Colorado & Aspen: God’s Country
by Marla Norman, Publisher
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 matter-of-fact. Colorado is as close to the divine as it gets.
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.
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: The 50-mile stretch of road between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, well-maintained and generally accessible during the winter.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport: 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. with home sales of over $1.1 billion in 2014 (Denver Post). Billionaire businessman William Koch just listed his 32,614-square-foot Aspen mansion for $89.9 million (Curbed) – almost doubling other recent record-breaking sales, including pop singer Rihanna, who paid $45 million for her ritzy chalet and hedge-fund billionaire John A. Paulson’s 2012 purchase of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s 130-acre Hala Ranch for $49 million.
Another eye-popping buy in recent years 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.
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 at the time. See more about this historical hotel in TCO Hotel Finds.
In 1949 Paepcke staged a commemoration for the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. Luminaries no less than Albert Schweitzer, Thornton Wilder and Arthur 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 $89-$139, depending upon the season and ski area. 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.
HIGH COUNTRY HEAVEN
Aspen is equally appealing after ski season, when the dazzling snow-covered mountains turn into fields of wild flowers and clear-running creeks. 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 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.
The Aspen 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 Mario Batali, José Andrés, Jacques Pépin, Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai and the list goes on and on.
But Hiking and Backpacking through the vast wilderness areas are still the area’s best-loved pastimes. 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.
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.
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……