Although it is one of the world’s most glamorous ski destinations, Aspen still has fewer than 7,000 full-time residents, with development restricted by the steep terrain and rigid zoning laws. But despite a small population, the town boasts a vibrant cultural scene. The Aspen Institute draws luminaries from around the world for its annual Ideas Festival; the Wheeler Opera House hosts events during music and film festivals; and the Aspen Art Museum has just unveiled a dramatic new building.
Interspersed in forests of Western white pine and blue spruce, groves of aspen trees glowed golden on the mountains.
In addition, Aspen supports two daily newspapers, cutting-edge art galleries and a part-time ballet company. It may be a small mountain town, but urbanites invariably feel right at home. Of course, most winter visitors come for the skiing. Besides the slopes rising at the edge of downtown, three other mountains nearby offer world-class runs accessed by a total of more than 40 lifts. The region usually receives between 200 and 400 inches of snow annually, making for a deep base, but this does not translate into weeks of slate-gray skies. Aspen averages around 250 to 300 sunny days each year.
On this occasion, my visit was in autumn, a season of sensational colors. Interspersed in forests of Western white pine and blue spruce, groves of aspen trees glowed golden on the mountains. The hiking was sublime. The primary purpose of my pre-ski-season trip, however, was to inspect my three recommended hotels, two of which recently completed major renovations.
I was particularly interested to see the refurbished 94-room Hotel Jerome, managed since 2011 by Auberge Resorts. The rejuvenation of this historic hotel, built in 1889 at the height of Aspen’s silver boom, took only about five months, but the results are astonishing. Designer Todd-Avery Lenahan swept away the conservative Victorian décor in favor of Western-inspired elements. Public spaces and guest rooms are now contemporary but still rich with a sense of place. The airy lobby lounge is uncompromisingly masculine, with a rug made from belt-like strips of cowhide, tan leather Chesterfields and framed black-and-white photos of horses and vintage race cars, all presided over by a grand oil painting of the founder of the hotel, Jerome Wheeler. Just beyond, The Living Room bar has the air of a wealthy frontiersman’s cabinet of curiosities. Cozy seating groups around the fireplace invite leisurely conversation over after-dinner drinks. Much more relaxed than the Jerome’s ever-lively J-Bar, it quickly became my favorite space in the hotel.
This exhibited a similarly stylish Western décor, blending traditional and contemporary elements into a coherent whole.
A bright hallway leads from The Living Room past a heated outdoor swimming pool to the hotel’s second building. We rode an elevator paneled with leather belts up to our spacious fourth-floor suite. This exhibited a similarly stylish Western décor, blending traditional and contemporary elements into a coherent whole. The living room included a leather sleeper sofa, plaid-upholstered burl-wood chairs accompanying a black marble-topped dining table, and a leather-clad writing desk. A chest of drawers and an ample closet offered storage in the hallway, off of which a striking bath with dual vanities and a separate tub gleamed with black marble and chrome. The corner bedroom was flooded with light during the day, affording views of the nearby mountains. Heavy cream-colored flannel drapes shaded the arched windows, and at night, we read by table lamps formed from silvery logs.
The Jerome’s fine Prospect restaurant also has a masculine décor. At lunch, the terrace provides peerless people-watching. We started with delicious edamame, redolent of sesame oil and spicy heat. The flawlessly cooked trout was even better, with moist flesh and a crunchy mustard crust, accompanied by al dente orzo with basil and roasted tomatoes. Each table receives a pan of delectable cornbread and addictive bacon marmalade.
As part of the renovation, Auberge Resorts has added a small spa in the basement, centered on an attractive relaxation lounge appointed with wood and leather. Treatments range from anti-aging therapies to a “High Altitude Sports Recovery Massage.” Through an exclusive partnership with the renowned Aspen Club & Spa, the Jerome’s guests also enjoy access to its advanced fitness programming and internationally recognized Sports Medicine Institute.
In effect, the redesign has created an entirely new hotel. The Jerome may be located on East Main Street, seven blocks from the base of the Silver Queen Gondola, but it is unquestionably back at the center of Aspen life.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The exceptionally stylish Western design; the thoughtful service; the mountain views from our bedroom.
DISLIKE: The J-Bar is so popular, it can be difficult to get a seat.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Jerome will appeal to those who don’t require a ski-in/ski-out resort; like all three of my recommended properties, it offers a complimentary airport shuttle.
Hotel Jerome 95 Premier Mountain-View King, $950; One-Bedroom Suite, $1,490. 330 East Main Street, Aspen, Co 81611. Tel. (970) 920-1000.
Just a short walk away, the 179-room St. Regis Aspen has also undergone a recent renovation. According to its website, the interior seeks to emulate a “contemporary version of a Gilded Age mountainside manor.” A wood-paneled entry hall with chinoiserie accents gives way to a double-sided fireplace and a lounge done in creams and grays that faces the courtyard and mountains beyond. Reception and butler desks stand before walls clad in gray felt with intricate floral cutouts. Hallway wallpapers have silvery floral patterns or prints resembling oversize toile de Jouy. A dramatic equestrian painting hangs above the bar.
I found myself inevitably drawn to the new Astor Library, a small but exceedingly comfortable wood-paneled salon with a combination of Western and art deco furnishings.
