Tubbing the good life

Joel Stonington
Poaching hot tubs at even Aspen's finest hotels can be a breeze. In fact, slippers and towels are often provided. (Joel Stonington/Aspen Times Weekly)

Our quest began in broad daylight, during a crowded après ski at the hottest spot in town. There, poaching a hot tub is more than accepted – it’s the only thing to do. We emerged from our clothes to reveal Speedos and aviator sunglasses. The six guys from Chicago already enjoying the tub wanted babes in bikinis on spring break. They got us.We were on a mission: Sneak into as many hot tubs as possible in two days. We were ready to jump fences, co-tub and run from danger. And, on our late-night missions, we were prepared to down pints of Ben & Jerry’s while soaking. We started out at the base of Ajax, where the poaching difficulty level is roughly zero. No one ever asks what you’re doing. Towels and slippers are generally provided. And walking in the front door is the best approach.Concierges are exceedingly helpful in these circumstances. If there’s any trouble locating the pool, gym, bathrooms or hot tubs, it’s usually best to just ask.Oddly, hot tubs at the $500-a-night hotels are not necessarily better than the $50-a-night spots. Fifty bucks a night, you ask. In Aspen? I kid you not, Aspen has them. And the one christened by The Aspen Times hot-tub team was one of the best.From homes on Red Mountain to hotels at the base of Aspen Mountain and mansions at Two Creeks to West End Victorians, Aspen has a wealth of hut tubs that cry out to be used. We were happy to oblige.

Yours truly and a buddy, we’ll call him Col. Slamdance, start our quest on a Friday evening near the base of Ajax. The idea is to poach a few hotel hot tubs while building up to apartment complexes and private homes. We walk into the hotels with towels around our necks, flip-flops on our feet and swimsuits under our street clothes. Early on we learn that bringing our own towels is unnecessary; they are always provided. We also realize that while we are on a commando mission, it is also a mission of relaxation. Most of the tubs are outside, easily accessible through a gate or front door; they are mostly tiled, with warm swimming pools nearby. In our goal of reconnoitering the specific values of each tub while hitting as many tubs as possible, Friday night ends with seven tubs in 2.5 hours. By the end, I can barely keep my head up and my legs are like jelly. Hopping a fence seems like a cruel joke; all I can think about is crawling into bed.Slamdance has a little more energy, but I am done. We decide to save the more difficult missions for the next night.

Looking back on Friday’s adventure, we determine hot-tub poaching – especially of the hotel variety – cannot be called a shenanigan in and of itself. There, sneaking in for a soak is about as difficult as eating a cashew out of the bulk bin at the supermarket. There might be a slight moment of fear when a bellboy comes outside. But as soon as he asks if everyone has enough towels, the name of the game is to breathe easy.Of course once the decision is made to poach, there is the much more difficult decision of where to go. The local choices are excellent and varied. Do you want a stone tub? Tile? Does it bother you to sit in plastic?Is smoking a bowl in a steam room a priority? How about a sauna? Do you prefer outside or inside? Is a swim in a pool under the stars something you need? Do you have a desire to watch a movie while tubbing?Is jumping a fence scary, or does it increase the thrill?You can find it all in Aspen. Plus, the people staying at fancy hotels aren’t packing these tubs full after a day of skiing, thus locals need to do so. It’s a resource issue: An empty tub is a wasteful tub.

Fresh off successful exploits at various hotels and apartment complexes in Aspen, The Aspen Times’ tub reviewing team took to the West End on Saturday. We were expecting a similar reception to what we had received earlier. Homeowners had a different idea.There is a tub at a home near Fourth or Fifth street that I have seen on many a dark and cold night. I have walked past it in my down jacket while the pleasurable sounds of tubbers clinking glasses of champagne drift down from the second-story deck. I desperately want in on that tub.As luck would have it, two people are just climbing into the tub as we walk up. We call up from below, saying that we are an elite team of tub reviewers and that we will surely include them in the article about all the best hot tubs in town if they let us take a dip. It is around 11 p.m., maybe later, I’m not sure. And our plea might have worked, but the pair in the tub are just kids. They probably aren’t even supposed to be out there; perhaps it is past their bedtime.”Uhhhh,” says one in response to our request, climbing into the warm goodness. “Not so much.”

We change tactics after the West End failure and decide that when tub poaching at private homes, it’s best to do so with a strong sense of justice. For instance, if a home is still adorned with Christmas lights, which Pitkin County says must be taken down by the end of January, the lights must actually be an invitation to soak.This is especially true if the house has a great view. After all, egregious crimes must be met with egregious punishments. With that in mind, a home with a good deal of Christmas lights gets a visit from the Times’ team. Armed with two full pints of Ben & Jerry’s, we are dead set on enjoying the nighttime view of Aspen. Behind us, in the home, a TV flickers in the master bedroom. Successful in our soak, we make a quiet getaway – almost. Walking down the road, a car comes toward us; I freeze like a deer-in-headlights while Col. Slamdance dives behind a rock. It is a crucial moment, one that I will replay in my mind numerous times. We decide, in the future, to simply run from trouble. We decide this just before dreaming up another plan: Homes with “For Sale” signs probably are not be occupied and thus ripe for poaching. Bad idea. As we walk up the driveway of a home for sale, someone emerges from the front door. It’s just before midnight. Following our plan, we book it back home.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is


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