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The Best of Aspen: Places

BEST PLACE TO WORK OUTWe all tire of the stereotype of the typical Aspenite being one of the “beautiful people.” But as much as we hate it, it’s tough to argue with the obvious: This town probably has more fit and trim people per capita than any town its size in America.Obviously, many of us keep in shape through our outdoor pursuits – skiing, running, biking and hiking. However, surgical procedures aside, many of us need that little extra pumping up on a regular basis to keep us looking fit and in shape to pursue our love of the outdoors.Judging by the number of answers in this year’s voting, there are a lot of gyms in the upper valley, and all of them have fans. But far and away the most popular is, once again, The Aspen Club & Spa. Now the Club isn’t your typical “gym,” as noted recently by one of our columnists. Not only can you get a great workout on some of the best equipment ever invented, but you’ll be pampered all the way. Who wouldn’t want a full massage after a tough “run” on the treadmill?Coming in a somewhat distant second was a newcomer to the scene, Altitude at the Mountain Chalet. We’ve never been there, but it appears to quickly be gaining some fans.Our favorite answers: It’s hard to argue that the Ridge of Bell isn’t one of the greatest workouts in America, but we still favor “outside” as the best place to get a workout.BEST PLACE TO FIND A MOMENT OF SOLITUDEPeople certainly have a lot of different ideas on where to find a little solitude around here. We received well over 50 different answers to this question, and ended up with a five-way tie for second place.They say, or at least Dorothy said, there’s no place like home, and apparently our readers agree. Though it only won by a few votes, people think a little time kickin’ back on the couch is the best way to find solitude in this busy little town.The second-place winner pretty much ran the gamut, including “my bathroom,” “a mountaintop,” “top of the Ute Trail,” “the John Denver Sanctuary” and “Independence Pass.”Our favorite answers: The sheer number of answers makes it difficult to pick a favorite. One person answered “a bench at the airport.” That may work if you need the sonic thunder of airplanes to drown out all the voices in your head. Another person answered, “Mexico.” It is a big country, so we imagine there must be some places to find solitude. Our favorite, since we’re forced to pick, is “the couch” chairlift on Aspen Mountain. That chair is so slow and lonely it’s amazing people don’t fall asleep before reaching the top.BEST PLACE FOR A WEEKEND ESCAPEWe used to limit this category to within 100 miles of Aspen, but decided that in this town a weekend escape can mean just about anything, depending on who you are talking to. One person answered Paris. Ahh, the luxury. We could all certainly use a weekend in Paris.We also had other faraway answers such as Hawaii and Mexico and Missouri. Yes, one person actually answered Missouri.However, most people understand that their finances will only allow them to go so far on a weekend escape, and the overwhelmingly favorite destination is the Utah desert. We couldn’t agree more. As much as we love Aspen, one of the great benefits of living here is its proximity to the indescribably beautiful Utah desert. Each year, as the ski season is winding down, our news staff probably spends more time poring over maps and planning their spring desert trips than they do on actually reporting the news.Coming in a somewhat distant second was that funky little ski town just over the mountains, Crested Butte. Though some like to drive there, the best way to truly enjoy an escape to Crested Butte is by hiking or biking over the mountains. It’s always a memorable, and relaxing, experience.Our favorite answers: We had a number of good answers in this category, one of our favorites being “on top of any mountain.” But we couldn’t help endorsing “under the fence at the Pitkin County jail” as the best weekend escape. BEST FOURTEENERIf our mountains are the crown in our surrounding countryside, then Colorado’s fourteeners are definitely the crown jewels. No state in the country can boast so many high peaks, and anyone who has struggled to the top of a fourteener is instantly addicted. There’s something you just can’t describe about being on top of one of the highest mountains around.Unfortunately, a number of readers apparently haven’t checked their guidebooks before climbing. Mount Sopris got a full five votes. Sorry folks, but despite its huge altitude gain, Sopris doesn’t even crest the 13,000-foot mark. It’s a pretty cool peak, though. We also had votes for Mount Daly and Midway Pass. Pay attention here: A pass goes between two mountains; a fourteener actually is a mountain.Anyway, the prettiest jewels of all, the Maroon Bells, easily won this competition. Most folks said simply, “the Bells,” while a couple of people specified North Maroon Peak. Whether you kick back along Crater Lake and soak in the beauty from below, or tackle the crumbling red rock to their summits, they are the fourteeners by which all others are judged.We had a tie for second between Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest, and Capitol. That proves the seduction of our high peaks. These two couldn’t be any more different, with Elbert being one of the easiest walk-ups in the bunch and Capitol one of the toughest to bag.Our favorite answers: Well, Mount Everest is the mightiest peak of them all, but we think Edmund Hillary might be slightly offended if we referred to it as a fourteener. So our favorite answer in this category is “all of them.”BEST HIKEIt’s no mystery that this area contains some of the most amazing trails in the country, so the number of nominations we received in this category was no surprise. Short hikes, long hikes. Family walks, four-day grunts. We’ve got ’em all, and we all love them.Though we got votes for some lengthy hikes, like the Four-Pass Loop and from Aspen to Crested Butte, most people appear to prefer staying closer to home. Taking top honors in this category was the Ute Trail. The trailhead in east Aspen is convenient to reach, and this steep (though short) series of switchbacks can easily be conquered before