Aspen’s curse: it has no closet |

Aspen’s curse: it has no closet

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

Aspen’s blessing, I think, is also its curse. What makes the town special as a ski resort, I’ve decided after logging visits this month to yet a couple of more comparable spots in the mountain West, is exactly what makes it a target for the kind of development that is so unpalatable to a segment of the town’s populace.

The problem, in a nutshell: Aspen the town and Aspen the resort have to co-exist in the same spot.

Vail would have the same problem, except Vail was never really a town before it was a resort. It was, I gather, condoville from the get-go and, as a result, folks there don’t get their undies tied up in knots over the buildings that come and go.

Other quaint mining towns-turned ski resorts have a place to hide their high-end trappings. Crested Butte has Mount Crested Butte, Telluride has Telluride Mountain Village and Jackson, Wyo., has … I haven’t the slighted idea. I spent three summer days and two nights in that town a few years back and never did see Jackson Hole, the ski area. It’s certainly not anywhere near the core of Jackson.

This month, visiting Steamboat Springs for the first time, I spied its ski mountain from a distance. I’m assuming the soulless buildings that seem to multiply at ski resorts like fur-trimmed ski suits at Bonnie’s come lunchtime exist somewhere at the base of Steamboat’s mountain ” up the highway and out of sight from town.

Having a base area that is apart from town is akin to having a roomy closet ” jam it full of the stuff you need, or think you need, and close the door so it’s out of sight.

Crested Butte remains a cool little town. All of its big hotels and condo projects are conveniently hidden behind a hill in Mount Crested Butte. Unfortunately, the Butte left the closet door open a crack and big homes began spilling over the crest of the hill. They’d better be careful.

Telluride has done an even better job at hiding Telluride Mountain Village. It’s on the other side of a mountain. Telluridians can ride the town lift to the top and ski the runs facing town, or crest the ridge and ski down to the Telluride Mountain Village side, where humongous buildings, constructed in that giant-timber “mountain vernacular” style, jut out from its base. Ever visit Telluride Mountain Village in July? Aspen Highlands Village resembles the base of Buttermilk on X Games weekend by comparison. Mountain Village must have to sweep up the tumbleweeds in preparation for ski season.

These resorts both have the sort of buildings that many Aspenites loathe, ideally situated out of sight.

Even Basalt has managed to play this game well. I don’t doubt the town will approve the proposed 650,000 square feet of retail shops, restaurants, lofts and condominiums that is the Willits development in some form, and why not? It’s really in El Jebel. You can’t see Willits from downtown Basalt. Heck, you can’t even walk there unless you’re willing to embark on quite the trek.

I suppose Aspen could have annexed the backside of Aspen Mountain way back when and put all its big hotels in Little Annie Basin. Thank God it didn’t.

Instead, the closest thing Aspen has to Mount Crested Butte is Snowmass. A scaled-down version of Telluride Mountain Village sits at the base of Highlands.

But Aspen has what other resorts I’ve visited don’t have ” a ski area with the kind of commanding presence that Aspen Mountain has, thanks to its proximity to the town below it.

I couldn’t help gawking at the mountain the first time I set foot here, and I still look up at it every time I’m in town. How can you not?

Ultimately, it’s the mountain that most defines Aspen for me. I could step away from my desk and walk to it in less than 10 minutes ” something you can’t say in Crested Butte or Steamboat.

You can look up at the ski area from downtown Park City, Utah, but it’s not the same. Not at all. Much of Park City’s ski area isn’t really visible from its old downtown.

Yup, Aspen Mountain is Aspen’s blessing. The understandable desire to live in its shadow, to build hotels at its foot, is Aspen’s curse.