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A Tale of Two Aspen Clubs

There was a time when a tennis and fitness club was Aspen’s social nerve center. Of all the stories that fill the halls of modern-day Aspen lore — and there are plenty of them — it is worth revisiting an era when the Aspen Club captivated the sportsworld and celebrities alike.

Today the Aspen Club and Spa infamously symbolizes the depths that a project with high community expectations can sink. Ask owner and president Michael Fox, however, and you’ll get an optimistic outlook that the company will emerge from the financial mess that’s spelled out in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. You’ll hear that the redevelopment project eventually will resume, and that returning club members one day will enjoy immense upgrades after faithfully enduring the club’s multi-year closure.

Fox bought the club in 1996 with an eye toward the future. After his proposal cleared the complex and arduous red tape of Aspen’s development approval process in June 2010, the club closed in February 2016 so construction could begin. And so it did, until late August 2017, when work stopped after the majority of subcontractors left the job because they hadn’t been paid for their labor and materials. The Aspen Club’s debts snowballed and now stand at more than $25 million due t0 contractors and $50 million to other creditors and lenders, according to bankruptcy documents.

As the bankruptcy court in Denver sifts through the Aspen Club’s complex web of finances, the venue sits dormant on the edge of Ute Avenue, now a failed-development wasteland surrounded by locked fencing peppered with keep-out signs.

It is that same location that was once a hotspot for celebrities and a social spot for locals, while also being on the frontier of sports medicine and rehabilitation.

“It was a wonderful time,” said Julie Anthony, who with her husband at the time, developer Dick Butera, owned and operated the club from 1982 to 1996, and also started the Fitness and Sports Medicine Institute. “Those were halcyon days of the club. It was very close-knit.”

Indeed, the Aspen Club today and the Aspen Club then symbolize different times.

The former Aspen Club smacked of Aspen’s more carefree days — if not its youthful and middle-aged indiscretion — combined with a thirst for fitness, health and socializing, and maybe a game of tennis or two.

Today’s Aspen Club, at least since its financial struggles, has epitomized what can go wrong when the financial spigots turn off for an ambitious development.

While it would be premature to write an obituary for the Aspen Club — construction-loan-note holder GPIF Aspen Club, which is owed $34 million, is making a push to take over project — its outlook does not hold the same promise it once did, at least in the court papers.

Yet if there’s an Aspen locale that has weathered some dark moments and shined in the bright ones, it’s the Aspen Club.

Prior to Fox’s $5.5 million acquisition of the Aspen Club from Butera in September 1996, headlines about the club usually gushed about its star power, popularity, cutting-edge sports medicine and industry accolades. A mysterious death at the club also remains unsolved.

Butera said he bought the club for $2.5 million from an owner who was in over his head in both debt and cocaine addiction. The club’s size — 60,000 square feet — was immense for that time, Butera noted, as was its level of decadence.

“They were selling cocaine in the kitchen,” Butera said.

Butera would clean up that illegal aspect of the Aspen Club, but it was an open secret that a swath of Aspen’s fitness-minded also enjoyed the smell of cocaine, something not lost on the squeaky clean Butera.

On Dec. 8, 1985, ski instructor and suspected drug kingpin Steve Grabow was killed by a pipe bomb after playing a round of tennis. The device, placed under the seat of his Jeep Cherokee, exploded as he started to drive away from the Aspen Club. Grabow, who was awaiting federal trial for cocaine distribution charges, died two hours after the explosion.

The case remains unsolved, and Butera said he believes it will remain that way.

When Butera came to Aspen in the early 1980s, he was a successful developer who not only owned a portion of Hilton Head Island, but had a close friendship with the tennis star and activist Billie Jean King. That relationship would help provide the springboard for the Aspen Tennis Festival in the 1980s, while attracting such local homeowners and accomplished tennis players as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who trained at the club. Evert would also meet former Olympic skier Andy Mill there; the two would marry and later divorce. Butera’s close connections with the tennis world were well known in the sport’s circles in the 1970s. Time magazine, reporting on the Sept. 20, 1973, match in the Houston Astrodome between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King — also known as “Battle of the Sexes” — noted a courtside wager between Riggs and Butera.

“Sure enough, though she started out playing as cautiously as Riggs, King took her first service easily. While switching sides, Riggs, still cocky, gave Tennis Promoter Dick Butera 2-1 odds (putting up $10,000),” Time reported.

King, who had been a player-coach on Butera’s Philadelphia Freedoms tennis team — the inspiration for the like-named Elton John tune “Philadelphia Freedom”— would win in three sets.

Over the next decade, King would make appearances in the Aspen Tennis Festival at the Aspen Club. During its heyday in the 1980s, the Aspen Tennis Festival, which raised money for charity, was a name-dropper’s heaven.

It attracted both celebrity contestants and observers including Barbi Benton, Jimmy Buffet, Bill Cosby, Ted Kennedy, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Reeve and Donna Mills. They rubbed elbows as some of the biggest names in tennis — Arthur Ashe, Björn Borg, Vitas Geralaitis, John McEnroe and Navratilova played its courts.

There to capture the Aspen Tennis Festival was ABC’s now legendary “Wide World of Sports,” along with whom else but famed sportscaster Howard Cosell.

“The concept of celebrity may never be properly defined or explained, but whatever it is, it drew hundreds to the Aspen Tennis Festival this weekend and raised thousands of dollars for the battle against cerebral palsy,” The Aspen Times reported in July 1984. “Tennis stars John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis — backed by a field of lesser luminaries and a small army of ABC contract entertainers — put on a crowd-pleasing weekend at the Aspen Club, including two hours of network programming on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Aspen is home to some quality people-watching, not to mention those inclined to draw attention to themselves, and the Aspen Club fully embraced the idea. In his book “Whiteout: Lost in Aspen,” Ted Conover wrote that the club’s modern gym equipment was a magnet for “body Nazis.”

