Some 200 miles west of Denver, Aspen, Colorado, is nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It’s a peaceful retreat in every season, alive with colorful wildflowers in the summer and golden yellow aspen leaves in the fall. But in the winter, this mountain town feels especially magical—fresh snow glitters on the trees, and downtown comes alive with twinkling strings of lights.
With four ski resorts and expansive terrain to explore on snowshoes or cross-country skis, Aspen is a major winter outdoor recreation hub. Plus, after you come in from the cold, you can warm up at the chicest après-ski scene in the country. At 8,000 feet in elevation, Aspen sees chilly temperatures in the winter, but thanks to Colorado’s abundant sunshine and dry climate (and the right jacket and gear), you’ll hardly notice.
Here’s how to plan a weekend trip to Aspen—and what to do once you’re there. Note that Pitkin County, which includes Aspen, is currently requiring all visitors to obtain a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before arriving (or quarantine for 10 days), and sign a traveler affidavit agreeing to an array of local coronavirus precautions and rules. Don’t forget to read up on the latest state restrictions and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines before you head out as well.
Fly into the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, which offers direct flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, and several other major cities, as well as hundreds of connecting flights. And when you fly directly to Aspen, you can lower the environmental impact of your flight for a small fee through the airport’s new carbon offset program.
To explore more of Colorado, fly into Denver International Airport, then rent a car (ask about a vehicle that meets Colorado traction law standards, which go into effect during winter storms) and head west on I-70. This four-hour drive will take you past the Denver city skyline as well as through gorgeous mountain scenery. There are also daily passenger shuttle options from Denver International Airport to Aspen if you don’t feel like driving yourself.
What to do
Travelers head to Aspen during the warmer months for patio dining, world-renowned concerts and festivals, and warm-weather activities like hiking, cycling, and fishing. But from December to early April, Aspen is all about downhill skiing at its four sister resorts—Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass—which have varying terrain types and difficulty levels (as well as ski and snowboard lessons if you need a refresher). You can ski right into downtown from Aspen Mountain, known locally as “Ajax,” which has 64 miles and 3,267 vertical feet of terrain, while sprawling Snowmass offers tons of family-friendly amenities. If you want to hop around and try all four mountains, you can choose from several multi-mountain ski passes.
Beyond downhill skiing, a slew of other outdoor winter activities are popular here, like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, uphilling, winter birding, hiking, and ice fishing, to name a few. If you’re new to any of these, there are experienced guides and instructors who can show you the ropes, including Sun Dog Athletics, Blazing Adventures, and Ashcroft Touring and Adventures. To learn more about Aspen’s plants and animals while out and about, book a guided tour with a naturalist from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
More experienced mountaineers can take advantage of the region’s backcountry skiing areas (out-of-bounds, ungroomed, and unmonitored terrain), but brush up on your avalanche skills or tap a guide to be safe—Aspen Alpine Guides, for example, offers regular avalanche courses and guided backcountry excursions. For a backcountry-esque adventure that’s still in-bounds, try hiking up to the 12,392-foot summit of Highland Bowl, then skiing the double black diamond terrain down—you’ll want to be in peak physical shape and be an experienced skier for this one.