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Stay and play

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Slizeski family of Park City, Utah, lucked out. Their campsite, nestled beside the Roaring Fork River and just a stone’s throw from Independence Pass and downtown Aspen, offers a glorious view.

“It’s great. And you can’t hear any of the noise from the road,” 16-year-old Lacey Slizeski said, pointing to nearby Highway 82.

The Slizeskis – Lacey and her parents, Bob and Kim – camp outside Aspen once a year, usually on the way back from a visit to Estes Park. Bob spends most of the trip fishing, while Lacey and Kim enjoy the scenery.

“The real reason we come here is the great camping,” he said.

The family brought a Fodor’s budget travel guide on their trip, Bob said, and are considering one of the inexpensive options listed within – a nature hike with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, for instance. They might rent bikes for a ride through town, Lacey said, and they’ll be sure to take advantage of the showers at the local rec center.

Otherwise, the Slizeskis’ visits to downtown Aspen are limited.

“We go to City Market on the way through town, and usually, we eat out once,” Kim said.

Summer visitors like the Slizeskis are common in Colorado. Families in search of an inexpensive vacation can camp out, limit shopping to the local grocery store and lug their own recreation equipment from home – and frugal families are rewarded with a vacation in the mountains for a fraction of the price.

In short, visitors can spend their vacation camping outside Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Vail or Breckenridge without spending much money.

But lodge owners aren’t threatened by the number of people who choose to camp rather than sleep inside; they know that many of these outdoor enthusiasts will come to town sooner or later.

“Some people go camping for a couple of days, and then stay here for a day or two,” said Denise Morton, manager of the St. Moritz Lodge in downtown Aspen. “People actually come [to the valley] to go camping, but then they stay here for a night or two to have a shower, or relax in the pool.”

Many St. Moritz guests use the lodge as a base of operation, Morton said. After a long day in the backcountry, many hikers and bikers look forward to a night of air-conditioned comfort.

“We have a girl who stays with us for six weeks every summer just to go hiking every day,” Morton said.

The Evergreen Lodge in Vail sees a similar mix of clients, and it solicits summer visitors with special deals – specifically, outdoor activities.

“Part of what you get when you book a room here is a free half-day bike rental,” said Apollo Garcia, front desk manager for the Evergreen. Plus, the lodge has struck deals with local bike shops, allowing for cheap bike tunes for Evergreen guests.

“Usually when people are coming into town [in the summer], they come with the intention of going biking,” Garcia said. The lodge has even turned an entire storage room into a bike room, giving guests a place to put their gear at night.

“We use a lot of the local [tour] guides … and we can hook them up with golfing, horseback riding, or river rafting,” Garcia said.

Of course Summit County towns such as Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne face a different kind of challenge when it comes to summer visitors – their proximity to the Front Range makes it possible for Denver residents to make day trips to the wilderness.

“Of course, we take advantage of the fact that the 1-70 corridor on a weekend is definitely bumper-to-bumper traffic,” laughed Jack Taylor, executive director of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce.

But Summit County relies on more than bad luck to attract summer visitors, Taylor said. Advertising on the Front Range attracts a number of weekend warriors in a steady stream of traffic into the mountains.

Plus, many Summit County hotels are enjoying last-minute bookings this summer, possibly from day hikers looking to extend their visits. And most of these visitors won’t spend the weekend camping out in an effort to pinch pennies, according to Taylor.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a fair amount of those types of visitors out there, but I’d say they’re in the minority,” he said. “During the Fourth of July weekend, I went down into the town of Frisco, and I had not seen crowds like that in probably three years.

“Campgrounds are limited facilities, so not everyone was camping out.”

Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com


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