Aspen Travel Guide (Winter)
Before I get started, I want to wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season. I have always believed that the best is yet to come and year after year, I have found that to be true. So as we approach the end of Chapter 2018, lets do so with an attitude that brings joy into our lives. In my case, it would be an attitude of gratitude, and one of the things I am immensely grateful for are my readers (YOU! and hi mom!). I am still pretty new at blogging (3 months and counting!), but I wouldn’t change this learning experience for anything in the world. My wish for you all in 2019 is for you to manifest and find time to do more of the things that brings joy into your life; to surround yourself with people that brings you light and love; and to always be grateful for all the little things in life.
As always, thank you all with all my heart, and let’s talk ASPEN!
I LEFT MY HEART IN ASPEN Y’ALL!!!
Aspen in the Winter is breathtakingly stunning (an understatement). If you have always wanted to spend the holidays in a snow globe or spend it in a quintessential Christmas town, Aspen is the place for you. Do not let this ski wonderland make you believe that it is only targeted to skiers because my sister and I decided not to ski, but instead, do other fun things such as alpine roller coasters, snowmobiling through the mountains, eat yummy food, and “urban hiking” around town. Spending Christmas in Aspen turned out to be one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken. It was truly a white, peaceful and enchanting Christmas. I must also add that EVERYONE IN ASPEN IS EXTREMELY HOSPITABLE AND NICE!
I am OBSESSED with travel research. I always want to make sure I get the best value for my money, so I have become pretty good at comparing and finding the best deals. This blog post is the aftermath of my 4-day travel research (yes, only 4 days because we decided on the Monday of Christmas week that Aspen sounded fun, so we left for Aspen that Friday) and I cannot wait to share with y’all my recommendations in the hopes to make you excited for your next trip to Aspen or to add Winter in Aspen to you bucket list.
I am going to organize this travel guide by: transportation, lodging, activities and most importantly, food!
Getting to Aspen
NOTEWORTHY: Once you arrive to Aspen, if you are not planning to visit other cities in CO, you do NOT need a car (unless it is driven by doggos!). Aspen provides FREE and CONSTANT shuttles to all the trail heads, ski lifts, and everywhere else Aspen has to offer. Click here to see the shuttle routes! Also, the Google Maps App on your phone does an amazing job of telling you where and which shuttle to take. Most importantly, if you are not comfortable driving in snow/ice (me!), it is worth everything to leave the driving to the pros!
Fly to Aspen Snowmass Airport (when I checked, a round-trip ticket from Denver to Aspen started at $400!): Depending on where you are coming from, the easiest but priciest way might be flying into Aspen Snowmass airport. During peak season (usually December – March), the 3 carriers (United, American and Delta) that service this airport will have seasonal flights from additional airports. I checked flight prices 4 days before travel and it was about $400+ for a round-trip from Denver to Aspen! and about $700+ for a round-trip from Dallas to Aspen.
Car Rental ($250 for 4 days, no insurance): If you do decide to drive, COtrip.com is the most useful website to check on road conditions. In a good day with no weather issues or road conditions, it takes about 3.5 hours to drive from Denver to Aspen (somehow it takes 15 minutes just to drive out of Denver airport–it is HUGE!). We originally were going to rent a car, however, we noticed that it was going to snow on our way to Aspen and possibly on our way back to Denver. Once we add insurance to the car and factor in gas money, we were able to easily justify taking a shuttle service from Denver airport to Aspen and leave the driving to the pros (BEST DECISION EVER)! Also, if there are weather conditions, the CO Tire Thread Law and Chain Law will be in effect, so that adds one more thing to double check with the car rental company to make sure your specific vehicle will meet those laws. Drivers will be fined for non-compliance!
Shuttle Service from Denver Airport to Aspen ($217 round-trip per person + tip): My sister and I flew into Denver and then took the Epic Mountain Express (formerly Colorado Mountain Express) to Aspen. I quoted about 6 other shuttle services and this one was the best option in terms of price, schedule and reviews.
