by Louise Chunn, The Telegraph, October 9, 2017
Nearly 7,000ft above sea level, with the most stunning snow-capped mountain scenery imaginable, Aspen, Colorado is a ski town that punches well above its weight.
On July 4 the teeny, Aspen airport has more private jets on the tarmac than any other terminal in the US. Regular visitors and part-time residents range from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (whose parents are full-timers) and Estee Lauder’s Leonard Lauder to Hollywood stalwarts Goldie Hawn and William H Macy and wife Felicity Huffman. According to Forbes Magazine, 50 billionaires currently live or own property in the Aspen area.
It used to be that such a place was all about millionaires flashing their cash and partying hard as they leapt in and out of chauffeured dark-glassed SUVs. But these days, health and a long life is the hard-working billionaire’s status symbol; this means building a sustainable place to live, and finding ways to make it better for everyone, not just the super-wealthy.
I recently visited Aspen to take part in an international health conference, Spotlight Health, part of the long-established Aspen Institute Ideas Festival. I’m the founder of welldoing.org, a therapy platform, and I’m particularly interested in where mind and body connect for an overall benefit. Aspen made a perfect petri dish.
On my first day, I went to a 7am outdoor yoga class taught by Gina Murdock, a warm, empathetic woman of 40, and a dead-ringer for Sandra Bullock in her Miss Congeniality days. Having worked in Aspen as a lowly cocktail waitress, local newspaper reporter, massage therapist, and ski instructor, her future changed entirely when she met and married Jerry Murdock, a co-founder of Insight Venture Partners and an early investor in Twitter.
“Marrying Jerry means I now live in the most beautiful house, with people who work for me.
"But I know what it’s like to live in your car, work two jobs. There’s a lot of pressure on the people that this town relies on – the waitresses, maintenance people, gardeners, teachers – and I believe we can make their lives better.”
Because of strict housing laws limiting development in the Rocky Mountains, and the sky-high property prices, many who work in the service industries live an hour or two’s drive out of town.
Aspen City of Wellbeing has launched 18 programmes across the city, taking in the ski companies, city council, schools, prison and hospitals in Aspen and the surrounding area. Workers are offered a range of classes, including yoga, conscious breathing, meditation and nutrition, and all progress is tracked with the idea of being able to spread a City of Wellbeing template across other parts of the US.
October 26 to 29 will see the second annual Lead with Love, a four-day gathering with some of the biggest names in well-being, yoga and spirituality in the US, including Deepak Chopra, yoga teachers Eddie Stern and Ashley Turner and 20 others.
The ultimate mind-body-spirit event, it will include two “heart-opening” yoga classes per day, guided meditations, as well as curated conversations and workshops. Prices range from $5,000 (£3,770) for an Honorary Love Ninja ticket (sponsorship which also gets you dinner with Chopra et al), to $899 (£680) for the full four days, to a small donation or even nothing for those who cannot afford to pay.
A surprising number of things are free in Aspen. Buses around the half-dozen ski fields and across to Snowmass are complimentary all year round, as are the dozens of bikes for loan. Many of the festivals and galleries have free entry, too; big bucks philanthropy is evident all over the town. I went to a fantastic concert in a beautifully designed permanent tent structure near the Aspen Institute.
Aspen society was eating a chic but healthy buffet dinner and sipping on their organic rosé before filing into the tent to see Earth Wind & Fire doing a flamboyant set of Seventies classics (Boogie Wonderland, After the Love Has Gone, Fantasy). The sides of the tent were open, and on every side sat ticketless locals and tourists, eating their own picnics and enjoying the concert for free.
And, of course, the nature around Aspen is free. There are hiking trails leading out from the town, such as the Rio Grande trail, running beside the Roaring Fork River, which further downstream has stand-up paddleboarding and whitewater rafting.
Take a tour out of town, though, and you’ll really see the splendour of the region. Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed scenes in the US, mountain ranges reflected in a serene lake. My favourite was Blazing Adventure’s jeep trip up Larkspur Mountain Road, from the top of which we looked across to at least a dozen snow-capped (even in June) peaks of over 14,000 feet.
This is the view that the most fabulously wealthy people are paying tens of millions to see from their hillside homes. They may not be about to open their palaces to the people, but they have realised that it’s better to share responsibility for (and enjoyment of) this extraordinarily beautiful ecosystem in a way that can keep everyone happy.
The best of Aspen
O2Aspen is a long-established Aspen yoga and Pilates studio, with spa facilities. o2aspen.com
Snowmass is a 15-minute drive away and boasts the biggest ski field in the area. In the Viceroy Hotel is an international-level spa with all the best face and body treatment in beautiful, large rooms and surrounded by mountain scenery. viceroyhotelsandresorts.com
Aspen Art Museum is, given the size of the town, astonishingly contemporary and international. Its current building, designed by architect Shigeru Ban, opened in 2014. aspenartmuseum.org
Spring Café was Aspen’s first organic restaurant, and much of the delicious fresh food served there is also vegan and gluten-free. springcafe.org
Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival is a brain-stretching 10-day event, with top-flight speakers and experiences covering everything from politics to spirituality. aspenideas.org
All the buzz is about biking which, at high altitude, is serious exercise. There are a variety of levels and plenty of advice. bike.gosnowmass.com