“Someplace warm, a place where the beer flows like wine;
where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.
I’m talkin’ about a little place called Aspen.”
– Jim Carrey, Dumb and Dumber, 1994
They stand naked, huddled in bunches on the steep cliffs of Ajax like tufts of hair on a shapely body. The aspen grove is the largest living organism on Earth. In the ski village of Aspen, Colorado, the slender silver trees add elegance to a landscape of astonishing steep cliffs. Ajax is a mother of a mountain, and is surely a woman; a total knockout, and one you’ll want to conquer from the moment you set eyes on her. You’ll have to wait to next year, now, though, to ski Ajax, but the town is still worth losing yourself in for a few days, before summer brings its own crowds.
Spring is special here. Eight thousand feet above sea level, skiers in zipped down designer jackets race down snowy chutes to après ski at the Ajax Tavern, which is set to reopen for summer May 21st. By day, the sun shines warmly, and if Aspen is good to you, snow comes at night. Of course, snow reigns supreme from November to April here, a town where it’s perfectly okay to skip work on the morning of a “powder day”.
On the 20-minute ride up the gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain, George Monsour, my spry ski instructor for the next few days, briefs me, honestly: “This isn’t the best mountain to learn on if you are a beginner.” My fumbling with the boot clips must have told him something about me: I’m no expert skier, but Ajax had already seduced me and I was going to ride that sexy slope, even if it killed me.
“See him? Quick, out the right, he’s a good skier. Watch his turns…beautiful, just beautiful,” George says with due respect as a neon blur beneath the chairlift hurtles gracefully beneath us. George, or “the workhorse” as he’s been called, has been painstakingly guiding skiers down this mountain for 25 years, averaging about 130 ski days per year. If skiing really is “better than an orgasm” as one of the regulars tells me, it’s no wonder George is always smiling.
“Ready?” says George, “like we’re riding over eggshells, nice and gentle. Quiet, real quiet now.” As he glides off, you follow, helmet on snug, poles gripped tight. The slippery slope beneath exposes your skills for all to see, and being exposed in Aspen feels fabulous.
“Ski laterally!” George commands while shifting his hips.
I ask him what it’s like being a ski instructor in Aspen for a quarter of a century.
“A client of mine, a heart surgeon once said to me, ‘George, what are you doing here? You aren’t living up to your potential.’ And I felt a bit down, but the next day was a powder day. I’ve never looked back.”
Soaking aching muscles in the outdoor hot tub at the Hyatt Grand Aspen, a modern chalet-style hotel, after a day of endless ‘turns’ is bliss. Up your bliss factor with a trip to Silverpeak Apothecary, which began as a medical marijuana dispensary in the center of town in 2009 and took advantage of new laws on the controversial herb to sell recreational marijuana. Lollipops, brownies, even gummy rings, and of course weed by the gram..
“Wow. Seriously, this is crazy. We’re from New York…we don’t have these places,” a group of young men in ski jackets trill like kids in a candy store as they wait for their order.
“We get a lot of tourists,” says Banjo Bob, the rosy-cheeked gentleman checking your ID at the entrance. One ounce of the “good stuff” in medicinal plastic tubes runs you about $40. Order your pleasure from a takeout menu listing “pure herbs” and “edibles.”
With Gucci and Gorsuch on either side of the wide streets, being high might make those $1,000 price tags seem easier to absorb. To shop like a millionaire, but spend like a local, head to Susie’s Limited Consignments, a fabulous little secondhand shop on East Main Street, where tourists cast off barely worn designer clothing for you scoop up for a song.
Peel off your new ski pants the next morning at the Sundeck at the top of Ajax mountain where a free yoga class over the peaks realigns you after a night of indulgence. A glance at the black and white photos of famous skiers inspire anyone to excellence, and I say a little prayer to the late alpine ski legend Stein Eriksen to keep me from having a “yard sale” down the mountain. A dusting of four inches of fresh powder glistens as brightly as George’s eyes before he pulls down his goggles.
“Sometimes I tell people, ‘my work is better than your vacation’,” George says as he oh-so elegantly peels off past a cluster of aspens down Copper run. With the sky blue, the mountain white, my skis dancing down the backside of a real beauty, I can’t help but think, maybe he’s right.
The Little Nell: Right at the base of Aspen mountain. Famous, classy, rustic with a twist of modernity thelittlenell.com
Hyatt Residence Club Grand Aspen: A short walk to the gondola with great en-suite kitchens and hot outdoor jacuzzis with a view aspen.hyatt.com
Recommendation: Try a private rental.
For a private apartment or house, there are many options for the mid to high range budget. Just make sure it’s right in town so you can easily walk to the mountain with your gear in the morning. VRBO.com
Shlomo’s Deli & Grill: At the base of Aspen Mountain: Drinks, snacks and a casual apres-ski atmosphere shlomosaspen.com
L’Hosteria: Best Italian food in Aspen with a relaxed setting and refined food hostaria.com
Kenichi: Interesting, fresh and satisfying sushi right in Aspen village without a huge bill kenichiaspen.com
Suzie’s Limited Consignments: Used designer clothing from around the world in what may be the best little thrift shop on the planet (970) 920-2376
Carl’s Pharmacy: Possibly the best pharmacy in the world with wonderful presents, souvenirs, and anything else to make you feel comfortable in Aspen’s high altitude (970) 925-3273
Silverpeak Apothocary: All the weed in whatever way you desire it, for those over 21 years of age, though. Purchase the stinky stuff in style in this slick little dispensary silverpeakapothecary.com