Johnston: Summer in Snowmass strikes a chord |

Johnston: Summer in Snowmass strikes a chord

Wedding of Susan Letts Johnston and William Dominick Mele at Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Photo by Richard M. Hackett)

The first time I visited Snowmass was in 2012 when I drug a gaggle of my friends to see Kid Rock play at Jazz Aspen Snowmass (yes, the sole purpose of the visit was to see Robert Ritchie take the stage. If you know him and could introduce me, I think we’d be pretty fast BFFs). We stayed at the Woodbridge Condominiums, shopped, ate and drank locally. We never ventured into Aspen. Because Snowmass was so cool. I remember thinking about what it would be like to wake up in a place like that every day.

I moved to Aspen 18 months ago to take the role of general manager at The Aspen Times. How lucky am I that we also publish the Snowmass Sun? So, to get the joke out of the way, yes, I travel past the roundabout. Often. It’s my job, but now it has also become my escape.

Most small ski resorts struggle to pack as much awesome into the summer as they do in the winter. It’s a challenge to get people to venture to out-of-the-way mountain towns without the allure of deep powder or a mountainside condo with a crackling fire. But you wouldn’t know that if you visited Snowmass this summer.

Sam’s Six Snowmawesome Experiences — Summer 2015

The vibe was amazing, the town was packed and the thing I heard over and over all weekend: This place is so stunningly beautiful and the people are so friendly. Yeah, I know.

1. Grand Cochon: They had me at “2,000 pounds of heritage pork raised by American family farms will be served to 400 pork-loving epicureans.” The crowd was amazing, the food was off the hook, and I totally pegged Thomas Boemer of Minneapolis as the winner, because the dude just looks like he knows pork. I think most people who attended the event didn’t know exactly what to expect, but every one of us left knowing for certain that we’d be buying a ticket if it ever came back. And most importantly, while I saw a lot of Snowmassians I know, I rode the bus to and from Snowmass with a whole bunch of Aspenites and Aspen visitors who wanted to experience something really special in Snowmass.

2. Snowmass Rodeo: I grew up going to the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo more weekends than not in the summer (mostly because we could drink beer on the far side concrete bleachers without getting caught, but that’s a different story). So when I saw that Snowmass had a rodeo, I was in. And, as if it could get any better, a special guest this year was Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey. The opportunity to see a white-headed capuchin monkey ride a border collie around the arena is almost as awesome as meeting Kid Rock. Almost. But what captured my interest for the entire summer was the beautiful setting and the family-friendly environment.

3. Trashmasters: I wrote a column earlier this summer about playing in the Trashmasters golf tournament. Let me just reiterate that Ted Greene and Bill Moriarty deserve a special trophy for putting up with Lauren Glendenning, editor of The Aspen Times, and I as we embarrassed ourselves that day. But what better way to raise money for a great cause and to spend another day in paradise, eating food from local vendors, getting to know the people who live and work in Snowmass and making new friends. I hope I get invited back every year.

4. Jazz Aspen Snowmass: If there is a better venue for live music, I just don’t know where. Even with a lightning delay on Friday night, the weekend was pretty epic. Except for the part when Lenny Kravitz said it was great to be in Aspen. I promptly turned to my friends and said, “Except he’s not in Aspen. He’s in Snowmass. So disappointing.” They told me I was being a little dramatic. They aren’t from mountain towns. They don’t get it.

I also got my first opportunity to say something really localish while I was in line waiting for the bus home. “Don’t get on that bus. Want ‘Aspen Direct’ … doesn’t stop at the intercept lot.” The people I was with had no idea what the hell that meant, but I felt like I finally had been around that block before. And don’t worry, I know that to call myself a “local” requires about 40 more years of living here, but as a Colorado mountain town native, I ought to get a few years credit for time served.

5. Tough Mudder: I definitely prefer skiing down the mountain as opposed to running up it. But I guess I couldn’t have known that without giving it a try. I’ll admit that Tough Mudder is one of those events where I said, “I’m never doing this again” in my head over and over for 11.7 miles and 2,700 feet of elevation gain. And then I promptly got to the end, took the voucher to sign up at a discount for next year and committed to it again. But my favorite part? A Village full of every size, shape, color, age and skill level of human enjoying a sunny day, an obstacle course and a beautiful venue. The vibe was amazing, the town was packed and the thing I heard over and over all weekend: This place is so stunningly beautiful and the people are so friendly. Yeah, I know.

6. Snowmass Balloon Festival: I haven’t been in a hot air balloon since I was a kid. In fact, the only thing I remember about the previous balloon ride is the gentleman who was pouring champagne to the adult riders and when I asked what it was for, he said to “celebrate that they are still living.” I thought that was weird at the time, but it is much more clear now after I realized that floating in a basket over a neighborhood with a blow torch filling a large bed sheet could end badly. But seriously, the experience was nothing short of epic. The views were absolutely stunning with the bright balloons set on the backdrop of the fall leaf colors. And the park was packed with visitors and families just enjoying a bluebird Snowmass day with food and fantastic music and beautiful balloons filling the sky.

The grand finale to the morning was seeing a young gentleman in what appeared to be a 1933 Auburn. I’ve run into a lot of cool people in Snowmass, but Jay Gatsby is a first.

And while I feel like I spent some of the best days of my summer in Snowmass, I only attended a fraction of the events on the summer schedule. I missed Heritage Fire, Ragnar Trail Race, Summer Free Music Series, Snowmass Scottish Festival and Highland Games, AREDAY, Audi Power of Four, the circus and probably at least a dozen other things.

I’m already looking forward to my 2016 summer retreat. The one just past the roundabout.

Samantha Johnston is the general manager of The Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun. Email her at


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