Falling in love with Aspen can happen at any time of year. It doesn't have to be winter. It doesn't even have to be skiing. It can be hiking, riding, fishing, rafting, stagecoach rolling or silver mining. It can be spring when the mountains are so lush and green they turn your knees to water, or summer when the air is still and warm and insects buzz around the flowers set high in the Rocky Mountains. It can be autumn, when many of Colorado's emeralds turn golden, the air develops a hint of cold and the scent of distant snow hangs on the early morning mists.

Aspen is undoubtedly an all-year-round resort town with as much interesting history as any US city and the added bonus of a setting unrivalled for dramatic beauty. The Rockies are an all-season delight, stunning, huge and friendly, dotted with sympathetically chosen comfort stations from rustic little restaurants serving up good home cooking for weary walkers to the most exquisite mountainside hotels that make a perfect base for any kind of holiday at any time of year. However, it has to be said, when the virgin snows of early winter first glisten in the morning sunshine and the freshest air on the planet brings an exhilarating bite as it swoops from peak to peak, when the town's people appear in hilarious hats and the smell of wood smoke and winter warmers wafts enticingly from diners, bars and cafés, it is an instinctive realisation that this little old mining town is about to wake up and become the warmest, liveliest winter retreat in the US and that winter is the most exciting time to be here; and in winter - it has to be skiing.

What to Expect

The great thing about skiing in Aspen is that it is so big it never gets over-crowded. Guests here can enjoy the utmost in modern comfort and civilised practices in a place that could still be described as a wilderness. Company can be kept if desired, but privacy, even solitude, is as easy to achieve.

The 2000/2001 season opened on 18th November. Two of the four legendary Aspen mountains, Snowmass and Ajax, are usually enjoying a thick covering of snow by this time and the opening ceremony is always a great celebration of the wintry weather and the pleasure it brings. The other two sport mountains, Buttermilk and Highlands, opened later on the 16th December. It's great to have the choice of four, but having only two to choose from in early season makes no difference at all to the levels of fun attainable. Snowmass and Ajax between them total a massive 3685 acres of skiing terrain, with beginners' slopes on Snowmass, intermediate and difficult skiing on both mountains and a large chunk of terrain suitable for experts only. You can choose between skiing or snowboarding, or both. Daily and weekly ski schools run throughout the season - details of which are available from the official Aspen web site below.

To get there most visitors take a domestic flight into Sardy Field Airport from Saint Paul/Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles or Memphis. There is a connecting service through United Airlines, Northwest Airlink and America West Express who collectively offer connections to over 200 US and Canadian cities, as well as Australasia, Europe and Mexico. Sardy field is only three miles from Aspen town and eight miles from Snowmass Village. There is plenty of ground transportation available.

Where to Stay

There are many hotels and lodging houses in and around Aspen, but to reach the dizzy heights of sheer comfort rivalled only by the pinnacles of Aspen mountain, the Relais & Chateaux Little Nell Hotel, nestled snugly at the heart of the resort, is unsurpassed for location, comfort and luxurious living. High on the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List, the Little Nell manages to combine an intimate atmosphere with the accommodation of a grand hotel. Warmth and highly personalised treatment subtly merge with just about every 21st-century convenience. There are views from each of the 92 warmly furnished rooms and suites that overlook either the town or the mountains. Most rooms have balconies. The hotel's acclaimed restaurant, renamed Montagna, opened in December. Original chef, Richard Chamberlain, has happily returned to the team at Little Nell to manage and oversee the restaurant. If Montagna comes anyway near the quality of the hotel's previous dining rooms no one will be disappointed.

If you can possibly tear yourself away from 24-hour room service next to your own gas log fireplace, getting to the pistes could not be easier. Ski-lift passes, lessons, equipment, maps, advice and guides can all be arranged through the hotel or through Aspen's web site.

There are two more supreme winter-sport orientated hotels in Aspen. The 10.3 million dollar refurbishment of the St Regis has created a chic, European-style environment, perfect for end-of-the-day relaxation with the new Mediterranean 'Olive's' restaurant offering superb, imaginative creations. Completely different, yet equally pleasing, is the town centre's Hotel Jerome. This hotel is an unspoiled Victorian delight and the best place to tuck into a plate of tender elk steak and partake in the night-time sport of 'people watching'. Both of these hotels appear in the top twenty Condé Nast Traveler reader's poll.

Pre-Travel Checklist

All international visitors to the US must obtain a visa.

Travel insurance can be expensive when sports are part of the picture. Shop around for special ski insurance.

Specialist equipment can be hired from most ski resorts. If you want to take your own you will need snow-proof clothing, including hats, gloves and boots, goggles/glasses to prevent 'snow blindness', face protection in the form of cream/sun cream, thermal underclothing and ear protection. Lip balm is very important.

For information about staying at the Little Nell, their web site can be viewed at: www.littlenell.com.

