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Aspen Winter News: What it’s Like This Season

After visiting during the resort’s opening week, Indagare’s Peter Schlesinger reports on the skiing—and après-skiing—scene in Aspen now.

Aspen never goes out of style, but it does evolve. Case in point: this past summer, the Colorado resort town reported one of its most profitable off-seasons ever, as Americans sought privacy, space and safety in the Rocky Mountain fresh air. And now, after months of planning, the country’s most glamorous ski resort has reopened its slopes, albeit with several major changes in place to account for social distancing in this—usually crowded—winter wonderland. Here’s what to expect from a ski trip to Aspen this winter, including the latest from our favorite hotels and restaurants. 

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for assistance planning a customized trip to Aspen, as well as for more information on coronavirus travel safety, including the destinations that are open to travel, new Covid-19 hotel policies, the safest routes or transportation options available, future trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

But First…the Covid Question

Aspen continues to take the pandemic seriously. The entire historic core, where high-end boutiques and chic restaurants occupy 19th-century brick buildings dating to the town’s mining days, is under a strictly enforced mask requirement. All indoor venues are operating at 25 percent capacity, and Aspen Skiing Company—the parent company behind Aspen, Snowmass, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands ski areas—is enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing at its four mountains. Most notably, beginning December 14, Pitkin County, of which Aspen is the county seat, will be the only place in Colorado with an entry requirement: Out-of-state travelers must certify they have negative test results from within 72 hours before traveling. Some visitors may be deterred by these rules and their enforcement, but to me they inspired trust and reassurance that I was traveling responsibly, and that the people around me were as well.

On the Slopes Themselves

Skiing is an ideal activity for social distancing, and Aspen Skiing Company has made sure its ski runs are operating as safely—and with as few touch points—as possible. Reservations for lift tickets have moved online, and so far, there is still availability throughout the season. Rental equipment outfitters, such as Four Mountain Sports, sanitize gear between uses, and are following local indoor capacity rules and mask requirements.

Up on the mountains, visitors now ride up only with people from their own party, and attendants at the gondolas and chairlifts are enforcing the use of face coverings. On-slope dining has switched to online ordering or table service. 

Group ski classes from the Ski & Snowboard School now have a maximum of five people. And for individual private lessons, the only change is that masks must be worn all day except during lunch.

For families, the toddler’s childcare center at Snowmass is closed this year, but ski- or snowboard-lesson programs are running as usual—with a maximum of five participants and face masks required.

 Again, most of these changes seem like an improvement on previous operations: No more waiting in lines for food or lift tickets; no more crowded gondola rides up with strangers; and even more exclusive, personalized attention during group ski classes.

Since I went early in the season, only a small percentage of the area’s 300+ ski trails was open. As more snow falls, this should change quickly throughout the month. You can track what’s open at all four mountains here.

Related: What Skiing in the U.S. Will Look Like This Year 

Hotel Happenings

At perennial ski-scene darling The Little Nell—which celebrated its big 3-0 last year —Spanish designer Luis Bustamente has updated the lobby and living room with elegant wood paneling, artwork and cozy sofas. 

Meanwhile, St. Regis Aspen is foregoing its daily champagne sabering tradition to minimize crowding, but is still offering visitors a complimentary glass of bubbly at 4:45 p.m. in its plush lounge—just be sure to ask. 

Hotel Jerome recently completed minor renovations to its bar in the Living Room, one of the best spots in town for evening cocktails. The changes, repeat guests will notice, are largely functional, making it easier—and faster—for bartenders to grab bottles in the lounge, which is warmed by a massive fireplace. 

And over at W Aspen, which opened last year in the former Sky Hotel building, Wet Deck has transitioned from the town’s most popular rooftop bar to its most exclusive. The 8,000-square-foot open-air lounge with a pool and hot tub is now open to hotel guests only this year.

The Dining-Out Situation

Restaurants are operating at 25 percent capacity inside, and some spots, such as the  farm-to-table Meat & Cheese, have switched to take-away dinner service only. For lunch, many restaurants in town, along with all mountain areas, have outdoor seating available, making use of Aspen’s plentiful sunshine. Meat & Cheese has added a taco truck, and W Hotel has a gourmet hot dog café by its front entrance. The Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern, right by the gondola up Aspen Mountain, has a popular outdoor terrace as well. 

But once the sun sets behind Aspen Mountain, temperatures drop quickly, and most restaurants offer only indoor service and takeout for dinner. One notable (and delicious) exception: White House Tavern has several tables outside, each with its own high-power propane heater and mountain views (get the crispy chicken sandwich, on house-made bread with a spicy slaw). Other restaurants have constructed tents and other temporary, but decidedly indoors-feeling, structures to help increase their overall capacity. French Alpine Bistro, a chalet-inspired, fine-dining and fondue favorite, has built several of these along the street, as well as in its ground-level patio, decorated to look like a glam mountain hut. For all indoor dining, reservations are essential, given the reduced seating available.

A New Wine Bar

The Little Nell’s Chair 9, one of Aspen’s legendary après-ski bars, is reopening as The Wine Bar on December 12. Champalimaud Design led the overhaul, drawing inspiration from iconic wine bars in New York (Corkbuzz), Beverly Hills (Wally’s) and  Paris (Willi’s). Expect intimate gatherings at private booths and couches, with a DJ playing down-tempo, Hôtel Costes-esque tracks, plus an extensive wine list from the hotel’s wine director Chris Dunaway.

Giorgio Armani Pops Up…

Giorgio Armani has opened a pop-up shop downtown, bringing minimalist chalet vibes to a 3,350-square-foot boutique on East Hyman Avenue. Browse men’s and women’s fashions, along with jewelry, ski apparel and home furnishings, some housed in displays resembling ski gondolas. Open until March 2021.

…And Pop Art Settles In

New York-based Eden Gallery has signed a long-term lease for a 7,200-square-foot space on East Cooper Avenue, a block north of W Aspen and the Little Nell. The gallery brings its bold, colorful pieces from 26 contemporary artists, including Alec Monopoly, Angelo Accardi and Dorit Levinstein.

For the Sweet Tooth: Sweet Coloradough

The newest spot in town for a sugary treat? Sweet Coloradough, an outpost of a beloved local donut and coffee shop chain, founded in nearby Glenwood Springs in 2014. The decadent, fluffy pastries are sweetened with honey and made fresh every morning. Opening Soon

Related: The 9 Best Places to Ski in the U.S.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for assistance planning a customized trip to Aspen, as well as for more information on coronavirus travel safety, including the destinations that are open to travel, new Covid-19 hotel policies, the safest routes or transportation options available, future trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

– Peter Schlesinger on December 10, 2020

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