Aside from the club’s appeal with the celebrities and workout fiends, Butera said its foundation was the local community. They brought on such locally respected physicians as Harold Whitcomb and Barry Mink, along with a staff of personal trainers focused on “serious health,” Butera said. “They weren’t muscle-head trainers.”

Anthony, who met Butera when she played for the Philadelphia Freedoms, earned her Ph.D. while playing on the pro circuit in the 1970s. The former Stanford tennis player-turned sports psychologist said she envisioned the Aspen Club as a hub for emotional and physical health, as well as a place to introduce amateur athletes to tennis techniques and strategies used by professionals.

“It was wonderful in the early days,” she said. “It was a very mom-and-pop operation. All of the employees would come to our house for Thanksgiving. We really did have a wonderful crew.”

Butera and Anthony enjoyed the ride, though Butera said they never made a profit on the Aspen Club.

“I never got a check,” said Butera, a member of the Aspen Hall of Fame who would go on to buy and remodel both the Woodbridge Inn and the Hotel Jerome.

Whatever transpires with today’s Aspen Club, it will join either the success stories or failed enterprises that have defined Aspen’s high-stakes and contentious world of development in recent decades.

The 47-foot-tall, $46 million Aspen Art Museum, for instance, could be heralded a success — if only because the ground-up project was completed after a sequence of negotiations and litigation with the city amid a chorus of dissent from residents appalled by its size and design.

There’s also St. Regis Aspen Resort, originally built in 1992 as a 257-room Ritz-Carlton at the base of Aspen Mountain after triumphing in a public vote.

Those were both major developments by Aspen standards, the same which can be said about the W Hotel, which is poised to open this summer at the base of Aspen Mountain.

The dark side of Aspen’s development scene has been on display of late with events surrounding the Lift One Corridor Project, which voters approved in March and now appears all but doomed after one of the project’s key partners — the Brown brothers — balked on the alliance and will build their own timeshare project using previous entitlements.

Other examples of frustrated development projects are aplenty. Take, for instance, the Dancing Bear Lodge and the Base Village at Snowmass: the build-outs of both projects didn’t happen; they were acquired by new ownership that had to square away a litany of financing issues.

Except for the Lift One development, all of these projects eventually were built — albeit whittled down from their original proposals — despite push-back, challenges and doubts that hung over them all.

What’s the fate of the Aspen Club? For now, nobody really knows, but something tells us there’s another story or two in the making — whether it’s with the current ownership or a new group of investors.


Food Matters: Running a pop-up chef’s table serves hot lessons in patience and persistence

When an older lady shoots her fist skyward and jokes about calling emergency services because she’s overcome with exhilaration, I know we’re on to something good. It’s Tuesday, July 23, at dusk on Scarlett’s rooftop patio, and my business partner, chef Adam Norwig, is standing at the head of a long community table, having just told a story about culinary heritage translating to art and soul on a plate.

We’ve placed his third course — hickory-smoked pork shoulder with charred Palisade peach tonkatsu, shishito-kimchi relish and horseradish aioli — to 12 guests who are now clapping wildly in applause. Before Norwig can scuttle back to the kitchen, the woman hollers praise, clinched with a twilight fist pump.

I had been so nervous about our pop-up Oni Aspen’s inaugural chef’s table tasting that I suffered a sweat-soaked stress nightmare the night before. In it, nobody showed up because I — manager/promoter of an impromptu passion project with my insanely talented chef bud — forgot to hang telltale signs onto the restaurant door.

In reality, though, Oni’s first dinner unfolds, dreamlike, without a single snafu. I don’t forget to tape signs on the door. The long wooden dining-room tables and sturdy chairs fit beautifully on the outdoor terrace, oriented toward a lush Aspen Mountain. Cocktail hour runs smoothly, with folks from Arkansas, Aspen, San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, and New Jersey chatting like long-lost friends and marveling at Scarlett’s 5,000-plus-square-foot interior and showpiece kitchen.

Once the blazing sun dips behind neighboring buildings, I seat the group. Seven of 12 diners commit to our five-course curated wine pairing, at $60 apiece. Norwig’s anecdotes of childhood food memories are freewheeling and funny, and he ends up serving a bonus sixth course as a surprise. Everyone leaves buzzed, stuffed, laughing and grinning. Oni Aspen’s opening is a spirited success, and I even got a few photos to prove it.

Ah, beginner’s luck! Compare that scene with a chain of unfortunate events last Tuesday evening. Scarlett’s (normally closed for dinner that night, hence our pop-up) is hosting a charity event that we only learn about around noon that day. I push start time by a half-hour, and inform each of our eight ticketed guests. Norwig suggests we take them to the off-hours Bootsy Bellows nightclub in the basement but, as predicted, the cavernous, semi-dark venue isn’t very stimulating. We move upstairs, tiptoeing through the buyout crowd to an unoccupied patio for a welcome change of scenery.

Meanwhile, because of the party we haven’t been able to move any wooden tables outside; the smaller, rickety patio tables are unset with silverware or water glasses, and I’ve been unable to locate enough wine to curate a coursed pairing, so I scrap it.

I’m tense and silently seething about poor communication. When Norwig barks at me to “chill the f–k out,” I stalk to the bar with a beverage order.

My sour attitude is rewarded with catastrophe. In short order I tip a tray of not one, not two, not three, four, or five, but SIX glasses of sauvignon blanc down the back of a guest, glass shattering on concrete in the most heartbreaking, humiliating racket. At least the seventh glass of wine, in my other hand, survives. For a moment I fantasize about darting away with it and never returning.

