Aspen on the cheap

by Charlie Leocha on October 11, 2004

Winter is approaching, and that can only mean one thing: Ski and snowboard season is almost here. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

I have my reasons. I’m the author of Ski Snowboard America and Canada, the most comprehensive guide to major ski and snowboard resorts in North America, as well as Ski Snowboard Europe, which covers the top European resorts.

In preparation for the season and for updates to the Web sites, I have been visiting the Lake Tahoe region and Colorado during the past two weeks. The mountains are spectacular with the Aspens and Cottonwoods turning gold and yellow tucked between the dark green Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines.

One of my common complaints about skiing and snowboarding has been the rise of lift ticket prices. I have documented these prices for the past 17 years and this season lift ticket prices will hit almost $75 a day for anyone foolish enough to walk up to the ticket window and purchase a full-day pass.

Anyone who knows his or her way around a winter resort knows that there are ways to get better lift ticket bargains. Buy multi-day tickets. Buy your tickets in advance. Buy from a discount outlet such as a supermarket, gas station or sports store.

But getting up and down the slopes is just one part of the financial equation.

The frugal skier and snowboarder needs to figure out a way to save money on every portion of vacation. Ever in search of figuring out a cheap way to get quality and value, I decided to challenge myself by checking out Aspen, considered by many to be the most expensive, exclusive resort in North America.

The results of my search amazed me. There are scores of spots where $20 or less lets you enjoy entertainment, dining and sport in this town.

Since I love to eat, dining was one of my priorities. Aspen has a tradition of exceptional bar menus where patrons can dine at the bar of some of the finest gourmet restaurants and enjoy the same menu being served in the formal dining room for a fraction of the price. Ask around and you will find entrees for only $12 while those sitting at tables will be forking over more than $25 and $30 for the same dishes.

For a late-night snack or a midday pick-me-up, visit the Popcorn Wagon in the heart of downtown Aspen for popcorn starting at $1.50, hot crepes for $3.50 and fire dogs (hot, spicy sausages) for $3.75.

Another little-known savings opportunity is the happy-hour menu served between 3 and 5:30 p.m. at Mezzaluna, where a glass of wine will cost $4 and a veggie, pepperoni or cheese pizza only costs $5. That is a bargain that is hard to beat.

Apres-ski in the resort still offers a shot and a beer for $2.75 at Little Annies.

Many art galleries offer free wine and cheese between 5 and 7 p.m. for those browsing the paintings and sculptures.

The local wine stores have excellent Spanish wines for the same prices as back home and the City Market has plenty of cheeses that make for perfect intimate après-ski parties.

If you are in the mood for skiing and snowboarding Aspen offers a free “first tracks” program.

When the skiing and riding beats your back up, stop by for a five minute massage for only $5 at the Sundeck Restaurant.

Ice skating costs only $2 to $4 depending on age and rentals. A shot of Oxygen is around a dollar a minute. Events such as the X Games and World Cup races are free for spectators. The resort hosts “Naturalist nights” for only $3. The town also has “heritage tours” for only $10 that fill tourists in on the history of the town.

Nearby, the town of Ashcroft has a historic ghost town for only $3 and down valley Glenwood Springs has a Hot Springs Pool where you can soak for only $13.50 and get those kinks developed while skiing and riding worked out.

And there’s more. Heck, I was only here for a day asking questions and poking around.

Remember, wherever you find yourself, you can find bargains. Even in the world’s most exclusive and expensive spots.

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