Out of Town - Aspen and Telluride Ski Adventures

Few places capture the glamorous vibe of a big city while offering the stunning scenery of breathtaking mountain landscapes than the Colorado ski towns of Aspen and Telluride. These secluded, upscale getaways hosts two of the most famous gay ski weeks in the world, but they make delightful, gay-friendly getaways all winter.
(200 miles from Denver, with direct flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco)

Of the many ski resorts that straddle the Continental Divide, Aspen has the most striking setting - and inhabitants. In mid-January, Aspen hosts the original, the fantastic, and perhaps the coolest (literally) LGBT gathering in the world, Gay Ski Week. Events include comedy night, a downhill-skiing costume parade, nightly dance blowouts, women’s social mixers, and all the skiing you can squeeze into five days. And if you’re attending without a partner, who knows? You might just meet your future soul mate at either the “bachelor” and “bachelorette” dinners.

There are plenty of outdoors options at Aspen, whose four ski areas cover some 5,300 acres, all accessible for the price of just one lift ticket. Snowmass (91 trails) is by far the largest mountain and has an astounding vertical rise of more than 4,500 feet (to a summit of 12,500). Aspen Mountain (76 trails) sits right over downtown and has the most challenging terrain, while Buttermilk (44 trails) opened a new Olympic-size halfpipe for snowboarding in 2008 and is ideal for beginners. Finally, Aspen Highlands (125 trails) is more intermediate and has added the most terrain in recent years.

Given the high cost of and demand for rooms in Aspen, you may want to book through reliable Aspen Central Reservations, which can also arrange short-term rentals at private homes and condos. The most charming and historic high-end property in town, and arguably in all of Rockies, the Hotel Jerome was built at the height of Aspen’s 1880’s silver boom. The amenities and decor leave nothing to be desired, yet the hotel retains a warm, old-fashioned air. More contemporary and with exceptionally well-appointed rooms, the Little Nell is even plusher. Gas fireplaces, down-filled sofas, 42-inch flat-screen TVs, Belgian wool carpets, and stunning marble and granite baths are among the standards at this 92-room property at the base of Aspen Mountain.

The gay-popular Kimpton Group has a hip, handsomely furnished property in town, the Sky Hotel, whose 90 rooms have a clean, sunny look and such choice amenities as iPod docking stations and gas fireplaces. Be sure to clink wine glasses in the hotel’s see-and-be-seen 39 Degrees Lounge. Aspen Gay Ski Week’s official host hotel in 2009, the pet-friendly and moderately priced Limelight Lodge is a relatively new downtown property with spacious, airy rooms, some with full kitchens and private terraces.

Downtown Aspen, a former mining community, comprises rows of neatly restored redbrick buildings and clapboard homes - it’s compact and easy to explore on foot, with tons of shops and restaurants. Syzygy is among the hottest spots for drinks, and a big to-do for dinner. The innovative menu combines the best of Asian, Southwest, and French cuisines. A favorite of the gay community, Social occupies a glam, futuristic-looking space and serves creative cocktails and exquisite tapas like buffalo “sliders” with red-onion marmalade, and duck-confit quesadillas.

For superb Japanese food and ultra-fresh sushi, book a table at Matsuhisa, the domain of world-class chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Inside a warmly furnished Victorian house you’ll find some of the most cutting-edge Asian fare around. Other stellar dining options in town include Cache Cache, a dapper bistro specializing in Provencal cuisine; and L’Hostaria, for Tuscan cooking in an unfussy, romantic dining room.
(330 miles from Denver, with air service into Telluride or nearby Montrose from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City).

Telluride is really two communities in one. There’s the historic and extremely charming original town, which sits nestled in a deep gorge at the base of some of the finest ski terrain in the West. And then there’s the more modern Mountain Village, which you can reach either by driving eight miles west and then north of town or via a free gondola trip up the mountainside (the ride takes 13 minutes).

The town’s ski season begins around Thanksgiving and runs through early April; the area consists of 115 trails, evenly balanced between advanced and intermediate runs, with a smaller but still considerable number of beginner slopes. There’s a vertical drop of some 4,500 feet, with the area’s peak elevation at 13,150. Skiers can navigate the mountain via 18 lifts (more than half of them high-speed) and dine at dozens of ski-in/ski-out restaurants. This is truly a world-class facility.