Thankfully the guy is cool as a cucumber about my epic faux pas — and, inexplicably, happens to have a backup shirt to change into. Cheeks burning, I sweep up the mess and blurt out a semi-coherent ramble about last-minute changes throwing us all for a loop. The local restaurateur I desperately want to impress looks at me with pity.

I’ve been a restaurant server and bartender inconsistently since I was 15, and that age was the last time I caused such a spectacle. Still, as Norwig tells me later, “Sometimes you have to suck it up and drive on—that’s what they say in the military. And we are a kitchen brigade.”

Norwig and I launched Oni Aspen on a whim, reuniting professionally after working together for two seasons at Burger Bar & Fish in Snowmass Base Village beginning in 2012. Now I’ve thrown my efforts into marketing and promoting Oni: building a Facebook page, hosting an “Experience” on Airbnb, distributing fliers, emailing press releases and chatting up strangers on the street. Managing reservations, editing menus and arranging professional photography are fresh challenges.

Our concept showcases the Asian-Southern elevated street-food fare for which Norwig became popular in winter 2018 at Tanuki To Go, located in the former Bootsy Bellows (Crystal Palace). Then he relocated to Austin, Texas, where he ran House of the Rising Tanuki-San with Tanuki partner Jonathan Leichliter and befriended barbecue masters such as Aaron Franklin. Leichliter remains in Austin; two executive chefs at a startup 150-seat restaurant was unsustainable, and besides, Norwig loathes the hot, muggy weather.

“You never had any warning about this. I just came back to town, like, ‘Hey, Amanda Rae, wanna do this? Yeah!’” he reminds me on Sunday afternoon, after serving a list of nine Asian barbecue brunch items alongside Scarlett’s regular menu. Indeed, Norwig showed up at my door a few days before July Fourth and has been crashing on my couch ever since.

“You and I both have this thing: You have to be really good at it, or else you’re embarrassed by it. Remember what I said? If you don’t have a scene or you don’t like it, change it or make it. We’re generating our own scene.”

It’s a cool process, and Oni is still developing into what we want it to be: Aspen’s ultimate pop-up dinner party experience. Each chef’s table is capped at 20 people, and Norwig’s omnivore menu changes weekly. Six- to 18-hour-smoked meats — pork, lamb, short ribs, brisket, chicken — and seafood such as charred octopus or crispy softshell crab have been stars, accented with handcrafted sauces and garnishes that hark to Norwig’s classical French training. Andrew Sandler and Andy Pappani are graciously allowing us to use Scarlett’s as a venue in exchange for boosting brunch business and liquor sales.

So far I’ve learned that everything needed to fall apart for me to build it back up. Oh, and also to chill the f–k out when the room gets hot.

“It’s always stressful in the beginning, but you’re a performance artist,” Norwig says. “And I think you’re really enjoying yourself. You and I have put a lot of work into this to make it good, so that final product is gonna be WOW. Always remember: You’re never a master, always a student.”

Amanda Rae will host Oni Aspen chef’s table with chef Adam Norwig on Aug. 19 and 20. Join us! amandaraewashere@gmail.com

WineInk: Shapes of wine glasses improve the juice

In my recent column on the Alta Langa sparkling wine region of Piedmont, Italy, I came across a story about a wine glass that had been designed specifically for the wines of the region. Made by the German Spiegelau glass producer, the stunning glass was designed by Giugiaro Design, the firm of Italian auto design legend (you know, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati, among many more) Sir Giorgetto Giugiaro, who happens to hail from the Cuneo region of Piedmont. He is someone you would expect to know the wines of Piedmont well.

Though the sparkling wines of Alta Langa are very similar to those of Champagne in grapes (pinot noir and chardonnay)and production method (metodo classic), the glass, dubbed the “Grande,” is distinctly different in shape and appearance. Sir Giorgetto himself, according to the Alta Langa website, illustrated the various steps undertaken during the creation of this glass. The “Grande,” he noted, “has a narrow base to facilitate (the) bursting of the bubbles towards the top of the glass, where it widens to enhance the scents of the wine.” This, in contrast to the traditional flute shape that is recommended for Champagne.

I love a great wine glass almost as much as I love a great glass of wine.

There is something special about holding a well-made, well-balanced glass in your hand, tilting it toward your nose, sniffing the wine inside and eventually bringing it to your lips for the first sip. Sure, you can do that with any glass. A juice jar will hold and convey liquid from a bottle to your mouth. But, as is the case with the Alta Langa Grande glass, a great wine glass serves as a vessel to take you on a journey to the very origins of a bottle of wine.

Bubbles burst in the special glasses designed by Giugiaro Design for the sparkling wines of the Alta Langa DOCG wine region of Piedmont, Italy.
Courtesy photo

With just a little bit of attention to detail, your wine experience can be greatly enhanced by using proper stemware — the word aficionados use to describe their glasses — for your wine. So what is “proper stemware?” It depends. If you have the space, the money and the inclination, then there are myriad options. Even if you just need a half-dozen glasses in your kitchen for everyday drinking, there are still a few things to consider.

For example, there is a school of thought that insists, rightly so I believe, that shape matters. A great Burgundy or pinot noir is best served in a large, well-rounded bowl with a distinct narrowing at the top. This allows the floral aromas to be captured in the glass and collect, so that when you put your nose it and inhale … Nirvana. Bordeaux is better served in a taller, less rounded, though still tapered glass that directs the bolder wine to that spot on your palate that provides the most bang for the buck. And the aforementioned Champagne flute provides the visual dimension of showcasing the bubbles as they rise to the top.

