I began this year’s round-the-world trip with snow and ice in Antarctica, so it seemed only fitting that after a month of soaking up the island sunshine around the world I should end Round the World #8 in similar frigid fashion.
This time, in Aspen Colorado.
It may come as a surprise that after more than a decade of globetrotting adventures, I’ve never actually taken a ski trip.
In fact, aside from a weekend church ski trip to North Carolina in high school, this Florida girl has never skied (and I wouldn’t say I particularly thrived on that high school trip).
But last year, a summer trip to Keystone, Colorado opened my eyes to the spectacular Rocky Mountains. As I soaked in the natural beauty of a Colorado summer, I couldn’t help but wonder,
“What would this be like during ski season when the resort towns really hit full tilt?”
I must confess…
I’ve always harbored a secret desire to be a ski bunny. You’ve seen them. Those impossibly chic girls effortlessly schussing down the mountain by day and hot-tubbing with a chilled glass of champagne by night.
The idea of a ski trip to Aspen Colorado sounded both athletic and glamorous – two of my favorite adjectives.
Bonus: Because a stop in Colorado is closer to home than my typical global destinations, I invite two of my best girlfriends to join the fun. A ski trip seems like the perfect girls’ getaway. And three ski bunnies are always better than one, no?
I should mention that between the three of us, there is exactly ZERO skiing experience. But who are we to let details get in the way of a good time?
Could we go from zero to ski bunny in just 4 days? Only time would tell.
But enough chit chat. The après-ski cocktails aren’t going to drink themselves.
Bring on the slopes!
Aspen Snowmass & the Power of Four
The Aspen Snowmass area is actually made up of four mountains: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass Mountain, Buttermilk Mountain, and Aspen Highlands. With four mountains of varying degrees of difficulty, there truly is a mountain for everyone – even total rookies like us.
The plan? Maximize our Aspen experience by trying out two different areas.
First, two nights at the uber-fabulous St Regis Aspen hotel in heart of nightlife-infused Aspen. Then, two nights in the relaxed, family-friendly Snowmass Mountain at the picture-perfect ski-in/ski-out Westin Snowmass.
Enter, the girls
And my longtime best bud, Kristy, who I rarely get to see because she lives in Milwaukee (she’s no stranger to snow).
To get from my last stop in Australia to Aspen, my round the world ticket conveniently included a much-needed overnight layover at home in Atlanta. Super helpful from a luggage swap perspective after traveling with the same suitcase for a month.
Shannon and I will fly together into Apsen. Kristy has a later flight from Milwaukee and will meet us at the St Regis Aspen tonight.
The Fabulous St Regis Aspen Colorado
Located at the base of Colorado’s legendary Aspen Mountain, the recently renovated St Regis Aspen enjoys a coveted Aspen address.
The hotel features decadent rooms and suites, one of the world’s top spas – the Remède Spa – and the exclusive Chef’s Club restaurant by FOOD & WINE where a hand-picked group of the magazine’s “Best New Chefs” create inspired culinary delights nightly.
Shannon and I arrive at the elegant St Regis Aspen mid-afternoon, excited to begin ski bunny boot camp.
While we wait for our suite to be ready, we settle in by the roaring lobby fireplace with a glass of champagne. My glance travels around the lavish lobby and I think to myself, “Yep, this is how you do Aspen.”
Five minutes later Shannon adroitly spots our first celebrity – Christian Slater – strolling through the lobby with his dog, “Fish.” Because Aspen.
Before long our suite is ready and we are ushered into a luxuriously-spacious, two-bedroom loft suite with not one, but two, fireplaces.
I stand corrected, this is how you do Aspen.
We sip our champagne and sample the treats awaiting us in the living room while waiting for news from Kristy (who is currently stuck in Denver with a weather delay).
A St Regis Aspen Tradition – Champagne Sabering
With no news yet from Kristy, Shannon and I head down to the lobby bar to witness the hotel’s nightly sabering tradition.
Each evening, every St Regis hotel sabers a bottle of champagne. If you haven’t seen it done before, it’s quite impressive.
Joined by a dozen of our fellow guests, we follow the bartender outside into the snow (safety first) and cheer enthusiastically as she expertly separates cork from bottle with one clean slice of a glimmering saber.
Champagne sabering? Five stars. Highly recommend.
And, of course, champagne is served all-round afterward!
Après-ski in Aspen
Kristy’s flight woes continue (new ETA, 1:00am), so Shannon and I make the short walk into downtown Aspen in search of drinks and dinner. It’s après-ski hour and the fact that we have not yet skied need not be a disqualifier.
First stop, happy-hour hotspot, Apex, in the exclusive Little Nell Hotel located at the base of Aspen Mountain. Snow is falling with reckless abandon and the quaint town of Aspen is blanketed like a diamond-encrusted winter wonderland. It is spectacular.
Drinks are followed by a delicious dinner and somehow more Aspen nightlife exploration (not the initial plan, but we made friends).
