The iconic Wheeler Opera House was built in 1889 and is still a centerpiece in town.
You’ll hear locals say that they came to Aspen for the winter but stayed for the summer. Recently, however, an edited version has been murmured around town: “I came for the winter and stayed for the community.”
Yes, Aspen’s entertainment, dining and recreational opportunities put it on the global map, but its year-round population of 7,500 residents gives it character. And that’s instilled in its origins. Founded in 1881 as a mining town, Aspen quickly developed on an extractive economy and, at one time, was producing one-sixteenth of the world’s silver. During its peak, the population soared to more than 16,000 people, and two outlying mining camps—with thousands of residents unto themselves—are ghost towns today, Ashcroft and Independence.
The Aspen Saturday Market runs from mid-June through early October.
After the silver crash of the mid-1890s, the population of Aspen also plummeted. Hearty souls stuck around and subsisted on ranching, one of the valley’s primary economic drivers for decades. During World War II, 10th Mountain Division soldiers trained on nearby peaks, and many returned after the war, bringing skiing back with them.
Toward the late 1940s, Chicago couple Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke staked a bold vision for Aspen: to transition it from a sleepy rural town to a cultural destination where people could live their best lives. Today, that Greek philosophy-based idea of mind, body, spirit may be overused, but its ethos is ingrained in the lifestyles of the people who live here—and thus the people who visit as well.
Horseback riding near Aspen.
Aspen is a small town with cosmopolitan amenities. What other destination is home to an internationally touring ballet and one ofthe biggest ski resorts in North America, but still allows dogs to meet their owners inside its airport? The hospitality, limitless opportunities and stunning scenery are what keep residents here—and lure visitors to keep coming back.