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Aspen is proof you can’t keep a good town down. Founded in 1879 by a group of miners, the settlement – originally named Ute City after the local Native American Ute tribe – rode the wave of the Colorado Silver Boom, but when the silver market crashed Aspen’s population dwindled – to fewer than 1,000 by 1930. Happily, in the mid-20th century, skiing came along to save the day, and now the Aspen Snowmass ski area, encompassing 4 mountains, is booming once again.
Aspen is known as the ‘Hollywood of the Rockies’, thanks to the fact that the rich and famous have made the 5,500 acres of top-class trails their favorite winter playground. The handsome town, with its many lovely old redbrick buildings dating from the original boomtown days, is well supplied with designer stores, high-class restaurants, and cultural institutions, and has a lively après-ski scene. It sits in a mountain landscape of outstanding natural beauty, and lovers of the outdoors will find something here to appeal whether winter or summer.
While Aspen is, of course, famous for its more active pursuits, it also has a healthy cultural life. Perhaps the best-known, and certainly longest-standing example of this is the Wheeler Opera House. Built in the late 1800s by business tycoon Jerome Wheeler, its fortunes have ebbed and flowed in line with the town’s so that at one point it was a sorry derelict version of its original Victorian pomp. But thanks to a sympathetic restoration the theatre now features Moroccan-leather seats, heavy curtain swags, an impressive proscenium stage and an ornate chandelier. Today it hosts regular events such as concerts, lectures, plays, and comedy and film festivals.
Music lovers flock to Aspen in the summer, for the 8-week season of the Aspen Music Festival. Founded in 1949, it’s regarded as one of the top classical music festivals in the United States. Young musicians come to hone their craft and a program of more than 400 classical music events, including orchestra concerts, solo and chamber music performances, opera productions and more, is held in the Benedict Music Tent – a futuristic structure with a curved fiberglass roof that seats 2,050. If you can’t get a seat inside, or just fancy enjoying the music in the sunshine, you can take a picnic to sit on the lawn and listen as the strains of Verdi, Mozart or Debussy float out of the tent’s open sides.
Another of Aspen’s cerebral highlights, the Aspen Art Museum, has its roots in the town’s countercultural past. Conceived in the 1970s (when gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson ran for town sheriff with a manifesto that included legalizing drugs) as the Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, it has long served as a forum for the work of contemporary, innovative artists. Having moved from its original home in the Hunter Creek Power Plant to a new, specially designed venue in 2014, the museum hosts a constantly changing roster of free exhibitions, challenging conceptions and provoking thought with its focus on unrecognized and underappreciated art.
There’s no denying Mother Nature’s done a good job with the Rocky Mountains – their craggy beauty is breathtaking in its majesty. But of course where humans tread, problems are sometimes quick to follow, and so in 1968 Aspen businesswoman Elizabeth Paepcke founded the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), to preserve some of the area’s natural landscape and to provide environmental education for the public. Today, the Center is a non-profit environmental science organization, with four centers located in Aspen: Hallam Lake, Rock Bottom Ranch, Catto Center at Tolkat, and Spring Creek.
The ACES centers make a particularly good day out for families – at Rock Bottom Ranch young nature enthusiasts can take a farm tour to learn about a friendlier way of working the land, and meet hogs, sheep, donkeys, goats, and horses. Hallam Lake is the place to admire the resident birds of prey, a golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, and great horned owl, or perhaps spot wild mule deer, elk or beaver, and your small fry can become official ACES Junior Naturalists by exploring the Hallam Lake nature preserve with an activity guide, recording their findings as they go.
From the hilltop Starwood district to the buzz of downtown, we have plenty of fabulous rentals for your Aspen ski vacation or summertime mountain explorations. Choose from traditional clapboard with a porch for sunny afternoons, smart stone chalets or something with clean, contemporary lines. Whichever way you go, you’ll have a welcoming retreat waiting for you on your return from your Aspen adventures.
If skiing is your top priority, then consider one of our Snowmass rentals . With many incredible ski-in, ski-out locations, you’ll never be far from a powder-dusted slope, and facilities such as a heated pool, hot tub, and fitness center enhance the après wind-down experience. Choose from properties with space for 6 to 14 guests, so you can bring your family or the whole gang of your best ski buddies.
Those who’d like to sample the culinary and cultural delights of this most refined of ski towns might want to go for one of our downtown Aspen rentals . Whether you prefer traditional brick and beams with a big open fireplace or a modernist property with huge plate-glass windows framing mountain views, we have something for you. Choose a 6-bedroom property in a quiet residential area or a mountain villa less than a mile from the town center, and enjoy facilities such as a heated infinity-edge pool, terrace with barbecue and fire pit, media room, wine room and toasty heated floors.