Countdown to ski season: Something to do every week until ski season |

Countdown to ski season: Something to do every week until ski season

From Sept. 7 to 9, hot air balloons soar through the skies as part of the Snowmass Balloon Festival.
Aspen Times File Photo

With Labor Day Weekend upon on and the “official” end of summer to many, we figured it best to get ahead of the offseason game and remind you why living in or visiting Aspen in September, October and November isn’t so bad. Below is our countdown of things to do each week until the mountains open for skiing; trust us, you won’t get bored.

WEEK No.13: GET OUT AND CAMP (fires allowed!)

The dry, hot summer in the mountains has put a bit of a damper on the camping as the fire restrictions have kept fire rings doused. But campers in Pitkin County are back in business as officials earlier this week dropped the fire restrictions back to Stage 1. That means fires are OK now at developed campgrounds in rings or pits. This weekend if you’re looking to get away from the town crowds, it might be a good time to get into the side or backcountry.

Sure, it’s Labor Day weekend and the masses flock to the mountains for the last time of the summer and likely won’t be back until ski season, but maybe it’s time to find your secret spot away and get another dose of fresh air and solitude before the final push into the school year, fall and thoughts of the winter season.


One of the highest-altitude balloon events in the U.S., the Snowmass Balloon Festival draws balloons and pilots from across the country.

Beginning at 7 a.m. Friday to Sunday, Sept. 7 to 9, the festival is a time-honored tradition for Snowmass Village, attracting thousands of spectators and visitors to the area annually.

Watch as a bundle of more than 90,000 cubic feet of colorful, rip-stop nylon and a massive wicker basket transform into a sea of bright colors that stamp Snowmass’ skyline against the Rocky Mountains.

In more recent years, Snowmass added a nighttime jazz-band glow show choreographed to the movement of glowing balloons.

This year’s theme, Glow Show Decades, offers an up-close-and-personal experience to these mega balloons.

Following the festival Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m., longtime Snowmass resident and Daly Bottle Shop owner Reed Lewis will debut his “Cidermass” event featuring crisp and bubbly hard cider tastings from dozens of local and national vendors.

Capping off an eventful day in Snowmass, the town’s second annual celebration of fall, Septemberfest, will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. in Base Village.

Snowmass local and restaurateur Dave Dugan launched the festival ­— featuring local vendors, restaurant booths, children’s activities, sake and wine tastings, music and more — last fall as a family-friendly event with a charitable component.

This year’s proceeds will benefit the local nonprofit Challenge Aspen.

Snowmass Balloon Fetsival: Sept. 7 to 9; Cidermass: Sept. 8; Septemberfest: (Sept. 8)


One of the wildest parties of the fall, Aspen Ruggerfest is back for its 51st year from Sept. 13 to 16. The popular rugby tournament is considered among the best in the country, with unparalleled views from the main playing pitch at Wagner Park in the downtown core. While the summer Mountain League season is nothing to scoff at, the level of play at Ruggerfest is a different animal and it’s not uncommon to find professional-level athletes cleating it up in Aspen.

Teams will be looking to end the two-year reign of the Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits, who have been a step above the competition in recent years. The hometown Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club — which has won the tournament many times over since that first event in 1968 (won by the Kansas City Blues RFC) — last won in 2015. The Gents lost in the championship the past two years to the Misfits.

And the men’s open division is only the cherry on top. Ruggerfest, which also plays games at Rio Grande Park, has a women’s division as well as divisions for the over 35s, 45s, 50s and 55s. There aren’t many things more entertaining than watching the old Fogies (as the 55s are called) trying to relive their glory days.

The best part about Ruggerfest? All four action-packed days are completely free for spectators, and the fields are usually lined with hardcore rugby fans and curious newbies alike. The championship matches for each of the divisions are played that Sunday on Wagner Park.

WEEK No.10: Leaf peeping

As any local will tell you, fall in Aspen is one of the best times of the year.

Town begins to quiet down come late September, but it’s the city’s namesake that truly bespeaks the spectacular during the fall. Explosions of color from the numerous aspen groves that paint the mountainsides of nearby valleys and vistas are breathtaking and easy to access by foot, bicycle or car.

