Asher on Aspen: Go solo, never alone
Exploring Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Asher on Aspen
I remember I used to be terrified to do things alone.
When I first went off to college, I couldn’t fathom eating a meal alone in the dining hall or attending a party or social function by myself. I always felt more comfortable with a partner in crime to tackle public gatherings with.
Fast-forward about four years, and this irrational fear quickly changed upon moving to Aspen. I eventually came to realize that solo travel is one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Recently, I had the opportunity to experience some solo travel days while exploring Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Arriving at the airport, it felt impossible not to gawk at the rugged beauty of the powder-dipped Grand Teton peaks that overwhelm your line of vision. Having never been to Jackson Hole before, I knew I couldn’t visit this iconic mountain town without planning a ski day. With no friends or locals to show me around, I was nervous and a bit weary to ski the famously steep terrain by myself.
The ski day that unfolded in Teton Village was certainly one I will never forget. For my first run, I jumped right in and cruised up the cherry-colored tram that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is known for. Nicknamed “Big Red,” the tram carries an undeniable intimidation factor as it only services to black and double black runs. The tram whisks skiers 4,139 feet to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, cruising over the resort’s infamous run Corbet’s Couloir.
Nearly 100 strangers and I boarded the tram and stood side by side for the duration of the 10-minute ride. I strategically chose my spot at the front of the tram, pressed up next to the glass to ensure the best view. A jaded, burnt-out liftie rode the tram with us and warned of the expert terrain levels at the top. I felt my stomach drop as he recommended riding the tram back down if we didn’t consider ourselves to be expert skiers. His monotone voice told me that he had given this spiel for the umpteenth time today.
It was a fiercely cold day on the mountain, the kind of cold that hurts your extremities if exposed for more than a couple of minutes. We unloaded the tram, and I was released into the wild with no friends or local guides to show me the way. My fingertips grew numb in the short time that it took to pull out my phone and turn on music. The flakes of snow felt like needles against my bare skin. As I stared down into the depths of the double blacks, I thought of my friend Jett and his go-to saying before skiing extreme runs, with a nonchalant shrug and a mischievous grin: “Well, it’s not going to ski itself.”
I felt defeated after my first run. The terrain was icy and steep, and the extreme wind added to the bitterly cold temperatures. Despite my initial frustration, I knew I had to keep going. Shortly after that, I rode up with a jolly, rosy-cheeked Canadian who had a sweet way of turning my day around. We shared lighthearted pleasantries, and right as we were about to lift the bar and ski off the chairlift, he asked to do a run with me. I couldn’t think of a reason to say no, so we ended up doing a few laps together, and he showed me one secret, stunning overlook that I probably wouldn’t have found by myself.
Later that day, I ran into some fellow Midwesterners during après. It was a newlywed couple whom I had met the day before on a whim at Persephone Bakery (a popular breakfast spot in town). While sharing a drink together, we discovered that I had gone to the same high school as the woman’s father in Des Moines, Iowa. The couple and I ended up skiing together the rest of the afternoon, and I was happy to have found friends to explore the mountain with.
After a long, cold day on the slopes, I took myself out to eat at a fancy Italian restaurant called Glorietta, which was conveniently located at my hotel. As I walked up to take a seat at the bar by myself, I heard someone yell my name from the other end of the restaurant. To my surprise, it was the owner of the yoga studio I frequent in Aspen. She and her partner invited me to sit with them, and we shared a lovely dinner together catching up and talking about the charming mountain town we both chose to visit this particular week. It was so nice to see a familiar face in a town where I thought I knew no one.
After dinner, I set out to enjoy a drink at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Again, this is something that 21-year-old Shannon never would have done alone. I walked in and was immediately pleased with the live music and dance floor quickly filling up. I sat belly up to the bar while straddling an old Western saddle. My mind wandered to the cowboys who rode in this saddle before me as I leaned in to order a Coors Light. The night rounded out with a handsome cowboy who eventually worked up the courage to ask me to two-step.
I’ve chatted with too many friends who put off their travel dreams because they don’t want to do it by themselves. The idea of going alone sounds either too daunting or just not all that fun. For me, solo travel is deliciously self-indulgent. It’s beautifully introspective, and it offers time to experience new things without the influence of others’ opinions shaping your experience. The time alone allows a natural vulnerability with no crutch to lean on for comfort.
Walking away from this solo trip, I felt an inner strength restored and a new sense of independence renewed.