A non-skier’s guide to Aspen
The majestic slopes draw visitors from all over the world to Aspen, Colorado, when the snow starts falling each year.
This famous little mountain town, a longtime favorite destination of the jet-set crowd, is a skier’s paradise with its breathtaking mountains. But for non-skiers who’d rather relax during their winter vacations, Aspen offers much more than skiing: an impressive dining scene, noteworthy contemporary art, rejuvenating spas and a plethora of outdoor activities.
While the skiers and snowboarders head to the slopes, non-skiers can enjoy winter with snowcat stargazing, snowshoeing and more.
Here are some of our favorite non-skiing things to do when you travel to Aspen:
Getting out in nature
Cuddle under a cozy blanket after dark as the snowcat filled with a handful of fellow diners climbs up Aspen Highlands mountain and the twinkling lights of Aspen fade in the distance.
At Cloud Nine Bistro at the mountaintop, stunning views of the famous Maroon Bells mountain peaks and an inviting wood-burning fireplace welcome visitors to dinner. A delicious four-course meal of truffle soup and squash risotto with pork belly or other hearty winter fare awaits.
The next day, why not enjoy tubing mid-mountain in Snowmass, or dog sledding or yoga sun salutations while the rest of the gang goes skiing?
Panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and rushing rivers are the draw of the scenic Rio Grande Trail, a perfect spot for a run or bike ride. The trail from Aspen to Basalt and back is not for the faint of heart — it’s a roughly 40 mile trek — but makes for a perfect half/full-day activity depending on how fast or slow you are. Many of the hotels have free bikes to borrow for the day, or rent a fat bike from Ute Mountaineer.
Aspen is full of great trails for everyone regardless of ability, such as Smuggler Mountain Trail (six miles, dog-friendly) and the popular Rio Grande Trail (42 miles, dog-friendly). Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean all the trails close, but you do need to plan ahead and wear plenty of warm layers. Check the Aspen Trail Finder website for the latest info on hours, restrictions and closures, as the trail conditions vary depending on the weather.
Cloud Nine Bistro, 76 Boomerang Rd, Top of the Cloud Nine Lift, Aspen, CO. (970) 923-8715. Opened for the season Dec. 9.
Krabloonik Dog Sledding, 4250 Divide Rd, Snowmass Village, CO. (970) 923-3953. Opened for the season Dec. 1.
Ute Mountaineer, 210 S. Galena St, Aspen, CO. (970) 925-2849. Open daily.
Dining out in the mountains
The smell of fresh-baked muffins wafting through the streets explains why there’s almost always a line out the door at Paradise Bakery. Banana chocolate chip is always a crowd-pleaser, and there are also plenty of good gluten-free options like lemon poppyseed and morning glory.
J-Bar at Hotel Jerome, right in downtown Aspen, is the perfect place for some short rib tacos or the famous J-Bar burger, and a Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA. On the mountain, Ajax Tavern at The Little Nell is always packed with skiers and snowboarders breaking for truffle fries, mussels mariniere or a salad.
Famous for its Nobu crispy rice with tuna and the famous miso-marinated cod, the reservations-required Matsuhisa celebrates its 20th anniversary in January.
The Casa Tua, a staple in Aspen’s dining scene, is great for a date night out on the town. For a more casual evening, try Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop, where the Vietnamese chicken noodle salad is always a hit and the boards full of meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables are a must.
Paradise Bakery, 320 S Galena St, Aspen, CO. (970) 925-7585. Open year-round.
J-Bar, 330 East Main Street, Aspen, CO. (970) 429-7674. Open year-round except for a six-week closure in the spring.
Ajax Tavern at The Little Nell, 685 East Durant Avenue, Aspen, CO. (970) 920-6334. Open year round but expect closures during off-season.
Matsuhisa Aspen, 03 E Main St, Aspen, CO. (970) 544-6628. Open year-round.
Casa Tua Aspen, 403 S Galena St, Aspen, CO. (970) 920-7277. Open year-round.
Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop, 319 E Hopkins Ave, Aspen, CO. (970) 710-7120. Open year-round.
