Texans have been invading Colorado for decades to play in the snow. But in the past decade or so, spending a chunk of one’s summertime in a Colorado mountain town to avoid the scorching heat has almost become a rite-of-passage. The winters offer skiing, snowmobiling, tubing and, my favorite winter pastime, après-ski. In the summer, there’s biking – both mountain and road – hiking, white water rafting, fishing, four-wheeling, and countless outdoor festivals and concerts. Basically, if you can think of any activity to do on land or in water in temperatures that rarely get higher than 80 degrees where you may need a mountain or river, you’ll probably find someone doing it in a Colorado mountain town.
Oh, and don’t forget the dogs.
Coloradans love their pooches. I discovered this phenomenon when my family and I traveled to Breckenridge a few summers ago. They’re everywhere. They’re in hotels, they’re in stores, they’re in restaurants (typically allowed on the patio). They’re even allowed in the gondola cabins!
This past June, I wanted to give my family, including our golden retriever Rosie, a way to beat the Texas heat. So we loaded up the SUV, created a special place for Rosie in the back, and headed off to Crested Butte and Aspen for a week. As we had never been there before, it would be interesting to see just how much these towns offered for humans and canines. Spoiler alert: the towns, the activities, and the people were even better than I imagined.
An elevated experience
The extremely pet-friendly Elevation Hotel and Spa takes up residence as the centerpiece of Mount Crested Butte. A true ski in/ski out property in the winter, in the summer it plays host to a bevy of activities for kids and adults.
We strapped our mountain bikes to the chair lift and enjoyed an afternoon of navigating trails from the top of the mountain down to the base. The trails were marked in a similar fashion as ski runs in terms of difficulty with green indicating the easiest, blue as moderate and black as most diffi cult. The mountain also contains a disc golf course and numerous hiking trails that Rosie and I enjoyed in the crisp early morning air while the rest of our crew slept in.
In the late afternoons, my wife and I sat with Rosie on the back patio of the hotel’s 9380 Prime restaurant and bar and enjoyed a couple beers and a bowl of cold water respectively as we watched the kids play in the Kid Zone, which featured a giant stuntman-style bag jump, miniature golf course, rock climbing and bungee trampolines. To close out one particular evening, we didn’t have to move a muscle from our perch on the patio as we listened to a free concert while drinking in the stunning mountain backdrop behind the music stage.
Heading down the mountain
Take a short drive – or better yet do the three-mile-ish run on the concrete hike/bike trail with your four-legged family member – down the mountain to the town of Crested Butte (CB) and you’ll be immersed in one of the last true Colorado ski towns. While there’s all sorts of evidence on the old Interwebs on what some locals think of tourists, especially us Texans (for a taste, check out Outside magazine’s recent article, “Did Airbnb Kill the Mountain Town?” and the Facebook page, “Crested Butte Bitch and Moan”), the business owners couldn’t have been nicer to us.
“Without visitors and the tourist economy, we couldn’t live here and do what we do,” said Al Smith, Camp4Coffee owner and operator. The name for his business, like many in CB, came from the mountains. “We had been climbing all day and sitting around the campfire in Yosemite’s camp number four. In the climbing world, camp four is usually the last opportunity for climbers to get something hot to eat and drink before making a push for the summit,” said Smith.
His location in downtown CB is less campsite and more respite, with plenty of outdoor seating for locals and visitors to sit and enjoy the drinks made from Camp4Coffee’s top secret bean recipe. And, of course, dogs are always allowed.
If family is the name of the game for dinner, then look no further than Secret Stash – named for an area of powder snow that is known only to the skier or snowboarder – for pizza, and Lil’s Sushi for sushi, robatayaki, fine steaks and seafood. And for those Texans jonesing to get your Mexican food fix while in CB, Kyleena Falzone, Secret Stash owner, also runs the Bonez Tequila Bar & Grill.
But if you’re looking to ditch the kids, er, have a date night, then do yourself the biggest favor of your life and book a table at Soupcon. Shining like a miner’s light at the end of a darkened tunnel, this French American Bistro is located off the beaten path down an alleyway and inside an old miner’s cabin. While serving simply luxurious yet comforting food inside a place that also brought miners relief from their work in a past life, I only needed to look at pictures of snow covering its roof and mounding around the entrance to realize just how much more powerful and emotional an effect Chef Jason Vernon’s menu might have on patrons in the winter. Dining at Soupcon will be something my wife and I savor for a lifetime.
If you’re like me, you may have a preconceived notion of Aspen. It’s fancy. It’s extravagant. When we drove past the local airport and saw the gleaming Gulfstream jets stacked up like cars in a valet parking lot, my opinion was ready to be cemented in place. But after spending time there, I’ll give you one more adjective. It’s accessible.
“There’s this perception that Aspen is an expensive place to visit, and it certainly is on the upper end. But there are great alternative, affordable options in Aspen,” said Jeff Bay, managing director of HayMax Hotels. Their properties in Aspen are the Molly Gibson Lodge and the Hotel Aspen. Both dog-friendly hotels have been recently renovated, but each had a personality all its own. The Molly Gibson definitely hasn’t lost its soul as a mountain ski chalet while the Hotel Aspen gave off a more contemporary vibe. The hotels are across the street from one another and, no matter which one you choose, once you park your car, you don’t have to get back in it again during your stay.
World-class shopping and activities like the gondola that takes you up the mountain where hiking trails offer stunning views in all directions are all within walking distance. Speaking of stunning views, many restaurants feature outdoor seating that not only leverage the views, but allow Fido to tag along. We ate dinner at BB’s restaurant, which several locals I talked to consider an Aspen institution. The outdoor patio is considered one of the best in town for breathtaking views of Aspen’s ski mountain. But views aside, restaurants need to offer good food, right? Not only is their menu of contemporary cuisine on point, but their kale & Brussels salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Ever.
And if you’re missing your favorite barbecue joint back in Texas while you’re there, fear not. Home Team BBQ offers barbeque from original pitmaster and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) Aaron Siegel that can rival any Texas joint. When I talked to Siegel about his ‘cue, he used another word that I will use from now on when I refer to Aspen: approachable.
No matter who you are, travel writer or not, after you go somewhere on vacation, people typically ask you if liked it enough to ever go back. As far as Crested Butte and Aspen go, it’s a definite yes. I’m going back to hike the CB to Aspen trail (though I’ll go in late July or August to avoid the snow next time). I’m going back for all the outdoor activities and to escape the heat. But mostly, I’m going back for the friendly people and to make more memories with my family members, including our four-legged one.
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