That said, there are dozens of shapes of stemware made for wine geeks that may or may not improve the actual taste of a glass of wine for most people. While you may not need them all, or even most, to enjoy a selection of different wines, if you can afford to hoard stemware, more power to you.

From small to tall, slim to wide, tapered at the top, there are a range of sizes and shapes of wine glasses designed to make the most out of the tasting experience.
Shutterstock image

For the majority of wines, a glass with a bowl large enough so that you can swirl without spilling, that is slightly tapered at the top with a thinnish rim, that is made from quality crystal or glass and, most importantly, is clean, will meet or exceed your expectations. Look for something in your budget and try to pay attention to the makers who specialize in the production fine wine glasses, like Riedel from Austria, and purchase their generic, everyday lines.

While I subscribe to the belief that specialty glasses work best with specific wines, 95% of the time I drink my wine out of five glasses (yes, there were once six) that I bought over a decade ago at the Simon Pearce glassmaking factory in Quechee, Vermont. These glasses were “seconds” from the store in the factory because they were deformed or irregular in some way. Today they are perhaps my most perfect possessions.

The tiny hamlet of Quechee, Vermont, is home to the Simon Pearce flagship store, restaurant and glass blowing facility, which sits above the Ottauquechee River.
Courtesy photo

With the general shape of a Bordeaux glass, they are thick and heavy. Each, because they were seconds, is unique or individual, if you will. But what makes them so beloved is not just the feel in my hand or how they display my wines; it is the sound each makes when they are clinked together in a toast. An indescribable, joyful ring escapes from each glass, as well wishes are passed between friends.

So what makes a perfect wine glass? Just like wine, it’s the one that you like the best.

8 cannabis-infused getaways to take this offseason

Luxury cannabis leader Lord Jones became the industry’s first to form an official partnership with a hotel chain when announcing in 2018 that The Standard would soon stock its line of gumdrops in minibars and lobby boutiques from Los Angeles to New York. Adult-use marijuana is now legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and since Standard Hotels set a groundbreaking precedent, the travel industry is following suit with more cannabis-friendly offerings than ever before.

Of course, there are still challenges when it comes to consumption in common areas or in the privacy of your own room’s balcony (like with cigarettes, there are still hefty fines for smoking cannabis inside). But while cities try to navigate implementing social-use regulations, hotels in legal states are known to turn a blind eye to lighting up outside, vaporizing or ingesting edibles—especially those that are now serving up CBD or selling cannabis paraphernalia on-property. Plus, TSA recently stated, “Products that contain hemp-derived CBD oil or are FDA-approved are generally legal & can fly.”

So now that summer in Aspen is finally quieting down, it’s high time to start planning for fall. From picking up a PAX vaporizer poolside at the Dream Hollywood to booking a private dinner through the Thompson Seattle, here are eight cannabis-infused getaways to take this offseason.

The Standard Spa

Miami, Florida

Treat your feet to the Royal Chill Treatment ($175 for 60 minutes), a massage featuring a refreshing foot bath and cooling scrub, followed by a grounding reflexology ritual. Using Lord Jones’ best-selling High CBD Pain & Wellness Formula and a variety of techniques, including balancing reflexology points, say goodbye to aches and pains so you can put your stilettos back on for another night out in the Magic City. Hotel guests can also find Lord Jones’ Blood Orange CBD Gumdrops (an exclusive flavor created in partnership with The Standard) in the spa boutique and minibars in-room along with smoke-friendly accoutrements in the gift shop like Stonedware Company ceramic pipes, rolling papers, lighters and stash jars. standardhotels.com

Dream Hollywood

Los Angeles, California

PAX Labs, makers of sleek and smart vaporizers, as part of its ongoing initiative with the Dream Hollywood, has devices available for purchase at the hotel in-room and on the rooftop pool patio, The Highlight Room. While the Dream Hollywood doesn’t offer guests cannabis flower or Era pods compatible with PAX on-site, delivery direct to your chaise lounge chair is as easy as a swipe on your iPhone through statewide online ordering service, Eaze. dreamhotels.com

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Napa Valley, California

This laid-back, rustic retreat has recently incorporated CBD into its spa treatment menu, offering two signature treatments. The CBD Soak ($75 for 25 minutes) is a twist on their popular Splish Splash featuring infused bath salts that help to restore the body after a workout, reduce inflammation and relieve stress. The CBD Massage ($145 for 50 minutes) uses a hemp-derived, rich body cream to reboot muscles, skin and aura. calistogamotorlodgeandspa.com

La Quinta Resort & Club

Palm Springs, California

Set beneath the rugged Santa Rosa Mountains, the iconic, Waldorf Astoria-operated resort’s Spa La Quinta has just launched a signature plant-based treatment. The VYBES Calm and Balance CBD Massage ($250 for 50 minutes) starts with a tasting of three flavors of VYBES organic hemp water, such as honey crisp apple basil and burning mandarin, followed by a full-body massage with CBD Care Garden oil and a full pour of your favorite VYBES water after the service. laquintaresort.com

Hotel Teatro

Denver, Colorado

As the Mile High City’s first hotel to implement an official CBD cocktail program on the menu of its in-house restaurant, The Nickel also hosts an ongoing series of CBD workshops and special events. Using CBD-rich turmeric oil from Denver-based hemp company SUPERGOOD sip a sense of calm with The Chill Lebowski (vodka, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, espresso, honey syrup, Frangelico and egg white) or the Super Limoncello Haze (house-made limoncello, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, cherry bitters, and whipped cream) — both infused with 12 milligrams of CBD. hotelteatro.com

