If the holidays are your thing, there are few better places to celebrate than a ski town. Even if your idea of festivity is limited to hitting the slopes followed by fireside hot toddies, it’s still impossible to resist the allure of fairy light-festooned trees and Victorian homes, snowy streets, and the ongoing festive vibe. Sure, Aspen has plenty of exclusive boutiques and galleries, but the great thing about the holiday season here is that the commercialized aspect of the holidays is overshadowed by a sense of community, and the pleasures of small town celebration. Check out some of the following for a taste of the holidays, Aspen-style:
On December 14, join Aspen residents for the annual Little Nell Tree Lighting ceremony, held in the Limelight’s sister hotel’s slopeside courtyard. There’s free hot chocolate and cookies, carolers, Santa and live reindeer, and a cool community vibe. 5-6pm.
Celebrate the 12 Days of Aspen
Starting December 20 with a free kick-off skating party, there are there are dozens of public, adult and family-friendly events around town. From cookie decorating, art projects, and story hours for the kids, free hot chocolate on the Cooper Street Mall, live jazz, après ski drink specials, and Victorian caroling, there’s something for everyone. The Aspen Chamber has a full activities listing, or ask the Limelight concierge for suggestions. Buttermilk and Snowmass hold their own family celebrations featuring crafts, carolers, hot cocoa; even Santa on a snowcat.
The St. Regis Aspen will be holding a daily public Menorah lighting December 16-24, from 4:45-5pm with Rabbi Mendel Mintz. On the 24th, latkes and other complimentary treats will be served. The Hotel Jerome will also be holding Menorah lightings; check the Aspen Chamber 12 Days of Christmas listing for details.
Make Tracks via Snowcat
Want the back bowls and snorkel pow to yourself? Take the Little Nell Powder Cat tours to Aspen’s backside with 11 other adventurers. End your sesh with a late lunch in a cabin in the Elk Mountains (included: wines specially bottled for the Nell’s acclaimed element 47 restaurant).
One of the Aspen area’s most memorable holiday events is the torchlight parade and fireworks, held in Snowmass on December 28th (Aspen also has fireworks on New Year’s Eve). The festivities start at Fanny Hill at 5:30pm; parents and kids eight and older are invited to join the trail of torch-bearer skiers as they wind down the mountain.
Eat, Drink, and be Merry
Kids will be stoked on the St. Regis Aspen’s massive gingerbread resort replica, made from 100 pounds of dough and measuring 2 x 12-feet. Pretty sweet, no? There’s also the annual Christmas Day brunch at the hotel’s signature restaurant Tencento Quindici Decano (including a Bloody Mary bar for the parents, and visit from Santa for little ones). Reservations required. There’s no shortage of other holiday dining events about town; the Aspen Chamber has a complete listing.
Hit the Ice
There’s the outdoor Silver Circle Rink in town, right near the base of Ajax Mountain. Afterward, head to The Little Nell for a mug of their famous hot chocolate (no powered cocoa and whipped cream from a can here). There’s also a larger, multi-use rink at the Aspen Rec Center; call for open skate times.
At Snowmass, Ullr Nights celebrates the Norse god of snow with a weekly Friday night party at Elk Camp, located at the top of the chairlift of the same name. From 5:30 to 9pm ($8 adults/kids 3 & under are free), enjoy live music, fire dancers, ice skating with free rentals, guided snowshoe tours, and a snow slide. There’s also bonfire S’mores and hot chocolate, snow tubing and kids’ snowbike tours for an added fee.
Get into the Spirit(s)
Whether it’s sipping specially-created holiday après cocktails, or a trying a whiskey flight at Basalt’s award-winning Woody Creek Distillers, there’s no shortage of primo libations in the Aspen area. Also aces: head bartender’s Mattias Horseman’s creative (and occasionally pyrotechnic) cocktails at Chefs Club, in the St. Regis hotel.
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) has all kinds of outdoor programs for kids and adults yearend. In winter, they offer half-day snowshoe tours of the lovely Castle Creek Valley with a naturalist guide. Learn about animal tracking, avalanches, local geology, bird life, winter habits, and sub-alpine ecology, en route to lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse, located in a cabin in the ghost town of Ashcroft. You can also rent snowshoe and cross-country ski gear at Ashcroft for solo trekking.
Try a Sleigh Ride
Not down with Nordic? Let the horses do the work, and take an evening trip to Pine Creek Cookhouse for a memorable holiday repast. Reservations required.
Go sledding or Tubing
Whoa Nellie Hill near Aspen Highlands is a favorite spot for kids (and parents) to get their glide on. You’ll need to rent your gear in town.
See a Screening
Check out the 23rd annual Aspen Film Academy Screenings at the historic Wheeler Opera House, late December through early January.
Go for a Moonlight stroll
One of my favorite things to do is snowshoe by moonlight (or headlamp), but I also find snowy nights exhilarating. Try the 21 miles of groomed trails around of Ashcroft, but wherever you go, be sure to let someone know, and take lots of layers and a map.
Rent a Dog for the Day
Had to leave your pet at home? The Aspen Animal Shelter has a feel-good solution for you. The for-profit, no-kill organization’s Rent-a-Pet program allows visitors to borrow dogs from two hours to an entire weekend (Bonus: The Limelight is one of Aspen’s top dog-friendly hotels). Not only does it provide exercise and socialization skills; it increases adoption rates. Dogs are paired to match personality and athletic ability. If you’re a cat person, you can volunteer to hang with adoptable felines, as well.