Aspen is a town with a star-studded reputation, but there is a lot of normal, too. Locals live, play and work in Aspen—just like any town—and have a passion to keep their community as real as possible. However, there is no getting past that Aspen is a Colorado mountain town with an elevated vibe, an impressive selection of activities, memorable venues and lodging, and stunning vistas that keep smart phones within quick-draw range.
The community also has enough panache to attract world-class athletes, leaders and entertainers, making it possible to find an array of experts and performers for groups to tap inside or near the city limits. “Whether it is art, culture, renewable energy or whatever, people in the community are pushing to be their best selves,” says Sarah Reynolds, director of sales for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “It crosses over into civic-mindedness … to make Aspen and the surrounding valley a really great place.”
Yesterday & Today
If visions of snow bunnies are the only ones dancing in your head, erase them. Mid-June to mid-August are the busiest times in Aspen, although winter with four ski areas owned and operated by Aspen Skiing Company (Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass) make it a popular destination for brand-new beginners all the way to seasoned double-black diamond diehards.
There hasn’t always been the dash of glitz and glamour. The town’s history started out in the hardworking hands of silver prospectors who more than a century ago braved the wilderness and entered a favorite summer hunting ground of the Ute Indians to discover one of the richest silver lodes in the world. Founded in 1880, the first ski runs became reality in the late 1930s and community leaders helped forge the town into an enclave for art, science and culture in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Aspen is breathtaking all year round with the fabulous town, mountain setting, fresh air, serenity and nature. Not to mention the diverse amount of all-weather activities, there is something for everyone,” observes Julie Beiser, director of events for Modev, based in Washington, D.C.
In May, the company hosted a healthcare meeting, the Aspen Patient Experience Summit, for 50 attendees at the 98-room Aspen Meadows Resort, which has 22,000 square feet of function space and is owned by the world-renowned Aspen Institute. The group reserved the Lauder Room in the Koch Building for two days of sessions and attendees enjoyed using the outside tables and benches to meet or relax, Beiser says.
One evening, a reception was held on the Davis Deck outside Plato’s Restaurant, located on the property’s 40-acre campus, followed by dinner inside. Another night, the group was split up into four groups for dinner at four restaurants downtown, including Rustique, Jimmy’s Bar and Restaurant, Jimmy’s Bodega and Mezzaluna. The evening concluded with drinks and conversation at the historic Hotel Jerome.
Modev also held a Software Leadership Summit last September at Aspen Meadows Resort and has more gatherings planned. “We realized that the breathtaking setting created an atmosphere of peace and relaxation in which attendees really enjoyed themselves while attending a conference. The feedback was tremendous, therefore we partnered with the resort to hold the Patient Experience Summit there in May and two more events coming up in September 2016,” Beiser says.
New to the Aspen culinary landscape is David Burke Group’s second-floor Aspen Kitchen, an artisanal market-to-table restaurant that opened in December and can hold 130 seated or 180 reception-style inside and 70 seated or 160 reception-style on the outdoor terrace overlooking Aspen Mountain and downtown, making it the largest restaurant option for groups in town. On the main floor is the company’s new Rec Room Aspen, a nightspot created in partnership with LDV Hospitality.
Another locale in the heart of downtown is the new 3,000-square-foot Cooking School of Aspen, which opened in March. Offering hands-on cooking, demonstration and tasting classes for groups of 10 to 120, it also hosts weekly farm-to-table dinners in the summer and occasional pop-up restaurant theme nights with chefs flown in from around the world.
Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) also showcases many of the best regional products and celebrates local and sustainable agriculture with scheduled summer farm-to-table dinners that can host up to 114 and sell out almost immediately. Meals are served in the open-air barn at the organization’s Rock Bottom Ranch, which can be rented by groups. ACES also offers naturalistguided hikes, snowshoe tours and educational programs, with the hire-a-guide program being popular for groups.
Aspen Recreation Center, Theatre Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Wheeler Opera House, Aspen Golf Club, Benedict Music Tent and indoor and outdoor ice rinks also offer a plethora of activities and unique event spaces. For an additional dose of culture, groups can plug into the Aspen Music Festival, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Aspen Filmfest, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, and FOOD & WINE Classic. For adventures of the mind and body, consider activities and team-building programs led by Blazing Adventures and Aspen Expeditions and Aspen Institute’s Leadership Fundamental Program that utilizes classical literature.
A Place to Base
Lodging properties best suited for groups in addition to Aspen Meadows Resort include St. Regis Aspen Resort, Hotel Jerome, The Gant, Inn at Aspen, Limelight Hotel and The Little Nell. Being owned by Aspen Skiing Company gives Limelight Hotel and The Little Nell the ability to offer venues located atop Aspen Mountain, including Aspen Mountain Club and The Sundeck, and unique activities.
While nearly all of these properties have undergone major upgrades in recent years, the latest was Inn at Aspen. Completed at the end of 2015, the upgrade included more than 5,000 square feet of meeting and event space, 122 guest rooms and suites, a grand lobby with four-sided fireplace and the adjacent bar and restaurant, McKenney’s at The Inn, which has a private dining space for groups.
“The renovation offered us the opportunity to build a grand entryway leading out to a stone patio with a gas fire pit and adjacent outdoor pavilion. It’s so inviting with the view of Buttermilk and is a favorite in summer and winter for our guests,” says Sales and Marketing Manager Kelly McDonald. “The renovated meeting space has been a big hit for corporate meetings as well as social events. Two of our three spaces have floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the mountain, along with stone fireplaces for the cooler months.”
Two years ago, The Gant, a condominium hotel with 120 one- to four-bedroom units, unveiled a $5 million renovation and expansion to its Molly Campbell Conference Center, introducing a new specialty café, panoramic rooftop deck, and more flexible floor plans for the 5,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor space that can accommodate groups of up to 150.
W Aspen and The Sky Residences at W Aspen are slated to open for the 2018/2019 winter ski season and are being built on the location of the current Sky Hotel. The design is for a modern-day mountain chalet featuring 88 guest rooms (including six suites), 11 fractional residences, an oversized split-level living room-style lobby, restaurant, 1,600 square feet of meeting and event space, outdoor patio and rooftop bar and pool.
Although the groups Aspen hosts are across the board, the community has been especially successful attracting technology and communication companies and organizations offering incentive trips and holding board meetings, Reynolds notes. Whatever the purpose of the meeting, Aspen excels at defying ordinary. The name recognition of this Rocky Mountain town alone should help ensure attendees will be on board from the start.