Travel: Escape to Snowmass |

Travel: Escape to Snowmass

Special to the Daily/David Kirsch

It’s not uncommon for Summit County dwellers to focus on the homefront when it comes to mountain getaways. After all, with four ski areas and more year-round recreational activities and cultural amenities than you can shake a GPS at, Summit County is a world-class destination area.On the other hand, it’s sometimes fun to see how other mountain resorts do it, and at this time of year, deals abound as resorts look to fill rooms during the remains of shoulder season. Last year, I had an invitation to be a judge at the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest, and it marked the first time I’d ever set foot in this particular resort community just down the road from Aspen. We liked it so much we’re heading back again next weekend, where this year’s festival features shows with The Wailers, as well as George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. And yes, I’ll be doing the arduous duty of judging chili once again.Even though it’s a little lower than the valley here (8,104 at the base of the mountain), Snowmass still has those May/June variables in weather, and last year we were treated to freezing rain and wind during the first round of brew tasting. But no matter: One expects such things in the mountains and we had a great time going from tent to tent with our little glass to sample the brews. The next day dawned clear and warm, perfect for the chili-tasting events. For chili neophytes such as myself (one recipe, repeated approximately six times yearly), the chili fest is an eye-opener when it comes to the possibilities afforded by this simple dish. This is no casual event, though: It’s an official competition for the International Chili Society, with three categories: red chili, green chili and salsa. On the brew side, up to 50 different beers will be represented, and new this year there’s a “European and exotic beer tasting tent.” What’s not to like? (Oh, unless you’re a dog lover: This is a no-canines event.)

To get to Snowmass Village, take I-70 to Glenwood and then hop on 82 toward Aspen. Look for the signs to Snowmass Village/Brush Creek Road. (Note: Snowmass or “Old Snowmass” on the valley floor is not where the action is.) Snowmass Village reminds me a of a slightly larger, somewhat less ritzy Beaver Creek. There’s a long road to get up to the village itself, which is spread around the base of the ski area. It’s a hodgepodge of condos, large hotels and private residences with an assortment of shops and restaurants that range between tiny, overpriced boutiques to some more practical places – like a smallish grocery store (think Breck’s Food Kingdom) and pizza joints. You can most certainly spend a lot of money in Snowmass on lodging and food, but more reasonable alternatives also exist.In the summer, there’s a funny, short gondola that runs up to the base area where the events are held; full summer lift service doesn’t begin until June 8. There’s also a free shuttle that does a pretty good job of running you from one part of the village to another. Discounting some of the less-than-beautiful developments that have popped up over the years (and what ski town doesn’t have a few of those?), Snowmass Village is a pretty place loaded with aspen, hiking trails and a fair number of appealing restaurants and shops. Since so much of the area is built on the hillside, just walking from one place to the next is a workout (perhaps best to use the shuttle after loading up on chili and beer).

Last year, we got a great, quiet condo slopeside that was available at a very reasonable rate. This year is no different, and it’s a great opportunity to try some more stylish digs while checking out the area. One strong option is the new Viceroy at Snowmass – a five-star hotel that opened last year and which is offering $95 rooms for the Chili Fest this year ( as well as 30 percent off spa services through June 16. Built green (it’s “LEED Silver” certified), the Viceroy is a condo-hotel meant to be part of Snowmass Village’s “renaissance.” While the recession has stalled some of that activity, the Viceroy is standing tall atop Assay Hill and has been gaining accolades from guests since opening. The 210,000-square-foot hotel’s interior was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy of the Malaysia-based architectural firm Denniston International. His contemporary, alpine dcor is prominent throughout the public spaces, as well as the private rooms. It’s especially noticeable in the fine-dining restaurant, named EIGHT K for the elevation of Snowmass. The dining room has a display kitchen, an 87-foot-long glass-topped aprs-ski bar and a lounge designed around a double-sided fireplace.In short, this is a pretty high-end property to be offering rooms just under $100. To get the deal, find the link to the Viceroy on the chili fest website (see box).The Silvertree Hotel and Wildwood Lodge also have room deals that include passes to the chili fest. Prices range from $114 to $134 per person and include a weekend “party pass.” Again, see the chili fest site for more details.Keep in mind, also, that Snowmass hosts its annual balloon festival (with a wine festival) in September, as well as a new Culinary & Arts Festival from Aug. 13-14. There are plenty of other events to keep in mind, with a full listing at course, no trip to the area would be complete without a hop into Aspen for lunch or a trip to the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. For Summit County folks looking to get out of town without incurring the expense of airfare or a longer trip, Snowmass Village is a nice option for a mud-season getaway.

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