Aspen Readies for 33rd Annual Gay Ski Week
The Colorado Rockies rise from the edge of the plains. Minutes after takeoff from Denver International Airport en route to Aspen, the landscape gives way to foothills, then to craggy high peaks. Half-hour into the 45-minute flight you find yourself staring out the window in wonder. Snow covered, clustered with spruce trees, home to valleys and rivers, these peaks have lured adventurers and prospectors for decades by their sheer magnetism.
Downhill and Nordic skiers and snowboarding aficionados of all abilities come to the Colorado Rockies to test their mettle on the numerous wintry slopes. And there’s plenty to do when you take your skis off, too.
Aspen - and nearby Snowmass Village - lie nestled between these mountains. Home to ski bums, gonzo journalists, glitterati, pioneering environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts of every persuasion, Aspen/Snowmass has launched another exciting ski season.
Several snowstorms have blanketed the area in powder. Resort staff - friendly, enthusiastic workers who hail from every corner of the globe and who somehow remain chipper even while working double shifts - greet you everywhere you go. At night, the holiday lights of gold, red, green and blue cast a welcoming glow on the bustling snow-lined streets that end in darkness where the towering mountains begin.
This winter, there are new shops, older hotels that have been gussied up, newer hotels that sparkle with sophisticated hip interiors, and restaurants that feature tasty and imaginative fare.
Here’s a preview of the upcoming 33rd annual Aspen Gay Ski Week, set for Jan. 17-24, 2010.
Aspen/Snowmass: Four Mountains
The area consists of four mountains: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. All four are connected by an efficient - and free - public transportation system that runs throughout the day and night.
On the first day of my visit, I acclimated myself to Aspen’s high elevation by skiing the gentle rolling terrain at the Aspen Cross Country Center.
The day I visited, only a portion of more than 90 km. of free groomed trails were open and tracked due to poor snow conditions. That didn’t hamper me though- I managed to ski a total of 8 km, later connecting to another 6 km. trail near Aspen High School for a vigorous workout.
My hotel, the Viceroy Snowmass (pictured), had opened only two weeks before I checked in. The staff was scurrying about making sure all those new hotel kinks were being corrected. There’s a spa, an outdoor swimming pool overlooking Assay Hill, a restaurant and meeting rooms. My one-bedroom suite was spacious, and included a terrace where I watched the gondola that let’s guests ski in and ski back right from the hotel’s doorstep.
Unfortunately, A popular night spot, Liquid Sky, has been shuttered, leaving a void; Snowmass Village is quiet at night.
Jeff David, general manager at the Viceroy, is aware of Snowmass’ ’Sleepy Hollow’ characteristic, and predicts the hotel will not only fill the gap, but exceed expectations as it emerges as a sought after destination and gathering place.
"Snowmass has had a reputation as a great skiing location, but many of the older hotel properties here have not been kept up," David said. "I’ve worked to develop other hotels in Santa Monica, Miami and Antiguilla, and those properties revitalized those locales. The Viceroy Snowmass will do the same for Snowmass Village."
Before dinner I retreated to the spa, designed by Jean-Michel Gathy, for an invigorating and heavenly massage. The atmosphere inside the Viceroy spa is like none other I’ve experienced. Inspired by Ute Indian, Nordic and Asian rituals, the rooms are bastions of tranquility and understated sensuality. The spa staff is attentive, professional and highly skilled at making those aches and pains incurred on the ski slope the stuff of history.
Dinner that night was in the hotel’s Eight K restaurant, where an 87-foot-glass-topped bar, underlit by blue LED lights, is the centerpiece. The structure is supported by tree trunks sliced into thin cross sections, making for a transformational experience.
Gas-jet flames line another wall as guests returning from the sky slopes sip cocktails. Imagine function plus design plus funky all conspiring to create a an accessible yet sophisticated atmosphere, and you have the Viceroy.
I was joined at dinner by outdoor enthusiast and publicist Campbell Levy.
"This hotel has attracted a fascinating mix of people," said Levy, who has lived in Colorado off and on since his teens and never tires of the eclectic mix of people drawn to live and play in Aspen. "The bar is a great place to hang out. And there’s something about the length of the bar that encourages guests to feel they have space yet also want to rub shoulders with other guests over drinks."
The dinner menu is moderately priced, and includes small bites, perfect for après-ski. Sitting at the bar and watching the open kitchen with all its frenzied activity is to experience a bee-hive at a distance. Each dish on the menu was scrumptious, complimented by the wine steward’s choices that lived up to his engaging and passionate descriptions.
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