1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

Aspen, Colorado – Skis Optional

by Suzanne Fluhr on September 30, 2012 · 20 comments

Maroon Bells, White River National Forest, Colorado

Maroon Bells, White River National Forest, outside Aspen Colorado

When most people hear “Aspen, Colorado”, they think “Oh, that place where the one percent go skiing.”  While you certainly would not look out of place were you to show up in Aspen in February, by private plane, wearing a couture ski outfit and fur coat, this Rocky Mountain town is actually a reasonable destination for the rest of us too with Aspen area accommodations available at a range of price points.

My visit to Aspen was as a trailing spouse during the first week of June for a pulmonary medicine conference conducted yearly by the University of Colorado School of Medicine — nary a ski bunny in sight.  We had never been to Colorado, so we decided to fly into Denver, rent a car and take the scenic route through Breckinridge and over Independence Pass to Aspen. It is possible to fly to Aspen from several U.S. cities, but in planning your itinerary, you may want to take into account that the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has been ranked as the 7th most dangerous airport — in the world. Apparently, the verdict is still out as to whether a recent runway lengthening project made the airport safer — or less safe. Until they figure that out—it really is a nice drive.

We had reserved a 4 cylinder sub-compact car, but upon hearing our itinerary, the car rental agent suggested that an SUV would be more appropriate. Denver being “The Mile High City”, our road trip started at an altitude of 5,280 feet. It topped out at 12,095 feet at Independence Pass. (That’s 3,687 meters for you metric types). Although it was early June, the road was still cut through deep snow at Independence Pass. Indeed, the Pass, in fact, is not passable during the winter. Think the Donner Party. (In case you were not schooled in American history, the Donner Party was most definitely NOT a fun party).

Although it’s only about a four hour drive from the Denver Airport to Aspen, I booked us a Bed and Breakfast in Breckenridge, another Colorado town best known as a ski resort. We enjoyed a nice Italian dinner complete with a bottle of red wine. Life Lesson: It is most definitely NOT a good idea to wake up at sea level, take an airplane ride of 1,579 miles (yes, I looked it up), drive to a town nestled in the Rocky Mountains at an altitude of over 9,600 feet, and consume a bottle of wine with dinner. We both woke up with intense headaches in the middle of the night. Although Aspen is at a mere 7,908 feet of altitude, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement swore off alcohol for the rest of the trip.

Things to do in Aspen:

  • If you ski or would like to learn to ski, by all means, ski!  There are four ski areas around Aspen.  They are run by one company:  Aspen/Snowmass. It is generally possible to do downhill skiing from the end of November through mid-April. (Disclosure: Even though I attended Williams College in the Berkshire Mountains of northwestern Massachusetts, a popular skiing venue, I have never skied in my life and now that my Baby Boomer bone density is consistent with osteoporosis, I’m thinking that it’s probably not a good time for me to start.)
  • Hike.  See beautiful mountainous scenery.  There are at least 28 hiking trails around Aspen, at various degrees of difficulty. As a break from pulmonary medicine, we were treated to a barbecue at the Maroon Bells scenic area which is within the White River National Forest. With good reason, multiple sources agree that this is the most photographed mountain area in Colorado.
  •  Mountain biking. We drove up to Maroon Bells from town. Some of the Coloradans ride their bikes up there. Yes, yes, we know Colorado is the least obese state in the nation. There are numerous biking trails in the area.
  • Attend concerts.  Study music.  During the summer, from late June until mid-August, the Aspen Summer Music Festival and School is in session, bringing together 600 music students from 40 states and 40 countries to study with 130 faculty members from the finest orchestras, ensembles and companies.  Three hundred concerts are scheduled at various venues in the area.
  • Eat, drink and be merry by attending the annual Aspen Food and Wine Classic in mid-June.
  • Watch independent films by attending the annual Aspen Fall Film Festival in October.
  •  Do high end shopping — or, like me, high end window shopping,  in the attractive, very walkable central area of Aspen. (Maybe you’ll even see a famous person and pretend not to notice —  because gawking would be sooo uncool.)
  • Write a legal brief in the lovely Aspen public library — or get all your work done before you leave home so you won’t have to!

If you have ever visited Aspen or Colorado, please share your impressions. In your opinion are there any “must sees” and/or “skip its”? Did Coloradans look skinnier to you?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Gill September 30, 2012 at 8:58 am

Suzanne, we too found the altitude troubling. For me, it didn’t manifest in headaches, but in the most distracting sinus pain which seemed to be compounded by the dry atmosphere. I agree wholeheartedly with your advice to drive through the breathtaking Colorado scenery – the USA really does deliver “grand” in every sense of the word. We haven’t quite done with Colorado yet (we didn’t make it to Aspen!) and would return in a heartbeat, but I can’t tell you how relieved we were to return to a more comfortable altitude.


Just One Boomer (Suzanne) September 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Gill, thank you for your comment. There is no question that people who are unaccustomed to life at high altitude should be aware that it can affect even those who are young and in good health. It is probably prudent to read about it and perhaps ask one’s physician for some suggestions on ways to perhaps ameliorate then effects. Staying well hydrated is definitely one of the classic recommendations and consuming alcohol does not help with that endeavor.

Have you been to Cuzco, Peru? That’s at about 11,000 feet. We didn’t have to drink alcohol to come down with altitude induced headaches there, despite trying the local remedy—coca leaf tea.


