High (Above The Peaks) In Aspen

For a continuation of my 50th birthday celebration this past summer, I took a late summer trip to Aspen. (Remember, I went to London and Wimbledon at the beginning of the summer to start the celebration, then to Nashville mid summer-lucky me!).  Rob and I went with our 6 friends in tow. We spent 5 days and nights lapping up the luxury of our hotel, The Little Nell.  We ate amazing food and a lot of it.  We tried some new activities like fly fishing, and some old ones too, like hiking and biking.  We shopped, as I was with three avid and stylish shoppers who were excited to take full advantage of the Aspen retail scene. We laughed a ton (some of my best memories of the trip) due to partaking in some LEGAL Colorado activities and we enjoyed our time together. Thanks to the “Aspen 2018 with my besties” for tagging along with me to share 50, it would have been boring with just me and Rob. 🙂

Let me begin with what may be the best hotel I have ever stayed in, The Little Nell.  My favorite part of the hotel was our room.  To start, our room was HUGE with a big comfy bed, sitting area with a fireplace, and modern and spacious bathroom.  Second, please Little Nell, share with us your carpet brand.  This seems weird to write about, but the carpet in our room was plush and luxurious.  I loved walking around the room barefoot on that soft and comfortable floor. Our friends concurred!  However, the best part of the room was the FREE mini-bar.  Ok, it was only free for some of the items like soft drinks and snacks, but still whatever we ate that day (or put in our bag to bring home), we had replenished for us each night.  Too bad my kids weren’t with us, they would have had a field day as the over-priced mini bar snacks are usually off limits when we stay at a hotel.

As for the hotel itself, it was located right at the base of Aspen Mountain with the gondola in our backyard. The ski in/ski out amenities of the hotel must be unbelievable in the winter.  The breakfast each morning, included with our package, was your typical breakfast items off the menu or a beautiful buffet.  Have the homemade granola, which they also sell in the hotel shop.  It’s great!  Many nights we had pre dinner drinks at the hotel bar, The Living Room. The space had intimately arranged comfortable furniture and two fireplaces.  Little dishes of complimentary snacks accompanied our drinks each night-olives, nuts, popcorn and chocolate rocks! Again, too bad my kids missed this.  We are heading back to Aspen in February and we will definitely do après-ski here one afternoon, just so they can have the chocolate treats. The staff was pleasant and accommodating in directing us and assisting us with reservations.  We didn’t use the pool, but it looked nice with plush comfy chairs.  Rob loved the gym and he is usually a very tough critic of hotel gyms.

Also, BTW, in non typical fashion, we paid for this stay. (I used my beloved Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay).  We did not have enough flexible points (ie, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, etc.) to even entertain the notion of getting this stay on reward points.  After all, it was my 50th birthday, and just Rob and me, so this was my justification. (One couple did use Chase points to pay for their stay).  The stay is pricey.  However, it is probably 1/2 the price of what a room costs during ski season.  IMO, to experience this hotel, summer is the way to go.  When I go back this winter, I will envy the Little Nell guests, but then I will just need to remind myself that I saved $26,000 (not a typo) on our stay at the St. Regis.  My jealously should dissipate quickly after that reality check.

On to Aspen….each day we took on a big morning activity, leaving our afternoons free for relaxing and shopping.  Due to the high altitude of Aspen (8,000 ft above sea level), we didn’t want to tackle anything too strenuous our first day, so we booked a jeep tour through Blazing Adventures.  (As much as I loved The Little Nell, booking activities through their adventure desk was definitely more $, I researched and booked the activities on my own through other companies).  We had an 8 person jeep that took us on a scenic driving tour throughout the valley.  We took fun shots posing with the mountains and walking amidst the wildflowers. Granted, it was not the most exciting first activity, but it was pretty nonetheless and a good intro to the altitude and beauty of Aspen.  Our adventures got more exciting from there…

Fly Fishing!……We used Aspen Flyfishing to guide us on our fly fishing adventures.  The office, is right in town at the base of Aspen mountain.  You need to get a one day fishing license before you fly fish, and we made sure to get our license the day before so as to not waste valuable time the morning of.

The company requires that you go 2 to a guide so after we all got into our waders and boots, we broke off by couple with our respective guides.  The guides have their own plan about where to try to catch the most fish, so Rob and I actually didn’t see any of our friends again until we returned to town.  (However, the 6 of them saw each other throughout the morning).

Fly fishing was hard.  Also, I was nursing tennis elbow at the time which made it even more difficult because you basically need to flick your arm when you cast your line.  Every time I thought I hooked a fish, it ended up that my hook hit the bottom or got caught on a branch, rock, etc.  Rob caught a trout early on, but it was tiny and unimpressive.  The three hours wading in the river with no catch was frustrating, however, I loved being in the water and had fun maneuvering the slippery rocks trying hard not to lose my balance (I didn’t). I was often by myself as the guide had Rob and I stand far apart so we did not get tangled up.  It was a good time to self reflect and appreciate the natural beauty of my surroundings.

