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The ‘Next Aspen’: Part V

By David Frey, 1-02-08

altWhere do I look for the soul of Aspen? Among the snowboarders chowing greasy sandwiches at Johnnie McGuire’s deli? In Gucci, where handbags sell for thousands? At the foot of Aspen Mountain, where fans rings cowbells to cheer women’s World Cup racers?

Resort towns invariably look at Aspen as the Glitter Gulch they don’t want to become. But as the resort economy sucks them in, they look to Aspen for the way out. The town they considered the devil becomes their guardian angel.

Before I end my search for the “next Aspen,” I guess I better stop in at the first Aspen.

Mayor Mick Ireland looks for the soul of Aspen on his computer screen. He pulls up a map of Aspen’s tony West End neighborhood and studies it like a palm reader. Red houses are second homes. The handful of blue ones? Primary residences. Sporadic red dots mark Aspen voters. Ireland lived here back in the ’80s when worker bees rented those old Victorians. Now, they mostly stay dark.

“You see it in a lot of resorts,” he says. “The conversion of local strongholds into these neo-Beowulfian buildings with no one living there.”

Aspen has gone farther down the surreal resort road than most. Traffic? It can take an hour just to get out of town. Mom-and-pops? They’re yielding to Brioni. A hotel costs three figures a night in high season, even at a low-end lodge.

Other resorts worry about driving out the workforce. Aspen drove away workers so long ago, those towns have driven them away even farther. Eighteen miles to Basalt. Thirty to Carbondale. Eighty to Rifle.

Link to Part V and others