work or during the lunch hour. The payoff is the great workout and the incredible views of Aspen and its surrounding mountains when you finally break out of the trees at Ute Rock.We had a tie for second place between American Lake and Cathedral Lake. Though the trailheads are only a few miles apart in the Ashcroft area, they offer very different experiences. The hike to American Lake is steep, but not too steep, and winds through pine-filled forests before reaching the beautiful little lake just below tree line. Cathedral, on the other hand, takes some real humping to get to, ending at an incredibly beautiful high-alpine lake above tree line. The reflections of the high craggy peaks that fall straight down to the lake’s edge are something only Mother Nature could paint.Our favorite answers: Since we’d find it difficult to name a hike around here we didn’t like, we have to agree with the people who answered, “They’re all good.” But our favorite (and you know the feeling) is the kind of hike “that ends with a smile.”BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDEAs with hiking, Aspen is also a mecca for some great mountain bike rides. There are plenty of single-track trails to keep you going for miles and miles, as well as plenty of backcountry roads that can take you deep into Mother Nature’s wonderland.But, again, our readers definitely prefer the trails that are close to home. the Government Trail, which runs between Snowmass and Aspen, beat out the Hunter Creek Loop by just a couple of votes. Both are great trails, and offer some sections that aren’t for the faint of heart. We’ve seen a number of staffers walk into The Times, favoring a leg after a spill on Government.The trail from Aspen to Lenado was also pretty popular, as was Smuggler and the Rim Trail in Snowmass.Our favorite answer: We had a clear winner here. Our favorite mountain bike ride answer is “to the liquor store.”BEST PLACE TO WALK A DOGGeez, for a town that is known worldwide for its love of dogs, a lot of people offered up snotty answers like “nowhere” or “please keep your dog on a leash.” Of course, that may be because a lot of people don’t keep proper control of their dogs or clean up after them.That said, people came up with more places for their dogs to hike than for people to hike. However, two places stood out clearly. By far the best place to walk a dog, according to our readers, is the Rio Grande Trail. With its mixture of pavement and dirt along the Roaring Fork River (and we know how dogs love water), the Rio Grande offers an easy, relaxing place to take old Fido for a stroll.Not far behind in second place was Smuggler Mountain, where on any given day you’ll find just as many dogs as people. The John Denver Sanctuary also got a handful of votes which, as we know, will send shivers up and down the spines of his apostles.Our favorite answers: We got some strange ones in this category, such as “along Highway 82” and “on a treadmill.” And we got a mixture of “not in my yard” and “the neighbor’s yard.” But our favorite answer was the Aspen Animal Shelter. If you love dogs, head out to the shelter and take one of the dogs for a walk. You’ll be the highlight of Spot’s day.BEST PLACE TO SIT AND SHARE A SMOKEThis is one of those categories that seemed like a good idea at the time, but went over like a lead balloon. We didn’t specify what type of smoke people could share, and maybe that’s why there was a two-way tie for first between “don’t smoke” and “there’s no good place to sit and share a smoke.”However, those who got into the spirit of the question agreed that a chairlift is the second-best place to relax with a friend and take a couple of puffs off the old pipe. Another popular place was “in the trees while skiing” and “Joint Point.”Our favorite answers: We got quite a few different answers to this question, and it appears folks can share a smoke just about anywhere in town. We got three votes for “Aaron’s Drift Boat.” We’re not sure who Aaron is, or what his drift boat is, but we’d be happy to go for a little float sometime. Our favorite answer, even though we’ve heard Big Bad Sheriff Braudis has given up cigarettes, was “in front of the sheriff’s office.”BEST PLACE FOR PEOPLE WATCHINGAspen’s always been a freaky town, with its mixture of ski bums, working-class stiffs, John Denver fans and ridiculously rich people. That makes a perfect recipe for people watching. Hang out on a bench, and you’ll see every type of person in the world walk by. Hang out at closing time, and you’ll see the stuff legends are made of.And according to our readers, right smack in the middle of town is people-watching paradise. We had a tie in this category between “the malls” and “outside Paradise Bakery.” Both areas are always full of people, and you’ll see everything from pink fur coats to knee-length dreadlocks. Messy vitality: We’ve still got it.Far behind in second place was the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain. Winter or summer, the place always attracts a crowd, and there’s always a bunch of folks in that crowd worth watching.Our favorite answer: People came up with answers ranging from the Music Tent to the Fourth of July parade to City Market. But our favorite is “late night at the Popcorn Wagon.” Try it. Drunks can actually be very entertaining.BEST PLACE TO BUY UNDERWEARPeople say there’s no place in Aspen to buy underwear, and it appears they’re right … especially if you’re a guy without fancy tastes. Answers ranged all over Colorado, from Grand Junction to Silverthorne to Denver. But the most popular place for our readers was Wal-Mart. It’s a bit of a pain to drive all the way downvalley for something as simple as underwear, but it’s just one of those facts of life in Aspen. If you’re a woman, life here’s a little easier. The second-place finisher was Cheeks, which beat out Freudian Slip by one vote. At least we don’t think they sell boxers and briefs.Our favorite answers: One person said they buy their underwear at the Thrift Store. They’ve got a lot of great used stuff in there, but we’d rather suffer the bright lights of Wal-Mart than buy used underwear. Our favorite answer, however, was simply, “Who needs ’em?” Free and easy. It’s the Aspen way.


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