Once your flight arrives, you will receive a text letting you know which baggage claim exit door to meet as well as the number of your shuttle OR you can check-in at the Epic Mountain Express counter inside Denver airport (North Terminal right by TSA and super easy to find!) and they will let you know where your shuttle is.
When you arrive to your designated exit door, someone from EPIC will meet you there, check you in, and let you know when your shuttle is ready to board! There are SO MANY EPIC shuttles leaving from the airport to the different ski resorts and the shuttles were very comfortable (see pics below!). They were 14 passenger shuttles and there were only 9 people on our way to Aspen and 8 people on the way back. Also, on the way back, our first driver was so dreamy… sadly he only drove for a bit before switching drivers. If we are meant to be, he will read this, reach out, and we will live happily ever after… in Aspen.
^^I’m such a creeper. #SorryNotSorry. If you recognize him by looking at the top of his head, please send him my way!
Shuttle from Denver Airport to Aspen: We had 1 rest stop about 2 hours into the drive for potty breaks and snacks. Since there was snow and road conditions, it took us 5 hours to get to Aspen. All the stops to drop off people were close to Aspen so you won’t be stopping in any of the other ski resort towns.
Shuttle from Aspen to Denver Airport: EPIC will send you a text when the shuttle is on its way and a link for you to track the shuttle. Do not be alarmed if you get the text 2 hours before your pick-up time and notice that the shuttle is only 10 minutes away! It is merely a courtesy text to let you know they are coming for ya (with a cute driver in our case!). You have to be at the pick-up point 10 minutes before the scheduled time and in our case, the cute driver came into the hotel lobby and picked us up. The roads on the way back were clear and it took a bit less than 4 hours to get to Denver airport. We also had a rest stop 2 hours into the trip at a gas station next to a Starbucks in case you run on caffeine!
Another plus–YOU GET TO SIGHTSEE THE WHOLE WAY. The Rockies are out of this world!
Welcome to Hotel Aspen!
You know it is going to be amazing when the room greets you with a hot tub in your balcony.
We have decided that we will always stay at this hotel because having your own mountain view hot tub is the greatest perk after a day of adventures! Did I also mention that Hotel Aspen offers free breakfast, free après-ski, free shuttle within 3 miles of the hotel (never used it!), free parking AND it is only one street away from all the shops and restaurants that downtown Aspen has to offer!? We walked everywhere because everything was SO CLOSE! Also, we found THE BEST SANDWICH SHOP right across the street from the Hotel (more details and pics in the food section below!).
I must have memorized all the hotels in Aspen (under a 4+ digit price!) and their locations because I was going back and forth and dissecting them like my life depended on it. Here are the tips I have found useful when choosing the perfect hotel:
1) I always start by doing a quick search in hotels.com to have an idea of the price range. You can use any other hotel search engine you prefer. I just find hotels.com to be visually pleasing and a great way to get me started.
2) Once I have an idea of the price range, I try to think of the activities I want to do in that city. In our case, we were NOT planning to ski (so paying premium for a ski-in-and-out resort would not be valuable to us). But we were interested in the alpine coaster in Snowmass Aspen and the Snowmobile tour that picks you up at Highlands Aspen. But most importantly, we wanted to stay somewhere close to downtown Aspen because from the pictures we had seen, it looked like a Christmas postcard with shops and restaurants everywhere all lit up with Christmas lights.
3) We narrowed it down to downtown Aspen and had a list of all the hotels within our budget. As long as you are staying within 3 streets of downtown Aspen, your walk to the city center will be very short and enjoyable!
4) Look at the types of rooms offered in those hotels. Is a basic room in one hotel the same price as a suite in another one? Which hotel will add more value to your money? That is when I found the Jacuzzi suite at Hotel Aspen.
5) Next step is to dig up ALL THE PICTURES I could on the internet regarding that Jacuzzi suite as well as all the reviews. We even called the Hotel to get more information and they were so passionate about that room and all it had to offer that we were convinced we wanted that room. Once you have a target, the next step is my favorite.
