For some locals who don’t have the good fortune to be able to split to exotic beach locales for the off-season, this time presents a welcome respite from the busy-ness of the on-season — a chance to slow down the pace of life, maybe take up that knitting project or reorganize the sock drawer.
More realistically, Aspen’s A-types are not ones to sit still for very long — hence the weekend mountain bike excursions to the desert or training for the next marathon or endurance race.
If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re in town and looking for something to do. If you look beyond downtown’s empty streets and darkened restaurants, it’s not that hard to stay busy in the off-season. Here are a few suggestions.
The best winter in years isn’t over just because the local lifts aren’t spinning. In fact, this is the spring to be touring, as the season’s generous snowfall means less of a lower-elevation scramble through mud and grass and more high-elevation snow cover. And the most recent storm and cool temperatures should keep things fresh for a few days.
For convenience, hiking up the closed ski areas should result in some fresh turns — Bell Mountain and Highland Bowl are both still adequately covered (though beware of wet slides and heavy snow on south and west aspects). These are also fairly safe calls as they’ve been controlled most of the season.
If you’re into peak-bagging, classic local summits such as Mount Sopris (12,965 feet), Hayden Peak (13,561 feet) and Castle Peak (14,279 feet) are relatively popular destinations these days — and word is, the skiing’s pretty good.
Count on a pre-dawn alpine start, a long skin, and bringing and knowing how to use avalanche safety gear. The recent storm elevated today’s avalanche risk to “considerable,” according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, so things may take a few days to settle down.
Some locals are traveling for lift-served skiing. At A-Basin, an 80-inch base should make for some good turns through its anticipated early June closing, and the terrain parks are still going, with a free rail jam on May 11. Also in Colorado, Breckenridge is open through May 27, and Winter Park winds up its season May 12.
Spring into summer
Locals in the know don’t rely on a calendar to switch over to summerly activities such as hiking, biking, and paddleboarding — they go when they feel like it.
Popular hiking trails are blessedly calm and quiet these days. Of course, Smuggler and the Rio Grande are year-round traditions. Patches of snow on the Hunter Creek Trail above the Benedict Bridge are not much of a bother for the surefooted — in general, expect to walk through some snow on higher-elevation trails.
Road bikers have been enjoying vehicle-free stretches of pavement (lined by snowbanks at times) toward Independence Pass — still tentatively scheduled to open May 23 as crews struggle to remove massive amounts of snow — and the Maroon Bells, where the seasonal opening of the road to the world-famous tourist attraction has been delayed by a month, from May 15 to June 15.
Mountain bikers are enjoying the drier trails and pleasant weather of the mid- and lower valley, with reports of great riding in the Prince Creek and Mushroom Rock networks of trails.
In the upper valley, seasonal closures end May 15 at Sky Mountain Park, Seven Star and Rim Trail North, while the Government and Burnt Mountain trails won’t open until June 21.
Golfers should be happy to know that the city-owned Aspen Golf Course opens for play today. And paddleboarders, canoeists and kayakers with good neoprene booties can enjoy the swift flows of spring runoff on the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River during a rare period of human inactivity.
A&E: Quality over quantity
You’re not one of those came-for-the-winter-but-stayed-for-summer people; rather, the abundance of arts and culture in this urbane mountain town is your draw. The local events calendar is a little thin, true, but there’s still plenty to scratch the itch.
At the Aspen Art Museum, which doesn’t close or reduce its hours during the off-season, five exhibits are on view, although the winterlong Zombies: Pay Attention! exhibition ends May 12. Guided tours, family workshops and other events continue through the off-season.
Live-music fans should be psyched to see a steady lineup of shows at the Belly Up in May (Zepparella, anyone?), along with free or bargain-level low ticket prices. Or, grab a bucket of popcorn and catch up with the latest releases at the Isis Movie Theater in Aspen or Movieland in El Jebel.
If you’re a more active than passive cultural consumer, the Red Brick Arts Center offers some appealing creative classes. Learn the fundamentals of watercolor in an Adult Watercolor Class, May 14 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., or the ever-popular Masterpiece Mine, in which you attempt to recreate a masterpiece painting, on May 21 and May 28.
The Red Brick is also offering Bauhaus Costume Workshops on Wednesday evenings, where participants create their own costumes for the June 6 Bauhaus Ball at the Wheeler, but it is currently full with a waitlist. Check out redbrickaspen.com for more info.
Love your local library
Not enough people probably appreciate the fantastic resource that is the Pitkin County Library, especially since it moved back into its expanded and renovated Mill Street headquarters in June 2016. Much more than a repository for stacks and stacks of books, this modern media center is a cool hangout for all ages.
Families are likely quite familiar by now with the expanded, light-filled children’s room, with its cozy nooks for reading or studying, play and activity area, and plenty of kids’ events and activities year-round. There’s also a wealth of events and programming for teens (check out the escape room challenge today at 4 p.m.) and a small café area with vending machines and seating.
And then there’s the Library Lab, a makerspace for all manner of creative types. Swing by to build a Lego set or put together a 1000-piece puzzle. Or dedicate some time for a project in specialized areas complete with all the necessary equipment: Digital art and media, sound recording, game design and 3D printing, coding and sewing.
Lest you think the original purpose of the library — borrowing books and other media — is passé, the staff does a great job of mountain temporary themed and timely displays that are sure to attract patrons’ interest. As part of the local Bauhaus 100 centennial celebration, for example, a collection of books on the design movement is displayed near the library’s entrance, including several copies of a book to go along with a meet-the-author Bauhaus Book Club discussion on May 15. Another display highlights new music — books and CDs in every possible genre.
Do nothing (really)
In a recent column in Aspen’s other newspaper, local native Tony Vagneur picked up on this concept of judging a place by the volume of its offerings.
“When isn’t Aspen consumed by events?” wrote Vagneur. “Are we so bored and afraid of experiencing the peacefulness of the mountains that we keep our earbuds plugged in at all times, providing the needed, requisite noise in between concerts, festivals and whatever else anyone believes is important at the moment?”
Vagneur also evoked the words of authors Peggy Clifford and John Smith, who in their 1970 book “Aspen Dreams and Dilemmas” lamented that “until 1960, Aspen was unique and beautiful and peaceful, then events conspired to alter the character of the place.”
Something to contemplate as you practice the Dutch concept of niksen, which literally means to be idle, to do nothing. This stress-relief practice, profiled recently in The New York Times and on The Today Show, is a novel idea for always-busy, overscheduled Americans who prize multitasking and efficiency. It can mean staring out the window or listening to music while doing nothing else; practicing niksen a few minutes to an hour a day is supposed to restore and recharge, maybe even allow space for solutions to a problem or a creative start to a project.
And no, reorganizing the sock drawer does not count.