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10 Reasons to Visit Aspen During the Off-Season

Brandon Wenerd's picture

Springtime in AspenSpringtime in AspenASPEN, CO - Spring in the Roaring Fork Valley isn’t quite like spring everywhere else: snow blankets the mountaintops, the red clay gets soggy with snowmelt, contractors and landscapers go to work on multimillion dollar home improvement projects, and locals – ready for a little rest and relaxation after a busy ski season - flee the off-season doldrums for warm, sunny destinations like the California coast, South France, Florida, and Las Vegas. Even the seasonal employees participate in the mass Aspen exodus. This is the time of year when Aspen’s streets are empty, with a number of hotels and restaurants boarding-up until June, when the summer travel season officially begins.

Buds on the Aspen trees grow furry and fat, ready to burst open in verdant spring lushness. Hillsides of sagebrush and scrub cacti are tinted a dusty, mellow green in the waxing afternoon sunlight. Spring is a time of natural rejuvenation, even at 8,000 feet in the Rockies. Here are 10 reasons why springtime in Aspen is just as sublime and breathtaking as any other time of year and worth a visit.


Cheap Hotel Rates and Lodging Bargains

Skiing is Aspen’s tourism engine. Thus, when the slopes close, hotels in town drop their rates to the lowest of the year. The Hotel Jerome is advertising a jaw-dropping rate of 125 dollars a night for Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley locals. Quirky mom-and-pop lodges like the Tyrolean are offering rooms at a weekly rate. Boasting half- occupancy, the brand new, ultra-modern, and family-owned Limelight Lodge is offering rooms starting as low as 119 dollars throughout the off-season. The super swanky Sky Hotel is advertising an off-season special of 109 dollars a night for Eagle, Garfield, and Pitkin county residents. Included in the price is a complimentary bottle of wine. The prestigious and serene Aspen Meadows Resort – home of the Aspen Institute – is advertising an appealing special for Aspen locals with rates starting at 99 dollars a night. Out-of-towners can book a room for as low as 120 dollars and night. Even though the tennis courts on the 40-acre property have yet to open, the Bauhaus-styled resort is still a secluded and peaceful place for a weekend interlope on Aspen’s West End.


Cheap Wild Fig is offering an appetizer, entrée, and dessert for 29 dollars. The eatery is a contemporary European brasserie that has received a nod of approval from The New York Post, Gourmet Magazine, and Wine Spectator. The Wild Fig’s sister restaurant, LuLu Wilson, is offering a similar prix fixe menu at 32 dollars, giving diners a wonderful opportunity to sample the restaurant’s chic American cuisine. Elevation, another fashionable Aspen eatery, is offering a two-course prix fixe for 30 dollars. The Wienerstube, a popular Austrian restaurant, is luring diners with a 29-dollar prix fixe sampling menu. Rustique, one of Aspen’s authentic French bistros, is offering a 25-dollar prix fixe menu for the off-season. Even the pub grub is discounted in off-season, with Ajax Tavern offering a 15-dollar burger and a pint deal for locals. There couldn’t be a better time to eat for cheap in Aspen.



Ok. So you thought ski season is over. Well, it is – for the most part. Aspen Ski company will reopen Aspen Highlands this upcoming weekend, on April 25, and 26 only. This past weekend, Highlands reopened to epic spring powder conditions, attracting a powder posse to the ski area and it’s legendary bowl. Even though A-basin and a few other Colorado resorts stay open until late May or June, this is weekend is your last opportunity to ski or Aspen for the 2008-2009 season, unless you prefer hiking the mountains or heading into the backcountry. Lift tickets start at 39.99 and season pass holders – even from other Colorado resorts - get to ski or ride for a one time bargain price of 19.99.



