Every ski town has its own DNA. There is a unique culture that makes Telluride Telluride, and Mammoth Mammoth. These are small places with outsized personalities, and every town strives to be a destination like no other. The Mountain Collective was our passport to four of the most iconic mountain towns in the country, and for us, Aspen was the perfect place to start.

Aspen is civilized. In many Western ski towns, there is a ragged edge, a whiff of disorder. But here in the high country of central Colorado, even the most metropolitan skier can feel at home. New York-quality restaurants and bars hide around every corner (the best bargain meal in town might be the bar menu at Brexi.)


There are little things, too, that set this place apart. At the base of each of Aspen’s four mountains, there are signs reminding dog owners to keep their pets on leashes, and people seem to actually follow this rule. This means no strays begging for pieces of your leftover frozen Clif Bar, and unlike my old home of Ketchum, Idaho, no Terrier Tootsie Rolls lying stealth under a thin layer of overnight snowfall.

Aspen: The Civilized Ski Town
Aspen even had a way of knowing what needed before we did.

“Is that free coffee?” Sesko asked, incredulous. He was bone tired from his cross-country drive, and we had been walking in our boots and carrying our skis about a half-mile when we spotted the first of many Green Mountain Coffee kiosks that dot the mountain bases.

“I…I think it is!” I said, and gratefully filled a cup for our first ride up Ajax.

Green Mountain Coffee at Aspen/Snowmass
Of course, not all of Aspen is so refined. It’s absolutely worth stopping into the Gonzo Museum and gallery, a low-key shrine to the town’s most infamous resident writer and raconteur, Hunter S. Thompson. Sesko and I popped in for a planned ten minutes that turned into a long and lively night of food, drinks and plenty of stories that have no place in this family friendly blog. Suffice to say, the Other Aspen of misfits and cowboys still thrives, just under the cover of high society.

On the snow and in town, we noticed an an unusual number of people traveling alone. It was one more way this little town felt like a big city. I shared one gondola with a paraglider who looked like a cross between George Harrison and a young Jesus Christ, and a stylish woman from Long Island named Loretta. Loretta was wearing an amazing pair of broken-in, dark-mahogany leather mittens, but unlike me and my poser friends, she hadn’t just picked these up at some thrift shop. And on top of her form-fitting, deep-purple one-piece, Loretta wore a matching, well-worn leather fanny pack. “Only in Aspen,” I thought, can a good skier wear a fanny-pack over a onesie, and make it look good.

Ski lifts provide instant intimacy, a safe place for strangers to share Cliff Note versions of their life stories. In less than ten minutes, Loretta told us that in a past life, she had a career in Long Island as a long distance water skier.

“I hold the record,” she said, smiling, “for waterskiing from Montaulk Point to Bloc Island.” After a number of years, she got tired of that gig and she gave up the waters of the Long Island Sound for the snow of Colorado. Loretta, it seemed, is a wise soul, the type who knows what’s real from what’s fake. She comes to Aspen and wears her old mittens because she figured out, like so many have, that the simple act of skiing all day makes her happy.



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/SnowmassJackson HoleAlta 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

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.


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Sub-Categories North America / Ski / Snowboard / The Mountain Collective / Travel

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