How To Experience The Splendor Of Aspen Without Skiing

Famed across the globe for its towering mountains and heavy annual snowfall, the Colorado mountain town of Aspen is a certified ski paradise, but that’s far from the only activity available for vacationers. In recent years, the town has become a top-tier destination for a leisurely winter getaway, drawing a diverse crowd that includes gastronomes, history buffs, and fine art aficionados.

This influx of visitors has even spurred the creation of the Aspen Destination Management Plan and the Aspen Pledge, two sustainable tourism-focused initiatives that seek to promote responsible interactions with the region’s local residents, native wildlife, and eons-old landscapes. Though winter is in full swing, newcomers are sure to find a world of opportunity across Aspen without setting foot on a pair of skis.

Hitting the Slopes (sans Skis)

While skiing and snowboarding tend to dominate the surrounding slopes, there’s one particularly idyllic outdoor activity to take part in—snowshoeing, to be precise. Unlike other winter sports, this activity requires no prior training, allowing first-time participants to strap on a pair of shoes and trek to their hearts’ content. Visitors are welcome to rent a pair of snowshoes and trek solo, but for a truly memorable experience, an excursion with the Aspen Center of Environmental Studies is a must-try.

Founded in 1968, this Colorado institution offers ample insight into the natural world of the Rocky Mountains, shining a spotlight on the flora and fauna that call the Centennial State home. During a two hour excursion, participants will make the voyage along Richmond Ridge, exploring some of Aspen’s densest thickets of spruce and fir forest with a certified naturalist taking the lead. Each tour highlights a wealth of topics ranging from geology to botany to early Colorado history, while creatures like the pine squirrel, snowshoe hare, and rosy finch might make an appearance to lucky visitors.

After a lengthy nature trek, tubing provides an opportunity to shoot down the slopes without exerting too much effort. Just like snowshoeing, this outdoor activity requires no training, making it a particularly suitable activity for families with young children. For best results, head to nearby Elk Camp in Snowmass, where a wealth of lift-served lanes are awaiting winter visitors. During daylight hours, guests can purchase a ticket to enjoy unlimited tubing as well as a few rides on the Breathtaker, a mile-long roller coaster that tops out at 28 mph.

Finding the Perfect Après-Snowshoe

Aspen has served as a magnet for the upper class for decades, and this influx of winter visitors has given rise to some incredible drinking and dining opportunities all across town—and for anyone wishing to party the night away after a day on the slopes, there’s no better destination than the W Aspen. Opened in 2019, this palatial property is equipped with an in-house ski shop, a rooftop deck with a heated pool and panoramic mountain views, and an impressive drinking and dining program. During evening hours, 39 DEGREES is the perfect destination for savory fare like Korean fried cauliflower and short rib ragu, while one of Aspen’s hottest nightlife destinations is located just downstairs.

Known as GROTTO, this subterranean gem is bringing some serious east coast flair to the Rockies for the 2023 ski season, with New York’s iconic Ponyboy taking over the space until mid-Aril. Equipped with a rotating set of DJs and a massive human-shaped disco ball crowning the dance floor, Ponyboy has become a favorite party spot for skiers and non-participants alike—and just like its Empire State sibling, Aspen’s iteration is home to some pretty stellar cocktails. While options range from espresso martinis to milk punch cosmos, don’t leave without trying a a whiskey-forward Tiki Mountain, a Ponyboy creation that’s accented with passionfruit, maraschino, and tiki bitters.

For a cozy watering hole that pairs complex cocktails with an added dose of Aspen history, it’s tough to find a better destination than J-Bar. Housed within the storied Hotel Jerome, this saloon has been drawing thirsty patrons since opening day in 1889. While the space itself is a wonder to behold, equipped with dazzling chandeliers and an ornately-carved wooden bar, J-Bar is no slouch when it comes to mixology, offering flavorful favorites like the piping-hot whiskey-forward Silver Queen’s Chocolate and the West of Eden, a boozy blend of navy strength gin, ginger, and orange bitters. After a stiff drink at J-Bar, nearby Las Montañas is a hotspot for flavorful international cuisine in the heart of Aspen. Specializing in Mexican fare, this spacious restaurant is home to dishes like crispy red snapper, barbacoa quesadillas, and gulf shrimp fajitas, each one pairing perfectly with a frozen margarita.

Exploring Aspen Art and History

Aspen is best known for its outdoor adventure opportunities, but there’s no shortage of other attractions to enjoy if the weather isn’t cooperating. For a glimpse into the more creative side of town, the Aspen Art Museum is the perfect destination. This esteemed institution dates back to 1979, comprising four separate levels that play host to a rotating array of paintings, sculptures, and other forms of media. As an added bonus, the museum’s rooftop café is a particularly gorgeous downtown dining destination, equipped with an open-air deck and flavorful dishes ranging from ginger miso shaved carrots to hot ham and cheese brioche, each one loaded with ingredients sourced from nearby Colorado farms.

After exploring the museum, history buffs can find a wealth of information during an excursion with Dean’s Aspen Tours, a local company that offers a glimpse into the fascinating culture of the surrounding area. For outdoor aficionados, there’s no shortage of nature tours taking place both on foot and atop a bicycle, while the Past to Present Tour is perfect for gaining some insight into the many bygone eras from Aspen’s pre-resort town past. Though Aspen is best known today for its incredible ski industry, there’s a wealth of cultural, historic, and food-focused expeditions to discover at the bottom of the slopes.

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