Last week I attended the inaugural Future Leaders in Travel Retreat hosted by TravelAge West in Aspen, Colorado. I applied and was accepted into the Retreat along with 40 other millennial advisors and 25 suppliers from across the country ages 22-37. You can read more about my experience at the Retreat here.
It was my first time in Aspen and it exceeded my expectations. The area’s beauty is breathtaking with mountains everywhere you turn and an adorable downtown area filled with cute shops, incredible restaurants, and fun bars.
You may think of Aspen just for skiing, but it’s truly a year-round destination. I’m not a big skier or snowboarder, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn about all it has to offer off the slopes.
What to Do
Aside from the plethora of winter activities you expect in Aspen, including one I just learned about called skinning, it’s a very outdoorsy and artsy city with amazing food and hotels you can enjoy throughout all seasons.
Here is what I did during my early fall visit as well as other ideas for how to personalize your trip depending on when you go.
As a part of the Retreat, our first morning we ventured to Lost Forest, located on nearby Snowmass Mountain. After an eight minute enclosed gondola ride up the mountain, we were able to explore the grounds which is packed with activities. I tried out rock climbing for the first time. It wasn’t hard to get up the wall, but my descent was less than graceful!
I also loved the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, which is a rollercoaster with cars that fit one or two people and you control the speed. I followed the advice of the attendants and went full speed the whole time and I can vouch for the coaster living up to its “breathtaker” name. Unfortunately, it started to rain pretty hard by the time I got to the front of the line, but it was so much fun it was well worth getting soaked for, which is a bold statement because I really despise the rain.
Lost Forest also has tons of other activities you can participate in such as an extensive ropes course, zip line, two disc golf courses, and plenty of hiking and fishing opportunities.
The Great Outdoors
The next morning I went on a hike to picturesque Maroon Bells Lake with a group of seven other retreat participants, which was lead by the expert guides of Blazing Adventures. It was approximately a five mile, fairly easy hike (no major elevation change). Thankfully the weather was absolutely perfect to stroll through the forests filled with Aspen trees and along bubbling brooks that day. We finished our hike at the crystal clear lake and were treated to the sweeping views of snow capped mountain peaks. I wish I could start every morning that way!
Others chose to go on a bike ride through the mountains, also guided by Blazing Adventures, which got rave reviews. Another group took part in a very zen-looking outdoor yoga session near Maroon Bells Lake. I wish I could have done all of the activities, but it’s just an excuse to return!
In the spring, summer, and fall, there are tons of hiking and biking opportunities with trails everywhere around Aspen. You can go white water rafting nearby in the summer as well. Since we visited the first week of September, it was a few weeks too early to see the fall foliage, but we did spot a few trees starting to change colors. I can imagine the beauty of the bold yellow, orange, and red leaves contrasting against the pine trees stretching all along the mountainside.
We tested our culinary skills on evening at the Aspen Cooking School. I learned how to make cacio e pepe, my favorite Italian pasta dish, from scratch. They have a huge kitchen and offer a wide variety of cooking classes, demonstrations, and special events. I highly recommend checking their schedule to see what may be going on during your stay in Aspen or reaching out to coordinate a private class with them.
The owner of the cooking school, who is a sommelier, guided us through a wine tasting and food pairing at Rustique Bistro located conveniently upstairs from the Aspen Cooking School. Unfortunately, due to the retreat’s packed schedule, we didn’t get to try a lot of restaurants, but I suggest referring to EatAspen.com and the Eater for up to date restaurant and bar recommendations.
If you’re visiting during the summer or early fall you can also visit the Aspen Farmer’s Market which takes place on Saturday mornings – I’m such a sucker for a good local market.
If you’re a big foodie, then you should definitely plan a trip around Aspen’s Food & Wine festival every June. Be sure to book accommodations early to avoid disappointment!
Source: Aspen Chamber of Commerce, www.AspenChamber.org
Other Ways to Explore Aspen
Aspen is very into music, especially classical music. There is a huge orchestra tent downtown that hosts the Aspen Music Festival with over 400 music events throughout the summer every year.
One place that I didn’t have a chance to try, but am very intrigued by is Thug Yoga. It looks like my kind of yoga studio with beer encouraged, fun music to hit your poses to, and low drop-in class fees. If you are into yoga, or at least willing to try it out, please visit and let me know how it is!
There are helpful sample itineraries on Aspen’s tourism website divided by interests making it super easy to customize your trip. Their site also has plenty of ideas for how to keep the kids entertained regardless of the season you visit.
Where To Stay
There is no shortage of beautiful places to stay in Aspen. There are three Virtuoso properties that I can offer you the following exclusive amenities if you book your stay with me:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Daily breakfast for two people
- $100 USD Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during your stay
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
The St. Regis is the only luxury hotel in town that has a full spa (vs. just treatment rooms). If you are loyal to Marriott/SPG then this is a perfect fit for you. Don’t worry, you can get still earn your points if you book with me 🙂
Hotel Jerome, which is a part of the Auberge Resort Collection, oozes with local historic character and western decor that embodies Rocky Mountain living. The rooms are very luxurious with modern amenities. They recently remodeled and now have residences that would be great for families. On our last night of the Retreat we hit up the sexy new speakeasy bar in the hotel, Bad Harriet; the cocktails were incredible. Even if you don’t stay at Hotel Jerome you should definitely check it out for drinks one night!
The Little Nell, a Relais & Chateaux property, has five star service, a cosmopolitan vibe, and top notch restaurants, and a wine cellar with over 20,000 bottles! Fun fact – The Little Nell is where the master sommelier test is taken! The hotel has 43 sommeliers on staff and one of the only 150 master sommeliers in the US. Not that it will be a selling point for non-skiers, but it is worth noting that it’s the only true ski-in/ski-out hotel in Aspen, which is located right at the base of the Silver Queen gondola.
During the Retreat, we stayed at Aspen Meadows Resort, which is the home of the Aspen Institute and has hosted such amazing minds like Madeline Albright, Dalai Lama, and Michelle Obama. The rooms are very spacious and it is surrounded by hiking/biking trails and sweeping mountain views. It’s perfect if you are really looking for a serene environment but still want to be close to town to take advantage of everything Aspen has to offer.
How to Get to Aspen
Flight schedules to Aspen vary by season, with more daily non stop flights offered in the winter months. Aspen’s airport (ASE) is a super small airport, making getting in and out a breeze. You can check out seasonal flight details on Aspen’s tourism website. Here’s a picture of the flights to ASE during the non-winter months (December through early April). In the winter, there are additional nonstops from Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Phoenix.
Source: Aspen Chamber of Commerce, www.AspenChamber.org
Have you been to Aspen? Comment below with your favorite thing to do/see/eat there!
Interested in going to Aspen? Schedule time with me to talk about your trip!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by the Future Leaders in Travel Retreat for my trip to Aspen.