- When it comes to ski towns, Aspen, Colorado, is as expensive as it gets.
- Real-estate prices are sky-high, and visitors shell out hundreds of dollars for hotels and ski passes.
- From a $51 million mansion to a ritzy dispensary, I spotted luxury everywhere I looked during my trip.
Just a three-and-a-half-hour drive from my home in Denver is one of the most expensive towns I’ve ever visited.
I’ve lived in New York City and traveled to some of the world’s most expensive destinations like Paris or Zurich, Switzerland. But Aspen, Colorado, transformed my definition of luxury.
In Paris and New York, five-star hotels and Michelin-star restaurants coexist alongside $1 pizza and cheap crepe carts. But Aspen lacked the latter. Instead, luxury hotels and pricey dinners were practically my only options.
Throughout every minute of my five-day trip to the ski town in December, I observed moments of opulence. Some I expected. Yes, the mountain estates were shockingly grand and the town’s five-star hotel had glamorous amenities that attract celebrities like Britney Spears and Beyonce.
But there were also surprising moments of extravagance in everyday life. Even purchasing cannabis was a luxe experience. And in Aspen’s airport, glam travelers made it impossible to forget the population that lives and visits one of the country’s richest ski towns.
Sprawling mansions were the first indicator of just how wealthy Aspen’s residents are.
From the luxury real estate ads in the Aspen airport to the mansions I saw sprinkled along Red Mountain, it was clear from the moment I arrived in the ski town that it takes a lot of wealth to own property in Aspen.
In fact, Aspen is the most expensive ski town in the country. According to a 2021 report from Savills, a global real estate company, Aspen is the US’ most expensive ski town based on the listing price for prime ski property.
Real estate is so pricey that an entire neighborhood was nicknamed after its billionaire homeowners.
Blocks away from Aspen’s downtown is Red Mountain, a neighborhood known for residents that are so rich that it’s nicknamed “Billionaire Mountain.”
Along the drive, I also spotted the most expensive home ever sold in Aspen — a $72.5-million property bought by Patrick Dovigi, a former professional hockey player and the founder and CEO of the waste management company Green for Life Environmental, last summer, according to Aspen Daily News.
As I crawled up the switchback mountain roads, the properties became larger and the entrance gates grew grander.
The million-dollar homes I toured showcased ultra luxe amenities.
The homes ranged from $13 million to $51 million and came with extravagant features I could never imagine owning, like wet bars, indoor pools, and 12-car garages.
At the top of Billionaire Mountain, I toured a home with an indoor pool and a secret bedroom.
At the very top of Billionaire Mountain, I stopped at The Peak House, a 22,000-square-foot estate on the market for $44.5 million, one of the most expensive homes I’ve ever stepped foot inside.
The Peak House is the highest residence on Red Mountain, and real-estate agent Heidi Houston pointed out features that earned the property its $44.5 million price tag.
Beyond its sprawling size and grand views, the home had a wine cave, an enormous living room, and a 12-car garage. But the estate also had its own set of uncommon additions. For example, there was an indoor pool and a secret bedroom that was built for the first owner’s mistress.
In the most expensive home I toured, I spotted an oxygen system to help combat altitude sickness.
Aspen Park is a 15,000-square-foot home for sale five minutes away from downtown Aspen. The home is currently listed for $51 million by real-estate agent Carrie Wells.
On a tour of the home, I spotted two elevators, 10 fireplaces, and a Lamborghini-themed garage. But I discovered the home’s most unusual amenity in the primary bedroom. Tucked in a closet with a coffee station and washing machine was an oxygen system that can pump extra oxygen into the room, intended to mimic different sea levels and reduce the effects of altitude sickness, Wells told Insider.
Even purchasing weed was a glamorous experience in Aspen.
Stepping into Dalwhinnie Farms, a dispensary in the heart of downtown Aspen, I had the poshest cannabis-buying experience of my life.
Dalwhinnie’s CEO Brandon Barksdale told Insider the store was intentionally designed to cater to Aspen’s elite, and within my first moments inside the store, I was greeted by scents of warm leather and crystal glassware sparkled from nearby shelves.
That’s because Dalwhinnie Farms doesn’t just sell cannabis. Next to its display of edibles, cannabis flower, and concentrates, are Rolex watches, cashmere scarves, and jewelry with a $92,000 price tag.
The town’s hotels were also some of the country’s finest five-star experiences.
Aspen was one of the first times I slept in five-star hotels. And they didn’t disappoint.