Ask anyone in the know about where to go for fall colors in the Aspen area and the first thing you’re mostly likely to hear is: “Check out the Castle Creek Valley.” And this is good for everyone because Castle Creek, located just outside town on the west side of Aspen Mountain, is good for walking, hiking, biking and riding in the car.

The Maroon Creek Valley — home to the famous Maroon Bells, reportedly the most photographed place in all of Colorado — is next door to the Castle Creek Valley and well worth braving the crowds to visit.

For another beautiful fall drive or ride, head up Highway 82 toward Independence Pass.

Closer to town, the Sunnyside Trail, which gradually winds its way to and through the aspen grove at the top of Red Mountain, is a good colors bet, though the trail is a haul. It can also be accessed from the Hunter Creek Valley.


Now in its 39th year, Aspen Filmfest — the signature event of the local nonprofit Aspen Film — is an Aspen offseason tradition. Scheduled for Sept. 25-30 with programs in Aspen and Carbondale, this five-day feast of film traditionally brings to the big screen movies ranging from documentaries and comedies to those from established filmmakers to the up-and-coming — all from across the globe. In addition, Filmfest feeds cinephiles’ souls with Q&As, filmmaker panel discussions, social receptions and more.

The program, which was to announced at just after presstime, can be found at Pre-sale tickets are available for Aspen Film members on Sept. 7 and tickets go on sale to the general public Sept. 12.


The Aspen Saturday Market has become a beloved happening for both locals and visitors. Chock full of stands selling farm-fresh fruits, veggies, local meats and more, our local farmer’s market has blossomed into a gathering place all summer long.

But all good things must come to an end (even temporarily), it seems, and thus the final Aspen Saturday Market for 2018 is scheduled for Oct. 6.

So, this week, book your weekend plans around the market.

While some summer produce might be past its prime, this is a great weekend to stock up on winter-friendly vegetables, decorative pumpkins and squash for Halloween, a batch of green chiles to pull you through the colder months, grass-fed local meats, and artisan crafts (think ahead for unique holiday gifts). And, of course, market choices such as chocolates, dry pasta, aged cheese and the like never expire. Nor do the memories of a day spent strolling the Aspen streets with your fellow offseason fun-seekers.


October on Independence Pass is a nice escape as the crowds are smaller, the leaves have all but dropped and the snow is starting to fly.

If it’s for a day hike, chilly overnight, or just a trip up on a clear night to see (and feel like you can touch) the Milky Way, Indy Pass is a treasure in our backyard. A trip to the summit is about 30 minutes, and there are plenty of stops along the way on this side.

Our “Drop-In” team spent much of this past summer hitting and videoing the trails on the pass, so if you’re wondering about the challenges, check out our Facebook page for our Drop-In videos.

If you’re up for a full day away from the crowds, make the Lincoln Creek trip. The 6-mile drive to Grizzly Lake is bumpy but doable in about any vehicle with some clearance. If you want a bigger challenge, take the road even less travels — the 3.2 miles to the Anderson Lake trailhead. But fair warning, that stretch requires a solid four-wheel-drive vehicle, and it’s not a difficult hike if you want to walk it. The steep part is the final mile or so to Anderson Lake and then up to Petroleum Lake.


The week of Oct. 15 will be homecoming for Aspen High School, a chance for the alumni to come home and get nostalgic about their days in a Skier uniform. While homecoming is certainly more than just about athletics — the bonfire is a fun event, with the week concluding with the Oct. 20 homecoming dance — the week of homecoming games tend to be can’t-miss.

Aspen football will host Coal Ridge at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, for its homecoming game this fall. The Skiers got off to a good start with a win at Meeker to open the season, although the game against the Titans will be their second-to-last regular-season game. The two played a doozy of a game last fall, a win for the Skiers in New Castle. AHS probably hopes its homecoming game goes better than last year when it was routed by rival Basalt.

