West Slope getaway
April 11, 2009
Travel editor Bob Berwyn and Leigh Wadden had their share of salt-n-vinegar chips and murky gas-station coffee this winter as they traveled Colorado to gather material for an upcoming Best of Colorado guidebook. But along with the dubious snacks, they’ve also explored some of the state’s coolest destinations, coziest inns and funkiest eateries.
This week, travel along as they visit some Aspen classics. The four ski areas around the Roaring Fork Valley enjoyed another banner snow year. Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and Buttermilk are all closed for the season, but Aspen Highlands is reopening for two bonus weekends, April 18-19 and April 25-26. Check the links in the info box for late-season lodging deals.
Since we haven’t unpacked from our last trip, getting our bags together isn’t all that hard, other than sorting through a pile of socks and underwear, trying to decide whether they’re old or fresh. Leigh brews coffee, fills the travel mugs to the brim, while loading dinner remnants from the past week into the cooler. Laptop, camera, digital recorder, notebooks, maps, brochures … it all goes into the car, which hasn’t been washed since early October.
A winter storm is starting to drape its frozen fingers across the Rockies, but the early June deadline for our Best of Colorado guidebook is looming. And the lure of fresh Aspen powder keeps us motivated.
We decide to stop in at the Woody Creek Tavern. From what we’ve heard, it’s the Moose Jaw of the Aspen area, with a literary twist. Several author-types, including Hunter S. Thompson, have been known to frequent the pub.
Right away, Glenn, a super-friendly local, buys us a few Bloodies and shows us some of his tattoos. On one shoulder is the logo, “There I Go,” along with a drawing of what looks to be a Martian wearing a cowboy hat. It’s a tribute to his family. On the other bicep, there’s a bald eagle spreading its wings across a blazing sun. Glenn tells us the eagle covers the name of a former girlfriend, and that the sun evolved from a sunflower, that former girlfriend’s favorite flower.
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The spicy pickles are made by author Gaylord Guenin, and there’s whiskey that comes from George Stranahan, who helped resurrect the Mountain Gazette a few years ago, an occasion that, in this writer’s opinion, definitely warrants
a drink. The Gonzo-leaning Stranahan owns the Flying Dog Brewery, and the base for the whiskey is the malt mash used by the brewery.
Before we go, the friendly locals jot down a few suggestions for our “Best-Of” research, including the Wienerstube in Aspen, touted for a great brunch and
genuine Austrian cuisine.
Then we head to the slopeside comfort of the Little Nell, right at the base of Ajax and the Silver Queen Gondola. It’s one of Colorado’s leading hotels, and we feel a little strange driving up in our dinged car. But the bellmen don’t bat an eye at our road-worn Subaru, treating us with the class that makes the Nell stand out.
After checking into a deluxe room overlooking the pool and the gondola plaza, we sample a platter of chef Ryan Hardy’s savory house-made prosciutto, sausage, cheese, and oven-fresh bread, along with a bottle of wine. Hardy cures the meats himself. As much as possible, the food he serves in the hotel’s five-diamond restaurant comes from his own farm and ranch in central Colorado.
The next day, we explore Aspen Mountain with a guide, swooping into hidden glades to visit funky shrines to John Denver, Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix, where fans have pinned up posters, sheet music photos and old license plates in tribute. There’s even a
playful Pooper Trooper Shrine, where tiny plastic parachute soldiers hang in trees after local kids launch them from the gondola window.
We learn that several thousand people once lived high on the mountain, near what is now a busy trail crossing, looking for precious metal by burrowing tunnels and shafts that still honeycomb the mountain beneath us.
For a snack we visit Bonnie’s, a low-key alpine-style hut that serves mouth-watering treats at prices comparable to the blase cafeteria menus at most other ski resorts. The strudel comes in hearty slabs, with a buttery and flaky pastry dough wrapped around thick chunks of cinnamon-scented apples and raisins and dished up with a dollop of real whipped cream, just the way you would get it at a pastry shop in Salzburg or Innsbruck.
For all of Aspen’s historic ski culture and alpine heritage, the Hotel Jerome is uniquely Western, a product of the gold rush that built Colorado. Jerome B. Wheeler, co-owner of New York’s Macy’s department store, conceived the Jerome to equal great European hotels, to introduce a measure of worldly elegance to the raucous mining town.
The Jerome was one of the first buildings west of the Mississippi River to be fully lit by electricity. Like the rest of the town, it fell on hard times when silver crashed, only to be reborn when Aspen reinvented itself as a ski town. Now the Jerome is a four-diamond hotel, in good hands with RockResorts, a Vail-owned family of hotels that includes the Keystone Lodge and the Arrabelle at Vail Square.
We stroll out of the Jerome after a soak in the outdoor hot tub, headed for the Wienerstube, recommended to us by the barflies at the Woody Creek Tavern.
Coincidentally, we had met the restaurant owner, Harald Neuweg, on the Silver Queen Gondola earlier and established that we have some common roots. Neuweg is from the same Austrian province my mom calls home. He invites us to his cozy gasthaus for dinner, eager to showcase the cooking skills he polished during a long career as a restaurateur in Florida.
Shortly after taking over the dining spot, Neuweg hosted the Austrian women’s ski team during an early season World Cup race, nursing injured Nicole Hosp back to health with a genuine Wienerschnitzel.
In a news story that was widely circulated in Austria, Hosp said the down-home Austrian cooking at the Wienerstube helped her recuperate. She scored a third place in the slalom the following day. After sampling Neuweg’s cuisine, we’re convinced the story is true. His golden-crisp schnitzel and paprika is the perfect coda for our blitz-trip to Aspen.
Visit http://www.summitdaily.com/travel to see recent travel stories, including recent reports from Antarctica.
The Little Nell will close for a few weeks during the off-season, but visit the hotel online at http://www.thelittlenell.com for spring and summer rates and reservations. Summer deals include a fourth-night-free package.
The Hotel Jerome is currently featuring a $159 off-season beer-n-burger package, including lodging, along with a beer and burger at the famed J Bar. Check http://www.hoteljerome.com for details.
For more information on Harald Neuweg’s Austrian oasis, go to http://www.wienerstube.com/.
For info on Aspen Highland’s bonus weekends go to http://www.aspensnowmass.com/.