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The 10 Richest People in Aspen

Brandon Wenerd's picture

ASPEN, CO - Billionaires are a part of the Aspen experience, in one way or the other. Love it or hate it, this simple yet controversial reality is a flattering testament to Aspen’s international magnetism and gravitational pull. When the billionaires began moving into town in the late 1980s and 1990s, they began pushing out millionaires into slummy places like Independence Pass, the Smuggler Trailer Park, Owl Creek, and the Aspen Meadows. Depending on a resident’s socio-economic level or property investment, the “millionaire” housing panic invoked headstrong and heated community reactions, some even making national news with stories on CNN and in the New York Times. Yet time and time again, Aspen is mentioned in the glossy pages of fantasy luxury travel magazines and labeled “a playground for the rich.” For over two decades, Aspen’s thin air, natural beauty, and secluded remoteness has attracted members of the Forbes billionaire club to buy trophy real estate with snowcapped views or build their second (or third or fourth or fifth) home… even if it is only used for one week a year, between Christmas and the New Year.

For most of us bottom-of-the-money-food-chain commoners - meaning the wage-paid hungry, tired, and poor - it can be difficult to fully envision one billion dollars, particularly if you’ve never stepped foot in a Red Mountain estate or flown first class, much less in a private jet where the stewardess offers caviar instead of airline peanuts or Dom Perignon for mouthwash. For the mathematically handicapped, a billion dollars is a one followed by nine zeros. A little unscientific research from around the Internet concludes that a billion minutes ago, the Roman Empire was still in its prime, with one billion minutes equaling somewhere in the ballpark of 1,900 years. In pennies, a billion dollars would cover almost 14 square miles, an area four times the size of the downtown Aspen municipality.

All this begs one question: Who are these mysterious and faceless billionaires? It isn’t difficult to grasp or conceptualize their influence on the town, even though they may not be household names on the cover of a grocery store gossip magazine. Here is a list of the 10 billionaires or one-time billionaires who own or have at one time owned homes in Aspen. According to Forbes, the financial crises in late 2008 and 2009 left many members of this group scrambling, so not everyone on this list is still worth nine figures.

Sources for this list include Brent Gardner-Smith's September 2007 expose in the Aspen Daily News and Forbes.com's list of Playgrounds of the Rich and Famous, amongst other compiled information.

#10

Melvin Simon

A self-made real estate baron based in Indianapolis, Melvin Simon runs a lucrative private trust called the Simon Property Group. The group has interest in 386 shopping mall properties in North American, Asia, and Europe, including the Mall of America, outside Minneapolis. Simon is also the owner of the Indiana Pacers. According to the Aspen Daily News, he has an Aspen estate on the slopes of Red Mountain.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $1.3 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #559
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#9

Leslie Wexner

When Leslie Wexner bought the 102-acre lot on Red Mountain adjacent to his existing 60-acre lots with a 25,000-square-foot home for 15 million dollars, it was mentioned in the New York Times Business section. Since 1963, Wexner has founded and ruled atop the throne of a suburban-mall friendly retail empire, Limited Brands. Stores include Victoria's Secret, Express, Limited Too, the upscale Henri Bendel, Bath and Body Works, and C.O. Bigelow. Wexner is a major art collector, once paying 45 million dollars for a Picasso painting. The painting was donated to the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University.

In addition to the Red Mountain Estate, the Aspen Times, and Aspen Daily News recently reported Wexner also owns two large ranches near Carbondale at the base of Mount Sopris and a 513-acre tract known as the Sutey Ranch. Wexner recently proposed a land swap with a large tract of land to consolidate and link his property holdings.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: 1.7 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #430

#8

Sid and Ed Bass

After inheriting an oil fortune, the Texas-based Bass brothers have expanded oil operations around the globe and wisely invested in oil prospecting enterprises. According to the Aspen Daily News, Sid owns a home on Red Mountain and is a Platinum Premier Sponsor of the Aspen Music Festival and School. His brother, Ed, owns a home east of Aspen along the Roaring Fork River.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $2 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #334

#7

Leonard Lauder

The 76-year old son of cosmetics industry pioneer Estee Lauder owns a house practically adjacent to the Aspen Meadows and Aspen Institute. The family’s 70% stake in the popular cosmetics company is estimated to be worth six billion dollars. According to the Aspen Daily News, he serves on the Aspen Institute’s Board of Trustees and Executive committee.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $2 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #334

#6

Lester Crown and Family

Compared to Lester Crown and family, even the most successful Aspen-based business owner or real estate agent is a mere serf. The Chicago-based Crown family is the closest thing to genuine royalty in Aspen. As the owners and operators of Aspen Ski Company, the Crown family has numerous high profile properties around town, including condos at the exclusive Maroon Creek Club. Locally, the Crowns call the shots on ski operations on Aspen's four mountains as well as own the Snowmass Club, the Little Nell Hotel, and the brand-new Snowmass Base Village.

