Snow began falling in mid-September in the Aspen/Snowmass area. Needless to say, the four mountains are already gearing up for another stellar season. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your visit to one of the world’s premier ski and snowboard vacation destinations this winter.
Last winter saw big renovations of the town’s top three hotels — The St. Regis Aspen Resort, Hotel Jerome and The Little Nell. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star St. Regis spruced up much of the property and debuted an innovative restaurant, Chef’s Club by FOOD & WINE by the eponymous magazine. Every six months, four of the magazine’s annual Best New Chef winners come to town and collaborate on a menu featuring local and seasonal ingredients. The décor and mostly local artwork also change, so the eatery is reborn twice each year, and even has a cocktail menu that matches — doesn’t the apple-cider-, rum- and maple-syrup-filled Treacle Toddy just scream autumn? This past summer, the St. Regis opened yet another new restaurant, Trecento Quindici Decano, a place with a heavy focus on housemade pastas and pizzas, including some notably authentic but less common pasta styles hard to get in the U.S., such as chitarra (a harp-like tool that cuts square-shaped noodles) and trenette (narrow, thick ribbons), plus equally creative antipasti.
The somewhat-tired Jerome was taken over by Auberge Resorts, closed for months and overhauled. When it reopened last December, it immediately became one of the top lodging choices in the American ski scene. It was a night-and-day transformation. It offers a new spa; solid new restaurant, Prospect (hearty comfort food with a fine-dining slant); fabulous new guest room décor (cashmere curtains, 19th-century-inspired lamps) and, best of all, a lobby that traded a fussy, old-fashioned and rarely used space for the hottest après-ski cocktail spot in town.
Last fall, the venerable Five-Star Little Nell, which is the rare ski-in/ski-out property in Aspen, also redid its lobby and unveiled a wonderful new restaurant, Element 47 (named for silver, the precious metal that built Aspen), that vies with Bellagio in Las Vegas for the most certified sommeliers of any U.S. hotel — even though it is less than one tenth the size of its wine rival. For this winter, the hotel has made even more improvements, enlisting interior designer Holly Hunt to give two VIP suites a Western-contemporary feel that resonates through wood, steel and fabric pieces, stone fireplaces with blackened metal and bronze chandeliers. Four other suites will get similar makeovers in the spring.
Two great après-ski options that came on strong last winter that most repeat Aspen skiers probably are not familiar with are the hip Meatball Shop, which as its name suggests, specializes in round edibles (from traditional Italian meatballs to buffalo chicken balls and spicy pork balls from Snake River Farm), and the lobby lounge at Limelight Hotel. The latter is a hidden gem that deserves more consideration for its delicious dining and modern lodging (think a powdered-up W or Kimpton). Locals adore the place for its craft beer nights, good in-town location and buzzy lobby scene — especially with the 3-to-7 p.m. daily happy-hour menu of goodies such as warm chocolate chip cookies, wood-fired pizzas, cured meat platters and drink specials. Like its better-known sister property, The Little Nell, one benefit of staying at Limelight is the complimentary (and handy) in-town transportation. Both properties are owned by Aspen Skiing Company, which operates the area’s four ski mountains.
ASC has reportedly poured more than $130 million into on-mountain improvements over the past seven years. The biggest change last winter was the opening of the Burnt Mountain area at Snowmass, with 230 new acres of mostly intermediate terrain. Snowmass also got three new restaurants — Elk Camp, The Snowmass Kitchen and The Bar at Wildwood — and four lifts. This season, the skiing expansion continues with the opening of Lucky Find Glades and Mystery Gully, 20 new acres of black diamond glades at the locals’ favorite mountain, Aspen Highlands.
On the food front, this summer saw the opening of the in-town White House Tavern, a retro-casual, bar-centric eatery with a short menu of upscale burgers and sandwiches and a long roster of curated wines by the glass and elaborate, mixology-style cocktails. If there has been a void in the rich Aspen dining scene, it has been finding something in between the down-and-dirty and the upscale spots; this higher-end tavern fills the space nicely. But whatever void still remains, buzzed-about chef Tim Goodell (who helms Public Kitchen & Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles) has two new Snowmass endeavors, The Ricard Brasserie and Liquor Bar and Bia Hoi Southeast Asian Street Food, that should be able to fill it when they simultaneously open in December.
Getting to Aspen is also going to be easier than ever this winter, as Delta is adding long-haul non-stop service directly into the convenient Aspen-Pitkin County Airport from both its Atlanta (daily) and Minneapolis (Saturdays) hubs, starting December 21 — just in time for Christmas and New Year’s vacation.
Photos Courtesy of Aspen-Snowmass, Hotel Jerome and The Little Nell