Towards the end of the morning, our guide felt bad that it had been such an unsuccessful trip. He offered to take my rod and I couldn’t hand it over fast enough.  Literally, after about 3 minutes, he hooked this monster of a fish.  He handed me the rod, and I reeled it in.  This picture of me and the trout made it all worthwhile!  We threw our catch back into the river and called it a successful day.

Hiking was another activity we enjoyed in Aspen, we did 2 hikes (Sunnyside and the Ute trail) as well as a wike (walk/hike) at the Maroon Bells.  We were still acclimating early on in our trip so we first tackled the moderate Sunnyside trail.  The dirt trail is 10 miles. Our goal was just a few miles and we accomplished that while taking in the pretty views of the Aspen Mountains and ultimately getting poured on (made it more fun!).  We also did the very easy Maroon Lake Trail at the Maroon Bells. This path is less than a mile but you are looking at the iconic views of the peaks of the Maroon Bells the entire walk.  I snapped a majority of our Aspen pictures on this wike. Note, you can only access the Maroon Bells trails with your car before 8AM and after 5PM.  Within those times, the trails can be accessed via city buses.  We went after 5 PM for a sunset walk and taxied there and back.  We needed to have the taxi wait for us as there is spotty cell service and we were nervous we wouldn’t be able to get in touch with a taxi for the ride home.  The ride to the Maroon Bells is about 20 minutes from the town of Aspen.

The UTE!  Just some of us tackled this not for the faint of heart hike. The steep, heavily used trail, ascends 700 feet in just .9 miles till u get to an outcrop of rocks known as Ute Rock (veer right at the swing).  At Ute Rock, you get beautiful views of the Aspen Valley. At this point, you can decide whether to turnaround and go down (ugh your poor knees!) or continue up to the peak of Aspen Mountain.  I chose the latter.

I had heard that the hike gets much easier after the rock overlook.  Not for me!  Although it was my 4th day in Aspen, I definitely was still not entirely acclimated to the altitude.  At home I work out pretty intensely 2-3 times per week.  I consider myself in good shape. However, what would have just been a great workout for me in NY, was a heart pounding, arduous, never-ending climb for me in Aspen.  I literally had to sit down in the in the grass with the Aspen lodge just steps away because I thought I was going to faint.  One of the problems that I think I had was that I did the beginning part of the hike too fast (Andrew slow down!).  I was already too tired and winded when I began the second part.  No-one else seemed to have this issue though and they patiently waited for me to summit.

I made it! I drank lots of water at the top, took lots of pictures and eagerly and thankfully boarded the gondola for my trip down Aspen Mountain.  Ute Trail-check!

Every person who had taken this summer trip to Aspen before us recommended biking to Woody Creek Tavern for lunch.  Good advice!  We rented bikes from Four Mountain Sports, right in town, and biked the scenic, flat/downhill, easy 7 mile Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Woody Creek Tavern.  At this unique and quirky spot, we enjoyed a delicious lunch (Definitely taking the kids here this winter).  Biking the 7 miles uphill back wasn’t an option after our satiating lunch and beverages and is not an option for most.  The restaurant allows you to leave your bikes and Four Mountain Sports comes later to pick them up. There are multiple taxis outside of the restaurant banking on the fact that many people ditch their bikes for the option of a car.  They are right!

When we weren’t enjoying our adventures, we were eating! Aspen is not just an exciting outdoor adventure destination, but a foodie haven as well.  For dinner, on the fancier side, we tried Aspen Kitchen (since closed-huh?!?!?!) and Cache Cache (we were told not to miss, and all were right!).  On the more casual side, we feasted on Mexican at Mi Chola and indulged in smokey Colorado BBQ at Hickory House Ribs. All of the restaurants were in walking distance, even Hickory House, although that one was a bit outside of the main part of town. We also enjoyed drinks and heavy apps in The Living Room (the Little Nell lounge) one night in lieu of a formal dinner.

Being quite social at J Bar

Yes, all of the dinners were quite good, but in my opinion, the lunches were even better!  My favorite restaurant in all of Aspen was Meat and Cheese.  I had one of the best salads there that I have ever had, the Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Salad.  As the name implies, we shared a huge meat and cheese board as an appetizer, which was just one of many boards.  There was also a pâté board, bread board, steak board to name a few.  Note, this restaurant does not take reservations so plan accordingly.  I plan to try this place this winter for dinner with my family.  

We also dined alfresco at the oh so popular (especially in the winter) Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain and in our hotel.  We enjoyed burgers, beers and truffle fries on the restaurants large patio overlooking the gondola and the mountain. We had more burgers at J Bar in the Hotel Jerome, said to be the town’s social hot spot. Indeed it was as we needed to wait a bit and have some drinks in the hotel’s lounge before getting a table.

So that pretty much sums up our five wonderful days in Aspen.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to top off my 50th bday year than with a trip to this beautiful and amazing locale with good times (belly laughing is an understatement-GP!), exciting adventures (ok, SI, I reluctantly admit the jeep tour was a little boring), unbelievable food and great friends.  Every time I have put on my trendy Aviator Nation jacket this fall (shh let’s continue to keep the price from Rob and Marlo, I do switch off my jackets), I remember our trip and it makes me really happy. Here is to more destinations and adventures and milestones in the future with the “Aspen 2018 with my besties”!