6) SEARCH EVERY POSSIBLE WEBSITE FOR THE BEST DEAL FOR THAT ROOM! TripAdvisor is amazing at listing all the different websites and the price the room is going for. BUT DO NOT STOP THERE! Look at the hotel’s actual website and look at the City’s tourism website or a local vacation planner (http://www.stayaspensnowmass.com)! WHICH IS WERE WE HIT THE JACKPOT BECAUSE WE FOUND THE JACUZZI SUITE FOR $30 LESS A NIGHT!!! They were having a Winter sale and we happened to stumble upon it at the perfect time.
TIP: When booking through any website, ALWAYS do a search for valid coupons (retailmenot.com is my favorite! or just a Google search for “Expedia coupons” and see if there is anything available!). Also, do not forget to check how much cash back you can get through Ebates!
Things To Do
1. LET’S TALK SKI!
For my skiers, Aspen has endless options whether you are a first-time skier or a professional skier, whether it is a romantic trip, friends-only trip or a family trip with a ton of children.
An amazing perk is that one lift ticket will give you access to all four incredible mountains that Aspen has to offer: Aspen Mountain (downtown Aspen), Snowmass (9 miles from downtown Aspen), Aspen Highlands (3 miles from downtown Aspen), and Buttermilk (3 miles from downtown Aspen).
Below is a super useful summary chart for each of the four mountains in Aspen:
As you can see, each of these mountains offer something different and each has its own style. All locations offer private and group lessons as well as equipment rentals at the base. Below are some unique details about each of the mountains and you can click on the name to take you to the website that contains a plethora of information including Winter and Summer paths, and the different activities each mountain offers.
Aspen Mountain (Intermediate to Expert Trails): This legendary mountain is in the heart of Aspen! This is where it all began back in 1946 with the single chair Lift 1! If your budget permits, there is a super chic ski-in/ski-out resort 2 minutes from the gondola called The Little Nell hotel (every single room has its own fireplace, an interior jacuzzi, steam shower, and ALL in-room snacks and non-alcoholic beverages are free and stocked daily).
Snowmass (Beginner to Expert Trails): Very faithful to its name, Snowmass is ABUNDANT in deep snow and has SO MUCH terrain! There are 94 trails and it has the largest vertical descent of any resort in North America. This mountain is VERY family friendly and has a “Treehouse Kids Adventure Center” at the base, which is an indoor center for kiddos. We saw so many toddlers learning how to ski both one on one with an instructor (no parents!) or in a group with various toddlers. IT WAS THE CUTEST THING EVER! Snowmass is for sure the best option for groups and families because it offers the most activities such as snow-tubing, snow-bike lessons, free concerts, the alpine coaster, and “Ullr Nights” among many others!
Ullr is the Norse God of Snow and at Snowmass, every Friday night during the peak of Winter, they honor this god with a Winter wonderland party called “Ullr Nights”! You get to take an evening gondola ride all the way up to the mountain and you can snow-tube down the slopes, ride the coaster, snow-bike, make smores and hot chocolate by the bonfire, dance to live music as well as other additional indoor activities available for kids. We are definitely doing Ullr Night the next time we go!
Snowmass has a wonderful base village with shops, restaurants, condos and the Westin ski-in/ski-out resort. However, in my opinion, no base compares to downtown Aspen!
Aspen Highlands (Intermediate, but Mostly Expert Trails): This is the mountain for the IN-THE-KNOW SKIERS! It has the most uncrowded slopes (125 trails!), but also, 65% of the trails are considered “expert” level. If you want to see the snow-covered Maroon Bells, this is the place where the shuttle will pick you up to take you to the Maroon Bells hiking trail base and this is also the place were the snowmobile shuttle picked us up (more details below!). Aspen Highlands is also the home of the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton Destination Club in Aspen and the hotel sits at the foot of a 12,500 ft. mountain. The mountain base has a couple of restaurants and shops but MUCH smaller and MUCH less variety compared to downtown Aspen and Snowmass.
