Even from the air, it’s obvious Aspen isn’t quite like any other town. Situated at an elevation of 2,438m and surrounded on all sides by the snow-topped Rocky Mountains, this remote enclave even requires special pilot training to land at its tiny airport, dubbed one of the most dangerous in the world thanks to its steep, white-knuckle approach.
If you can bear to peek while you plummet – or so it seems – to the runway, you’ll also spot Aspen’s version of an airport car park, with private Lear Jets and Gulfstreams lined up almost wing to wing waiting for visiting billionaires and the Hollywood elite.
Everyone from Cher to Kevin Costner own homes here but are financial small fry compared to Aspen’s mega-rich including Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke, software magnate Hasso Platner and Jeff Bezos’s no-doubt-delighted parents.
Hardly surprising given the average sale price of a house in Aspen in 2021 was a staggering $11.4million. However, as a less than enthusiastic skier and without a few million to spare, Aspen had previously never been on my travel bucket list.
Its soft powder, advanced trails and choice of four mountains make it America’s most prized winter sports paradise, hosting the USA’s first ever world skiing competition in 1950 and more recently, Red Bull’s Double Pipe Snowboarding Contest.
Yet locals will tell you the best time to marvel at the mountains is actually between June and September, when the snow has melted, the Kardashians have jetted back to California and the Rockies transform into a verdant wonderland of wild flowers and waterfalls.
Don’t stay in the designer shop-lined streets of Downtown to experience Aspen in all its summertime glory though. Ten minutes outside the town centre, Woody Creek is on the banks of the Roaring Fork River and dotted with sprawling ranches, forests, and meadows carpeted in grazing elk, with postcard-perfect mountain views in every direction.
Hunter S Thompson called this area home for nearly 40 years until his death in 2005, drinking regularly at the ramshackle Woody Creek Tavern which is still lined with pictures of him.
The Residences at Aspen Valley Ranch where I stayed are walking distance from the bar but feel like the middle of nowhere. Five luxury homes – with a further six to follow – are scattered across the 813-acre ranch, so it feels like you have the entire property to yourself once you’re through the gates.
Three homes are now private residences but two are available for rent so you can pretend you own a slice of prime Aspen real estate for a fortnight at least. Valued at a cool $20 million, Sopris House is a sleek five-bedroom property straight from the pages of a design magazine, with immaculate details including a glittering crystal-crammed cocktail cabinet and an Aspen-themed Monopoly board in the living room.
It has an internal courtyard, double height windows overlooking Independence Pass, a wine cellar, original art on every wall and a huge professional-standard kitchen, though private chefs can pop by to whip up meals if preferred.
Outside, there are contemporary water features, a hot tub, private children’s playground and a vast deck with a fire pit for stargazing over freshly toasted s’mores.
Guests are also free to roam across the whole ranch to make full use of all the (included) facilities including the gym and pool, lake for paddle boarding and fishing,eight stables with three on-site wranglers, a cross country ski trail and a fun barn open 24-hours complete with a pool table, air hockey, table tennis, free arcade games and a fully-stocked bar.
The Toy Garage is another highlight and is packed with snowmobiles, electric bikes, snow shoes and dirt bikes, all available to use at a moment’s notice. I borrow a quad bike to roar along the ranch’s dirt track, splashing through a creek and scrambling up a hillside for uninterrupted, totally stunning Rocky Mountain views.
The next day, I follow the same route in blissful silence on the back of one of the ranch’s easy-going horses, Cotton, who chomps grass good-naturedly when we pause to watch circling hawks above and a family of elk bathing in the stream.
Coyotes, bald eagles, moose and mountain lions are regularly sighted too, while all rubbish bins in Aspen must be animal-proof as it’s very common to spot brown bears roving in search of food.
When you want to explore a little further afield, staff on the ranch will drive you wherever you want to go, whether you fancy hot air ballooning over the Rockies or mooching round Aspen’s absurdly chic farmer’s market.
You can also jump on an e-bike and follow part of the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail, an old railway line turned bike track that runs next to the river all the way to downtown Aspen. Park up and window shop in Gucci and Ralph Lauren, stroll around Aspen Art Museum with its excellent rooftop café then take the Silver Queen Gondola from the town centre to creep up Aspen Mountain for lunch at the Sundeck, a restaurant perched 3,413 metres above sea level and overlooking the still-snowy Elk Mountains.
It’s worth returning to Aspen in the evening to dine in style too. Though this former silver mining town may be just six blocks wide, its thriving food scene could rival a major city with restaurants spilling out onto pavements and roof terraces during summer for dinner against the dramatic mountain backdrop.
Duemani serves platters of Mediterranean seafood and an unmissable burrata drizzled in truffle honey, while buzzing Catch Steak is the place to see and be seen over seared wagyu beef and punchy espresso martinis.
Work it all off the next day by hiking the 3.6-mile Maroon Bells trail through shaded woodland, past a thundering river and up rocky inclines to Crater Lake, which reflects the surrounding mountains like glass.
Said to be the most photographed spot in Colorado, it’s even more beautiful in real life, though good walking shoes and plenty of water are essential to cope with the uneven ground and altitude. Just watch out for bears and billionaires on the way.
NEED TO KNOW:
Sopris House at The Residences at Aspen Valley Ranch costs from $59,500 (approximately £42,099) for a two week stay. Visit avrresidences.com. United Airlinesflies to Aspen from London Heathrow via its US hubs from £989.06