Hotel Saint Cecilia, Austin Motel, and Hotel San José

Austin, Texas

In all three of Liz Lambert’s Austin-based Bunkhouse hotels, guests can shop from an array of her personally curated CBD product picks. At the Hotel Saint Cecilia, a 14-room, secluded estate, find Lord Jones gumdrops in your minibar and in the lobby shop. At the Austin Motel, grab Dazey tinctures, Recess sparkling water, and The Good Patch by La Mend. Hotel San José, the super cool hideout on South Congress, stocks Bang Candy Co.’s Dream Drops and Dram CBD’s sparkling waters and tinctures. Guests can go next door to Jo’s Coffee to fuel up with a Flora + Fortitude CBD-infused cold brew, too. bunkhousegroup.com

The Jupiter

Portland, Oregon

Portland’s original boutique hotel, which earned design accolades from Architectural Digest in 2016, has teamed up with locally-based companies to compile an “Everything But The Weed Kit” for its cannabis-consuming guests. While no cannabis flower or oil is included, a colorful travel pouch is filled with the latest issue of Oregon Leaf, munchies, Jupiter tee shirt, dispensary discount coupons and a Jayne vape pen, lighter and grinder. jupiterhotel.com

Thompson Seattle

Seattle, Washington

As a notable cannabis culinary expert, executive chef Derek Simcik is available to those who have done some research on their own before booking a room at the tony Thompson Seattle (the property does not list information on its website or offer details on-property). Through the concierge, though, Simcik is available for hire to cater a private, elevated dinner party of any size, held in an unaffiliated event space nearby. thompsonhotels.com

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.

Mountain Mayhem: Anderson Ranch Gala

Anderson Ranch Arts Center presented its 23rd annual Recognition Dinner at Hotel Jerome on July 18, raising a record $1.5 million to support their educational programs. The evening kicked off in the Jerome courtyard with a Chandon Champagne cart, custom embroidered cashmere eye masks by Lingua Franca, craft cocktails and light bites. Dinner followed in the ballroom with award presentations for three notables and speeches from each honoree. Nick Cave received the International Artist Award, Sarah Arison earned the Service to the Arts Award and Doug Casebeer was acknowledged with the Extraordinary Leadership Award. The live auction was led by Robbie Gordy of Christie’s, complemented by a paddle raise, also led by Gordy with Ranch President and CEO Peter Waanders. Artists Robert Longo, Sanford Biggers, Mickalene Thomas, Lily Stockman and KAWS contributed works to the auction, along with several others. Event sponsors included Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Christie’s, Aspen Magazine, Artsy, Chandon, Suerte Tequila, Bubbles & Bowties Event Planning, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Alpine Bank and the Hotel Jerome.

Learn more at www.andersonranch.org.

Asher on Aspen: You’re Gonna Miss This

A black Cadillac Escalade pulled around the corner and zipped up next to my black Ford Focus. Apparently, that was my ride. I crawled into the back of an already over-stuffed car while someone generously offered me a welcome beer. It was 5 p.m. on a Friday and the party mode button had officially been switched on.

It was about a 90-minute drive down to Rifle but thanks to funny friends that kept us laughing — and the new Tyler Childers album that dropped that day — we were easily kept occupied. Why did nine Aspen residents drive all the way down to Rifle, you may be wondering? For the Garfield County Fair & Rodeo, of course! The main highlight of the weekend is the country concert headliner, and this year Trace Adkins and Joe Nichols were set to take the stage.

I think it’s important to understand that there are two types of concert-goers in this world: the people who are perfectly satisfied sitting in the back and listening to the music from afar, and the people who feel the need to be front row and/or backstage with the artists. I, for one, am the latter of the two. Something consumes me and I turn into Penny Lane from “Almost Famous.” I feel this need to be up close and personal with the musicians. I don’t know what it is, I’ve just always been this way.

Luckily, I was with a few girlfriends who supported my mission to meet Joe Nichols. After some chatting with the merchandise guy and a few purchased “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” T-shirts, we somehow managed to get in line for the meet-and-greet. I shimmied my way backstage with pride and glee. Upon drawing near the country music star, I got bashful and suddenly couldn’t form words. Instead of complimenting his performance or telling him that I’m a big fan, I told him that he smelled good. So, there’s that.

Next up, Trace Adkins! We went back to the peasant seats in the bleachers and jammed along to “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and “Ladies Love Country Boys” with all of our friends. Being from Iowa, I secretly thrive in this low-key, small-town atmosphere. Did I have a tiny desire to sneak down to the stage to be in the front row? Of course. Thankfully, my self-diagnosed FOMO reeled me back in and kept me grounded. There was no way I was missing that group photo.

He started singing one of his hits, “You’re Gonna Miss This,” and everyone seemed to freeze with their thoughts for a brief moment. A good friend of ours who has since passed came with us on the venture to Rifle the year before. Without saying anything out loud, it became a moment within our friend group to reminisce and remember our lovely friend Sam.

“You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast. These are some good times. So, take a good look around. You may not know this now, but you’re gonna miss this.”

With eyes welling up around me, these lyrics were a callous reminder of the fact that our friend couldn’t be there with us that day. Knowing Sam, he would have been right there with us in line trying to meet Joe Nichols. We all laughed about how easily we could spot him last year with his ten-gallon hat that he wore proudly all night long.

The melancholy moment subsided, and Adkins quickly picked it back up with another timeless tune that everyone knew the words to. Hot dogs, funnel cakes and all the greasy foods that accompany carnivals were being passed around. After the show, everyone was eager to cruise back out to the fairgrounds to really soak in the summer carnival vibe.

