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Aspen: Only the Best

Our very own Mountain Characters

While we could weigh in on our readers’ choices for best “Mountain Characters” — and there are a few we couldn’t agree with more (Joe DiSalvo in the “Best All-Around Citizen,” May Selby as “Best Socialite”) — we figured we’d get you up to speed on a few of the folks we profiled in The Aspen Times’ pages as “Mountain Characters” in 2016. Recognize anyone?

January: Scott Vold, “Cracks, racks and entrepreneurial will”

February: Lily Royer, “Art from the heart”

March: Chef Andreas Neufeld finds home cooking in Aspen

April: Danielle Coulter, “Dan Can”

May: Wissal Kahhak, “CMC grad on the road to success”

June: Kelly Wood, “The savior of North Star”

July: Suzanne Fusaro Stephens, “Working the dream job, conserving the land”

August: Trent Cook, “A Cook who knows his groceries”

September: “Phil Sullivan, the original Downtowner”

October: “For Allison Daily, grief is her calling”

November: Pepper Gomez: “Honoring vets is lifelong pursuit for Aspen man”

December: “Pete McBride’s epic journey in the Grand Canyon”

You think you know Aspen? We do, too.
So when The Aspen Times’ team decided to bring back our annual readers’ choice Best of Aspen poll, we jumped at the chance to chime in — in fact, we could hardly resist the urge to tell you what we think are THE BEST things about Aspen.
We do just that on the following three pages, with our very own “Best of Aspen” choices as well as few tidbits about how to have the “best Aspen day ever” and a rundown of our best Mountain Character tales.
Then, our readers take over the pages. In an online poll conducted at the end of 2016, some 20,400 votes were cast in nearly 60 categories naming first, second and third place winners. We unveil them here and offer our sincere congratulations  … and then we begin taking notes for who to roast and toast for 2017.

AROUND TOWN (as seen through our local eyes)

BEST FITNESS CLASS: The Great Outdoors: While we, too, love a good “fitness” class, our readers got this one right by including “Being Outside” as a top three pick. A few of our favorite outdoor excursions: in winter, Owl Creek Trail for nordic skiing, hiking Indy Pass, and downhill skiing anywhere; in summer, nothing beats a backpacking trip, mountain biking or hiking in the Hunter Creek Valley and beyond.

BEST LIQUOR STORE: The One Closest To You: Thankfully, we in Aspen are blessed with a booze store on just about every corner. And like our readers, we’ll give a nod to the Grog Shop and Of Grape & Grain. But as the tally proves, the store closest to home is often the best (Four Dogs in Willits as the third-place choice, for example). Still, we have to give a shout out to our friends at Carl’s — even though the Times is no longer your next-door neighbor, you’re still our neighborhood liquor store.

BEST SECOND-HAND STORE: The Thrift Shop: For all the glitz and glamour that Aspen is known for, and despite a dearth of reasonably priced retail outlets, we have our fair share of second-hand stores. And while we give props to Brad and the peeps at Replay Sports for getting us geared up, we have to agree with our readers that the Thrift Store is the place to shop for gently used items. The reason is two-fold. One, the store has an amazing selection of everything from children’s toys to adult clothing to never-been-used housewares. Second, every penny spent at this volunteer-run institution goes back to the community in the form of grants to local nonprofits. Enough said.

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 ONLY IN ASPEN (we still think our “News of the Weird,” in The Aspen Times 12/31 edition, is a better definition of “Only in Aspen,” but …)

BEST PLACE TO APRES: There’s More Than Meets the Eye: Well, this is a crossover category in our humble opinion. Why? Aren’t the best places to apres often the Best Places to People Watch, Best Happy Hour, Best Bar and host of there categories? So, we decided to give you our thoughts on the actual best place to apres-ski at all four of our area mountains — as in where to grab a cold one (or hot toddy) the minute you’re done skiing. Drum roll, please … at Aspen Mountain, Ajax Tavern takes top honors for its sun-drenched slopeslide locale; at Highlands, the Alehouse is the best (and close to the only) game in town; at Buttermilk, the new Home Team BBQ at the Inn at Aspen is the latest and greatest; and Base Camp Bar & Grill is hands-down the most authentic apres scene in Snowmass.

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 THE GREAT OUTDOORS (but really, this is a personal choice)

BEST SHRINE: A Matter of Taste: If you have a passion, there is likely a shrine on one of our local mountains to tickle your fancy. From the Jerry to Elvis to Marilyn to Hunter S. Thompson, you can find a shrine in their memory. Or, are you more grounded? Seek the Golf Shrine or the Kitty Cat Shrine. Our readers had their faves: Grateful Dead, John Denver and, the one that touches our hearts, Aspen Friends We Have Lost. Here’s to you, Stewy.

BEST SKI RUN: The One With Powder On It: To the readers who chose this as the No. 2 pick for best ski run in Aspen, we salute you. Truly we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. But, combine your No. 1 pick of Highland Bowl with a powder day and this category goes off the rails. Of course not all days call for the epic flag to fly, so we offer you a few favorite runs for those days when carving boards take the place of fat boards: Ruthie’s on Ajax; Thunderbowl at Highlands; Racer’s Edge at Tiehack; and a good non-stop run down the Burn at Snowmass. Again, these are just for those days when the steeps and deeps aren’t calling. Pray for POW in 2017, people.

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 WINING & DINING (as interpreted by the Aspen Times)

 BEST BREAKFAST: aka, Best Bloody Mary: Sure, sure … Bloody Marys aren’t really breakfast, but we can’t really think of choosing a favorite breakfast joint without considering this classic eye-opener. So for those who voted for Aspen Over Easy, Breakfast in America and Village Smithy, please know we appreciate a good eggs Bene, greasy All-American and gut-bomber biscuits and gravy as much as the next local. But if we’re talking hair of the dog, we have to give our awards to Justice Snow’s for its DYI Bloody Mary Bar, the St. Regis for its classic Downhill Snapper, the Hick House for a drink you can suck down with ribs on the side, and Over Easy for its choice of Marys (with suggested egg dishes). Cheers, to breakfast …

BEST BURGER: aka, Best Hangover Food: You can read a lot into the Best Burger category, and we must admit our readers did us proud with their choices — 520 Grill, Ajax Tavern and Hops Culture, respectively. But still, we crave more (especially when it comes to the burger as a hangover cure). Thankfully, we have a few seasoned eaters on our staff who offered up these other choices: Jimmy’s Bodega, Rustique, Justice Snow’s, White House Tavern, Hotel Jerome and Sure Thing Burger (for the DV crowd). They all have their draw, and they all please the palate. Ready more on each of these offerings in our Winter in Aspen Magazine — and get ready to get your burger fix on.

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 BY POPULAR DEMAND (aka, pot shops we love)

 Best Dispensary: Our readers picked Silverpeak, Native Roots and The Original Leaf. All good. But our advice is see “Best Liquor Store.” Need we say more?