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One of the world's fabled resorts, Aspen practically defines glitz, glamour, and glorious skiing. To the uninitiated, Aspen and Vail are synonymous. To residents, a rivalry exists, with locals of each claiming to have the state's most epic skiing, finest restaurants, and hottest nightlife. The most obvious distinction is the look: Vail is a faux-Bavarian development, whereas Aspen is an overgrown mining town. Vail is full of politicians—it's where Gerald Ford, Dan Quayle, and John Sununu fled to escape the cares of state—whereas Aspen is popular with singers and movie stars like Melanie Griffith, Antonio Banderas, and Jack Nicholson. One of the valley's newest—and fittest—citizens is Lance Armstrong. Aspen is also where Barbra Streisand took a stand against state legislation that discriminated against gay people.
Between the galleries, museums, music festivals, and other glittering social events, there's so much going on in Aspen that even in winter many people come simply to "do the scene," and never make it to the slopes. High-end boutiques have been known to serve free Campari-and-sodas après-ski, a practice so over the top that there's a certain charm to it. At the same time, Aspen is a place where people live fairly average lives, sending their children to school and working at jobs that may or may not have to do with skiing. It is, arguably, America's original ski-bum destination, a fact that continues to give the town's character an underlying layer of humor and texture. You can come to Aspen and have a reasonably straightforward, enjoyable ski vacation, because once you've stripped away the veneer, Aspen is simply a great place to ski.
Aspen has always been a magnet for cultural and countercultural types. The late bad-boy gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was one of the more visible citizens of the nearby community of Woody Creek. One of Aspen's most amusing figures is Jon Barnes, who tools around in his "Ultimate Taxi" (it's plastered with 3-D glasses, crystal disco balls, and neon necklaces, and is redolent of dry ice and incense). You'll find everyone from socialites with Vogue exteriors and vague interiors to long-haired musicians in combat boots and fatigues. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you wear here, as long as you wear it with conviction.
Aspen at a Glance
Sports and Outdoors
- Aspen Brewing Company
- Aspen Writers' Foundation
- Belly Up Aspen
- Eric's Bar
- Finnbar's Irish Pub & Kitchen
- Ajax Tavern
- Cache Cache
- Chef's Club by Food and Wine
- CP Burger
- Element 47
- Hickory House Ribs
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