It’s no secret that the ski season has gotten off to a slow start. And while conditions are remarkably good on the hill given the scant bases, perhaps it’s a little easier this holiday season to turn one’s attention to off-hill events and activities. As usual, Aspen’s arts and entertainment options are deep and varied, and there’s still plenty to do outside, too. Here are some of our top picks.
What better way to unwind and indulge the senses than settling in on a cold winter evening with a quality film? Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings offer up the usual fine selection of Oscar contenders during the event’s Dec. 19-30 run. And while our top pick, The Post, about the Washington paper’s publication of the Pentagon Papers (starring Meryl Streep as venerable Post publisher Katharine Graham) is sold out, The Aspen Times’ Andrew Travers recommends two equally impressive options. On Wednesday, Dec. 27, Wonderstruck tells the story of two children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different, and set out on parallel quests. Cannes 2017 Grand Jury Prize winner BPM (Beats Per Minute), screening on Dec. 28, is about HIV/AIDS activists in early 1990s Paris — and it’s a contender for Best Foreign Language Film. Purchase tickets here.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is playing at Aspen’s Isis Theatre and Movieland in El Jebel.
Here’s another favorite winter cultural activity: a cozy meal and the soothing — or scintillating — sounds of world-class artists performing at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s JAS Café. You’ll want to buy tickets fast to one of the two Dec. 30 shows (Dec. 29 is sold out) featuring Grammy and Tony award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater. Bridgewater, whose critically acclaimed albums include tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday (both of which won Grammys), returns to her birthplace in her latest album, Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready, which includes groundbreaking reimagining of blues and R&B classics.
TIP: If you’re looking to get in a Belly Up show over the holidays, early January is your best bet. Dec. 28-31 performances are solidly sold out, including a two-night Jane’s Addiction run over New Year’s. Travers’ picks include Railroad Earth (Jan. 2 & 3), a roots and bluegrass jam band with wide-ranging influences, and electro-house artist and DJ Steve Aoki (Jan. 6). Still looking for a way to ring in the New Year? A few tickets remain as of this writing for modern bluegrass band the Infamous Stringdusters, on Dec. 31 at the Wheeler Opera House.
No worries about having to buy tickets in advance for Aspen’s finest visual art offerings. At the Aspen Art Museum, Travers suggests pop-art superstar Nate Lowman’s exhibition, Before and After, which runs through June 10. Anticipating a crowd-pleaser of a show, Travers writes in the Times, “Best known for his smiley-face works, Lowman uses familiar images — pine-tree air fresheners, celebrities — and filters them through his dark vision. This should be a fun one.”
ON ANOTHER NOTE, Travers also recommends swinging by the Aspen Chapel Gallery — town’s longest continuously running gallery — for its 200th (!) show. Small Wonders, a group exhibition of some 30 local artists, features small, original works (no larger than 12 square inches) that “provides a one-stop opportunity to survey the diverse landscape of the local art scene,” writes Travers in an article in Aspen Sojourner magazine.
Maybe this is the time to try out some alternative snow sports. At Snowmass, the brand new Breathtaker Alpine Coaster is open, taking riders (solo or double) through more than a mile of the forest above Elk Camp on a winding, elevated track and reaching speeds of nearly 30 mph. The 7- to 9-minute ride features curves, hairpin turns, and a loop, promising thrilling action for the whole family. (Note: Special introductory pricing of $35 for unlimited rides per two-hour session ends Dec. 22; after that, you’ll have to purchase a $49 activity pass, which includes unlimited access to the alpine coaster and tubing during that time.)
OR TRY THIS: Those who prefer a calmer activity should treat themselves to a guided snowshoe tour — with the higher-elevation locations of the tours, lack of snow is almost never an issue. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers daily two-hour snowshoe tours during the ski season from the top of Aspen Mountain and at Elk Camp at Snowmass (for ages 7 and up) — both explore local spruce and fir forests and focus on the area’s winter ecology and wildlife. But our pick is the four-hour ACES tour at Ashcroft, a fully immersive experience exploring the gorgeous forests and aspen groves of the upper Castle Creek Valley, punctuated by a gourmet lunch at the spectacular Pine Creek Cookhouse.
FOR SKINNY SKIERS, cross-country skiing options are thin in the valley as of this writing, comprising of just the main loop near the schools campus on Maroon Creek road is open. Good news, though: The 35 kilometers of trails at Ashcroft Ski Touring (whose base elevation is 9,500 feet) are fully open and operating for the winter. Besides the gorgeous views and groomed trails for all levels, Ashcroft is an affordable ski option: a full-day pass is $25. Equipment rental, guided tours, and lessons are also offered.
(Photo of alpine coaster on cover image by Dan Bayer, courtesy Aspen Skiing Co.)