And football isn’t the only team to host homecoming games, of course. The volleyball team is scheduled to host Grand Valley on Thursday, Oct. 18, while boys soccer has home games on Tuesday, Oct. 16, vs. Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Thursday, Oct. 18, — against Vail Mountain, which could be a crucial league contest. Some of the other teams, such as boys golf and tennis, will have wrapped up play by homecoming week.


Aspen is rightly renowned for holidays such as Christmas and Fourth of July, as well as celebrations of spring break, Labor Day weekend and others.

But ask any local what our resort town’s really holiday is and the answer is universal: Halloween. Maybe it’s because it falls smack-dab in the middle of offseason, or maybe because it’s irreverent and a bit unleashed, but Halloween in Aspen is treated like a national holiday for kids of all ages. If you’re here, embrace it!

WEEK No.4: escape downvalley

When November rolls around, the weather better be turning. (If this November is like last November, some Roaring Fork Valley residents will be getting mighty nervous.)

And when the weather is turning, what better time to visit hot springs? It’s usually warmer in Glenwood Springs and even the lower Crystal River Valley, so it’s a good time for a downvalley getaway to soak in warm waters.

The old standby is Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, whose motto is “Rejuvenating since 1888.” The spa and resort in downtown Glenwood claims its mineral waters are the world’s largest hot springs pool. That may be, but the coolest thing while relaxing in the hot, smaller pool or swimming in the slightly cooler pool is being in the shadow of that historic, red brick building.

The newer kid on the block in Glenwood is equally inviting. The Iron Mountain Hot Springs offers 16 natural mineral hot springs of various sizes and temperatures. The atmosphere alongside the Colorado River with big views of the surrounding mountains is hard to beat.

The water temperatures range from 99 to 108 degrees. Children under age 5 aren’t allowed in the hot springs but there’s also an inviting family pool and, adjacent to the family pool is a smaller, elevated whirlpool spa with jets — allowing parents to keep an eye on their kids.

For a different kind of experience, there’s the Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs between Redstone and Carbondale in the spectacular Crystal Valley. Three natural hot springs in a tiered layout are nestled in the natural landscape. Reservations are required for day visitors, so plan ahead.


If you weren’t able to catch any of the earlier season’s On The Rise shows at the Wheeler Opera House, don’t worry. This showcase of up-and-coming talent carries on through the offseason.

Be sure and catch Heather Malony on Nov. 10 and Vienna Teng on Nov. 17 and Lucas Wolf on Dec. 1. Truly, this is a chance to see tomorrow’s superstars in an amazing, intimate venue like the Wheeler Opera House for a small fee.

Visit on-the-rise to learn more.

WEEK No.2: offseason, bloody offseason

You survived another high season in Aspen. Kudos. Congrats. Way to go.

But now — until the lifts fire up again — is when you prove you’re a local. It’s when you dig deep to figure out why you love Aspen and why you just can’t leave.

Offseason, be damned. The fall offseason is your chance to relax and recharge. And if you’re like many of us at The Aspen Times, this is not going to take place while traipsing around the world. You’re here, in Aspen, for the duration. We feel your pain, people — and we’re here to help.

One offseason plan we highly endorse is finding your favorite places to enjoy Aspen’s favorite offseason cocktail: the bloody Mary. Because we know that’s all you really want to do. And, of course, if mimosas are your daytime drink of choice, we suggest you seek those out. Because, in the end, this is all about finding those perfect Sunday Fundays when the weather is iffy, town is dead and you know — deep in your heart — that it will soon be game on!

WEEK No.1: let ‘em rip!

After last week’s dusting, we’re getting a bit more jazzed and all hoping for a better snow season, and that begins on Thanksgiving. And while it’s still nearly three months away, the forecasts coming out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration give us a bit of hope as their early winter forecast calls for a wet start to the season.

While the forecasters said that their early predictions call for an El Nino winter, which is not what we like in the central Rockies, the caveat is that there is a prediction of a “above-average precipitation in the Colorado and the southern Rockies” through December.

In an update in mid-August, the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said it is calling for “enhanced probabilities for above normal precipitation” in the central Rockies through November and into December.

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are expected to open Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22), while Highlands and Buttermilk will follow (hopefully) on Dec. 8.

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