Aspen, Vail, Beaver Creek, Colorado Springs… the very mention of these North American mountain towns conjures images of snow globe-pretty villages and après-ski luxury.
But visit in summer and it’s hard to imagine these world-famous ski resorts attract up to 762cm of annual snowfall. When the hard-pack snow clings to just the peaks of Colorado’s mountains (there’s 58 ‘fourteeners’ aka peaks over 14,000 feet or 4,267m) with only scattered patches below the treeline, the resulting runoff creates a lush, green landscape that’s at odds with the low humidity of this arid US state.
Come summer, these high-altitude towns and resorts bloom into a hotbed of activity – Coloradans are always hiking, cycling, walking their dogs, cycling with their dogs and just generally getting outdoors to soak up some 300 days of sunshine a year. Add craft beer festivals, pop-up events and barbecues to the mix, and you’ve got yourself plenty of reasons to visit Colorado’s winter resorts in the summer months.
This world-famous resort town may be a celeb magnet, but the style is ultra-casual. No need for heels on these atmospheric cobblestone streets! Aspen has one of the few bricks-and-mortar stores for cult athleisure brand Outdoor Voices (OV founder Ty Haney hails from Boulder, Colorado) and this sporty aesthetic permeates the town.
Saddle up on a half-day cycling trip with Blazing Adventures on the Rio Grande Trail – a stunning and sometimes elevated 12.8km dirt track along the Roaring Fork River (you can also do whitewater rafting here as well). Halfway into the ride, you’ll come across a memorial to one of Colorado’s favourite adopted sons, John Denver, with the singer-songwriter’s famous lyrics etched into stones. The end of the road is the divey Woody Creek Tavern for a thirst-quenching drink (those dirt tracks are dusty!) before a van ride back into town.
This being the west, your next stop should be Kemo Sabe, a western outfitter in downtown Aspen (the Aspen outlet is the original and there are two other stores in Vail and Las Vegas). This is the spot to nab a pair of cowboy boots or a hat – both kitschy and restrained options are available. The knowledgeable staff (hi Lindsay and Michelle!) will have you crushing on their prairie style and will also show you how the hats are made and how to best to accessorise your new headgear. As Colorado was built on silver mining, go with that!
Aspen Kitchen serves modern American cuisine with a western aesthetic – the honey-lacquered thick-cut bacon appetiser presented on a clothesline makes for quite the Instagram fave. Vegans won’t go hungry either, the General Tso’s cauliflower on farro was a hit with omnivores and plant-based eaters alike. Make sure you head outdoors for views of the mountains and downtown Aspen by the communal fire pits.
The Little Nell is your boutique retreat and a little slice of 5-star heaven. A recent reno has seen this 92-room hotel updated with muted decor in a soothing neutral palette. My Premium Town Side Guest Room was a sumptuous wonder of soft furnishings and my very own fireplace (so cosy!). Even the slippers were plush and I still dream about that bed.
Top tip: The Maroon Bells within White River National Forest is a must-stop on the drive between Aspen and Beaver Creek. Head here early to witness the reflection of the still snow-capped peaks in the mirror image of the lake before the sun rises too high. Magic!
Nestled in the Rockies and located in the Vail Valley, Beaver Creek is a mountain village and part of Vail Resorts. Summer season unofficially kicks off in late May with the Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival – a sudsy weekend event in the town centre with an array of entertainment (blues), craft beer and cider from 30 Colorado-based breweries; and stalls by top chefs from around the state pumping out all kinds of barbecued meats, hot buttered corn and all the sides (mac’n’cheese, jalopeno cornbread, coleslaw and more).
Head up Beaver Creek Mountain on the Centennial Express chairlift or gondola (which will get you from the Summer Adventure Center up to Spruce Saddle Lodge) and bike or hike down one of the many trails. Beginners can hit the Spruce Saddle Loop and hike or bike the Discovery Loop, intermediate hikers can follow the Overlook Trail down to the Adventure Center, and the expert Corkscrew Trail will take mountain bikers down a zig-zagging route.
Beaver Creek has a charming pedestrian market square lined with an assortment of designer labels, athleisure gear and sporting apparel and plenty of galleries to browse. There’s also heaps of sporting rental outlets for any other outdoors gear you might be missing.
The intimate Mirabelle boutique restaurant is thought to be the site of the first home in Vail Valley and is located between Beaver Creek and Avon. With a charming porch to welcome you and a cosy interior, it’s a romantic date night spot. Under Belgian master chef Daniel Joly, diners are treated to a special presentation of French-style seasonal fare and fine wines that accommodates all dietary requirements.
It’s ski-in, ski-out in winter, but the babbling brook and wraparound decks show The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain knows how to wow in summertime too. With crackling fires in the lobby (and in your room), outdoor heated pool and snacks behind the counter for visiting canines, it’s a luxe resort that’s friendly and approachable as well. I also loved the Westin lavender sleep balm in my Studio Suite – such a thoughtful touch. The breakfast buffet here is also a treat (those lush, fresh summertime berries!), plus for those who need a caffeine kick-start, there’s an onsite Starbucks for a barista-made coffee.
My base in Colorado Springs was the The Broadmoor, a storied 5-star resort destination that’s a micro city in itself and celebrates its centenary in 2018. A quick tour of the expansive grounds reveals a lake (complete with a gliding pair of white swans), manicured and terraced gardens, championship golf courses, a fly-fishing camp and a whopping 20 onsite dining options, including the authentic 19th-century English gastropub, Golden Bee, where staff will flick an embroidered custom bee sticker at you when you finish a pint. It’s a classic resort filled with legendary characters and luxury accents at every turn. Even the lawn is luxe with long, plush green grass that’s perfect to sink into.
Um, where to start? There’s catch-and-release fly fishing at the onsite lake filled with rainbow trout, or learning how to hold a raptor as part of the falconry program. Rosco, one of the two resident Harris hawks, was surprising gentle even when he landed on my head! The Broadmoor also has its own natural attraction – Seven Falls – where you can walk up the 224 steep steps of an iron staircase to look down at the cascading falls. And that’s just a fraction of the many things to do on offer here.
The Broadmoor boasts Colorado’s only Forbes 5-star, AAA Five-Diamond restaurant, Penrose Room. With elegant honey-hued banquettes, a dancefloor and entertainment (Lila has been the resident singer for 30 years!)to complement the European-style fare, it’s a special occasion kinda place and one I was lucky to sample. Toasting the Pikes Peak and lake backdrop with Champagne bubbles, it was a decadent and memorable meal in the mountains. The breakfast buffet at Ristorante del Lago is another highlight (Aussies, you can get your avo toast here!) with bountiful berries and a barista-made coffee that’s served with a sugar swizzle stick.
This resort, with 24 boutiques on site, has its own retail plaza for whatever tickles your shopping fancy. Cafe Julie’s is the spot for handmade chocolates from the new onsite chocolate shop, or nab a souvenir for the kids back home.
Uh, on site of course. Expect opulent, grandiose and spacious rooms at this ever-so elegant hotel that’s hosted royalty of the regal and celeb variety. The four-poster bed in my room was fit for royalty and the bathroom shutters open up the room to provide even more space. It’s very plush and you may never want to leave. Oh, and you also receive signature Broadmoor chocolates with the turndown service. Seriously, every detail is considered here.
All images: Cassandra Laffey