To prove that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, one need look no further than winter travel patterns. Cold country folk faithfully make pilgrimages to sun-favored areas of the world, while those from the tropics can’t wait to don heavy fur coats and see their world covered in white. We live in a sweltering country, so come winter last year, we packed our long johns and ear muffs, and headed to the snowy side of the pasture.
My fiancée and I headed to Aspen, a former Coloradan silver mining town turned Winter X Games venue and snowsuit for the rich and famous. Everything in Aspen is big – big skies, big mountains, big lakes, and increasingly, big money being poured into the local real estate sector by the holiday home crowd. Perhaps it is the swanky downtown, with boutiques the likes of Gucci and the Prada, that reflect off the surrounding grandness of nature, enveloping the town in an upscale glow. Gazing longingly at window displays during our walk-by, we reminded ourselves that even if we were to buy something (which we shouldn’t anyway), there’d be no space in the luggage which was already brought over bulging with winter clothes. So we did what we came to Aspen to do, namely ski, shiver, and snuggle.
At home on the slopes
The popularity of the ski resort town has prompted the rise in many second or third homes, which owners rent out when they’re not in use to vacationers. There are a handful of hotels around Aspen, such as the fancy St. Regis Resort, but with we opted for a private escape instead to get a taste of what it feels like to have a second home should all our hard work pay off later in life. We browsed through the accommodation offerings, ranging from swanky penthouses to sprawling luxury mansions, and found a lovely 2 bedroom ski in/ ski out chalet. It wasn’t as contemporary as some of the apartments we looked at, but in many of the more modern pads we found the decor to be too cold, with sleek edges and stainless steel modernities. Our abode had a coziness about it, interiors warmed by a massive stone fireplace in the vaulted ceiling living area, with dark toned hardwood floors leading out to the patio and a hot tub to soothe the cold-bitten phalanges, with stunning mountain views to boot.
Snow ploughing escapades
We jumped right into ski-mode. Unfortunately, with a full year since our last downhill adventures, both our lower torsos from the waist down were screaming for mercy after just 2 days out on the slopes. We decided to take it easy for the remaining days leading up to Christmas, and hit the town instead of the piste. When it comes to fueling up for the ski-ing, Aspen is definitely not slim on it pickings, with delis and restaurants offering a wide range of restaurants ranging from Mexican to Italian, Japanese sushi to French. We could’ve sworn that the biting winter breeze whispered what sounded like a drawn out ‘cheese’ in our ears, so we kept our eyes peeled for a suitable eatery that would fit the bill. I see choosing a restaurant out of the haystack in an unfamiliar location akin to a game of musical chairs – you walk around and around, scouting everything you walk past, until the hunger pangs become too loud to ignore – then you stop. We stopped outside Rustique Bistro on Monarch Street, and peeped in the windows. White table cloth adorned with cutlery and wine glasses waiting to be filled. Sold. Positioning themselves as ‘Aspen’s Country French Bistro’, the pate spread, risotto, and cheesy macaroni with mushrooms and truffle oil immediately hit the spot.
Remembering the greats
Feeling happy but somewhat guilty, with hints of instant contented sleepiness surreptitiously creeping up, we continued strolling the streets. Coming across Explorer, a bookshop-cum-coffee shop, we stopped for an espresso boost and a browse. A khaki-colored book caught my eye, titled ‘Sanctuaries in the Snow’. The cover read ‘The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass’, accompanied by square images of what looked to be tree trunks decorated with various posters, drawings, and signs. It was different, and author profits were claimed to go towards a scholarship fund, so we picked that up, retiring to our chalet for some location education.
The book, compiled by David Wood, details over 50 of the region’s shrines (not to mention benches, plaques, and other miscellaneous displays), with many photographs of the memorials scattered along neighboring Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass, each dedicated to a wide range of people and causes, ranging from a 9/11 Memorial to a shrine to Jerry Garcia of legendary rock band Grateful Dead, not to mention accolades to hometown favorites Hunter S. Thompson and John Denver. Locals have been nailing photos, signs, and hanging memorabilia onto trees in honor of noteworthy individuals and events since the 1980s and each of these memorial spots come with a back story. For example, the shrine of Aspen local Hunter S. Thompson, of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ fame, was created on the first anniversary of his untimely death, and is decorated with a laminated Rolling Stones cover, various signage boasting the word ‘gonzo’, and a bottle of Chivas whiskey hanging from the tree.
The shrines’ upkeep and maintenance are taken care of by individual fans, which means some of the memorial sites come and go, the decorative curios on others evolving over time. We explored some of the makeshift memorials on our trip. While not impressive in themselves, the fact that people care enough to keep the memories of some of their heros burning was touching, a reminder that proved especially appropriate for the holiday season, the time to appreciate loved ones while you can.
From 2003 – 2010, The Aspen Times newspapers have reported on a public poll-decided “Best Shrine” of the year. The winners are as follows:
- 2003: Jerry Garcia (Honorable mentions: John Denver, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix)
- 2004: Jerry Garcia
- 2005: Jerry Garcia (Honorable mentions: John Denver, Elvis Presley)
- 2006: Jerry Garcia (Honorable mentions: John Denver, Storm King)
- 2007: Elvis Presley (Honorable mentions: John Denver, Jimi Hendrix, Fort Frog, ‘Lady Shrine Highlands’, ‘Naked Lady Shrine Shack’, Yankee Stadium)
- 2008: Jerry Garcia (Honorable mentions: John Denver, Elvis Presley, Eric Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Chicks on Sticks)
- 2010: Jerry Garcia (Honorable mentions: Elvis Presley, John Denver, Marilyn Monroe, Hunter S. Thompson, Storm King)