It didn’t dawn on me until after I bought 30 ride tickets that I wasn’t actually that big of a carnival ride person. I rode the Ferris wheel and that was enough for me. A couple friends thought it’d be fun to ride the dizzy swings — just picture that scene from “The Sandlot.” I opted out and tried to win a stuffed animal instead. Christopher won a penguin and I named him Gregory.

After two years attending this county fair, I certainly hope it turns into a long-lasting tradition. Not only is the fair a really good time, but I also think Sam would have loved to hear that we all went down to Rifle’s annual country-music haven. And even though it’s a 7-year-old song, Adkins’ lyrics still prove true today, reminding us to relish in the moment that you’re in and enjoy every second because life is too short to do anything else.

Booming beer: Snowmass taps into the upper valley’s suds scene

This week, we’re doing away with the fancy drinks in Libations and talking beer.

There has been a pretty major shift in the past few years that makes finding a good beer in the valley, like a good wine, a lot easier.

I spent my Front Range decades at the Falling Rock, a Denver taphouse just a block south of Coors Field that was opened in 1996 by a trio of brothers who came up with the name while driving through Colorado mountains.

“Look at all the free advertising,” one of them once told me. Crafty. They have more than 75 taps going at any given time and host another 125 or so varieties in bottles and cans.

So when I came to the Roaring Fork Valley full-time more than two years ago, I needed to find a new Rock. Aspen Brewing Company’s old place was a great transition, but I needed a bit more variety.

With all the wine that flows here, I was a bit out of my element in Aspen’s dinner scene, always looking for something on tap. But things have greatly improved for suds-lovers. Heck, even the Food & Wine Classic has welcomed beer into its weekend with sessions at the past couple of Classics hosted by the team from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

Aspen Brewing Company has improved its offerings since moving into its new space; I enjoy stopping at Public House to get whatever Bill’s Capitol Creek Brewery flavor is on tap; between Silver City and Ryno’s there’s a good mix of regional beers; and HOPS has the variety unmatched up here (30 beer lines and 200 in bottles and cans).

But Snowmass’s affinity for beer (hosting the Rondezvous Craft Beer Festival in June and the 5K On The Mountain as part of the Colorado Brewery Running Series in July) has kind of locked up my tap count with Ranger Station, Slow Groovin’ and Zane’s.

With the strong connection to New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, what you find at Ranger Station is a full mix from the traditional Fat Tire to the sour brown ale La Folie. The range of IPAs is solid as well. Having spent the 1990s in Loveland and Fort Collins, I have had my fill of Fat Tire, but what they’re developing with IPAs and sours is always intriguing.

Snowmass’s Ranger Station opened in 2015 and pours from 12 taps. If you cannot find anything there you like, you can fall back on the Golden backup and get a “big-ass 24” Coors Light, Chris the bartender told a visitor from the south who was a bit overwhelmed after he walked in.

Just a few steps away at Slow Groovin’, which is in its third summer at the Snowmass location, there is a solid variety of Colorado beers among their 24 taps.

They are always rotating taps, but at any given time they have kegs from Roaring Fork (Carbondale), Elevation (Poncha Springs), O’Dell’s (Fort Collins), Left Hand (Longmont), Boulder Beer Co., Four Noses (Broomfield) and Crooked Stave (Denver). And if you cannot find anything there you like, you can fall back on the mountain stable PBR on tap (for just $3).

Over at Zane’s, the old standby is open year-round and while there aren’t as many taps as the other two, they have the right mix of traditional beers to go with their solid Philly cheesesteak and burger menu (yes, I’m alluding to pairings).

Until Judge Kavanaugh ruined it, I used the simple line “I like beer” when I ordered at a fancy restaurant. Now, I just go to places where it’s a given that we all like beer.

Aspen History: Grand Masters at the Aspen Club, 1978

“Nostalgia, top tennis displayed during Grand Masters Tournament,” announced The Aspen Times on Aug. 10, 1978. “There was more than nostalgia at the Aspen Club this past weekend when eight aging tennis superstars of a bygone era competed in an Almaden Grand Masters tournament; there was also exceptional tennis. Although the Grand Masters, all over 45, may not be as fast as they once were, they make up for their lack of speed in extra finesse, placing the balls along the lines or at odd angles as most younger players can only dream of doing. Seeded number one for the event, Australia’s Frank Sedgman lived up to his tremendous reputation by winning his three singles matches, and the tournament, with relative ease. But then his controlled play and powerful yet precise volleying makes the hardest shots appear easy. And when he teamed with Rex Hartwig, another former Australian and Wimbledon doubles champion, their dominance of the doubles was unquestionable. Both played and won at Wimbledon in the early 1950s, but not together, and last weekend they played as if they were ready to play there again. In his day Hartwig was considered one of the best doubles players in the world and won most of the top titles more than once with one or another partner. We doubt if he ever had a better partner than Sedgman.” This image shows a crowd at the Aspen Club watching the tennis tournament in 1978.

LeAnn Rimes returns to Belly Up Aspen

LeAnn Rimes has sold tens of millions of records, she’s won Grammys and she’s played on the largest stages to some of the world’s biggest crowds. But on her recent tours, the country-pop star is inviting audiences to see her, and hear her iconic songs, in a new light.

She and her band have sought fresh approaches to songs she’d grown bored with since her days as a teen star, and concocted fresh arrangements for her beloved, road-worn hits like “How Do I Live” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”

She returns to Belly Up Aspen, where she most recently headlined at a Christmas show in 2017, on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

These days, “How Do I Live” is less the anthem you know from Top 40 radio and more of a hushed and personal ballad.

“It’s almost a different song,” Rimes said during a previous stop in Aspen. “It’s so heartbreaking. You feel everything in it.”

