Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties, oh yeah
Fat bottomed girls, they’ll be riding today
So look out for those beauties, oh yeah
Bicycle Race by Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury’s song “Bicycle Race” was by no means a reference to Scouts disappearing svelte derriere on the Rio Grande trail in Aspen. Apparently inspired by a sighting of Le Tour in France one day he really wrote it to express his desire to live his life in his own way both sexually and personally.
Aspen, Colorado is, at the same time, a natural landscape of breathtaking mountains and wilderness beauty and the fakest place on earth. It is a mountain ski town where one can buy a simple cup of filter coffee for $3.50 in a quiet and friendly cafe or spend USD one million on a piece of art for the ranch house a couple of miles from town. Kevin Costner probably did. Although regrettably we didn’t see him walking through town as he apparently does. Melanie Griffiths lives here as does NZs Graeme Hart – for part of the year anyway – along with a host of other stars and business elites. We were not here for star gazing or even staring at 75-year-old men and women (mostly women) with 45-year-old faces and twenty-year-old chests. Fascinating though it may be. Someone desperately needs to tell these people that the effect is freakish and produces a result so diametrically opposed to the one they desire that it becomes gruesome. They have become ugly. Such parodies of themselves it is off-putting. How could I explain that I love my mother and my grandmothers precisely because they are (and were) so graceful and accepting in their old age. Unless Putin gets the nuclear holocaust he craves, tomorrow will always turn up. No amount of plastic can change that.
Despite this we enjoy being in Aspen precisely because it is such a different world from our own. The smell of money is everywhere even though there is an attempt to hide it. The village is lovely with parks and greenery abounding. The Roaring Fork River gurgles and bubbles along the northern boundary with Aspen Mountain or AJAX and its skifields to the south. The restaurants are understated but a look inside tells you a different story. The lunchtime tables are littered with champagne bottles and half eaten meals as the young (and the old – see above) and the beautiful eat, drink and converse well into the late afternoon. In summer it is hot and full of bikers. That is cyclists there to ride the bike trails in the forests and farmland that surround the town. And so are we.
We hired bikes to spend a half day on the Rio Grande trail that runs alongside the Roaring Fork River into the open spaces beneath the mountains. I would love to say we cycled hard into the wilderness. We didn’t. We hired e-bikes and followed the sealed and graveled trail – we are old and it was bloody hot. None the less it was a fabulous ride through the forest aspens, up and down the meandering trail as it followed the course of the river and through the mountain valley. After a couple of hours, we pulled off the cycle trail and had lunch at The Woody Creek Tavern. We had chosen this trail precisely because Woody Creek was in its path. It became obvious that so had everyone else. The bike park created entirely for this reason was stacked with bicycles of all kinds (a lot of e-bikes I gratefully noticed) and the tavern was heaving with thirsty and hungry cyclists. We were squeezed in and enjoyed a rest, meal and a drink before the two-hour journey back to Aspen. Such a wonderful day.
Although Aspen is nice we were not staying there. It is too busy and not really our style. There are four mountains that surround Aspen – AJAX and Mts. Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. We stayed in Snowmass Village. It is no Aspen but perfectly adequate for us. Snowmass Base Village is surrounded by condominiums and it is a mere two-minute gondola ride up the skifield to “The Mall” which is … a mall on the side of a mountain. The Mall is also surrounded by condominiums and has nicer restaurants and bars than the Base Village. So, we ate at the Big Hoss (Texas BBQ) overlooking grassy slopes and chairlifts that in a few months’ time will be covered in skiers and snowboarders. Everything is within walking distance but The Mall is a bit of a climb. Hence the gondola. There is a phenomenon in the mountains at this time of the year. The late afternoon thunderstorm. And the gondola for safety reasons stops. It stopped as we set out to explore The Mall. It was stopped as we set out later for dinner at The Big Hoss. So, we decided to dine in the village – no names mentioned. We found ourselves in the middle of a Monty Python sketch. There were no menus – look up the website on your phone. There was no wifi so our phones couldn’t work. There was one menu unfortunately currently being shared around the other six tables of diners. The lovely young European server (I suspect he had been commandeered from the kitchen for the night) had no clue. Drinks? “I will ask the barman what we’ve got” he said which took three goes of back and forth. The menu arrived; Scout ordered. I looked up to order. The server was halfway back across the room. “Can I order” I shouted. Finally, drinks done, food orders taken we settled back with our very overpriced wine. Five minutes later the server was back – with a notepad. Suspecting an order not available we looked up to be asked “Would you like to order some food now” he said. It is hard to keep a straight face in these circumstances, but politeness demanded we did. We drank up, asked for the cheque and walked the uphill journey in the rain to dine at The Big Hoss. Very good it was too.
On the bus into Aspen we met Gregoire. He was from Paris and such a lovely man. It turned out he lived in Snowmass but ran the family gallery, Opera Gallery, in Aspen. The family has four art galleries in the US (New York, Miami, Houston and Aspen) and many more around the world in Paris and the likes of London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. “What sort of art?” said Scout. “Oh high end” said Gregoire. We visited the gallery later in the day. High end was pretty apt. The least expensive was a marvelous piece by the British artist Joe Black at USD90,000. There weren’t that many pieces on the walls and I suspect that the even more pricey ones are somewhere else in the gallery bowels. We chatted with another man in another gallery – better at around USD 30,000. He told us of the interesting changes in Aspen over Covid. “The wealthy first came to Aspen to ski and hike because it is so lovely. Not anymore. They come to be seen now. And they have sent house prices and rents rocketing. But worst of all. They have changed Aspen from a nice village into New York. They want the restaurant and bar scene to be like St Barts or St Tropez. We don’t want that but the old quaint restaurants have been sold and gone upmarket. It is not the same outdoorsy place anymore.” I guess Aspen is not the only place to suffer such a fate. The rich have a lot answer for.
On the way back to Boulder we dropped in at Beaver Creek. If we thought Aspen was a playground for the rich and famous the little-known Beaver Creek seemed on another level. It is, in fact, an “unincorporated community” meaning it has no municipal government or council but is sort of self-governed. Indeed, to access the town one must “be let in” by the gatekeepers at its entrance. Once home to ex-President Gerald Ford and Jack Nicklaus (on the golf course) it is now the popular ski ground and holiday spot for the likes of Tom Hanks and Kelsey Grammar amongst others. This ski resort is known for its high-end restaurants and performing arts centre. An interesting fact is that Beaver Creek and nearby Vail were part of Colorado’s successful bid for the 1976 winter Olympics. That is until the Colorado voters in a referendum known as “a fit of pique” refused to fund the games and they were passed on to Innsbruck in Austria. Regardless whilst the place drips money it is extraordinarily beautiful in its own right with the mountain backdrops and green valleys covered in wild flowers. We took our credit cards and headed back to Boulder. And arrived with Covid. Bugger!
7 thoughts on “Aspen”
I didn’t realise you had Covid when you rang Margaret. We got it a while ago but we’re not badly affected and we’re able to get out and do a decent walk each day. Re Graeme Hart – I thought IRD were trying to find him so that they could issue him with a summons re tax evasion. No one can find him.
Luckily only I had Covid and over it now. I think you have the wrong businessman there. NZ IRD are probably quite happy with Graeme Hart. Maybe not Eric Watson though.
Ummmm…… you didn’t stay in Aspen because it was out of your price range.
Great read Mike and very sorry to hear that you contracted Covid in Aspen, must have been that dodgy restaurant in the village!
Much improved now – a mild dose I think.
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