The first time I skied Aspen was in 1974, when I was a junior at the University of Colorado. On that trip I slept in a sleeping bag at a friend’s rental house and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch on the slopes.
The cost for a weekend of great skiing cost less than $70, including $15 a day for a lift ticket and $5 I pitched in for gas.
I’ve been to Aspen a few times since then, and skiing and snowboarding at the four “hills” in and around town (Aspen Mountain, also known as Ajax, plus Buttermilk, Snowmass and Highlands) remain excellent. The prices, however, have gone up a wee bit.
That $15 lift ticket from 40-plus years ago? It’s now $155 if you buy at a ticket office the day you want to ski.
If you purchase a multi-day ducat a week in advance, you can save up to $30 off the daily price. And if you’re younger than 18 or 65 and older, all four mountains have additional discounts.
You could also buy a Mountain Collective (mountaincollective.com) pass good for two days each at more than a dozen resorts, including Aspen, for $519.
After the two days are used, lift tickets for additional days at each of the member resorts are 50% off. That could save you big bucks, especially if you plan to visit Mammoth, Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows in California; Taos, N.M.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; or Snowbird or Alta in Utah.
You don’t need a trust fund to enjoy Aspen, said Jim Moneghan, a retired Denver policeman who skis all over the West.
When he visits Aspen, he often stays in rooms in nearby Basalt, Colo., which he books through Airbnb.com for about $75 a night. The town is about 12 miles from Aspen’s Intercept parking lot, which has free shuttles to all four of its ski areas.
Moneghan has also stayed in Carbondale, which is 26 miles from the Intercept lot, and has snagged a room with a private bath for less than what he would pay in Basalt. (There sometimes are Airbnb options in Aspen, but they could be twice as much more a night.)
Moneghan also scouts the web for the best après-ski deals at Aspen watering holes that sometimes offer discounted food with drinks. He chooses restaurants in Basalt for dinner because it’s less expensive.
If you want the Aspen experience, here are some tips from locals on places to stay, dine and enjoy yourself at (relatively) bargain prices:
Where to stay
The town has two hostel-like lodges with dorm bunks and shared bathrooms for those willing to rough it a bit, as well as rooms with either shared or private baths.
The other bargain option is the Swiss-style Mountain Chalet Aspen, which opened in 1954, has a 1970s vibe and is two blocks from the gondola at Aspen Mountain.
Lodging options range from basic bunk or dorm-style rooms with shared baths from $79 a night to two-bedroom apartments from $569 a night, depending on the date. Breakfast is included, and all guests have access to the steam room, hot tub and sauna.
Where to eat
If you have youngsters, Snowmass offers free s’mores from 3:30 to 4:30 every afternoon at the Base Village and the Snowmass Mall. Just look for the s’mores carts at the fire pits. It’s a perk of the family-friendly mountain’s V.I.K. (Very Important Kid) program.
For inexpensive food in Aspen, check out the bar menu at L’Hostaria, but be sure to get there before 6 p.m. or you may find yourself in a line behind locals.
Zane’s Tavern, with locations in Aspen and Snowmass Village, offers Philly cheesesteak sandwiches ($12.95), grilled fish tacos ($3.75 each) and other classic bar food at reasonable prices.
Grab a slice of cheese pizza at New York Pizza for $4.50. The Woody Creek Tavern, where Hunter S. Thompson used to hang out, has veggie burgers ($12), fish sandwiches ($15) and chicken enchiladas ($16).
What to do
Have a hankering for live music? The Belly Up Aspen has good music, with a $25 cover charge on many nights. See website for schedule and prices.
Aspen has nearly 60 miles of free trails between Aspen and Snowmass if you want to do cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Need rental gear? Head for the Aspen or Snowmass Cross Country Centers.
For a bit of culture, check out the free Aspen Art Museum . Take a tour with the Aspen Historical Society and learn about some of the town’s storied mansions, the Hotel Jerome and the Wheeler Opera House.
The society also leads a pub crawl, which includes three small cocktails. All cost $20 or less, except for the opera house tour, which is free.
You can get a free mountain tour (with purchase of a lift ticket) twice daily at all four ski areas with a Mountain Ambassador, friendly folks who also hand out Clif Bars, coffee and apple cider.
And the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies also offers free ski tours every day at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Wapiti Nature Center at the top of the Elk Camp lift at Snowmass.