NewWest.Net Highlight: The ‘Next Aspen’: Part I

By David Frey, 12-29-07

altA week before the slopes are set to open for winter, Park City, Utah’s streets – wet with rain that can’t bring itself to turn into snow – are nearly empty. It is the depths of off-season, when tourists and part-timers are gone and resort towns turn themselves back to the locals. So where are the locals? As I walk down the street, I can’t help but feeling a little like this old mining town has become a ghost town.

Park City marks the beginning of my off-season journey through some of the Rockies’ premier ski resort towns, not in search of powder days but of a resource even more precious to ski towns than snow: the character that gives each community its unique sense of place. These are towns that, along with their neighbors, have undergone some of the most dramatic recent changes in the West.

They also serve as bellwethers as more and more towns become caught up in an economy based less on traditional resources than on lifestyle. It’s not even about skiing anymore. It is about people seeking out a corner of the West that calls to them.

altThree places around town are busy. At the sports bar, football fans gather for the game of their choice on flat screens flickering around the bar. Above town, equipment rumbles at the construction site for the massive new resort hotel rising out of the mountainside. And at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 150 Latinos – a growing anchor of the city’s workforce – gather for Spanish Mass.

“¡Que viva Jesus Cristo!” Father James Flynn intones.


My journey will end in Aspen, Colo., 30 miles up the road from my home in Carbondale. In a way, I am looking for the “next Aspen.” Go to any bustling resort town and you’ll hear these words: “We don’t want to be the ‘next Aspen.’” Aspen has become synonymous with the resort slide toward luxury over locals, the epitome of the trend other resorts say they want to avoid, even as five-star hotels and million-dollar condos shove workers farther and farther away.

Link to Part 1 and the others in the 5 Part series

This is the first installment of a five-part series on NewWest.Net in which David Frey travels across the West to explore the idea and the whereabouts of the “next Aspen,” in every sense of the phrase. Check back each day for the coming installments. Up next: Ketchum, Idaho: A Five-Star Dilemma. [End of article]