Warm, spring weather means it is time to shed the long sleeves and jackets for shorts and t-shirts. Spring also means it is time to grease up the bike chain, tune up the gears, and explore the dynamic terrain of the Roaring Fork Valley. There are bike trails in the Roaring Fork Valley for every ability level, from the rugged, steep, and adrenalin-fueled to the flat, gentle, scenic, and rolling Rio Grande trail that hugs the Roaring Fork River from Aspen the whole way down valley to Glenwood Springs. Summer brings flocks of spandex-wearing bikers out by the hundreds, so spring is a great time to get out for peaceful ride


No Traffic

Even thought locals complain about it frequently, sitting in morning traffic on Main Street or on Highway 82 near the roundabout is nothing at all like sitting in 12-lanes of traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike headed to the Lincoln Tunnel during rush hour. Now that ski season is over, the streets of Aspen are practically empty. You won’t have to worry about a bottleneck battle at the roundabout or road rage on your peaceful Aspen getaway.

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Shoppers will be enthralled by the selection of high end, off-season deals on everything from mountain bikes to fashion ski wear to shoes to art to camping equipment. The end of ski season is a great time to shop for skis and ski wear at a reduced price, including designer wear at Helly Hansen. Other bargains around town include significantly reduced hipster threads at Boogies and boutique novelty art at the Chepita Gallery. On a bit of a gloomy note, retailers like Tomorrows Laundry are offering storewide liquidation sales as they close their doors for good in town. All of these factors make Aspen a fabulous spring shopping destination for deal-savory bargain hunters.


The Red Onion

Under the new ownership of Scott DeGraff and his Fun Worldwide group, the historic and venerable mining town waterhole The Red Onion reopens this spring as “Junk at the Red Onion.” Dates have yet to be determined, but the folks at Aspen Magazine are co-sponsoring and preparing for a legendary grand reopening bash. Whenever the venue reopens – rumored to be sometime in May - it will certainly be the biggest party of the spring. Stay tuned for more information on the status of this Aspen landmark.


Fly Fishing

Springtime is an optimum season for solace-seeking anglers, even through snowmelt raises the water table of creeks and the Roaring Fork River. In the summer, rafters, bikers, hiking, and other anglers clog the Roaring Fork River and the nearby Frying Pan River. Currently, Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt is rating fishing conditions on the Frying Pan at a halcyon nine out of ten. Springtime couldn’t be a better time to land an 18+ inch trophy trout. Dust off your fly rod, pull on your waders, tie on a midge, or hitch up with a guide to get your fish on.

Aspen birches beginning to budAspen birches beginning to bud


Politics and Elections

The Aspen political scene is internationally notorious for being a dog and pony show (Freak Power in the Rockies, anyone?). It has been said, many, many times, that a town of 6000 year-round resident has six million opinions. You don’t have to look too much further then letters to the editors in the Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, or the assortment of opinionated, politically inflammatory Aspen-centered blogs. Seeing a town engage in the democratic civic process is hardly a selling point or draw for the traditional tourist. However, art savory tourists may be interested in a controversial ballot initiative proposing to expand the existing Aspen Art museum. 24,500 visited the existing Art Museum for free this past year. Nonetheless, visitors coming to Aspen will surly to experience plenty of healthy civil discourse and small-town political rhetoric leading up to the May 5th election. If you’re a political junkie addicted to the hotheaded and adrenaline-fueled circus of small-town politics, now is a good time to come to Aspen.



The German-American theologian and existential philosopher, Paul Tillich, once said, “Language... has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude" to express the glory of being alone.” There isn’t really a price for blissful solitude. In an esoteric way, there is something deeply humbling and soulful about an empty resort town in the off-season. A springtime jaunt to Aspen is a perfect time for a little merry personal introspection and communing with a beautiful and pristine natural alpine environment. It is the perfect time for rewarding experiences like a physically demanding hike up Smuggler Mountain or a meandering bike ride along the Rio Grande Trail to Woody Creek. Come to Aspen this off-season to rejuvenate and refresh in glorious solitude.