Officially, Aspen sits in Colorado’s Pitkin County, but in actuality, it sits in a little reality of its own creation, where modest homes go for pornographically immodest prices, where celebrities live but tend not to be seen, where money flows like melting snow but definitely doesn’t trickle down to the person waiting on your table or pouring your beer. Aspen does not fit into Colorado, not really. Colorado fits around Aspen. Colorado is Aspen’s venue. Aspen is, always, the star.
But as we know, stars can be bitchy. What makes the good folks of Aspen grumble? Well, for starters, the universal truth that money can’t buy happiness. But aside from that? These eight.
Tourism is to Aspen what meatpacking is to Greeley: indispensable. Without tourism, Aspen would revert back to what it used to be: a sleepy old mining town barely hanging on to viability in the current century. People come to Aspen for all sorts of reasons: the shopping, the star-gazing, the general chi-chi-ness of it all. But skiing anchors it, and while every resort town will say, “We sure do appreciate our [insert itinerant population that serves as the economic base of a tourist-based community here],” that also means “We moan and bitch and laugh about you a ton right after you leave the room.”
7. Realistic Property Values
When trailers on a small plot of land go for half a mil, you know you’re in the nightmare world of real estate, when none of the normal rules apply. Aspen boasts some of the most expensive housing prices in the entire U.S., though exactly why is tough to determine. Like much of the truths about Aspen, the cost of real estate just is what it is: demanding and irrational and high. True, the town is gorgeous, but Colorado has tons of little mountain towns just as beautiful and historic. The mountains are great, but it’s a similar view to that of many other communities nestled in the Rockies. Aspen is the Kardashian of Colorado — exclusive because it’s exclusive, with a flashy self-perpetuating fame.
6. Ted Bundy
Granted, no one likes serial killers except those weirdos who collect their paintings and other items of murderabilia, and the less said about those asshats the better. But Aspen has a peculiar relationship to noted ’80s serial killer Ted Bundy, as Aspen was essentially one of his hunting grounds. In 1976, Bundy somehow intercepted 23-year-old Caryn Campbell as she went from the hotel lounge back to her room to get a magazine…and Caryn was found dead and disrobed in a snowbank over a month later. Not a great legacy for a town that wants to attract visitors to those hotels, and to enjoy those snowbanks.
At this point in its history, many of the houses bought and built in and around Aspen aren’t meant for year-round living. If you’re lucky enough to have a pile of money that you want to invest in a property that you might use one weekend every other year, then you’re one kind of Aspen citizen — the kind who gets invited to the Koch brothers’ New Year's bashes in Aspen’s West End. And if you are, you’re probably annoyed by the other kind, which is the hippie old-timers who remember when the place wasn’t so lousy with money, and who write letters to the editor at the local paper bemoaning the Trumping of America.
4. The Winter X-Games
ESPN’s foray into ’90s-era culture — you know, back when everything from sports drinks to skateboarding was EXTREME!!! — has been going on since 2002. Every year, Aspen invites athletes and their fans from all over the globe to participate in and witness the best in winter sports of the extreme variety. The money from the event is welcome in the city coffers, clearly, but the population requires some extreme priority shifting, too, from the pampered exclusivity to something more befitting the skateboard-groupie aesthetic. Aspen doesn’t really welcome the X-Games so much as it tolerates them temporarily and begrudgingly.
There’s a tension in Aspen that comes from not being able to talk about things of substance in general, because the population straddles the ends of the political spectrum. The only folks who might sit in the middle political ground are generally there out of apathy, not moderation. If an Aspenite has a political affiliation, it’s going to be a strong one — either on the conservative right or on the liberal left. There’s not a lot of in-between and very little common ground, so people generally default to just standing around talking about their mutual admiration for John Denver.
2. The Ungroomed
This refers to everything from the aforementioned shaggy old-time residents who still embrace the ’60s-radical, shower-occasionally, Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo School of Aspen to dogs whose owners don’t take them to get pampered and poofed on a regular basis. “If your dog’s hair ribbon is looking bedraggled,” one Aspen homeowner suggested, “that means it’s time to get back to the salon.” This statement assumes a lot, so let’s take it one bite at a time: One, that dogs need hair ribbons. Two, that said ribbons shouldn’t be bedraggled. Three, that the word “bedraggled” is still in wide use and conversationally appropriate.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
1. Global Warming
Because if anything pisses off the people of Aspen, it’s the rest of the world threatening their little part of it.