Yet Aspen Skiing Company is merely a small fraction of the family’s highly diversified fortune. The group owns a massive defense contracting company called General Dynamics, as well as huge stakes in Maytag, Alltel, JPMorgan Chase, Hilton Hotels, New York City’s Rockefeller Center, basketball's Chicago Bulls, and a 10% share in baseball's legendary franchise, the New York Yankees.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $3.1 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #196
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#5

Richard Kinder

This Missouri-billionaire has stirred controversy from his role as the former president of Enron during its successful boom years when it concentrated on innovative energy distribution solutions. After leaving now-notorious company, he co-founded the natural gas and petroleum pipeline company Kinder Morgan Inc. and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. The company was privatized after being purchased by Goldman Sachs and Fayez Sarofim for 22 billion dollars. According to the Aspen Daily news, the 65-year old Kinder is known to be an angler and has a home along the Roaring Fork River.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $3.2 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #191

#4

David Geffen

After dropping out from the University of Texas at Austin, David Geffen began a career trajectory to become one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and all of show business. After a lucrative career as a record producer launching bands like The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses, Geffen teamed up with Jeffrey Katzenberg and iconic director Steven Spielberg to launch the Oscar-churning DreamWorks studio in 1995. In 1971, while at Asylum Records, Geffen sent a beckoning California group called “The Eagles” to play a month-long residency at the Gallery Club in Aspen before signing the group before signing them to Asylum Records. Rock and roll history was made and David Geffen has been spotted frequently around Aspen ever since.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $ 4.5 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #110

#3

Roman Abramovich

Forbes estimates the controversial Russian oil and steel oligarch (and British tabloid darling) has lost anywhere from 13 to 20 billion dollars in the current global economic recession. Nonetheless, Abramovich still might be “the richest property owner in Pitkin County,” according to an article in last year’s Aspen Daily News. In the spring of 2008, Abramovich paid a cool $36.4 million in cash for a super-sleek 11-bedroom home on Wildcat Ridge, just outside of Snowmass. The architectural marvel is perched on 200-acres of meadows at 9,200 feet and was previously owned by legendary surgeon Leon Hirsch. It is interesting to note this was his second home in the area; the previous February, the billionaire paid $12 million for a chateau in close proximity to Snowmass Village. The global economic recession didn’t stop Abramovich from throwing an extravagant 2009 New Years party at his Snowmass estate. The event included an indoor ice rink and performances by the group Pussycat Dolls.

Before jet-setting and home-owning in Aspen, the tycoon spent his winter ski vacations partying in the posh French Alps town of Courchevel. In addition to owning a stylish Aspen ski property, Abramovich is currently building his navy-like collection of luxury megayachts, including the $355 million dollar, 555-foot Eclipse. The ship will be the largest and most expensive in the world when it is berthed next year. Abramovich owns the private investment firm Millhouse LLC. His other hobbies include ownership of England’s popular Chelsea Football Club.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $8.5 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: 51

#2

Michael Dell

According to Forbes and the Aspen Daily News, the self-made billionaire behind the namesake computer goliath started building and selling computers out of his dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin before dropping out to pursue his digital hardware passion fulltime. As the face and CEO of Dell Computers, the 44-year old Michael Dell brings his children to Aspen frequently to visit his parents, who reside in town.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $12.3 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #25

#1

David and Charles Koch

Where does one go in the winter when one owns a primary residence on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue formerly occupied by Jackie Onassis Kennedy, a Southampton summer estate, and a massive Mediterranean-inspired Villa Del Sarmiento in Palm Beach? Aspen, of course! With an estimated wealth of 14 billion dollars, David Koch is the richest man in New York City. His brother Charles Koch is the richest man in Wichita, Kansas. According to this list, the Koch brothers are the combined winners of the title “wealthiest people in Aspen.”

Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch Industries is a gigantic chemical company employing over 70,000 people in 60 different countries. The company focuses on developing products for pipelines, refineries, agriculture, ranching, lumber, polymers, consumer products, and developing chemical technology.

Both David and Charles Koch have homes in Aspen’s West End and are famous for lavish and wild New Year’s Eve parties. David’s house is rumored to include big-game hunt trophies from Botswana and Mozambique, as well as Ugandan elephant tusks in the dining room. According to the Aspen Daily News, David’s home is valued at 12 million dollars and Charles’ home is valued at 7 million dollars.

Forbes 2009 Estimated Wealth: $14 Billion
Ranking on the Forbes 2008 World’s Billionaire List: #19

If you were to take David and Charles Koch’s total wealth of 14 billion dollars and turn it into pennies, the area would cover a total of 196 square miles - about 20% of Pitkin County’s total land area.