“Something’s Gotta Give” has become a down-home bluegrass tune in stripped-down performances that put Rimes’ powerhouse voice and lyrics center stage.

“It’s really intimate,” she said. “I love having that with an audience. I think people really have a moment of getting to know me and hopefully it’s a great show of fantastic music.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two decades since a 13-year-old Rimes burst onto the country music scene with her cover of Billy Mack’s “Blue” in 1996, beginning her run of chart-topping records that helped country on its way to dominating the pop landscape. She’s sold more than 40 million records and, with “How Do I Live,” scored the second-longest charting song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. She signed her first record deal at 11 and won her first Grammy at 14. So you’ve got to commend her for holding onto a creative vitality and making an effort to see songs she’s been performing for most of her life with fresh eyes.

In concert, Rimes mines material from her whole catalog — from “Blue” up through 2016’s “Remnants.” Scaling down the production, she said, rekindled a passion for songs that might seem to have come from another lifetime.

“When you’re not bound to having to fit something to radio stations, you can play around and it can become anything,” she said. “Some of them we’ve looked at each other and said, ‘Why didn’t we do the record like that?’ That freedom, to be able to do something like that live, is really fun.”

Performing on the international stage since childhood, Rimes said she feels like she began to come into her own as a singer-songwriter with “Remnants.”

“The LeAnn Rimes that’s done all the things I’ve done, it’s fantastic,” she said. “But there’s this other side that’s just LeAnn, this songwriter that’s just developing. And I think this next record will be the first thing that is what I feel like arriving in my skin, speaking volumes to who I am. I’m so grateful for all I’ve accomplished but there’s more left.”


Are we being influenced by the influencers? A look at the growth and change in Instagram beyond letting our friends see our cool photos.

Influencer, content creator, social media star, blogger, vlogger. No matter what you call them, there is no doubt these people are influencing the world around us by the content they share on social media platforms.

Social media influencers are big business, and not just for themselves. They are helping brands and companies big and small show off their products, locations and amenities to people worldwide.

According to the website Business Insider and working with Mediakix data, by 2022, estimates are that brands will be spending up to $15 billion on influencer marketing.

So, just how is a place like Aspen, which already has national name recognition, using these influencers to further its brand and reach new audiences, and how does the Aspen influencer differ from the national trend of influencers?

What’s an influencer?

To understand why influencers are such a talked about, written about and followed topic, you first have to know what one is.

A social media influencer is someone who creates content on platforms to share with a large audience of their loyal followers.

The content they share can encourage followers to, for example, buy products, try a new restaurant, visit a place or experience a new workout.

“Social influencers to us are individuals or brands that can share their perspective on The Nell with their audience and, in turn, their audience learns more about us,” said May Selby, director of public relations and social media at The Little Nell.

While the power to impact people in this way used to be strictly relegated to celebrities, these days, where social media is king and most are glued to their phones, when it comes to influencing products purchased and behavior many are turning to influencers who, in theory, are ordinary people.

These regular people achieve Instagram fame by establishing a level of trust with their followers while also curating a feed of inspiring pictures and videos, making their audience covet what they have and therefore willing to listen to and follow their endorsements of products.

“You want to be as genuine as you can and you want to also be aspirational and create content people relate to,” said Selby, who also writes a weekly social scene column for this publication.

National influencers vs. local influencers

When scrolling through the infinite pages of Instagram, it seems that the majority of influencers fall under the categories of lifestyle, beauty/fashion and wellness.

However, if you target Aspen as a specific location, people who would be considered influencers locally tend to fall outside these categories and are more action sports, travel/adventure and photography-based influencers.

“I do feel like there is a couple things with the local influencers,” said Tiffany Cook, senior content marketing manager with Aspen Skiing Co. “They’re definitely valuable from the athlete, the outdoors, the photographer standpoint.”

Arielle Shipe, an Aspen local and Instagram influencer with 115K followers, didn’t set out to be a professional content creator when she started posting her adventures rock climbing, camping and spending time in nature, but her Instagram page, which she said “reflected to the world my goal to find as much joy in life as possible,” rapidly attracted a loyal following.

“I moved back home to Aspen after six years away (school, travel, etc). I had roughly 600 followers on Instagram of mostly friends and family,” Shipe said about her journey to becoming a full-time influencer.

“Around that time, I purchase a GoPro and started bringing it out on adventures with me. Within a year I had grown to about 1,200 followers simply by posting photos regularly, then, seemingly out of nowhere, my page started to grow faster until it reached the size that it is today.

“I’m not sure I will ever truly know that spark that started the whole chain of events, but I am so grateful for the journey and all the things I’ve learned along the way.”

Roaring Fork Valley influencers, like Shipe, often share their favorite lines in the backcountry, a climb on Independence Pass, the scene of the stars lighting up the sky over their tent on a camping trip or a snapshot from a recent adventure outside the valley with their audience.

“I think a lot of photographers are influencers though, because you love their work and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is cool,’ and then you start following them and see what they do,” Selby said.

Take Pete McBride. He lives in Basalt and falls into the category of photographer influencer (he also works with National Geographic), so his feed is filled with insanely beautiful photography from locations local and far-flung.

He has 778,000 followers, but isn’t selling them anything. He is telling his story in his authentic way, which is through photographs.

“I have worked as a photographer and filmmaker for over 20 years, so I have a lot of unique content which I started sharing on social media, mostly instagram, early,” McBride said. “As a result, I have built a following over time by consistently sharing my work and focusing on stories, not just pretty pictures.”

“It is a crowded online world so I try to avoid posts about what coffee shop I visited, unless it is one hell of a wild coffee shop.”

