God's Country

by Marla Norman-Freytag, Publisher

Colorado's 54 perpetually snowcapped summits, towering more than 14,000 feet are nothing short of miraculous.

Special thanks to Ruth Putnam-Young for assistance with this issue.

Why is Colorado called God’s Country? I first heard the expression from my Grandpa, who spent his life camping, skiing and hunting on the Western Slope when herds of deer still outnumbered the humans who populated the area. He wasn’t boastful or even poetic. Just mater-of-fact. Colorado is as close to the divine as it gets.

A view of La Plata Peak from Independence Pass en route to Aspen.

Dozens of references and superlatives later, I still haven’t figured out the origin of the term. The physical beauty of the state is obvious. Colorado’s 54 perpetually snowcapped summits, towering more than 14,000 feet are nothing short of miraculous. Even the Ute Indians, who arrived in the state over 1,000 years ago, named their sacred grounds near Pike’s Peak “Garden of the Gods.”

But then again, there are a lot of nice places around the planet that could be heavenly hangouts. What’s certain is that when you’re in the state, awed by the magnificent scenery, it’s hard to dispute -- Colorado is God’s Country.

Hala Ranch: Beauty comes with a price tag.


Aspen was originally named Ute City, then renamed Aspen for the spectacular trees. Photo by Dian Kingery

Aspen after the collapse of the silver market.

Of all the beguiling spots in Colorado, Aspen has long been considered one of the most spectacularly beautiful. It’s also one of the most difficult areas to reach. And yet, isolation only seems to add to its allure.

Access to Aspen:
Independence Pass a treacherously narrow mountain road with heart-stopping drop-offs and endless hairpin turns. Set on the Continental Divide, it’s the highest roadway in Colorado, with annual snowfall often reaching over 400 inches. All to say, Independence is closed much of the year.

Roaring Fork Valley a 50-mile stretch of road between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, well-maintained and generally accessible during the winter. Aspen/Pitkin County Airport a small facility packed with luxury private jets, tycoons, politicians and international gliterati.

The glitz and natural beauty have made Aspen the site of some of the most expensive real estate in the U.S. Among recent sales is hedge-fund billionaire John A. Paulson’s 2012 purchase of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s 130-acre Hala Ranch for $49 million, one of the largest single-residence transactions in the U.S.

Another eye-popping buy was Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s $36 million purchase of the Wildcat Ridge property near Snowmass Village. Real estate in God’s Country comes with almighty prices.

These days, it’s almost impossible to imagine that Aspen was once a down-on-its-luck has-been mining town with a dwindling population. But, in 1946, industrialist Walter Paepcke came along and noticed the towering slopes covered with light-powdery snow and realized the area was ripe for a ski resort. The rest, quickly became historical legend.

Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke, who founded the Aspen Skiing Co.

View of Aspen Village from Aspen (or Ajax) Mountain. Photo courtesy of The Little Nell Hotel.

Paepcke founded the Aspen Skiing Company which opened its first ski lift on December 14,1946 -- the world's longest at the time. In 1950, the company hosted the FIS World Alpine Championships, the first international skiing competition in the U.S.

Paepcke also hired Austrian Bauhaus architect Herbert Bayer to renovate the long-neglected Jerome Hotel, the only lodging available in the area. See more about this historical hotel in Hotel Finds.

The campus of the Aspen Institute with water features and sculpture.

In 1949 Paepcke staged a commemoration for the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. Luminaries no less than Albert Schweitzer, Thornton Wilder and Artur Rubinstein attended. The following year, Paepcke officially named the celebration the Aspen Institute. A prestigious think-tank, the institute now headquarters in Washington, D.C. and maintains the Aspen campus.

Paepcke’s Aspen Skiing Company has evolved into four major ski areas: Aspen Highlands, Aspen (or Ajax) Mountain, Buttermilk and Snowmass. A single ticket covers all lifts and a free shuttle system provides transportation. Prices for daily tickets range from $214 - $118, depending upon the season. Weekly rates are somewhat cheaper and discounted packages are available. See the Aspen-Snowmass site for more information.

Also impressive are Aspen’s trails for Nordic Skiing. The Alfred A. Braun Hut System is one of Colorado’s major backcountry networks. The trailhead leads from the Ashcroft Ski Touring Center into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Experienced guides can be hired through Aspen Alpine Guides


Aspen is equally appealing after ski season, when the dazzling snow-covered mountains turn into fields of wild flowers and clear-running creeks.

Violinist performing at the Aspen Music Festival

Visitors are drawn to the many festivals and events. Two of the most prominent attractions are the Aspen Music Festival and the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

The Aspen Music Festival, also founded by the visionary Walter Paepcke, presents more than 350 classical music events every summer, from July through August. Performances include full orchestras, chamber music, opera, contemporary music, children's events and lectures.

Most of the musicians are students from around the globe -- typically over 40 nations are represented. Best of all, many of the performances are free and staged outside for a full sensory experience.

Ming Tsai, Dana Cowin, Mario Batali, Tim Love, Christina Grdovic, Gail Simmons and Michael Symon toast to another fantastic Classic in Aspen!

The Food & Wine Classic takes place annually in June. 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the celebration. And even though the event sponsor Food & Wine Magazine holds similar festivals around the country now, the original “classic” in Aspen is still the big draw. A culinary galaxy of international talent is present each year, with chefs such as José Andrés, Mario Batali, Jacques Pépin, Antonio Galloni, Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai and the list goes on and on.

Over 2,000 miles of hiking trails are maintained in Aspen.

You never know who you'll encounter on the trails.

Trails running through leafy glens lead to large open valleys and lakes.

But Hiking and Backpacking through the vast wilderness areas is still the area’s best-loved pastime. There are more than 2,000 miles of maintained trails with destinations to 14,000 foot summits and glacial lakes.

One of the most breathtaking excursions is to Maroon Bells in Snowmass. The shortest path into the Maroon Bells Wilderness begins at the reflective Maroon Lake and climbs to Crater Lake. The hike is about two miles and is rated moderate, so most visitors can enjoy the trek with no problem.

Maroon Bells Wilderness area

Marla Norman-Freytag and Ruth Putnam Young at Crater Lake

In summer, shuttle buses take visitors up Maroon Creek Road to Maroon Lake at the base of the peaks from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Private cars are allowed at all other times; there is a $10 recreational fee.

Grandpa aka Earl E. Bennett, at Grand Mesa, Colorado ( circa 1930) on heavy wooden skies and no poles!

Spending a few hours coming upon one lovely site after another is sheer joy. The polished lakes reflecting sapphire skies and glaciers are unforgettable. It’s impossible not to feel a kind of spiritual connection with the land and its natural wonders. Just like Grandpa said......

Enjoy more of Colorado's natural wonders. See Dian Kingery’s photography