Chocolate-brown and earth tones reigned in our suite, relieved by a colorful print of a Western-inspired Hermès scarf. It was too warm outside to make much use of our two gas fireplaces, but I did appreciate the comfy sofa, the trunk-inspired Ralph Lauren work desk, the simple but striking bedroom furnishings and the well-laid-out travertine bath with a deep soaking tub. When not relaxing in our suite, I found myself inevitably drawn to the new Astor Library, a small but exceedingly comfortable wood-paneled salon with a combination of Western and art deco furnishings. Outside, a wide patio with fire pits faces the pool terrace, which has inspiring views of Aspen Mountain. Surrounded by cushioned loungers, the outdoor heated pool and its three hot tubs can be used in winter.
New dining options at The St. Regis include Trecento Quindici Decano, chiefly for Italian dishes, plus Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE, where a rotating roster of award winners from the magazine’s “Best New Chefs” list develops the menus. At the latter venue, I enjoyed savory gougères, followed by an appetizer of flavorful Colorado lamb agnolotti. My main course of Provençal seafood stew — full of shell-free lobster, crab, mussels, clams, shrimp and halibut — was equally delicious.
The resort’s Remède Spa enjoys an international reputation, and indeed, the facilities are impressive. Those with a spa treatment reservation have access to locker rooms with jetted pools, saunas, steam rooms and cold plunge pools. A crescent-shaped pool fed by three waterfalls links the locker rooms. A vapor cave and massaging waterfall have been added, and the fitness center is newly renovated.
Though the resort abuts Aspen Mountain, The St. Regis is not a ski-in/ski-out property. Like the Hotel Jerome, it has a complimentary ski shuttle. This takes guests to either Gondola Plaza (to access Aspen Mountain runs) or the Rubey Park transportation center, where public shuttles serve the other three ski areas.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The luxurious décor of the public spaces; the commendable Chefs Club restaurant; our friendly and very helpful butler; the spacious spa.
DISLIKE: The occasional service missteps.
GOOD TO KNOW: Instead of levying an inclusive resort fee, like the Jerome and The Little Nell, The St. Regis charges separately for entry to the spa and in-room Wi-Fi.
St. Regis Aspen 92 Deluxe King, $1,015; One-Bedroom Suite, $1,765. 315 East Dean Street, Aspen, Co 81611. Tel. (970) 920-3300.
At the highest point, panoramas encompassed landmarks such as the Highland Bowl and the distant Maroon Bells, and when we descended Summer Road, the entirety of Aspen was spread below us.
As close as The St. Regis and the Hotel Jerome are to the slopes, no property in Aspen can top the location of The Little Nell, directly adjacent to the Silver Queen Gondola. The 91-room family-owned hotel offers ski services similar to those of the Jerome and The St. Regis, as well as Friday “Powder Tours” on the resort’s snowcat. With days still in the 70s during our stay, we opted instead for a two-hour Jeep tour up Midnight Mine Road and back down Summer Road on the face of Aspen Mountain. Our personable driver-guide, Kit, had lived in Aspen for six years and was well-acquainted with the region’s geography, nature and history. The drive was stupendously scenic, as the town quickly gave way to mountains covered in a patchwork of deep greens and shimmering yellows. At the highest point, panoramas encompassed landmarks such as the Highland Bowl and the distant Maroon Bells, and when we descended Summer Road, the entirety of Aspen was spread below us.
Back at the resort, I quickly discovered that service remains exceptional. Many staff members knew our names within hours of our arrival. My first morning, for example, I sat down with a newspaper in the cheerful Living Room lounge. Immediately, a staffer approached, greeted me by name and offered coffee. I declined, but she brought over bar snacks and a glass of water in any case. And the assistant manager of element 47, The Little Nell’s gourmet restaurant, proved immensely helpful in securing reservations on a Monday night when many places, including her own establishment, were closed.
Named for silver’s position on the periodic table, element 47 serves ambitious and creative cuisine. Later in the week, I enjoyed a light, sophisticated and beautifully composed appetizer of Maine lobster with fennel jam and Meyer lemon. This was followed by succulent Colorado lamb loin with baby artichokes and delicious cube-shaped chickpea fritters. The wine list is extensive, well-chosen and predictably expensive.
We found the accommodations at The Little Nell to be in excellent shape. We had reserved a Premium Mountainside Room, which overlooked the tree-studded courtyard patio, a heated outdoor pool and Aspen Mountain. The contemporary space had a sumptuously soft king bed and a leather armchair and ottoman. I particularly liked the dining group facing the gas fireplace, composed of an attractive walnut table, a biscuit-colored leather chair and a chocolate suede banquette. This allowed room service meals to be consumed in a civilized manner. I also appreciated the well-designed limestone-tile bath, which had ample counter space, a separate tub and fluffy robes. Even the light switches were thoughtfully installed, with clear labels and master switches by the door and nightstand.
Although the interior design at The Little Nell does not quite reach the heights of that in the reinvented Hotel Jerome, and the spa does not have the space or amenities of the one in The St. Regis, the resort remains a top choice because of its unparalleled location and warm, attentive service.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The ideal ski-in/ski-out location; the attentive service; the convivial Ajax Tavern.
DISLIKE: The design feels a tad uninspired compared to that of The St. Regis and Hotel Jerome.
GOOD TO KNOW: A free test-drive program allows guests to take an Audi on an independent half-day excursion.
The Little Nell 95 Premium Mountainside Room, $1,240; Mountainside One-Bedroom Suite, $4,210. 675 East Durant Avenue, Aspen, Co 81611. Tel. (970) 920-4600.
This article appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report under the headline “Aspen: Classic Hotels Restyled and Refreshed.”
Illustrations © Melissa Colson