Aspen’s Best: Outside
January 8, 2009
In Aspen, there’s nothing more American than dusting off the running shoes on the morning of the Fourth of July and sweating it out for five rolling miles.
Our readers agreed, voting the Boogie’s Diner Buddy 5 Mile Race as the Best Organized Race. Garnering 18 votes, the Boogie’s race won in a landslide. This year marks the 39th running of the race, which meanders through downtown Aspen, along the Rio Grande Trail, and up the Cemetery Lane hill (ouch!), before connecting to the Marolt Trail and leading back to downtown via Hopkins Avenue. The race begins and ends at its sponsors headquarters, Boogie’s Diner.
The race historically attracts more than 800 runners ” from competitive die-hards to the headphone crowd. It’s also for a good cause. Entry fees go to The Buddy Program, a local nonprofit that provides adult mentors for valley children.
This category is getting to be predictable, with Highland Bowl continuing its undisputed dominance for another year.
Of course, it’s not really a fair contest. Most ski runs are nothing more than an elongated clear-cut, while the Bowl is both a collection of a dozen-and-a-half breathtaking runs and a masterpiece of natural architecture.
Even a world-class ridgetop cruiser like Ruthie’s (10 votes) or a vast, wooded playground like Hanging Valley Wall (2 votes) cannot hold a candle to the majesty of Highland Bowl.
Still, it’s fun to read the responses to this question each year. Every local mountain but Buttermilk was represented, with 28 different runs getting one or more votes.
At Ajax, Silver Bell, Knowlton’s, Niagra, the Dumps and Ridge of Bell received votes. At Highlands, readers named Mushroom, Thunderbowl, Temerity, Moment of Truth and others. Out at Snowmass there were a host of vote-getters, including Slot, Burnt Mountain/Long Shot, Sheer Bliss, KT Gully, Green Cabin, Sneaky’s, Gowdy’s, Campground and Powerline.
Nobody mentioned a Buttermilk run, but we attribute that to a lack of participation from the jibbing public. We all know that Buttermilk’s pipes and parks rule, even though they can’t really be called ski runs.
Our favorite answer? “I’ll never tell …”
Elvis came back to life briefly last year, at least where Aspen’s Best is concerned, but Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia surged back to prominence in 2008.
The Garcia shrine, tucked into a glade high on Aspen Mountain, is easy to reach and a great spot to relax, so it’s no surprise that it reappears again and again as Aspenites’ favorite shrine.
Other vote-getters, in descending order, included John Denver, Elvis, Eric Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Chicks on Sticks and, from someone who woke up on the wrong side of the bed, “Don’t Care.”
As far back as we can remember, the ride to the Maroon Bells has won this category. Arguably it’s the two-wheeled equivalent of the lunchtime hike up Smuggler, but the ride to the Bells raises the bar with a spectacular, U-shaped glacial gorge and the postcard-perfect finish at Maroon Lake. It’s also a great workout for riders with limited time.
A strong second-place finisher was the Government Trail, a mountain biker’s favorite between Snowmass and Buttermilk. Snowmass’ abundant single-track continues to grow in popularity, and the Rim Trail and Tom Blake Trail both received a few votes.
In Aspen, various Hunter Creek trail combinations earned mountain-biking votes, with readers mentioning everything from Smuggler to Hunter Creek to Four Corners to Lenado to the Hobbit trail and Lollipop. Other mountain bikers liked the Boy Scout Trail in Glenwood Springs and Mushroom Rock in Carbondale.
Road riders also weighed in with votes for Independence Pass, Fryingpan-Ruedi, Rio Grande Trail and Glenwood Canyon.
This is a good place to be a bike rider.
This year’s crop of voters preferred the rustic and remote Ashcroft Ski Touring Center’s brand of cross-country skiing to any other. Ashcroft won by a margin of 13-7 over its nearest competitor, the Snowmass to Aspen trails system.
With its 35 kilometers of trails at the upper end of Castle Creek, framed by the majestic Elk Mountains and close to an old ghost town where some 2,500 miners once lived and worked, Ashcroft offers a wide variety of terrain. From creekside intimacy to rolling foothills at the base of the mountains, the trails provide a workout for every skill level, as well as vistas that can take the breath away.
The area also boasts a fine-dining experience at the Pine Creek Cookhouse and is the gateway to the Braun Hut System up Express and Castle creeks.
There are views, and then there are views. And in the eyes of our readers, the best view of Aspen is once again from Smuggler Mountain with 20 votes. We understand why.
Situated on the sunny side of town, the Smuggler platform offers a bird’s-eye view of the entire town and the surrounding mountains; Red Mountain offers an almost equally popular view (17 votes), but we’re guessing the Average Joe is more likely to find himself at the top of Smuggler than he is in a home on Red Mountain. Of course Aspen is a land of conflicting viewpoints, so the view from the other side of town ” from the gondola and Ute Trail ” also earned votes. And, last, we have to wonder what is implied in the response, “from Carbondale.”
In a landscape surrounded by jaw-dropping peaks, one must stand above the rest. And in the Aspen area, that is Pyramid Peak. With 22 votes ” and 16 more for the neighboring Maroon Bells ” the high peaks that lie up Maroon Creek Road from Aspen dwarfed the competition. But like we said, there are plenty of awe-inspiring peaks surrounding our mountain town, including Capitol (6 votes), Sopris (4 votes), Castle (3 votes) and Hayden (2 votes). But by far our favorite vote-getter for Aspen’s best peak: Panda.
We think Aspen is home to some of the finest backcountry in the Colorado Rockies, and apparently our readers agree as more than two dozen different hikes were nominated in this category. But all trails were not created equal, and those who voted think Hunter Creek and its many variations ” Smuggler-Hunter Creek Loop; Sunnyside to Hunter Creek; Midway to Hunter reek ” are the best places to put your feet on the ground. Other popular destinations: American Lake, Cathedral Lake, the Ute Trail, Buckskin Pass and Highland Bowl (on a powder day, we might argue this is the best hike, but we just tally the votes…).