeing up at the Aspen Golf Club (aspenrecreation.com). Before June 16, a round with a cart at this challenging and impeccably kept municipal course is only $59 (double that for summer). And if you don’t spend a lot of time wading in the weeds looking for your ball, greens fees drop considerably after 3pm. The 18th hole, with its postcard-perfect view of Pyramid Peak, can’t be beat.
If snowpack is still decent, spring skiing on Independence Pass is some of the best around. Park at the 12,095-foot summit and head up Blue Peak or, for steeper lines, hike up Snowfence Ridge and check out Fourth of July Bowl, the latter keeping decent snow well into June or later. If you don’t have a second car for a shuttle or are going solo (not smart when skiing the backcountry), hitching back to the summit is a popular option. As usual, a good map, compass or GPS, binoculars, backcountry gear and common sense are recommended. For some good beta on conditions and renting gear, check out the Ute Mountaineer (utemountaineer.com) before you go.
If you have a mountain bike, bring it. Parking in Aspen is a pain and getting around via bike is smart, cheap and fun. And if you’re into some two-wheeled adventures, there are dozens of trails to choose from. From riding up Smuggler Mountain to grinding up 3,000 feet over Pearl Pass into Crested Butte, the options are endless.
As for eating, you are limited only by your cash on hand or your credit limit. If you want to splurge, but not sprout an aneurysm when you get the bill, Takah Sushi rocks, as does Jimmy’s, an Aspen classic. But if you’re on a budget, follow the locals.
For breakfast, you can’t beat the Paradise Bakery, Galena and Hyman, for great coffee and muffins or The Hickory House, on the west end of Main Street, for the classic bacon, eggs, toast and coffee (ribs and steak are great, too, if you’re looking for dinner).
Little Annie’s is one of Aspen’s institutions where you can get a great burger and pint of Fat Tire ale for under $15. And at least one lunch should be had at Hunter S. Thompson’s old haunt, the Woody Creek Tavern. Populated mostly by locals, the scrapbook décor is a feast for the eyes while the legendary fresh lime juice margs go great with the largely Mexican food menu.
There’s an old Aspen adage: people come for the winter (skiing) and stay for the summer. It won’t take you more than a weekend and a reasonable piece of a paycheck to find out how true that is.