We finally return to the St. Regis Aspen around midnight. Shannon heads to bed and I wait up for Kristy who finally arrives, as advertised, just after 1:00am…hooray!!
Let the girls’ trip officially begin.
Ski Bunnies in Training on Buttermilk Mountain
The next morning it’s time to actually hit the slopes. Allegedly, the reason we’ve come.
For our first ski lesson, the lovely folks at Aspen Skiing Company suggested Buttermilk Mountain, a good mountain for (ahem) beginners.
I got a good look at the size of Aspen Mountain last night, I don’t need convincing. Buttermilk Mountain it is.
Ski pro, Julian Gregory, is our instructor today. A past Ski School Manager at both Snowmass Mountain and Highlands, as well as a ski Pro trainer, Julian seems up to the challenge of dealing with a couple of total rookies.
After a marathon travel day yesterday, Kristy is more interested in the spa than the slopes. She opts to forgo the ski lesson and instead acts as the official photographer to document this momentous occasion.
In the capable hands of Julian, Shannon and I gear up and head out to Buttermilk Mountain. The snow has finally abated and Aspen is basking in what’s known in skiing parlance as a “bluebird” day – a sunny day right after a large snowfall that creates much-coveted powder conditions on the slopes.
The weather is spectacular and I thoroughly enjoy our lesson. Julian is a terrific teacher and I am feeling more and more confident by the hour.
Afternoon spa appointments at the St Regis beckon, so we end our lesson just before lunchtime. Tomorrow, we’ll meet up with Julian again for lesson #2.
I may have a future as a ski bunny after all!
Another delicious St Regis tradition
Before our appointments at the spa, we stop by the restaurant at the St Regis Aspen for lunch and to sample another St. Regis tradition, the Bloody Mary.
Originally created in the 1930’s by a bartender at the St Regis Hotel in New York, the Bloody Mary has become a the hotel’s signature drink (silly me, I thought it was champagne!). Each property puts its own unique twist on the spicy concoction. At the St Regis Aspen it’s called the “Downhill Snapper” and it’s spicy, tomato deliciousness.
After lunch, we make a quick visit to the St Regis’ exclusive Aspen Outfitting Company to check out some of the non-skiing pursuits available in the area. Options include fly fishing, target shooting, rock climbing, horseback riding, and even a Western Colorado wine tour.
And while all of those sound delightful, for now, we are solidly focused on indoor pursuits. Like the world-renowned Remède Spa at the St Regis Aspen.
A Ski Trip’s Better Half…the Spa
Now this is where ski trips really start to shine.
Forget skiing, there are lots of other ways to spend your days in Aspen. For my money, spa time tops the list…especially when the spa in question is ranked #2 in the country and #6 in the world by the readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine.
I had a massage, Kristy a facial, and Shannon took advantage of the Remède Spa’s incredible facilities like the steam room, whirlpools, Confluence Waterfall Lounge, and the uniquely-luxurious, altitude-fighting oxygen room.
My massage is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. So incredibly relaxing that I fear someone may have to carry me out of there.
I cap it off with a little quiet time in the oxygen room where I find Kristy, already firmly affixed to a plush lounge chair, sipping champagne like it’s her job. Basking in the glow of her facial, she makes the unspoken point that skiing is (obviously) overrated.
Check mate, Aspen.
I could have stayed there all day. However, it is now almost sabering time again and we have a champagne schedule to keep. Kristy missed it last night so tonight’s show is a must.
We reluctantly change out of our fluffy robes and trade the coziness of the spa for the chill of the outdoor air.
Will Work for Champagne
As we exit the lobby to the official sabering spot, I am more than a little shocked when the hotel manager invites me to do the honors tonight.
Don’t get me wrong, I know my way around a bottle of champagne. However, I’ve never sabered, um, anything and surely this maneuver must require some sort of experience and perhaps a weapons permit.
Kristy and Shannon stifle laughter and ready their cameras. The thought of me attempting to open a bottle of champagne with a piece of weaponry normally reserved for invading armies is (apparently) hysterical.
Off to the side, the bartender gives me a quick lesson. Hold the bottle here, slide the saber along its seam in one quick motion. This has all the makings of a tragic comedy but here goes nothing.
Shockingly, I count to three, sharply slide the saber forward, and neatly slice off the top of the bottle as champagne explodes from its wounded neck.
No one is more surprised than me that this actually worked (as you can see from the picture above).
I’m later told it’s rare for a guest to be asked to saber at a St Regis, so I am honored they let me give it a go. I’m also relieved that I didn’t take out anyone’s eye in the process.
It goes without saying that I will be adding “champagne sabering” to my resume under special skills.
Later that night we reunite with our friends from the previous night for another evening of embracing the Aspen nightlife til the wee hours.
Ski Bunnies, Part #2 – Back to Buttermilk Mountain
The next morning, snow is falling steadily again as we board the free shuttle bus back to Buttermilk Mountain to meet Julian for our 2nd lesson on the slopes.
