The richness of the history of Aspen is like no other among current day Colorado mountain towns. First named Ute City, after the native American Indians who had inhabited the region for over 800 years, the area was renamed Aspen soon after the discovery of large silver deposits by prospectors in 1879. With the passing of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1880, Aspen was catapulted into a mining boom that lasted fourteen years bringing great prosperity and growth to the town. Industrialists and capitalists with names such as B. Clark Wheeler, Charles Hallam, David Hyman, and Jerome B. Wheeler brought an infusion of ingenuity and capital into the community. By the late 1880s, Aspen had an electric company, a city water system, a railway, and an opera house. The population swelled to over 15,000.
The repeal of the Sherman Act demonetizing silver in 1893 brought an end to the Aspen boom. The Quiet Years ensued until the mid-1930s when Aspen as a ski town was in its infancy. During World War II the 10th Mountain Division, an elite corps of mountain men from around the world, trained in and around Aspen to ultimately fight in the mountains of Europe. After the war, a cadre of these veterans returned to the area to promote skiing and to help develop what is now a world-famous four-mountain ski area.
Walter Paepcke, a Chicago industrialist, was pivotal in the launching of the Aspen Ski Corporation in 1946. He and his wife, Elizabeth were, however, to leave an even more indelible mark on the history of Aspen. Their vision to make Aspen a gathering place for thinkers, artists, leaders and musicians from around the world was also realized. The Paepcke’s Mind, Body, Spirit philosophy is embodied in the very institutions they helped create: The Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music Festival and School, the International Design Conference, the Aspen Center for Physics, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s witnessed the growth of Aspen into the international destination it is today where one can indulge in an abundance of year-round recreational activities, an array of cultural and intellectual events, and a life-style without parallel in any mountain town.
Facts: The City of Aspen rests in the White River National Forest at 7,900 feet of elevation surrounded by the Elk Mountain Range with many peaks rising to over 14,000 feet. The city is 3.6 square miles, has a population of approximately 6,700 residents that swells to an average of 20,000 people in peak seasons, and enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine. It is located in Pitkin County (population approx.17,400) and is on the easternmost end of the 50-mile long Roaring Fork Valley with an estimated population of 35,000.
Today Aspen is a city known around the world as a premier tourist destination and a locale where more homes are owned by second and third homeowners than by permanent residents. Luxury and world-class define many of the hotels, restaurants, and shops. Some of the most exclusive residential properties in the country line in-town neighborhoods or are perched high on mountainsides with top-of-the-world views. The rich and prominent, extreme athletes, intellectuals, food and wine aficionados, music, literature, art and nature lovers, and the curious flock to Aspen every season to partake in its lifestyle, outdoor and cultural activities, and unmatched beauty. Champagne snow covering four ski mountains, magnificent sunsets, unending trails for hiking and cycling, world-class music and ballet, gold medal rivers, premier golf courses, and public discourse addressing science, politics, and global issues bring people who feed their minds, their bodies and their spirit with the abundance Aspen has to offer.
Music of all genres fills the air. Aspen is home to the Aspen Music Festival and School where musicians, conductors, and composers of the highest level of accomplishment perform throughout the summer months. Jazz Aspen Snowmass, now in its twenty-sixth year, continues to host major music festivals in early summer and at summer’s end. Its JAS Café features the best of the best jazz performers who take stage in an intimate venue at the five-star Little Nell Hotel. Outdoor concerts abound from June through August while Belly Up brings a spectrum of live music acts to Aspen over 300 nights a year.
The art scene in Aspen offers a multitude of the finest of galleries as well as the spectacular new contemporary Aspen Art Museum designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban. The Aspen Institute, the Aspen Center for Physics, and Aspen Words bring U.S. Presidents, political figures from around the world, Nobel Prize winners, best-selling authors and poet laureates to Aspen all year long. The City attracts international speakers as well as visitors from Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa bringing a cultural diversity to all corners of Aspen life. Indeed, the world comes to Aspen.
If Aspen sounds as if it were the idyllic mountain town . . . it is.