Not everyone who visits Aspen goes there to ski. That might seem obvious for some, but for an avid skier, missing out on the fabulous terrain at one of the world’s premier ski resorts could be considered an unforgivable sin. But anyone who’s been to Aspen – ski hound or not – will attest that there’s plenty to do in town when you’re not on the slopes. If you don’t ski and you’re headed to Aspen, you probably have a few questions, especially if most of your accompanying party will be skiing. As a non-skier, where should you stay? What should you do? You have questions, we have answers.
First off, we’re going to focus on the winter season. But before we get into all that, it’s important to point out that Aspen is a bustling mountain town during the summer months, especially from June through August – a period when there is absolutely no snow unless you travel to the top of Independence Pass. Summers in Aspen are limitless: hiking, biking, fishing, camping, golf, tennis, hot-air ballooning, parasailing, and disc golf are just a few of the outdoor activities you can enjoy.
If you’ve never been to Aspen during the summer, you’re missing out. Some of the most amazing mountain festivals take place there every year, from the Jazz Aspen Snowmass concerts that bring major-label headliners to town throughout the summer to the annual Aspen Ideas Festival that showcases some of the brightest minds and influential leaders on the planet.
Now, back to wintertime fun! Aspen is filled with fun winter activities. Even though Aspen is synonymous with skiing and snowboarding, there’s more to do than just playing in the powder. Here are 12 tremendous winter activities for non-skiers in Aspen.
Aspen Non-Skiers: What to Do
Sure, it might seem odd to start off a non-skiing list with skiing, but cross-country is different, as anyone who’s ever done it and downhill skiing can attest. Cross-country, or Nordic, skiing puts you in total control; no gravity to propel you. It’s one of the best workouts you’ll ever have, and it’s one of the most enjoyable activities you can have in the mountains. How are both possible? You just have to try it to understand.
Snowshoeing and Skinning
Snowshoeing and skinning are two more ski-adjacent activities that are worth a closer look. Both are similar activities, but what you put on your feet is just a little different. Rent gear from a local outfitter and head to Aspen Mountain with a naturalist from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies for a guided tour.
There’s nothing more romantic than cutting figure eights at the Silver Circle Ice Rink in downtown Aspen, or at the indoor rink at the Aspen Ice Garden only a few blocks away. Just outside of town, the Aspen Recreation Center has a wonderful indoor rink that shouldn’t be missed.
Right in the middle of downtown you’ll have the opportunity for a memorable sleigh ride through the snowy streets of Aspen. For most days during the winter, there is a one-horse open sleigh on the Cooper Avenue Mall just outside the Independence Square hotel. Hop on the sleigh with your family or romantic partner and clip-clop through the streets for a memorable winter experience.
If your sledding hill is named “Whoa Nelly,” chances are it’s pretty good. The popular sledding hill on the south side of the Aspen Recreation Center is a perfect sledding hill for kids of all ages. Just bring your preferred mode of transportation – sled, tube, etc. – and park at the rec center. After a good snow, it can’t be beat.
Snowmass Mountain has the best tubing runs in the valley. At Elk Camp at the resort, you can ride the lifts to the top of the tubing runs, just like skiing. In addition to tubing, there’s a lot to do at Elk Camp. It’s one of the more family friendly spots at the resort.
Aspen Recreation Center
We’ve already mentioned it a few times, and that’s because there’s a lot to do inside the facility during the winter. There’s an amazing rock-climbing wall for adults and kids, a swimming pool and a lazy river. The rec center is an ideal destination on a rainy summer day, or when you need a break from the snow outdoors during the winter months. Day passes are available.
Fat biking has grown in popularity over the past few years, and there are starting to be some nice trails around town. Plus, Aspen has historically been a bike-friendly town. There are bike lanes on most major roads in town, and dedicated trails like the Rio Grande Trail are perfect for a winter bike ride.
Just because you don’t ski doesn’t mean you can’t partake in the daily apres-ski ritual, right? When the slopes close around 4 or 5 p.m. is when apres-ski really kicks off. Join up with friends and family at local establishments for food and drink specials, live music and other fun happenings.
Aspen is a foodie’s paradise! There are amazing fine-dining experiences all over the city. Aspen’s noted “Restaurant Row” has numerous restaurants that are worth a closer look, and plate all kinds of cuisine. No matter your tastes, you’ll find something you’ll absolutely love. Probably a few things.
Aspen is known for its high-end luxury shopping. There are world-class fashion labels like Fendi, Prada, Gucci and Valentino, but there’s also amazing galleries, jewelers, ski shops, t-shirt shacks, coffeehouses, bookstores, and secondhand stores. Downtown, you can find a $10 souvenir t-shirt or a $70 cereal bowl – but hey, that’s typical in Aspen.
Aspen was a silver mining town in the 1800s, long before it gained fame as a skiing Mecca, so there’s a rich past to uncover for history buffs. The historic Wheeler Opera House in the center of town still has top-notch performances from big-time acts. The Aspen Art Museum in downtown has intriguing displays and exhibits from contemporary and classic artists, both locally and internationally. The Aspen Historical Society is the gatekeeper to the town’s vibrant past, and there’s plenty to look at.
Aspen Non-Skiers: Where to Stay
This is an easy one. If you’re not skiing, you don’t want to be stuck at some hotel on the outskirts. Everything to do is in downtown Aspen, so your best bet for entertainment on the regular is to stay there. Even if everyone in your group goes skiing, you can walk downtown and spend the day exploring the area. You can look around at the shops, grab a coffee or light bite, or enjoy a full lunch. Tour a museum or plan a physical activity to get some exercise and fresh air.
The Lift One Condominiums are only about five minutes from the heart of downtown Aspen, and it’s easily walkable. During the winter, the sidewalks are shoveled regularly, and a few are heated to melt the snow away. (That’s Aspen for you.)