Aspen's reputation as a holiday destination precedes it: the name is synonymous with glitz, glamour, unparalleled skiing, and spectacular mountain scenery. Most reviews would have one believe that Aspen is a holiday resort exclusively for the rich and famous. Although this elite resort does host super stars such as Jack Nicholson and Cher, anyone with a lot of cash can experience the powder snow, superb skiing and sophisticated accommodation, as well as good dining and high-society shopping, with an unrivalled range of winter and summer activities. An Aspen holiday in summer is more affordable as prices are lower at this time; there are numerous trails for hiking, biking and horse riding, as well as renowned cultural festivals of dance and music to keep visitors occupied when there is no snow. The resort attracts thousands of Americans, as well as European visitors, on holiday every year. Aspen began as a silver mining town with the discovery of the world's largest silver nugget in the 1870s. After the crash of the silver market its economy dwindled until it was recognised as a prime ski location. The ostentatious après-ski is one of the major draw cards of Aspen - a chance for the rich and famous to mingle.
Aspen is regarded by many as America's prime winter holiday resort, with downhill skiing providing its lifeblood since 1936. The Silver Queen Gondola transports skiers to the top of Aspen Mountain, above the town, to take on the expert and intermediate slopes. Two miles (3km) west of town the Buttermilk area provides novice and intermediate runs, while farther out, at Snowmass and Aspen Highlands, families can enjoy a variety of types and levels of snow fun. Cross-country trails snake through the national forest.
Whether you're on an Aspen holiday for the winter sports or just to be seen (or both), you will have to schedule quite a large slice of your time to the resort's other main activity, which is world-class shopping. Unfortunately, prices are high, but that should not deter even the most budget-conscious browser from 'just looking'. The retail options extend from home-grown stores offering handcrafts to high-fashion designer boutiques, jewellery to die for, antiques and collectibles, and even a unique pet's paradise where you can outfit your pooch in style. Those who did not come well prepared can, of course, also find trendy ski-wear at local upscale outlets like Gorsuch, where celebrities flock for the latest in mountain style.
All that crisp, cold air and exercise ensures that Aspen's visitors are a hungry bunch, but even the heartiest appetites go well satisfied in the resort, which has a huge range of restaurant offerings, from takeaways to gourmet fine dining. Some recommendations include Pinons, with a delicious menu including some great game dishes and an awesome view of Aspen Mountain; the eclectic Woody Creek Tavern, where the burgers are sought after by some celebrity regulars; and the Kenichi sushi den, with its lively, buzzing atmosphere.
Après-ski is a vital part of any winter resort holiday, and Aspen pulls out all the stops to ensure its visitors an unrivalled night out on the town. Sophisticated social spots abound, from comfy cigar bars to trendy cocktail lounges, while the younger set will find live music venues like Belly Up to enjoy artists from around the globe.
As a holiday destination Aspen is not only a winter wonderland. In summertime, when hotel rates are lower, the arts and summer sports take over as main attractions, with the annual music festival a big drawcard. Fishing on the lakes and river is popular, and there are excellent golf courses. Hikers enjoy the trail leading to the Conundrum Hot Springs, and sightseers fill their time with the Aspen Art Museum and the Wheeler Stallard House Museum with its Victorian charm.
A top-rate ski resort, the quality is reflected in the prices at Aspen and as such it is not the right resort for those seeking a budget ski vacation. It can also get rather crowded.