There is probably no other town in America whose evokes a greater sense of wealth, power and exclusivity than Aspen, Colo.
But if one takes the time to look past the posh stores -- Fendi, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Ralph Lauren to name a few -- and the spectacular mansions perched high in the mountains, a friendly community with an adventurous side emerges.
Whether it's skiing, mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing or just shopping and eating, Aspen offers a bounty of options without the crowds of some other Western towns.
Christy Mahon moved here 13 years ago and epitomizes the mix of culture and adventure found here. She works at the Aspen Art Museum (free admission) and can be found sneaking in a hike or a few ski runs on her lunch break. (She recently became the first woman and only sixth person ever to climb and then ski all 54 peaks in Colorado over 14,000 feet.)
Mahon arrived in Aspen after graduating from college 13 years ago. A friend lived in town and Mahon wasn't sure how long she'd stay, but Aspen's lure hooked her.
"I love it here. I'm actually not leaving. I came to that realization a few years ago," she said. "I think we can say I'm here for good."
Yes there is plenty of "ritz" in town, Mahon said.
"You would think it would make you more materialistic, but it doesn't," she said.
Maybe that's because in the winter months she sneaks out at lunch to get in three ski runs at nearby Aspen Mountain. The ski trails run right down to Aspen's main streets. In summer, she takes advantage of the area's extensive trail network to run and bike.
That relaxed mix of nature, healthy living and somewhat over-the-top luxury can be found by even the most casual visitor. John Denver and Hunter S. Thompson have both called Aspen home, and these days Aspen's celebrities including Kevin Costner, Lance Armstrong, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Mariah Carey, Bill Gates and Antonio Banderas can be seen in and around town.
"You never want to mouth off about how great you are," Mahon said. "Chances are, you are sitting next to somebody who has done something so much more exciting than you."
So now that you have a feel for the town's vibe, it's time to explore.
At nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Aspen's thin air is going to leave you at least huffing and puffing for a day or two, so it's important to start out your day with a good breakfast.
Peach's Corner Cafe is a great breakfast spot right downtown and is sure to give you plenty of energy to get through your day. For a leisurely meal, check out the Main Street Bakery & Café (201 East Main St.), which offers great food and a tranquil back deck with spectacular mountain views. And remember, heed the sign out front: "No Cell Phones Please."
In winter, the obvious activity is skiing. Aspen Snowmass offers four mountains in the area, all on the same lift ticket and all offering something a bit different for each type of skier. A great bus system links all of the resort areas and downtown locations for free. Aspen also offers cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, dog sledding, ice climbing and snowshoeing.
Spring Outdoor Activities: Hiking, Rock Climbing
In spring and summer the list of activities is endless.