Telluride Gay Ski Week was begun in 2004 and has rapidly developed an enthusiastic following. It’s held the last week of February. Festivities include a variety of parties, from an outdoor tubing shindig to an indoor pool-and-Jacuzzi romp. In the morning, participants gather together for breakfast socials, and apres-ski parties are held in the evenings before dinners at some of the town’s top eateries. Gay Ski Week coincides with the Academy Awards, and there’s always a big Oscars Party - this is also the time of year that the town hosts its Telluride AIDS Benefit, and some of the events are related to this fine cause.

Something downtown Telluride has plenty of is superb restaurants, one of the best being the Blue Point Grill, which serves to-die-for steaks, chops, and seafood prepared by talented local chef Jake Linzinmeir - try the butter-poached rib eye steak with truffle-lemon sea salt, or hearty white-bean cassoulet with venison, duck confit, bacon, and elk sausage. For cocktails, head to the adjacent Noir Bar, a swanky spot known for its stellar wine and drinks list. Linzinmeir also runs one of the best Italian eateries in town, the cheerful Excelsior Cafe, known for reasonably priced and well-prepared gourmet pizzas, creative pastas, and Moroccan-spiced lamb chops.

For excellent and quite creative Latin fusion fare, check out Las Montanas, which has salsa and jazz music after 10 p.m. in the bar, and great food throughout the day, from Peruvian scrambled eggs with beans, bacon, and a tomatillo-cilantro sauce in the morning, to shrimp-filled chile rellenos for lunch or dinner. For perhaps the loftiest dining experience in Telluride, book a table at Allred’s, which sits at 10,551 feet above sea level, high atop the ski mountain - innovative contemporary American fare is served, including white sea bass with roasted potatoes, leeks, fava beans, and vanilla-poached crab meat.

Downtown Telluride has a bunch of great accommodations, among them Camel’s Garden Hotel, an intimate resort hotel at the base of one of the main chairlifts, with handsome modern rooms, Italian-marble bathrooms with oversized tubs, and a sumptuous full-service spa. For a more authentic slice of historic Telluride, book a room at the courtly New Sheridan Hotel, a redbrick 1890’s property with 26 rooms. The hotel underwent an impressive and ambitious $7 million renovation just in time for the 2008-2009 winter ski season. Amenities include a first-rate steak restaurant, and one of the coolest bars in the area.

Mountain Village lacks character but has astounding views and offers some fine accommodations, such as the 174-room Peaks Resort, which is home to the Golden Door Spa and abounds with many other fine amenities - it also received a complete makeover in 2008. Also consider staying at the classy Mountain Lodge at Telluride, which comprises 86 well-outfitted rooms and suites as well as 10 larger log-and-stone cabins.

Of course, both Aspen and Telluride have much to offer, so if you can possibly find the time, consider spending half your vacation in one town, half in the other. It’s a scenic 240-mile drive between the two towns, with plenty of photo ops along the way. And it’s hard to imagine a more stylish and exciting way to spend a week or two this winter than to vacation in both of these wonderful communities.
The Little Black Book

Aspen Central and Snowmass Reservations 888-649-5982 stayaspensnowmass.com
Aspen Chamber Resort Association 800-670-0792, aspenchamber.org
Aspen Gay Ski Week 800-861-8467, gayskiweek.com
Aspen-Snowmass Ski Information aspensnowmass.com
Cache Cache 970-925-3835, cachecache.com
Hotel Jerome 877-412-ROCK, hoteljerome.rockresorts.com
L’Hostaria 970-925-9022, hostaria.com
Limelight Lodge 800-433-0832, limelightlodge.com
Matsuhisa 970-544-6628, matsuhisaaspen.com
Little Nell 888-843-6355, thelittlenell.com
Sky Hotel 800-882-2582, theskyhotel.com
Social 970-925-9700, social-aspen.com
Syzygy 970-925-3700, syzygyrestaurant.com
Allred’s 970-728-7474, allredsrestaurant.com
Blue Point Grill & Noir Bar 970-728-8862, thebluepointgrill.net
Camel’s Garden Hotel 888-772-2635, camelsgarden.com
Excelsior Cafe 970-728-4250, excelsiorcafe.net
Las Montanas 970-728-5114, lasmontanastelluride.com
Mountain Lodge at Telluride 866-368-6867, destinationrockies.com
New Sheridan Hotel 800-200-1891, newsheridan.com
The Peaks Resort 877-282-4550, thepeaksresort.com
Telluride Gay Ski Week telluridegayskiweek.com
Telluride Ski Resort 800-778-8581, tellurideskiresort.com
Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and eight additional travel guides. He can be reached at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.

Photo courtesy of Joe Eats World

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