Buttermilk: I just ADORE the name of this mountain!!! Besides its adorable name, Buttermilk is also the home of ESPN’s Winter X Game. We found this to be the best place to learn how to ski (for both kiddos and adults!) because it has the most beginners paths as well as an innovative learning center for young skiers called “The Hideout.” Buttermilk also has a beautiful and fairly priced ski-in/ski-out resort at the base of the mountain called The Inn at Aspen.
Even if you are organizing a solely ski trip, I would still recommend staying in downtown Aspen because once the slopes close, you will love the option of being able to walk around town.
As of December 2018, an adult one-day lift ticket is $179, children (6 years+), teens and seniors are $121, and children under 6 are free. Remember that the lift ticket allows you to ride the gondola/lift for all 4 mountains!
TIP: Purchase your lift tickets at least 7 days before your trip for a better deal: an adult one-day lift ticket would be $159, children (6 years+), teens and seniors would be $106, and children under 6 are free.
2. BREATHTAKER ALPINE COASTER AT THE TOP OF SNOWMASS MOUNTAIN!
Y’ALL!!! This alpine coaster in Snowmass Mountain goes through 1+ mile of gorgeous scenery and IT IS SO MUCH FUN!!! The whole ride is about 6-7 minutes (depending on how fast you are going since you can control the speed after reaching a certain point in the coaster). The first 5 minutes are at a default speed and you get to go through a Winter wonderland. Since it is super high up in the mountains, chances are, there will be snow flurries throughout the ride.
After 5 minutes of sightseeing on the coaster, you have the option of pressing down on the hand rails, which speeds up your cart up to 28mph. You can also brake during certain areas if you want to go slower or you can just let the coaster go at its default speed, so you can make it as chill or as thrilling as you want!
You can ride by yourself or ride with someone else on the same cart. My sister and I did the ride 3 times in a row (no line at all! and we were there on a weekend). We rode it twice by ourselves and once together! Also, please wear gloves in the Winter because your hands WILL FREEZE!
After the ride, head down to the base of Snowmass Mountain for your favorite hot drink and sip it next to an open fireplace!
COASTER PRICING AS OF DECEMBER 2018 (you can get on the coaster as many times as you want during the section you purchase):
Morning section (10:00am – 12:30pm): $39
Afternoon section (12:30pm – 3:30pm): $45
3. SNOWMOBILE TOUR THROUGH MAROON BELLS!
WHERE DO I EVEN START WITH THIS ADVENTURE? Driving through the gorgeous snowy mountains while full blast snowing was so exhilarating. The scenery was unbelievable and it is one of those experiences that simply makes you feel SO HAPPY TO BE ALIVE.
T-Lazy-7 is the BEST BEST BEST snowmobile tour operator in Aspen! They have the most wonderful guides and the whole tour was just a dream. It was so good that I even wrote my first ever TripAdvisor review on their page! T-Lazy-7 offers three snowmobile tours: White River National Forest, Maroon Lake/Maroon Bells, and Independence Pass. WE CANNOT WAIT TO GO BACK IN THE WINTER AND DO THE INDEPENDENCE PASS SNOWMOBILE TOUR!
T-Lazy-7 offers a free shuttle service that will pick you up from Aspen Highlands, just give them a call when you arrive to Aspen Highlands and they will be there in minutes. They were actually already there when we stepped out of the bus! Once at the snowmobile office, you will get fitted for a helmet and snow boots. They also have FREE ski pants and jackets for you to borrow! YOU WILL NEED THEM as it is a 2.5 to 3 hour tour and it gets cold up there!
They also have super clean bathrooms and a gift shop–GET THE HAND WARMERS ($4) and put it inside your glove on top of your hand! The handles of the snowmobile are heated, BUT I was so happy to have the warmers warm the top part of my hands!
My sister and I decided to ride on the double snowmobile so we could take turns while the other one took pics and videos! Also, the double rider is a bit cheaper than the single rider.
