Why Aspen's Off-the-Slope Appeal Is Booming This Ski Season

COURTESY CAMP KASBAH

Despite the challenges of 2020, there's never been more to do in this heavenly ski town.

At Camp Kasbah, a new resort on Buttermilk Mountain, guests are welcomed not to a lobby, but to a space called “the guard tower.” The octagon-shaped room, with its polished plaster walls and black-and-white mosaic tiles, doesn’t watch over anything in particular, but it does guard something magical: an immense glass solarium, which feels like another world. Orange trees and 18-foot-tall bougainvillea hover over a long dining table surrounded by elegant French chairs, and hand-carved Moroccan daybeds are draped with Indian silk.

Though it’s just 15 minutes from downtown Aspen, Camp Kasbah (from $15,000 per night for up to 14 guests) could just as easily be half a world away—say, in Marrakech or Paris. The retreat, which officially opens for full buyouts this month, is the work of Los Angeles–based developers Mauri Waneka and Tess Ferguson of Native Design & Development. Last year, the duo acquired the 14,000-square-foot mansion (initially designed as a private residence by the Uruguayan architect Horacio Ravazzani and completed in 1995) and filled its many spaces— including seven suites, the solarium, a fitness center, and a spa—with art and design pieces and whimsical details from around the world. In their new creation, they have crafted the perfect antidote to pent-up wanderlust, a free-spirited escape where guests are called “campers” and everything is done with a hint of playfulness and heaps of imagination.

Related: What to Do in Aspen Without Your Skis

In keeping with the theme, Kasbah’s hosts call themselves “camp rangers” (think of them as a more laid-back version of a concierge) who lead guests in a variety of activities. There’s the traditional Ukrainian egg-decorating class in the craft room, and champagne sabering lessons in the Great Room. Go for a massage upstairs in the spa overlooking Mount Sopris, or dig through the treasures in the costume closet, which is stocked with vintage hats, scarves, and gloves, to play dress-up for the property’s themed dinners. Best of all: There’s skiing straight out the back door.

A set of African teak doors connects the solarium to the guest rooms, each of which has its own theme (the Sylph Suite, for example, features wallpaper with a stylized celestial motif), a tub for soaking, zellige tile work, and a canopy bed draped with fabrics to look like a Berber tent. The primary suite, known as the Sanctuary, comes with its own private courtyard and a pair of marble bathtubs. Downstairs, the Enchanted Forest dining room, which has a one-ton smoked-glass table and a treelike chandelier lit by lightbulbs cast as iridescent woodland creatures, is the setting for elaborate omakase and other multicourse feasts that might start with avocado and poblano chips topped with white truffles and togarashi and end with DIY ice cream sundaes. The 15-acre property is also home to plenty of space that has been left blissfully alone, including a private Nordic-skiing course—just in case the chairlift lines in town don’t sound appealing.

Camp Kasbah is a refreshing new face in a ski season that might have been uncharacteristically ho-hum. And it’s not alone. In this unusual winter of social distancing, Aspen’s off-the-slope appeal has, however improbably, only become more exciting, with new openings that offer especially exclusive experiences and a low-risk social scene. There may not be any dance parties under champagne showers at Cloud 9 or packed live performances at Belly Up, but there is no shortage of places to stay and adventures to be had.

Aspen Street Lodge (from $20,000 per night for up to 32 guests) is another exclusive-use property that opened this season. The nine-room, two-suite lodge—a former hotel—has been redesigned with French oak staircases, rift-sawn oak cabinets, and curvy Poliform furniture. It pairs resort-style perks like a heated pool and an in-house bar with the comforts of home, including an office, a game room, and a kitchen serviced by a private chef.

Related: How Aspen Became a Cultural Engine Thanks to Master of Bauhaus Architecture and Design

A few blocks away, the Gant (rooms from $495) offers 120 residential-style accommodations featuring full kitchens and full service (including ski butlers). Though the property is a short distance from the Silver Queen Gondola up Aspen Mountain, guests have access to something even better this season: 300,000 acres of forested backcountry terrain accessible only by helicopter, courtesy of the hotel’s partnership with Nomad Inc. Excursions with the outfitter offer the chance to tackle up to 14,000 feet of vertical drops in the San Juan Mountains.

Aspen’s après scene is delivering something new for the times too. At the Little Nell (rooms from $1,232), an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, the always-packed Chair 9 has been turned into a wine bar where private lounge areas can accommodate single parties of up to eight—reservations required—and a DJ safely spins down-tempo tracks from behind a plexiglass partition. At the Hotel Jerome (rooms from $833), an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, poolside cabanas have been transformed into warming huts where guests can dig in to bowls of ramen and sip hot toddies. And if you can’t score a reservation for the hotel’s speakeasy, Bad Harriet, there’s a solution that might just top any social engagement in town: Made-to-order cocktails delivered straight to your room.