As a reward for our stellar efforts yesterday, Julian has promised us a trip to the top of the mountain where the grown-ups ski (while still on the green trails, of course).
The weather is a stark contrast to the bluebird day yesterday and we bundle up against the swirling snow. The trip down from the top of Buttermilk Mountain is awesome and I am truly getting into a groove with this skiing thing.
I also take my first fall which is apparently a good thing. Julian jokes that he would have pushed me over before the end of the day if I didn’t fall on my own. Part of his job is teaching me how to get up and he takes his job seriously.
After a few hours on the mountain, it’s time to head back to the St Regis Aspen, pack up, and move on to our next destination, the Westin Snowmass.
The Beauty of Ski-In/Ski-Out
Just nine miles from downtown Aspen, lies the largest of the areas quad peaks, Snowmass Mountain.
With a summit elevation of more than 12,000ft and featuring 21 lifts (almost three times the number at the others), Snowmass truly offers the largest variety of skiing options.
After a multi-million dollar renovation, the vast Snowmass Village now features a new shining star on the slopes, the Westin Snowmass. With a perfect mountainside location, the Westin offers the convenience of ski-in/ski-out access with all the plush luxury the Westin name implies.
We arrive by mid-afternoon and check-in to a lovely room with a perfect view of the mountain. I am amazed at just how close we are to the action.
Chairlifts, skiers, and snowboarders whiz by just outside our balcony, and the hot tubs down below are just steps from the slopes.
Since we are still definite rookies, we don’t have plans to ski at Snowmass. Instead, a little shopping in the Village and, of course, après-ski festivities are on the agenda.
Speaking of après-ski, would you look at the time? We head down to the Westin’s lobby bar for cocktails.
Ski trip Rule #1: you don’t have to ski to après-ski.
Later, we take the gondola down to the village to scout out dinner options. We settle on a Mexican restaurant that turns out to be terrific.
After dinner, it’s time to get into true ski trip spirit with a visit to the hot tub. We order a round of drinks, don our robes, and head out to the icy pool deck.
Despite the single-digit temperatures, the hot tub is warm and inviting and we stay until they kick us out at closing time.
Last Day of Snow Play in Snowmass
The next morning the snow has again passed under dark of night and as daylight breaks, Snowmass Mountain is abuzz with the anticipation of another bluebird day.
The lifts start rolling at 9am and we head back down to the base village on the gondola to check out the popular kids ski school. Yesterday, watching all the fearless kiddos fly by us on the slopes at Buttermilk Mountain got Kristy thinking of bringing her 5-year-old out on a future trip.
Snowmass Mountain and Buttermilk Mountain offer a variety of ski schools for kids of all ages (and grown-ups, too!). Snowmass even has a “Cubs on Skis” program for kids as young as 2 ½ years old.
It’s fun to watch them ski by with their instructors, bundled up like miniature Michelin-men wearing tiny little ski boots. Super cute despite the fact that an alarming number of them are way better skiers than we are.
This is why I don’t have children, always showing off.
One last day in Aspen
Since we’re done skiing, we spend our last afternoon shopping and sightseeing in Aspen. We hop on the convenient free bus connecting all four mountains (which makes getting around Aspen/Snowmass a breeze without a car).
First up, a gondola ride to the top of Aspen Mountain for a little après-ski (again, actual skiing not required) with a million-dollar view from the restaurant.
Later we spend hours popping in and out of Aspen’s high-end stores and first-rate consignment shops. Then wander over to J Bar at the historic Hotel Jerome for a delicious dinner before catching the bus back to Snowmass.
With our first two nights devoted to nightlife, we are more than happy to spend the last two enjoying the more laid-back, quieter pace of Snowmass Village.
Winter Wonderland Wrap-Up
After four days of skiing, spas, and shopping – mixed in with a healthy dose of Aspen’s legendary nightlife – we’ve really had a taste of what Aspen Snowmass has to offer.
In fact, the more I think about it, I can’t believe I haven’t planned a ski trip to Colorado sooner. It’s such an easy trip from Atlanta and it’s the perfect way to spend a winter week or weekend.
But there’s more to Aspen Snowmass than the winter months. Locals rave about the beauty of the summer months when ski slopes become hiking and biking trails and weekends are loaded with festivals and concerts.
Read More on Colorado: 5 Fabulous Things to Do in Colorado Springs for Fresh Air Fun (3 are free!)
There’s golf, tennis, white-water rafting and, of course, if après-ski need not be limited to skiers, it also need not be limited to ski season.
After just 4 days, I’m convinced we have succeeded in our quest to become (at least honorary) ski bunnies.
There’s another Colorado ski trip in my future for sure. Perhaps Telluride, Beaver Creek, or Steamboat Springs. Of course, Aspen Snowmass is likely to see me again, too…
After all, the champagne at the St Regis isn’t going to saber itself.
Tomorrow, my parting thoughts on this whirlwind round-the-world journey to all 7 continents in just 7 weeks.