You will have two guides/photographers (one in the front-HI AXEL! and one in the back-HI DYLAN!) and about 8-10 riders in the middle.
There will be plenty of distance between each snowmobile, in fact, you feel as if you are the only one on the road during most of the trip.
You will stop 2 times: once to appreciate the scenery while the tour guides give you a brief history of Aspen and the Maroon Bells, and once to get cider and hot chocolate and do a mini hike to appreciate the Maroon Bells!
Below are two pics of the Maroon Bells: one in the Winter and one in the Summer! BREATHTAKING, AREN’T THEY!?
Our tour ended with a looped track where we could race and go AS FAST AS WE CAN! It was SO MUCH FUN!!! The whole tour was supposed to be 2.5 hours per the website. However, it ended up being around 3 hours because they do not rush you! They want to make sure you get the best experience possible.
PRICING (as of December 2018): The Maroon Bells Tour price is $250 for a single rider and $370 for two people on a double snowmobile. TOTALLY WORTH EVERY PENNY! Do not forget to tip your amazing tour guides!
4. “URBAN HIKING” IN DOWNTOWN ASPEN!
During our down time, we loved walking around downtown Aspen and taking pictures of the cozy streets. It was such a peaceful sight to see all the roads and shops covered in snow.
Every single shop had its own unique look and everything felt so hospitable. We specially loved finding secluded parks filled with snow!
We totally thought it would be super cute to take this pic, but what you can’t see is us freaking out because we could NOT FEEL OUR HANDS after throwing the snow!
Resorts in Aspen are also super inviting and we were told that the St. Regis had an amazing spiked hot chocolate. We decided to check it out but we were too blown away by the courtyard with the huge Christmas tree that we just sat by a fireplace and enjoyed the view.
Also this… hi friends!
Where to Eat
Life is short. Eat dessert first! Actually, food is life so just EAT ALL THE THINGS!
The following were our favorite places to eat and ones that we will for sure go back to!
We found the best TO-GO sandwich shop in Aspen!!! It is across the street from our Hotel and they make the best warm sandwiches. It was so good that we decided to get some to-go as our Christmas Eve meal.
My sister and I both got the “FRIEND OF THE DEVIL” sandwich which had: grilled chicken breast, pepper jack, bacon, avocado, lettuce, jalapeño ranch, fresh Pico de Gallo on a ciabatta roll. SOOOO GOOD!!!
I love how unique the inside of this sandwich shop is!
The salads in this place are DELICIOUS!!! We also got the food to go from this place. I guess we were just too excited to get back to our hotel room so we could use the hot tub! But we sat at the bar for 3 minutes because that is how fast our salads came out and the place was packed and everything they were serving looked SO GOOD. Also, the cocktails looked so cool and aesthetically pleasing!
The containers are actually MUCH BIGGER in real life! The one on the left is the “Macho Salad” with rotisserie chicken, mixed greens, avocado, dates, goat cheese, toasted almonds and freshly shucked corn. The one of the right is the “Kale Salad with Rotisserie Chicken” with roasted peanut vinaigrette, fresh herbs and grated Reggiano.
HOPS has such a great Happy Hour deal going on between 3pm – 6pm!!! We got the mini chicken tacos, wild boar nachos (MUST TRY!), and a house salad because we were starving! The nachos were HUGE and we had no idea. To give you an idea, the table next to us ordered one plate of the wild boar nachos and they were 4 people and that is ALL THEY ATE.
I know this is not a restaurant, but this drugstore (est. 1965) totally deserves a mention because this place has EVERYTHING (prescriptions, cosmetics, greeting cards and party supplies, groceries, beer, wine
We got snacks, and most importantly, chocolate and wine to celebrate Christmas!
In summary, GO TO ASPEN!
Thank you so much for spending time with me and I hope this travel guide was helpful to you. Please leave me a comment below if you have any questions or if you have any other recommendations for Aspen!