You Too Can Afford an Aspen Area Vacation

By Mindy Sink

That vacation you wanted during the holidays, but didn’t think you could afford? It’s waiting for you in Basalt, just like it was for me and my family.

During the holiday break between Christmas and New Year’s, my family enjoyed downtime in Denver. When my husband threw out the idea of a couple of days in the mountains to ski, soak in hot springs, just get a change of scenery, I quickly shot him down. “Prices are quadruple up there this time of year!” I exclaimed.

Two weeks later I found myself in Basalt, just outside of Aspen, in awe of Mother Nature, affordable lodgings and proximity to so much winter fun for

Element Lobby (Photo by Mindy Sink)

Element Lobby (Photo by Mindy Sink)

our little family. Yes, I said affordable.

Element by Westin (or Element Basalt – Aspen) opened in Basalt in December 2015 is the answer to resting your heads in a stylish, conveniently-located hotel and ski the slopes of Aspen and Snowmass. I could tell you that this is a LEED-certified hotel, meaning it was built with the environment in mind and when you stay here, energy and water use is more efficient with a small carbon footprint. And I could

tell you about the 113 studio and one-bedroom suites stylishly appointed with modern furnishings and signature Heavenly® Bed comforts, as well as full kitchens. Did I mention the pool and hot tub? Complimentary Wi-Fi? Does complimentary breakfast and après-ski wine reception interest you? I was continuously surprised by all that was included in a rate as low as $139/night (depends on day of the week, etc.) at this hotel.

Element™ is located in what is called Willits Town Center, where a Whole Foods anchors this new development just off Highway 82. I generally prefer the historic old town section of any place I visit, but I could not deny the genius of proximity to a grocery store (easy walking distance from hotel). Remember that your room has a full kitchen so with kids this makes it easy to save money and eat in. You will also find family-friendly restaurants in this same area—including El Korita for Mexican food and Smoke Modern Barbeque (yes, you do want the pulled pork and green chile mac n’ cheese!)—and you can rent your gear (or purchase that forgotten hat, coat, etc.) at Basalt Bike & Ski.

As fabulous as Element™ is, what we really wanted to do was get outside and take advantage of being in the mountains and so close to trails and ski runs. That is, right after gobbling up a healthy complimentary breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, eggs, fresh fruit smoothies, and more in the hotel’s open lobby.

Element Aspen - Basalt Rooms (Courtesy of Starwood Photography/Element)

Element Aspen – Basalt Rooms (Courtesy of Starwood Photography/Element)

While my husband and our 10-year old daughter went off for a day of skiing and snowboarding at Snowmass (their reports: no crowds! No lift lines! Perfect conditions!), I opted for Nordic skiing. Trails are free to use at the Snowmass Club (which doubles as a full-service x-country ski and snowshoe facility with rentals and lessons in winter), within view of the ski runs. If you want to stay in Basalt but still get a little exercise and fresh air, there are groomed x-country ski tracks at Crown Mountain Park—a dog-friendly park. (That reminds me, the family pooch is welcome at Element™ where first floor rooms are designated dog-friendly.)

As the designated non-alpine skier in my family, I have discovered the world of winter fun that doesn’t involve a lift ticket and is usually very budget-friendly. Consider these activities for yourself or even the whole family instead of or before or after some downhill skiing:

Rio Grande Trail (Photo by Mindy Sink)

Rio Grande Trail (Photo by Mindy Sink)

*Snowshoe tours by ACES (Aspen Center for Environmental Studies). You do have the fun of going to Snowmass Village and riding the gondola halfway up the mountain, in addition to trekking around in the snow with a guide and learning about the local animals and plants. Children 7 and up are welcome.

*Tubing in Snowmass. Check into Ullr Nights for nighttime tubing too.

*Ice skating in Carbondale, about 10 miles from Basalt. The 4th Street Plaza Ice Rink is itty-bitty and so perfect for little skaters.

*Say Om at True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale. Mommas, this is for when you have the whole family off skiing and you make time for a yoga class or massage just for you. My favorite was the post-massage hot tea, included in the price of the massage.

*Snowshoe or ski or ride a fat tire bike on the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail, about a 1-minute drive from Element™. Rental equipment—and directions along with advice from a local—can be found for any of these activities at Basalt Bike & Ski. On this trip, I snowshoed and it was heavenly, but next time I might try one of those cool fat tire bikes.

*Soak. Element™ does have an outdoor hot tub for those sore muscles that kick in after schussing all day. Or you can drive or ride the bus back down to Glenwood Springs (a 30-minute drive) where you have your choice of hot springs pools. It is pretty magical to be in a warm outdoor pool when it’s snowing outside.

*Nowadays you hear about major events like the X Games taking place in Aspen, but decades ago the town created WinterSkol to attract visitors during a slump after the holidays. Many of the 4-day festival highlights are free, including a parade and fireworks.

Element Aspen - Basalt Winter Exterior (Courtesy Starwood Photography/Element)

Element Aspen – Basalt Winter Exterior (Courtesy Starwood Photography/Element)

Now that you saved all that money on lodging—and maybe a few activities, meals, or parking—you can treat yourself and the whole family to a nice dinner in historic Basalt. Tempranillo Restaurant was a surprisingly family-friendly and cozy place with a Spanish and Italian menu and excellent service. A glass of wine, a roaring fire, the snow gently falling outside, a few dollars saved, it all adds up to a perfect family vacation in the mountains.

Details: To play your stay and ski Aspen Snowmass, check out www.aspensnowmass.com.

To book a room at Element™ by Westin, go to www.elementbasaltaspen.com.

Budget tip: The local bus stop is just steps from the hotel. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority provides reliable and affordable (less than $5 from Basalt) rides to Snowmass and Aspen (and elsewhere in the valley), with special FREE ski shuttle service during winter. Consider you are only 20 minutes away from these world-class ski destinations and that parking rates near the slopes are going to cost you a pretty penny.

Author bio: Mindy Sink is a freelance writer and communications manager in Denver. The 3rd edition of her Moon Handbooks Guide to Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs (Avalon Travel) will be published in spring 2016.