For $848 a night, I stayed in The Little Nell, which is Aspen’s only five-star and five-diamond hotel and has welcomed celebrities like Britney Spears and Beyonce. Later during my trip, I spent $700 for a night at The St. Regis Aspen Resort. The St. Regis also has five stars and is known for rich and famous visitors like Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and Paris Hilton, according to The Daily Mirror.
Insider paid for these hotels per our reporting standards.
With famous clientele and expensive rates came luxury offerings, that made me feel a bit like a celebrity, too.
The Little Nell had dog food on the room service menu.
I expected to see designer dogs playing fetch at the parks and lapdogs in Louis Vuitton purses. But I hadn’t considered how hotels and restaurants would cater to pups.
At The Little Nell, for instance, dog owners could order the $19 “Canine Delights Daily,” which was served in dog-friendly bowls and included carrots, brown rice, scrambled eggs, and the owner’s choice of protein.
Workers at The Little Nell also woke up early to preheat hotel guests’ ski boots.
Most five-star hotels have a vast list of amenities, but one of The Little Nell’s biggest appeals is its ski-in/ski-out access and its own designated ski concierge. The concierge will help guests coordinate ski-lift tickets, rent gear, schedule ski-school classes, and even
preheat their ski boots each morning so guests don’t have to worry about cold feet.
Both hotels gave guests access to a fleet of luxury vehicles.
I’ve stayed at hotels that had free airport shuttles on buses and vans, but I never had access to luxury cars at hotels.
At The Little Nell, I had access to a free, two-hour Audi car rental. At The St. Regis, a BMW X7 can be reserved for four hours on a complimentary basis.
The St. Regis Hotel also had a daily champagne-sabering ceremony.
To celebrate the transition from day to night, each evening a saber was brought out to the courtyard for a dramatic champagne popping.
While I missed the ceremony on the first night, I happily accepted a glass of champagne upon check-in. The ceremony felt overly grand for a daily ritual, but I’m also not one to complain about free champagne.
In town, water fountains and bike-sharing stations were covered for the cold weather.
Small things in Aspen felt like shocking luxuries that I’ve never seen in cities like New York or Denver, like covering water fountains and bike stations for inclement weather.
In Aspen during the winter, the bicycle rideshares were closed, the bikes were stored away, and plastic covers were placed on the docking stations.
The same went for the town’s water fountains. Each water station in Aspen had a snug cover that protected it from the colder temps.
To me, it seemed like the city of Aspen cared about its infrastructure. In the summer, I imagine the town’s resources would be up and functioning — unlike the broken water fountains I remember from my time in New York.
There were no fast-food restaurants in sight.
Good luck finding a McDonald’s, Chipotle, or Subway anywhere in or near Aspen. The quaint ski town takes pride in its upscale food scene, which doesn’t include fast-food chains.
In fact, the town’s one and only McDonald’s shut its doors in 2016, according to The Aspen Times.
The most casual restaurants I visited during my stay in Aspen were The White House Tavern, where sandwiches cost between $21 and $26 without fries, and a pizza shop that served $6 slices.
Leather pants and Louis Vuitton purses were normal flight attire at Aspen’s airport.
I arrived at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in jeans, a turtleneck, and a pullover sweater. For me, it was much nicer than my typical airport attire of leggings and a t-shirt.
Yet I was by far the most underdressed traveler in the airport. In every corner of the small terminal, I noticed people with designer shopping bags and Louis Vuitton suitcases.
There weren’t many name-brand snacks at the airport. Instead, my options were limited to $15 trail mix and marshmallow treats.
The airport had one eatery that sold warm food and snacks. There were few name brands beyond Coca-Cola products, Wrigley gum, and Flipz pretzels.
I spent about $8 on a pack of gum and a marshmallow treat. Although I’m used to airport food being overpriced, Aspen’s airport set the bar even higher in terms of prices.
At the food counter, travelers could order an $18 chicken cordon bleu sandwich, a $19 portobello rice bowl, or a $19 pork carnitas burrito.
When it came to snacks, options included a $15 bag of trail mix, caramel-flavored popcorn, and handmade marshmallow treats from The Crispery.
After five days in Aspen, I had a taste of how the world’s richest people live and vacation.
Between a home oxygen system and room-service dog food, by the time I landed home in Denver, I had cataloged new luxuries I never dreamed of.
Previous trips to New York City and Paris had moments of indulgence, but in Aspen, I embraced the town’s extravagance the moment I arrived — and am still savoring the memories of weeks later.