You don’t have to look further than the airport to know that the winter holiday season is the busiest time of year in Aspen. Private jets line up at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport like limousines outside a red carpet event. It pretty much reads like this: Aspen is the place to be. In fact, Aspen’s population swells from just 7,000 people to around 20,000 during the holidays. There is competition for everything from in-town parking spots to dinner reservations. While the town’s holiday bustle is part of its festive appeal, dealing with crowds can be exhausting. Here are a few survival tips from our local insider on how to survive Aspen’s relative holiday craziness this year.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
We know it’s all about alpine (downhill) skiing, but consider this: you can escape the crowds, get a good workout in and enjoy the wilderness (and solitude) on a pair of cross-country skis. With over 80 kilometers of groomed trails, cross-country skiing affords plenty to explore. If the idea of trying to balance on skinny skis in a pair of sneaker-like boots feels a little too daunting, consider trying a backcountry touring ski (available for rental at the Ute Mountaineer) which is like a cross-country ski, but wider with scales on the bottom for better uphill traction and edges for better control.
Roads that are closed in winter are very popular for touring and offer easy routes for beginners with unbelievable views. Maroon Creek Road from T-Lazy 7 is an easy, gentle route that rewards dramatic vistas of Pyramid Peak. Or try Independence Pass from the closure gate to the Weller Lake parking lot for some of the most sweeping vistas in the entire valley. Either of these outings is a quiet alternative to the resort but not lacking in adventure or views—minus the hefty price tag of a lift ticket. For around $25, you can rent a state-of-the-art touring set up from the Ute Mountaineer.
Avoid Parking Paralysis
During the holidays, finding a parking space in downtown Aspen is no easier than in the city you probably came from, so why not avoid the hassle? The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority provides free bus services throughout the City of Aspen, Snowmass Village, and Woody Creek.
If you’re staying at a property that does not have adequate bus service and don’t want to hire a driver, there is a convenient underground parking garage located smack dab in the center of town (427 Rio Grand Place) where you can leave your car all day for much less than you’d pay at the meters. It’s a covered lot, so you won’t have to contend with having to clear snow and ice from your windshield. For more information visit the City of Aspen Parking web site.
Insider’s Tip: Purchase a 10-visit punch pass for $50—that’s only $5/day!
Live on “Mountain Time”
As locals, it never ceases to blow us away that when the gondola fires up at 9 a.m., the mountain is often still totally empty (unless, of course, it’s a powder day). Maybe the late start is due to Aspen’s swinging nightlife, but regardless, the best turns can be had early in the morning.
If you like to sleep in (it is your vacation, after all), try skiing in the late afternoon when most people’s legs have called it a day long before the lifts stop running. The mountain is especially empty on storm days when the fair-weather skiers flock inside. You’ll be amazed by the solace you can find on an empty trail at the end of the day.
Try Something New
There are boundless outdoor adventures waiting to be had off the ski slopes that are equally as fun as on the slopes, according to Erik Skarvan of Sun Dog Athletics.
Are you an avid cyclist? Try fat biking, a new craze where super fat tires with low pressure and big treads allow you to pedal through packed snow like a one horse open sleigh (sorry, we couldn’t resist). Sun Dog Athletics offers Fat Biking Adventures on the snow-packed trails around Aspen and Snowmass. Visit Sun Dog Athletics for more info.