There are certain bragging rights that come with riding my beat-up used bike as I slalom between the trucks and taxis in New York City. Last July, however, I decided to exchange the exhaust of Manhattan’s avenues for the pristine air of the Rockies and my $200 Taiwanese ten-speed for a state-of-the-art Orbea road bike as I put my vacation in the hands of the “adventure concierges” at Aspen’s Little Nell.
The program, introduced in 2010, helps visitors to Aspen make the most of the myriad outdoor options each summer. My focus was on biking, but the concierges will also arrange fly-fishing, hiking and camping trips, and even help guests interested in the latest craze, stand-up paddling. On my first day, after being fitted on an Orbea that retails for several thousand dollars and practicing using bike clips (I don’t have them on my commuter cruiser), I headed out with several guests to the Maroon Bells, twin peaks that are one of the most photographed spots outside of Aspen. Despite the thin air, I made it to the end of the ride in about two hours even if I was near the back of the pack. A sighting of Lance Armstrong, an Aspen resident, helped make the ride complete. Highs were in the low 80s, dry and with only an occasional passing piece of fluff of a cloud in the sky. Before a hike up into the park at the base of the Bells, the Little Nell had arranged a picnic of faro salad, sandwiches and homemade ice cream popsicles.
Day two I headed out on a more daunting ride, to the top of Independence Pass at just over 12,000 feet. Again the weather cooperated, but the ride was longer and harder than the previous day’s. At 11,000 feet I started to waver and my friend and riding companion got me to wondering what was so significant about reaching the peak of the pass. Would I think less of myself if I stopped just a thousand feet short of my goal? I decided I would, and so persevered. Reaching the summit and standing on the continental divide in a field of snow at the height of summer, I felt a world away from the sweltering streets of New York. That night, I headed to the Aspen jazz festival, which highlights one of the strengths of Aspen in the summer – it’s both a sports mecca and a cultural capital of sorts, with a crowded calendar of concerts and readings.
Now I’d reached a tipping point – determined to get the most biking possible into my time in Colorado – and hopped on a cruiser headed to one of the many bike trails around the town of Aspen. Once there, I rode out to Woody Creek Tavern for their famous nachos. (The margaritas are also popular but as I was riding, I opted for the Arnold Palmers instead.)
The next day I decided to skip the road bike and signed up for Mountain Biking 101. Our group of about 10 guests boarded a shuttle van and headed to nearby Snowmass where we were put in the hands of a team of an instructor and two assistants. A lesson in the parking lot on the basics of mountain biking was followed by a ride on a specially designed course and then a descent of Snowmass Mountain. What to say about mountain biking? I’m a skier and not a snowboarder, and perhaps I am more of a road biker than a mountain biker (it seemed like a lot of dodging roots and rocks hoping not to get banged up too bad and not all that much fun.) That said, one of our instructors told me that “mountain biking is great… the third time you try it.” Perhaps my opinion will change if I try it twice more.
The next day I wanted to return to the road for one final ride before flying to Denver and then home to New York. A 90-minute ride took me to the ghost town of Ashcroft. Looking at the shockingly green grass and trees and the snow-covered peaks and crystal blue sky, it was hard to imagine the post-card perfect setting as once having been the rough-and-tumble haunt of scurvy-ridden miners. I then descended the mountain, returning to the Little Nell’s Montagna for a wagyu burger that would make any miner envious, and left determined to return to the Rockies again before summer’s end.
While my trip to Aspen involved a lot of physical activities—and I highly encourage those going to Aspen in the summertime to take advantage of all the activities that are inherently available to you through mother nature—there is plenty to do when you are not hiking, biking, fishing or climbing. The Little Nell in particular is an oasis of great food, drink and otherwise pampering accommodations replete with just about everything you could want to relax.