Finding an escape route up the Fryingpan Valley
At the former Diamond J Ranch, new Beyul Retreat provides getaway from the hustle and crowds
Special to The Aspen Times
This story was originally published in the “Winter in Aspen & Snowmass 2022” magazine, which is free and on newsstands now around the Roaring Fork Valley as well as online at aspentimes.com/magazines.
Mandated downtime during the pandemic left many with extra time on their hands to pursue new projects or hobbies. Aspen locals Reuben Sadowsky and Abby Stern used this time to turn a 15-year-old dream into a reality.
In November 2020, Beyul Retreat took over the historic Diamond J Guest Ranch at mile marker 26 on the upper Frying Pan River. The retreat is the new, highly coveted escape from Aspen that only continues to grow.
The property has been the Diamond J Ranch for almost 100 years. The historic barn formerly served as the ticket station for the Midland Rail Company, and the first guest cabins were built in the early 1930s. Since arriving on Nov. 4, 2020, the Beyul team has removed more than 50 tons of accumulated junk, created miles of on-property trails, worked with artists to install land-based art installations, upgraded the soft touches in all rooms (sheets, beds, comforters and towels), added pine-beetle-kill wood furniture, built a 1,500-square-foot event barn-tent, created a rustic spa with a wood-fired sauna and reinvented many indoor and outdoor spaces to accommodate events and retreats.
“Beyul Retreat is both a step back in time, and a step forward into the future that we want to create,” Sadowsky says. “The cabins are rustic, but clean and textured. Anyone who makes their way here has already left the world — and their worries — behind by virtue of the beautiful 40-minute drive with no cell service available. The 32 acres present a vibrant biodiversity that puts guests right in the middle of true wilderness.”
Sitting at 8,300 feet and surrounded by accessible routes into the White River National Forest, Beyul is a true backcountry base camp.
This winter, Beyul will host avalanche safety training with Aspen Expeditions and Aspen Alpine Guides, wilderness first responder courses by SOLO Colorado and hut trip leadership quests with Brooks Barron.
“For those looking for adventure closer to their cabin, we have a brand-new sledding hill, miles of Nordic track (groomed and ungroomed) and a toasty sauna and hot tub for stargazing,” Sadowsky says. “Cowboy Curling is also coming back for their annual event on our ice-skating pond.”
Pronounced bay • yule, the literal translation of this Tibetan word is “hidden lands.” The name honors Beyul Retreat’s idea of physical and spiritual worlds uniting in both real places and as a state of mind.
Additionally, Spencer Hansen will return for another art residency, following his show in Aspen at Skye Gallery. The lead singer of renowned world folk band Leah Song will host a residency in February, alongside other musical artists for the Ballads at Beyul ongoing concert series. Intermittent dinners with guest chefs will also be announced soon.
“Beyul has become a wilderness music venue, which is something we are stoked to continue cultivating,” Stern says. “Last winter, during the pandemic, we started hosting campfire concerts where every cabin had its own campfire spaced out 6 feet apart. Artists included Rising Appalachia, Dirtwire, Bonnie Payne, Human Experience, Birds of Play, Tierro Trio and more.”
Stern’s inspiration for starting the retreat dates back to her camp days as a kid.
“The joy of sleeping in cabins, all the outdoor activities and making new best friends each summer is where the idea originally stemmed from for me,” Stern says. “I have always been interested in the intersection of humanity and the environment. It eventually became apparent to me that there was a gap in the market. The Roaring Fork Valley had the opportunity for a retreat center where the beauty of nature coincided with an overnight gathering place.”
Beyul’s team members all have backgrounds in event production, from yoga retreats to environmental conferences and Burning Man.
“We are living our lives more like a retreat, with team yoga classes, sauna sessions and group hikes,” she says. “This has been our medicine to find balance within the high demand of the hospitality industry.”
“Beyul Retreat is here for the long haul. This is our home,” Sadowsky says. “Now that our business is thriving, we are moving forward with implementing the programming and site development. We will continue to invite partners who are making impactful progress in the realms of backcountry education, regenerative design and idea workshops, health, wellness and vitality practices, as well as art and music residencies. We are also really trying to promote local patronage for local staycations, the same way people utilize Avalanche Ranch.”
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Shuttered since December of 2020, the Red Onion bar and restaurant will open by Thanksgiving, according to Mark Hunt, the building’s owner who is redeveloping the space.