Aspen Chamber Resort Association, The Little Nell and Skico use local influencers in a variety of ways to help tell the story of Aspen, their brand and why people should come here.

“With local influencers, they have more of a passion for Aspen and they really care about what they’re showing to their followers,” said Bridget Crosby, marketing manager for ACRA. “Where, if you get someone national … we wouldn’t get as much heart, so we really think that the locals have their own unique perspective and it definitely is showing our followers how special Aspen is.”

How to use an influencer and why

Marketing through social media is becoming more the norm for brands and business, and with good reason.

Forty-five percent of the world uses social media, according to a Digital 2019 report by HootSuite, which is almost double what it was in 2014. Additionally, the average user is spending 2 hours and 16 minutes a day on social platforms, which is one-seventh of a person’s waking life.

And rather than just relying on peppering sites with advertisements, companies are turning to influencers to promote their product in a genuine way that resonates with followers and encourages them to engage with the company, because in theory, you’d rather get a recommendation from a friend then fall for a traditional ad.

Following these influencers are “how people are buying things and becoming brand loyalists and doing research,” Cook said.

By using a variety of influencers, companies are able to reach different segments of the population and infiltrate different audiences with targeted content.

Aspen Skiing Co.’s account @AspenSnowmass has a strong following of winter and snowsport enthusiasts already, Cook said. So when she looks for influencers to partner with, she’s typically trying to find ones who can reach a different audience and can highlight another part of the Skico brand that people may not be as familiar with.

“We typically use our influencers to kind of fill some sort of gap that we’re working through,” Cook said, “like families or dogs or interesting angles that we can’t otherwise get or stories we can’t otherwise tell.”

Garrett Brown, assistant digital marketing manager at Skico, agreed.

“We actively search for influencers depending on different markets that we’re looking to get into,” he said, “(and) targeting influencers to use to promote specific facets of the businesses.”

And by using social media as an outlet, companies are not only able to promote their brand, but they are able to share events and day-to-day happenings in real time, which can have an immediate impact.

Let’s get real

As an example of this “real time value,” Selby pointed to the time when Francis Mallmann, a famous Argentinian chef who has been featured on “Chef’s Table,” came to The Little Nell as the star chef for a dinner in summer 2017.

“At the time, he had a quarter of a million followers on Instagram and he was taking pictures of his setup … and sharing it,” Selby said.

By sharing what he was doing and where he was in the moment, Selby said they immediately started getting calls from chefs in the industry asking about Mallmann and The Nell along with a call from the Crowns, owners of Aspen Skiing Co., The Little Nell’s parent company, saying their friends who weren’t at the event were talking about it as it was unfolding.

“The real-time effect of having him there, showing what he was doing and speaking to The Nell just in his own words, … this is the perfect example of how social influence makes an impact,” she said.

However, not every partnership with an influencer goes so smooth and has such an impact.

“I feel like every time we (partner with an influencer) it’s a little bit of a risk, and every time afterward we learned some new sort of lesson,” Cook said, clarifying that just because Skico is a “big notable brand” doesn’t mean they have a large budget for this kind of thing.

And many of the companies in Aspen are selling an experience and not so much a product, such as Skico, and it’s not like they can ask an influencer to give back the hotel room, lift ticket or dinner after the fact.

This means that not every influencer who approaches a company becaomes a partnership, and often the answer is “No.”

Selby said there are times when she’d rather not have an influencer work with the hotel because it’s not the right fit or the person is asking for too much.

“A lot of times we get asked, ‘Oh, I’m getting married can you please host my wedding?’ or ‘Can you please give me like an incredible discount and I’ll post about it?’ and we’re like, ‘No … those metrics don’t work, I don’t have the budget to cover your wedding and we wouldn’t do that anyway. That’s not how we operate.’”

Therefore, as these types of partnerships continue to evolve, contracts have become increasingly important. Each party has a set of joint expectations, the content creators have a set of deliverables and everyone understands how to use the shared content.

Just trending or here to stay?

The landscape of social media is constantly changing, and as the popularity of influencers continues to rise and the lines between authentic content and posts with brand partners gets blurred, there is starting to be more and more pushback.

In the beginning of July, a story went viral about the owner of CVT Soft Serve, and ice cream truck in Los Angeles, putting a sign outside his truck that said “Influencers pay double.”

CVT owner Joe Nicchi told the BBC News that he posted the sign outside his truck, and on social media, because each week he would get people approaching him and saying they would promote his ice cream on the condition that he would give it to them for free.

In his post on social media, Nicchi wrote: “We truly don’t care if you’re an influencer, or how many followers you have. We will never give you free ice cream in exchange for a post on your social media page. It’s literally a $4 item … well, now it’s $8 for you.”

But he’s not the only one expressing the concept that likes and followers don’t (or shouldn’t) matter.

Instagram recently expanded a test program, which started in Canada, to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil. It hides the number of likes a person’s post receives.

“We are testing this change because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” a spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, said in an email to the Aspen Times Weekly.

“We are now rolling the test out to more countries so we learn more from our global community and see how this can benefit people’s experiences on Instagram.”

Likes are one of the metrics that content creators and brands use to measures success of a partnership/promotion. So, if this test proves successful and Instagram chooses to remove likes in all their markets, it could dramatically shift the landscape of influencers.

But that doesn’t mean the end of influencers.

“As grateful as I am for the audience and platform I have to speak from right know, I know that it will change,” Shipe said. “Perhaps removing counts on posts will mean my engagement drops … but if people’s overall happiness and well-being rise because of it, I’m all for it.”

“In the end, my goal is just to inspire people to follow their dreams and find more joy in life, no matter what changes on the app, that is how I will continue to use it.”