The first thing I saw was the wok. Granted, there is nothing quite like walking off a plane in a distant city and meeting an old friend at the curbside. Brother Sesko looked happy behind the wheel of his Subaru, like only a man driving free into the mountains can. His 188 Line Prophets with Marker AT bindings on the roof boded well for our journey. But when he opened the passenger door, all I saw was an impenetrable tangle of random junk.
There was a set of test tubes holding different colored gourmet salts collected from places like Hawaii, Cyprus and Persia. There were stacks of artwork wrapped in yoga mats, a backgammon set, and an antique copper whale weathervane riddled with small bullet holes.
“Mike! What the heck? Why do we need a rusty copper whale on a stick?”
“Mike, don’t start harassing your driver. Get in the car.”
By the time we turned off of I-70 in Glenwood Springs, the rusty weathervane had stabbed me in the back of the head no fewer than five times, and I was on the phone looking for this road trip’s own white whale: an affordable hotel in Aspen.
I googled the word “chalet” and called the first result that popped up. Rooms there started at $230, which was out of our range, but actually on the low end for the southern Roaring Fork Valley, where rooms can be had for $400, $800 or $1200 per night, even during the slow weeks after New Years.
We were directed to the St. Moritz, an Aspen classic that mixes the best character traits of this iconic ski town with amenities that far exceed the prices. The best of these perks is a hot pool heated to a constant 102 degrees and open every evening from 4 to 8 p.m. Inside, a crew of long-time, long-term lodgers gathers every morning to read the local papers over coffee and a complimentary breakfast. Each night, the same group reconvenes for chardonnay and cookies and what feels like a silent oath to uphold the misfit history of Aspen, a funky stew that still simmers behind the heavy glass doors of luxury hotels and designer boutiques.
Some of these loyal lodgers were staying at the St. Moritz for upwards of 60 days, and the longer you stay, the lower the rates. During off-peak weeks, shared hostel rooms start at an amazing $31 a night. Regular hotel rooms are a reasonable $135, and there are also shared bathroom rooms for less, as well as condominiums for more.
We were charmed by the St. Mortiz, but distracted by our other goals. Skiing is the priority, and the first accelerating turns on Aspen Mountain (the former Ajax) were shots of adrenaline and spoonfuls of nectar for our snow-parched souls. Both of us had been secretly worried about whether the skiing would come back effortlessly, or be a grueling and humbling embarrassment. Aspen, it turns out, does the work for you. The grooming at both Ajax and Highlands was perfect—soft corduroy that made those first turns on uneasy legs no problem. They call this “hero snow” for a reason. After two runs, Brother Sesko and I came to the conclusion that we were American Heros. It’s a dangerous form of pride, but a day in Aspen has been known to cause hallucinations and delusions of grandeur.
In the next chapter: Aspen Underground.
Editor’s Note: Liftopia travel bloggers Michael Ames and Michael Sesko have just embarked on the road trip of a lifetime. In a mere two weeks, they’ll be hitting up all four Mountain Collective resorts: Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. They’ll be documenting their journey right here on the Liftopia blog in a series called The Mountain Collective Chronicles; from early mornings to late nights, from snowy slopes to ski towns, from meetings with Mother Nature to close encounters of the local kind, follow along each week as bits and pieces of Ames and Sesko’s story are revealed. Want to play a hand in shaping their adventure? Keep an eye on the Liftopia blog, Facebook page & Twitter handle— we’ll be asking YOU to suggest the gnarliest trails, the best places to grab chili cheese fries, and the coolest après bars near each of these four legendary ski areas. Now, without further ado… The Mountain Collective Chronicles! For the first chapter, click here.
About Michael Ames: Michael Ames is a reformed Idaho ski bum. But thanks to Liftopia and the Mountain Collective pass, he recently fell off that wagon. To see his non-ski-related work, visit www.michael-ames.com.
About Mike Sesko: Mike is a sustainable agriculture entrepreneur with a penchant for discount lift tickets. He grew up skiing the icy peaks of southern New England but often hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to get his Western fix. Sesko often dreamed of making these bigger and steeper mountains his home but could not leave his roots behind. After 32 years of New England clam chowder, he is ditching the double agent lifestyle and moving to the Bay Area in search of more fertile ski fields.