America never looked more beautiful.
The flight from Phoenix to Aspen is an hour and a half spectacle of SIMM-like arid landscapes, dramatically beautiful mountain ranges and majestic rivers.
All perfectly enhanced by crisp and sunny winter skies.
We were still processing the first post-COVID family holiday we had just spent in the Bay Area when the Colorado River greeted us.
Next, the real-life map turned snowy as the landscape’s elevation increased, and the Aspen trees appeared as though you could reach out and touch them.
As we overflew the town of Aspen, we saw the last windmills and solar panels of a journey that had taken us from the California skies through Arizona and now the Colorado ones.
“Who knew the US was that much into renewable energy,” I thought with pride.
As visibility was good, and our United Airlines pilot was highly skilled, the much-expected landing at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (one of America’s “most extreme” with its 7815 feet above sea level) was nice and smooth.
It was my first time in town, and my first impression was feeling increasingly poor as we deplaned, claimed our luggage and picked up our rental car.
Here, “PJs” didn’t mean pajamas but private jets.
But whatever feeling of inadequacy at the terminal quickly dissipated when we hit the road and saw one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes.
“Priceless! I can only imagine what it is like in the summer,” I said.
We stayed with good friends, which was a welcome change from hotels and AirBnBs and prolonged the theme of familial hospitality that we began during the Christmas holiday.
Besides, their place is fabulous.
I’m not an expert skier (not even an intermediate one), but the main point of the trip was for my partner (a much better skier) and our friends (excellent ones) to hit the slopes.
My goal was to make it to “apres-ski” in one piece.
That usually happened after the children tired of watching me fall in my butt all day at Buttermilk, the easiest ski mountain in the region.
My partner and friends glided with the big boys and girls at Aspen and Snowmass.
A caveat: Buttermilk hosts the famous X Games, which were going to take place in two weeks. So, at least, it was cool to say, “I was just there,” while watching from the comfort of my warm home back in New York City.
Although I only experienced one mountain, I branched out about the after ski activities.
Aspen Pie Shop was a young and casual place to get excellent pizza and beer. Plus the dining room has a lovely view of the doggie park with the gorgeous Aspen mountain in the background.
There’s something about puppies romping happily in the snow.
The second establishment, The Wine Bar (formerly Chair 9) at The Little Nell was more upscale. The wine list and gourmet snacks were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the fondue, oysters and wagyu beef sliders (we ordered two portions).
The Aspen Art Museum was temporarily closed, an excuse to come back in the Summer. Perhaps during the FOOD & WINE Classic or one of the Aspen Institute events.
Two more culinary experiences you should try: Betula Aspen was a delightful “French Pan-American” dinner. I loved the Ceviche “Bonito” and the Peruvian Lomo Saltado.
For Sunday brunch, we tried Element 47. Also part of The Little Nell, this posh-chic place serves delicious gourmet food and has a good wine program.
I had the duck ramen, which tasted even better as the powdery snow fell outside, but I was told the element 47 wagyu burger was also delicious.
It was time to come back to reality.
We drove 65 miles to Gypsum, where the Eagle County Regional Airport sits, and from where United Airlines operates a non-stop flight to New York La Guardia.
The ruggedly beautiful Colorado mountains that streamed on our windshield for an hour and a half lend themselves to reflection.
On the radio, a single mother shared tips on making ends meet during a global pandemic.