One could forget about time altogether inside the Remede Spa at The St. Regis Aspen, thanks to the impressive spa facilities like the oxygen lounge, cold plunges, steam caves and hot tubs. They have a full range of treatments for healing aching skier/hiker legs, including the classic massage that’s so good, it will have you talking about it for weeks to come.
O2 Yoga also has a full-service spa plus a wide range of healing and rejuvenating classes, from basic flow to meditation and pranayama. It’s perfect for stretching out those aching muscles and taking a pause from an action-packed vacation.
For foodies, the Cooking School of Aspen might just be the ultimate destination. The school runs both group and private hands-on classes on pasta-making, pickling 101 and kids-only classes.
Remede Spa at The St. Regis Aspen, 315 East Dean St, Aspen, CO. (970) 920-3300. Open year-round except for a closure in October and part of November.
O2 Yoga Studio and Spa, 500 W Main St, Aspen, CO. (970) 925-4002. Open year-round.
Cooking School of Aspen, 305 E Hopkins Ave, Aspen, CO. (970) 920-2002. Open year-round.
From a host of small galleries to an impressive museum, Aspen has a world-class art scene. Take some time to visit the Aspen Art Museum — the building itself (redone in 2014 by architect Shigeru Ban) is an impressive sight worth seeing — and take in contemporary art by both established and emerging artists from around the globe. (Bonus: Admission is free.) In December, the museum will debut a new installation of paintings New York-based artist Nate Lowman.
While art-seeing in Aspen, stop by Chacha Gallery, founded by Charlotte Lena Souki, which specializes in international, neo-expressionist and contemporary art (by artists like Domingo Zapata, Mr. Brainwash and Richard Rhodes) and also features Souki’s fine jewelry collection.
Boesky West has a newly reimagined space in a historic building on South Spring Street by gallerist Marianne Boesky (who also has two noteworthy galleries in New York City) and architect Annabelle Selldorf, which has the art world buzzing. For its opening, Boesky West presented a rare combination of works by Frank Stella and Larry Bell.
Aspen Art Museum, 637 E Hyman Ave, Aspen, CO; (970) 925-8050. Open year-round.
Chacha Gallery, 426 E Hyman Ave, Aspen, CO; (970) 925-1435. Open year-round.
Boesky West, 100 S Spring St, Aspen, CO; (212) 680-9889. Open year-round.
Where to stay
Situated right at the base of Aspen Mountain on Durant Ave downtown, The Little Nell is undoubtedly a favorite of Aspen locals and regular visitors alike. The five-star, 92-room hotel and luxury residences (both dog-friendly) is a hub of activity thanks to its prime location offering direct access to the slopes, plus several bars and restaurants on site.
The rooms are cozy and understated, equipped with stone-clad fireplaces — just the kind of spot you want to hole up in on a cold winter night. But the real star is the view from the mountainside rooms (be sure to request one in advance).
Just down the street is the historic, 94-room Hotel Jerome, an Auberge Resort, originally built in 1889 by former Macy’s president Jerome Wheeler. The rooms carry over the Western-meets-luxury vibe throughout the hotel, with leathery finishings and touches of cowhide, and exclusively commissioned artwork.
At The Gant Aspen, A Destination Hotel, families will find plenty of space (the accommodations, totaling 123 units, range from one to four-bedroom condominium options equipped with kitchens), two heated outdoor swimming pools and multiple hot tubs, five tennis courts and a fitness center. The resort is conveniently located in downtown Aspen, just minutes from the ski slopes, great hikes and the Aspen Art Museum. The hotel’s Gant Vans are available to ferry guests around town.
The Little Nell, 675 E Durant Ave, Aspen, CO; (970) 920-4600. Open year-round except for a closure in April when ski season ends.
Hotel Jerome, 330 E Main St, Aspen, CO; (855) 331-7213. Open year-round except for a six-week closure in the spring (dates change annually).
The Gant Aspen, A Destination Hotel, 610 S W End St, Aspen, CO; (970) 925-5000. Open year-round except for a one month closure in the spring.