Many mountain resorts known for snowsports try to attract a summer clientele, but Aspen’s long history of cultural attractions outshines the rest.
With so many fair weather destinations, families often wonder why they should visit a terrific snowsports resort when there’s no snow. It makes some sense that a place that does something so well couldn’t possibly excel at the opposite. After all, the picture-perfect Western town of Aspen kneels at the foot of a steep mountain, as if in homage to the gods of snow. And yes, Aspen High School has its own chairlift.
But Aspen Ski Company —SkiCo for short— which owns and operates the Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk resorts covering 5,000 acres of western Colorado, is diffferent. The SkiCo resorts were designed to support their founding fathers’ ideals:
- Renew and nourish mind, body and spirit
- Encourage excellence in outdoor recreation and athletic achievement
- Demand responsible environmental stewardship
And they do this year-round. In fact, it’s the opportunity to live these principles in the beautiful Rocky Mountains that brings back many families for summer, whether for a multi-generational getaway or to enroll kids in some of the country’s top summer camps.
Snowmass in Summer
Of all the SkiCo resorts, Snowmass is most committed to families with children across the four seasons. Once the snows have melted and the mud has dried, the Snowmass Village Resort Association (a wellspring of information at 970/923-2000) turns its attention to summer.
Summer is the season when chairlifts welcome mountain bikes and/or walking sticks, and slopeside condos offer reduced rates.
Music Festivals & Performing Arts
One or two nights per week there are free concerts (Shelby Lynne and John Mooney are among past performers) outdoors in Snowmass Village. Other special events to nourish the mind, body, and spirit include June’s Jazz Aspen Snowmass Festival, July’s Mountain Bike Races, and August’s antiques show and Rocky Mountain Brewer’s Festival.
The famed Aspen Music Festival ( 970/925-3254) produces over 200 events indoors and out, many of them free, over nine weeks. Their music school, accepting outstanding students ages 8 and up for summer courses, is another big draw to the area.
If the world is your kids’ stage, the Aspen Theatre in the Park ( 970/920-5770) performs nightly in a tent by the bank of the Rio Grande. Their two-week summer camp clinics welcome 5 to 18-year-olds who want to perfect their dramaturgy.
The visual arts are equally well represented throughout Aspen, with the Anderson Ranch Arts Center ( 970/923-3181) at the core. Visitors to the sprawling ranch at the foot of Snowmass are welcome to attend free slide lectures two evenings a week. Additionally, one afternoon per week on a year-round basis, tours of this former sheep ranch’s workshops and in-house galleries are given for the public.
We loved our half-day book-binding class at the ranch, where a group of chldren from 8 to 14-years and their parents assembled their own Japanese-style hand-stitched books. Once the kids are hooked on this satisfyingly meticulous handcraft, think bigger. Explore the catalogue of fascinating three-week summer workshops, where adults and kids can carve and decorate their own skateboard, study Japanese ceramics, try their hand at watercolors, or sculpt in many styles while living in dorms and dining communally.
For a fun day out, the local Aspen Art Museum ( 970/925-8050) in Aspen town offers a less committed dip into arts education, with classes for children and adults, as well as free lectures and museum tours. During summer, they offer week-long workshops for grades 1 to 8 in topics such as color, design, texture and bookmaking, often in cooperation with other local institutions.
Be sure to allow leisure time when you’re in downtown Aspen. If you can take your eyes off the mountain soaring above the Main Street, you’ll enjoy the well preserved Wild West architecture and the Paradise Bakery’s ice cream selection.
Environmental & Outdoors Learning
Professional environmentalists and young tree-huggers study at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies ( 970/925-5756), whose 25-acre nature preserve housing injured birds of prey is right behind Aspen’s town post office. It’s open daily except Sunday for visitors, offering naturalist-led programs and guided nature walks on Aspen mountain and elsewhere. In the summer months, they offer camp workshops for grades 5 to 8 at three locations. Some are one day, others take a week, but the region’s natural history is always the focus.
Blazing Adventures ( 800/282-7238) is a local outfitter which caters to the really active side of your family. Whitewater rafting at the Shoshone Rapids or Cemetery Run (their name, not mine), flyfishing, cycle tours and hiking on Lost Man Trail (their name, not mine!) are only a few of the half-day programs. When you are worn out, consider their 4-wheel drive tours, hot air balloon rides, cooking classes or sightseeing/shopping tours.
Parents looking for their own summer camp experience? The 77,000-square-foot Aspen Club & Spa, a modern and attractive work-out facility, is available to those who want to stay put and get in shape, for a daily fee. Ditto: golf at the River Valley Ranch Golf Club 18-hole course.
Kids Summer Camp
If your kids are not driven in any particular direction, you don’t have to drive either. Just enroll them in Camp Snowmass ( 800/525-6200, ext. 4572) for ages 3-13. Crafts and science projects, outdoor recreation and other activities are held at Snowmass’ children’s headquarters, right in the heart of Snowmass Village. It’s an easy walk from all the condos, and the resort’s highly trained counselors take the kids on many outings.
The Sundeck Restaurant in the heart of Snowmass Village hosts free family activities, storytelling, shows and more each day. Snowmass’ Kids Night Out program runs all summer so parents can dine out at many of the fine local restaurants.
Summer Challenges for the Disabled
Challenge Aspen is one of the valley’s highlights: a world-renowned recreation program for disabled adults and children. In summer, Challenge Aspen takes advantage of its Rocky Mountain setting and state-of-the-art facilities to offer visitors adaptive techniques for whitewater rafting, kayaking, golf, tennis, hiking and swimming. The center’s guides are also available to work with participants on hand cycling and tandem biking. Lower key activities include fishing, nature tours and Jeep tours, and CA partners with local vendors to offer hot air ballooning and horseback riding.
In addition to sports, Challenge Aspen uses the town’s many local festivals and arts organizations to support children’s summer camps for the music, art and dance enthusiast. Week-long programs run by knowledgeable staff in a welcoming, safe and natural setting enable disabled kids to participate separate from their families.
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