Don’t ski? Aspen offers plenty of other things to do |

Don’t ski? Aspen offers plenty of other things to do

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” So you’ve come to Aspen ” one of the great ski towns on the planet ” but forgot to bring with you any desire to outfit yourself in some of the most uncomfortable clothes and footwear ever designed, head onto a frigid mountain, endure lift rides that have you elbow-to-elbow with imperfect strangers, and zoom at ungodly speeds as you attempt to navigate through trees, big metal poles and a swarm of fellow skiers who are way better than you. And pay many dollars for the privilege.

Congratulations on your choice; you’ve come to the right place. Seriously. The Aspen area is blessed with a mountain of activities, from the athletic to the artistic to the indulgent, for people who wouldn’t even consider spending the day with hard, suffocating molds of plastic covering their feet and ankles. In fact, you don’t even need to look at the ski mountains. (Although taking a peek is recommended: it’s quite pretty, and you can take pity on the downhillers as you’re off to your next massage, shopping spree, cocktail, concert, art gallery, etc.)

For those who don’t want to be a complete couch potato while their friends are skidding down the ice, praying to reach the bottom intact, there are plenty of more comfortable, safer options to break a sweat. Perhaps the best is cross-country skiing, which provides an awesome workout, a meditative experience, knockout views ” and much less inhibiting gear.

The premiere cross-country spot is at the top of the Castle Creek Valley, near the ghost town of Ashcroft, south of Aspen. The best part ” aside from the scenery, the experience of being truly away from it all ” is the restaurant at the end of the trail, the Pine Creek Cookhouse (925-1044), where the lunch is as memorable as the atmosphere. Incidentally, one must pay to use the Ashcroft Ski Touring trails, though skiing up the road to the cookhouse is free.

Also free to use is the entire Aspen-Snowmass nordic system of groomed trails. Among its gems is the glorious North Star Nature Preserve east of town, with a maintained cross-country trail. Farther east, Highway 82 on Independence Pass is closed to vehicle traffic for the winter, which makes it a wonderful place to ski, nordic-style. The Aspen golf course, while not quite as rustic, is still an excellent place for cross-country exercise. In addition, it’s the Aspen hub of a network of trails in Aspen and Snowmass Village; the Owl Creek Trail connects the two resorts and is a nordic highlight (925-2145).

Go to for more information.

For an all-around workout (and wind-down), head to the great indoors: the Aspen Recreation Center (544-4100). The ARC features a lap pool, weight room and an NHL-size ice-skating rink ” plus a wading pool and climbing tower for the kids. Finish the day with a round of the hot tub/sauna/steam bath circuit.

For a similar experience, but a different location, check out the Snowmass Recreation Center ” and its excellent outdoor pools (922-2240). For a more exclusive setting for your workout and, if you like, a finale of a massage or other spa treatment ” get a day pass at the Aspen Club and Spa (925-8900).

If you prefer your soak with a view, head downvalley to the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs (945-6571) and its enormous, outdoor pool.

For those who want to stay in downtown Aspen, but don’t want their exercise confined to an indoor venue, lace up the skates at the Silver Circle Rink (925-1710).

If you insist on views of the valley from above, try snowshoeing up Buttermilk Mountain, or hiking up Smuggler at the east end of town.

To work out other muscles, try fly-fishing the gold medal Fryingpan River above Basalt. Yep, people fish the river all year round. (Taylor Creek Fly Shop and Fryingpan Anglers, both in Basalt, can hook you up with the gear and steer you to the best spots). Or paraglide off Aspen Mountain ” it may not work the muscles, but it will get your heart pounding. (Book your flight through Aspen Paragliding, 925-7625.)

Whew, you’ve been going hard, what with all the various workouts and resisting the temptation to strap on a pair of alpine skis. You deserve some mellow time.

To engage the mind and the eye, take a tour of Aspen’s arts facilities. The Aspen Art Museum (925-8050) offers world-class exhibitions featuring internationally recognized artists. And free admission, always! This winter’s shows include the group exhibit Now You See It (Dec. 18-Feb. 1), emphasizing the materials used in art-making; and Jim Hodges (Feb. 13-April 12), featuring work by the American conceptual artist who was the recipient of last year’s Aspen Award for Art.

Head into downtown and take in the Baldwin Gallery (920-9797), the David Floria Gallery (544-5705), the Joel Soroka Gallery (920-3152) and Galerie Maximillian (925-6100). You’ll see the finest in cutting-edge art, photography, and vintage masterpieces. To get a feel for the vibrant local art scene, stop in at the Red Brick Center for the Arts (429-2777), and, at Aspen Highlands Village, LivAspenArt (544-0411).

For the fine-art fanatic, journey out to Snowmass Village, home of the rustic, but world-class art-making facility, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center (923-3181). Anderson Ranch features studio tours, artist talks, galleries and more.

It’s time to give your feet a rest ” but it’s not time to stop the sightseeing. Hail a horse-drawn carriage (925-3394) and take a ride through Aspen’s West End, a historic neighborhood of preserved Victorian homes. If you’re looking for something more extreme, take the 12-mile snowmobile tour along Maroon Creek and on up to the unsurpassable natural beauty of the Maroon Bells (T-Lazy 7 Ranch, 925-4614).

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (925-5756) at Hallam Lake (behind the Aspen post office) offers organized snowshoe tours at Ashcroft, as well as on Aspen Mountain and at Snowmass.

ACES, as it’s best known, also hosts a series of evening winter programs at its Hallam Lake headquarters, including Potbelly Perspectives, featuring guest speakers ” often locals ” who give slide shows/talks on their travels around the globe, and Naturalist Nights, also featuring a series of speakers on topics ranging from sustainability to local and regional natural wonders. Naturalist Nights programs are free; there’s a nominal fee for Potbelly Perspectives for those who aren’t ACES members.

Go to for ACES’ program schedule.

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