Gill October 1, 2012 at 9:20 am

Cuzco is still on the to do list for us, mostly because we’ve heard such stories about the altitude sickness, we want to schedule in plenty of acclimatisation time. It appears to be impossible to know if one will be affected and how – young and old seem to be at similar risk from the stories we’ve heard. We were fine in Mexico City and have had only distracting levels of discomfort elsewhere (eg on our road trip through Arizona and Utah this summer) but even so, Peru could be problematic. Hmmmm…..the older we get, the more concerned we become about the potential hazards – life was much easier when we were young and carefree and only dealt with such situations as they arose, rather than worrying about the possibility that they might….


Cole @ October 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Must say that we would probably prefer to visit for the skiing. But does look like a lot of options to keep us entertained the rest of the year too. Especially Mountain Biking 🙂


Just One Boomer October 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Gill–Aging does complicate travel planning. I’d love to hike/walk at least part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, but then I remember the excruciating hip pain I experienced after a 6 mile beach walk this summer and I admit it does give me pause.

Cole–Thanks for the comment. After reading some of your blog last night, it occurred to me that you would definitely feel that way about skiing—prior injuries notwithstanding!


Montecristo Travels (Sonja) October 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm

ok that list of the most dangerous airports … that is going to keep us awake at night!

I think if we ever go we’d go to hike. 🙂


The Guy October 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Thanks for this informative article.

I’ve never been to Aspen yet, don’t think I’m rich enough! It certainly sounds like a worthwhile place to visit all year round from what you describe though, well worth keeping on my wish list.

I remember Denver airport though, that is one long runway, due to the altitude the planes need the long run to take off.

Thanks for sharing.


Elaine J. Masters March 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm

I would’ve thought the drive could help the altitude sickness but hadn’t heard that alcohol exacerbates it. After suffering in Peru for a week, I’ve started taking the altitude sickness pills before leaving home on high site trips. Would love to visit Aspen in the summer one day.


Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields March 29, 2015 at 5:26 pm

We return to Snowmass, near Aspen year after year in summer – quite a journey since we live in Australia. It is a great place to go outside the ski season. We bring our bikes and spend days and days exploring the cycle paths, particularly the Rio Grande Trail. The trail is flat, easy to cycle and beautifully scenic. I have blogged about it a few times.

Did you know that Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the US – deservedly – they are just magnificent.


Yasha Langford March 29, 2015 at 5:29 pm

We were in Colorado, June 2006, and drove from Denver through some absolutely stunning scenery along the I-70, West into Utah. We did feel the altitude at that time a bit, but our worst experience was in Cusco, Peru. We were staying a further 600m above the city in a campground for overlanders! We both got terrible colds which we couldn’t shake and eventually, though still unwell, we drove down to the coast of Peru in a couple of days and were soon completely well.


Carole T. Meyers March 29, 2015 at 5:46 pm

I did almost the same as you but instead drove from Boulder to Breckenridge, had a few margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, and then had an intense headache for the rest of my stay! Loved Breckenridge in spite of this, but always wondered about Aspen, so enjoyed reading your post.


Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru March 29, 2015 at 5:53 pm

We aren’t skiers, but this is beautiful country regardless. Love Boulder, and woul like to visit Breckenridge and Aspen, too. Altitude is fun, you don’t need to drink as much! 😀


Denis Gagnon March 29, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Since I am neither a skier nor a hiker, I am probably missing out on some of the best of Aspen. But I am very interested in the Food and Wine Classic!


Paula McInerney March 29, 2015 at 9:58 pm

I have always maintained that you can go to the snow and not ski, though I generally do if i don’t have a broken leg. I was worried about the altitude at Zermatt where we went to 3,800m but very very luckily it didn’t affect me. Aspen is on our list for skiing and non-skiing activities


Anita @ No Particular Place To Go March 30, 2015 at 8:34 am

I can so relate to flying from sea level to a high altitude city as I experienced the worst headache I’ve ever had after a flight from Lima, Peru landed in Quito, Ecuador (>9000 feet) for several hours. Richard propped up my sick and miserable self while we were waiting in line for our next flight – not a good memory! As for my memories of Colorado? We love it and visit Denver, one of our favorite cities, frequently to see our son and grandson – in fact our next trip is less than 2 weeks away! The mountains and scenery in Colorado are spectacular and I’m so glad you had a chance to visit and drive through this beautiful state.


Nancie March 30, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Eating and hiking would top my list. Definitely, Not skiing! With all the airplane crashes lately (include my home city, Halifax, in the dubious list) I would pass on flying out of the world’s 7th dangerous airport!


Josie March 31, 2015 at 7:26 am

Hi Suzanne,
Thanks for the inspiration surrounding this lovely and picturesque corner of the country. It has been on our list for a while — to do a western U.S. road trip.
Always enjoy your engaging writing style, too!


A Cook Not Mad (Nat) March 31, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Nice to know there are many things to do in Aspen other than ski.


Shelley March 31, 2015 at 7:37 pm

I would like to visit Aspen in the summer for hiking in beautiful surroundings and eating, but I would have to bring bear spray. They probably have bears there right? And thanks for the heads up about the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport!


Cathy Sweeney April 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm

No alcohol for the whole trip? That was rather draconian, I think. 🙂 A Colorado road trip is always a good idea no matter where in the state you’re driving or where you’re headed. I’ve only been to Aspen in the summer, too. Beautiful any time of year, but I’d love to give skiing a try there even though I’m sure I won’t win any style awards!


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