675 East Durant Avenue
Aspen, Colorado 81611
Tel: +1 970 920 4600
Fax: +1 970 920 4670

For information about staying at the:
St Regis Tel: +1 970 920 3300
Hotel Jerome Tel: +1 800 331 7213

Aspen's own web site, excellent for mountain information, weather, ski holidays, coaching, accommodation and dining, can be viewed at: www.aspen.com.

The three airlines serving/connecting with Aspen's airport have web sites at: www.americawest.com, www.nwa.com and www.ual.com.

Recommended reading:

Aspen and Snowmass Fodor's Pocket, published November 2000

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing, Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, by Warren Ohlrich

Check out our other top resorts from around the world:

Pan Pacific Lodge
Whistler - Blackcomb
British Columbia
Tel: +1 604 905 2999
Web site: www.panpac.com/canada/whistler/resort/resort.html

Named 4th Top North American Resort by Condé Nast Traveler's reader's poll. All hotel suites come complete with kitchens, sitting rooms and gas log fireplaces. The gondolas to the famous Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains depart from the back door of the hotel, swiftly transporting skiers to some of the world's best runs. Whistler village is said to have more international hotels per capita than New York. Outdoor whirlpools add that special something to evening relaxation.

Lodge and Spa at Cordillera
Tel: +1 800 877 3529
Web site: www.slh.com/pages/e/erausaa.html

Half an hour from Vail and Beaver Creek, this European-style chateau is set in 6500 acres of private Rocky Mountain parkland. Perfect for hassle-free skiing with as much privacy as you need. Excellent restaurant and a choice of wonderful non-skiing activities including dog sledding, snow mobiling and moonlight snowshoeing.

Sun Valley
Tel: +1 800 786 8259

Stuffed full of old-world charm, this gentle old resort became fashionable with Hollywood stars as soon as it opened in 1936. Still attracting the faces of modern film and television the two nearby mountains, Baldy and Dollar, are kept in tiptop condition and provide excellent skiing for beginners and seasoned skiers. Fed up with the piste, guests can skate on the resort's private rink or soak in the steaming outdoor pool.

Hotel Eiger
Fam. Stahli-von Allmen 3825
Regional web site: www.jungfrauregion.com

Four-star, comfortable rather than chic hotel with probably one of the most spectacular views in the world. Sitting on top of a 1500-foot cliff, facing the Eiger and Jungfrau Mountains and overlooking the beautiful village of Murren, this is a paradise for experienced skiers. Lifts in the village with excellent hotel transport down the cliff. Idyllic setting for an idyllic holiday winter or summer.

Hotel Gruner Baum
Kötschachtal 25
A - 5640 Bad Gastein
Tel: + 43 6434 25160
Fax: + 43 6434 251625

Old-fashioned hospitality in abundance in this most charming, picturesque Austrian village resort. Owner rallies guests at 10 in the morning with a blast on the hunting horn and drives them to the slopes in his topless charabanc. Pretty chalet-style accommodation, excellent food and excellent skiing for all standards. Many interesting and unusual festive and sports packages including sleigh riding, advent markets and Gala dinners.

Web site: www.ski-zermatt.com

Long considered one of the most exciting places in the world for skiing and mountain climbing, car-free Zermatt is nestled in a deep valley surrounded by gracious mountains dominated by the unmistakable peak of the famous Matterhorn. Transport from station to hotel is a romantic sleigh ride signalling the beginning of a fairytale adventure. Twenty-nine mountains, the highest ski lift in Europe and the longest winter season running from late November until early May. For a list of quality accommodation, travel and sports information visit the excellent Zermatt web site.

Web site: www.breuil-cervinia.com

Just over the border from Zermatt is the purpose-built Italian ski resort Breuil-Cervinia. Lift linked to Zermatt and sharing the same mountain, this resort is known as the sunny side and offers year-round skiing with temperatures well up and sunshine all day long. The altitude means there are no pretty tree-lined landscapes, but Breuil-Cervinia appears to defy the seasons and remains in an almost constant spring-like state. For more information and accommodation details visit the resort web site.

The resort's official web site is currently under construction but should soon be available at www.klosters.com

Inextricably linked with the British Royal Family and considered to be their favourite ski resort, Klosters is perfect for any family skiing holiday. Suitable for all levels, this pretty alpine centre has managed to retain its identity and offers guests a highly traditional Swiss experience. The two parts of the resort, Dorf and Platz, are very different with Platz generally more lively. There are several excellent hotels here and off-ski activities include sleigh rides, ice-skating and a sports centre.

Jasper Park Lodge
Web site: www.jasperparklodge.com

Great location for cross-country and downhill skiing. The lodge offers shuttles to over 100 kilometres of groomed trails all within an hour's drive. Many special, fun trips include all-day ski trails with barbecue lunch. Serious skiing can be found at the Marmot ski basin, with over 1000 acres of well-tended terrain. Lessons, equipment hire and dozens of off-ski activities are available at this year-round resort. Skiing from December to April.

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