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The White Stuff

Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, Colorado is a great destination for a package vacation. If you ski, it’s paradise; if you don’t ski, it’s still paradise. If you don’t like beach holidays, Aspen is almost certainly one of the best vacation destinations for you.

Neither is Aspen simply the winter refuge of the west coast aristocracy. Sure, the place has its fair quote of millionaire’s daughters and movie stars, but many providers offer Aspen vacations that are well within the budget of most families that feel like a US-based break. Aspen really offers a value-added experience. Regular three-star vacation accommodation such as the Aspen Meadows Resort on Meadows Road offers a taste of the high life for travelers who don’t have millions to spend.

The Aspen Meadows offers excellent, spacious rooms and suites that are billed as three-star but would probably be awarded four elsewhere. It doesn’t have a restaurant on site, probably because guests like to get out in the evening and soak up the atmosphere of the town.

And what a town! Aspen’s physical structure is a mixture of traditional American styles – this was once a frontier town, after all – and swish modern condominiums. The folks you’ll see in the streets are a similar mix: you’ll meet a very wide range of people in Aspen – in fact, one of the most rewarding ways to pass the time is to sit outside a coffee bar, drinking your cappuccino, and simply watch the people go buy. Sit in a public place long enough on a busy day in peak skiing season and you’re bound to see at least one A-list movie star go past.

For all that it’s a haunt of the super-rich, Aspen is a surprisingly down-to-earth kind of town. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly – something which is particularly reflected in the local restaurants. There’s a wide variety to choose from, and although some are distinctly more expensive than others, it’s worth trying a range of Aspen eateries during your stay so that you can fully appreciate the diversity of the town’s cooking. If your taste runs to the European, try the Mirabella on South Monarch Street. The cooking here is described as ‘Mediterranean’ – although some of the styles and flavors you’ll find at work owe more than a little to the regional cooking of more northerly areas of France and Italy. If you’re looking for the comforts of a more distinctively American style of cooking you might consider the award-winning House of Ribs on West Main Street.

Aspen, Maroon Bells
You’ll probably work up a considerable appetite if you’re in Aspen to sample the area’s chief attraction – its fantastic opportunities for skiing. Aspen has been a ski resort since the very first dedicated slope opened in 1914, and now it’s the leading ski resort south of Canada. This is largely because of the exceptional weather conditions. Basically, there are two types of weather in Aspen during the peak ski season: heavy snow (the area’s slopes get around ten feet of the stuff every year) and bright, hot sunshine. There are four ski resorts around the town: Ajax, Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Each one has slightly different characteristics. If you’ve booked a ski course as part of your vacation, you’ll probably find yourself heading to Buttermilk. It has the best geography for learning if you’re a beginner, and you are less likely to be intimidated by the expertise of the really hardcore skiers and snowboarders. Expert skiers favor the more extreme challenges presented by Ajax. Snowboarders are banned from that particular hill, and tend to congregate at Snowmass. If you’re a family with kids who are keen to learn snowboarding, Snowmass is probably the best place for you to start. As well as being the best location in the area for getting instruction in this arcane form of snow athletics, it’s also the most family-friendly of the four resorts.

The most popular resort in all of Colorado is a little way away at Vail Mountain. Its popularity stems from its sheer size – so it rarely seems crowded, as some of the resorts nearer Aspen sometimes do – and its opportunities for enjoyment and relaxation after a long day on the pistes. The Après Ski complex in Vail village seems almost as huge as the Vail Mountain slopes themselves, and offers a seemingly unlimited number of options for those wishing to eat, drink, relax and enjoy themselves.

Aspen is one of those towns that has an atmosphere: you could put the place nearly anywhere in the world – the Sahara Desert or the middle of the Pacific Ocean - and it would still feel special. That it happens to be right beneath some of the finest skiing in the world only adds to the enjoyment. Whatever your reason for visiting Aspen, whether it’s to ski, hike and just chill out and have fun, you’ll certainly leave with the impression that you’ve enjoyed a vacation somewhere very special indeed.

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