How to do Aspen on a Budget
This article was written by Laurel Miller and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.
Let's play a word association game. "Aspen." You're probably thinking, "I can't afford Prada/don't wear fur/wish I could afford to ski there."
Guess what? Aspen isn't just for couture-wearing socialites and Botox-happy celebs. Real people live here, and even broke folks like me enjoy the multitude of outdoor adventures this historic mining-turned-ski-town has to offer. Right now, as ski season winds down and spring break visitors arrive, is the best time for tight-budgeted snow sport enthusiasts to visit because there are killer deals to be had on everything from accommodations to dining.
Lift tickets? Not so much, but there are package deals that provide hefty discounts. There are also plenty of free activities for skiers and riders, as well as those who prefer to spend their time off the slopes.
Here's how to do Aspen on the cheap, spring break style (minus the wet T-shirt contests and projectile vomiting... this is still Aspen, after all). And remember: No matter how minuscule your budget, the scenery is always gratis.
Unbeknownst to many, Aspen has two hostel-style lodges that offer dorms and single/double rooms with shared or private baths. My longtime fave is the St. Moritz Lodge, a few blocks from the town core. Low-season dorm beds start at $59, and you'll also find friendly staff, eclectic guests (expect everything from octogenarian Euro ski bums who have been visiting for decades to cash-savvy couples), free continental breakfasts and après-ski snacks, and clean, comfortable rooms. Best lodging deal in town, hands-down.
Mountain Chalet Aspen has been owned and operated by the same family since 1954. It's one of the last of its kind—a groovy original Swiss-style ski lodge—and while it's seen better days, it's got character. Accommodations range from basic dorms to the likes of the Chamonix Deluxe room, which boasts a king bed, private bath, and obligatory antlers on the walls. All rooms include breakfast, plus hot tub, sauna, and steam room access. Bonus: It's less than a five-minute walk to the gondola with your ski boots on. From $89.
If you've got the ducats for more style, the sweetest digs in town—with the best late-season deals—is the Limelight Hotel. Located a block from the slopes, this offbeat, 126-room property is also the local's fave for après-ski deals (hello, $10 wood-fired pizzas and $10 Colorado craft whiskey flights, and free live music). There's also the bomb, all-inclusive breakfast buffet, featuring house-made granola as well as a hot line. (Tip: Pad your pocket with a bagel with lox or cold cuts for later, but just remember, you didn't get that idea from me.) Rooms are airy, contemporary mountain-chic, many with fireplaces.
The Limelight is currently offering a Spring Escape package (subject to availability): Buy a minimum of two days and score 50 percent off lift tickets, rentals, and lodging, as well as 10 percent off lessons. (You must book seven days in advance of your arrival date; valid April 6-19.) This deal is good for all four of Aspen's ski areas: Snowmass, Highlands, Aspen Mountain, and Buttermilk.
Eating and drinking
Tourists and second homeowners throw down megabucks for fancy dinners; locals know where to get great eats for less than the cost of a tank of gas (or, say, two Big Mac Extra Value meals at Aspen's token McDonald's). That said, come April 1, many fine-dining restaurants (check out spots like Ajax Tavern, Creperie du Village, and Rustique) offer killer deals; check with your concierge or scan the local paper for ads.
Annette's Mountain Bake Shop makes NYC-worthy bagels, Kouign-amann, and other goodness for breakfast and lunch. The sandwiches are insane; try the juicy, house-made roast beef, meatball, or caponata, or first-rate soups, salads, and off-menu delights like pissaladiere; cash only. You can also find tasty muffins at Peach's Corner Café, and I love the hangover-crushing breakfast sammie from Main Street Bakery (get it to go, or expect to wait for a table). A five-spot will get you a locally made croissant with house-made jam at So, the peaceful indoor café on the roof of the Aspen Art Museum. Skiers at Aspen Mountain should make their first run straight to Bonnie's for oatmeal pancakes or apple dumplings smothered in real whipped cream.
Those in the know hit Meat & Cheese Restaurant & Farm Shop for lunch or dinner. Owned by cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell of Basalt's award-winning Avalanche Cheese Co., it features affordable "boards" loaded with house-roasted local chicken, porchetta, and potatoes basted in their juices, with a side of dressed greens; you can also get cheese or charcuterie boards featuring daily selections from well-curated charcuterie cases. There are also creative sandwiches and outstanding "world farmhouse cuisine" that will satisfy whatever your jones (even if you haven't just hit up the dispensary around the corner... which is definitely not cheap). The Meatball Shack is more upscale than it sounds; for under $70 you can have cocktails, linen napkins, and two honkin' portions of tasty pasta or specials in a stylish setting.
Related: 8 Cheap and Cozy Ski Lodges
The Aspen Dollar Bar, a utilitarian basement space, is friendly, with lethal, well-priced drinks (this is whiskey country; hold off on the foofy orders), and well-executed bar food. Daily specials include chicken pot pie or pulled pork, but serious props to the tender prime rib sammie with house-made fries ($6). No visit to Aspen is complete without a stumble to New York Pizza—even when sober, the giant slices are delish and dirt-cheap, and it's open until 2 a.m.
Activities and events
Get a dose of culture at the new, free Aspen Art Museum, which has raised international controversy for its uber-contemporary design and unique exhibits. There are also lectures from writers in residence and visiting artists, and family programming. On the other end of the spectrum, the Aspen Historical Society offers affordable tours and events from pub crawls and retro-ski fashion shows to ski history outings.
Nordic activities: With the exception of Ashcroft, a nearby National Historic Register ghost town/designated Nordic area that's privately owned and thus fee-based, Aspen's 60-plus miles of Nordic trails are free. The Aspen Nordic Center is a convenient place to take a lesson, rent gear (skis or snowshoes), and take some laps, but this time of year, there's often not enough snow left for Nordic Center skiing. Instead, ski for free up Tiehack or Elk Camp at Snowmass, or to the Sundeck at the top of Aspen Mountain. It's a crazy-good workout, and the views are amazing.
Ski programs and free on-mountain tours: Some hotels, like the Limelight, offer free, exclusive programs like Last Tracks to guests, but there are also organized events for the public (with valid lift ticket) that enable you to ski with local experts. First Tracks is insanely popular; register up to 24 hours in advance to hit the slopes for first run of the day with Aspen Skiing Co. employees. Aspen Mountain also offers free on-mountain ski tours by the naturalists at the Wapiti Wildlife Center (great for the kids).
As the season is winding down, note that all ski area closing day events are free with lift ticket purchase, and guaranteed to provide you with wacked-out, local-style shenanigans in which you can participate (wearing a costume is always appropriate, skiing butt-nekkid not so much, but it happens). Check out Aspen Highlands’ wild party or Snowmass’s infamous Schneetag (skiers/riders propel themselves over ski jumps into a pond on homemade quasi-aircraft); both are on April 12.
Fat biking: Price for snow country's hottest sport vary, depending upon whether you do a rental or guided tour/lesson. The latter is highly recommended if you don't have experience and want to hit some single track or open terrain; it's still avalanche season, remember. Prices range from $60 for a full-day rental at Stapleton Ski to over $120 for a guided tour at Sun Dog Athletics. Got traction devices for your hiking shoes? Hit Aspen's impressive trail system for free; there's no shortage of trailheads in town.
Hit the street: Walking is free, and no visit to Aspen is complete without a stroll to check out the gorgeous Victorian homes, or along the Rio Grande bike path/pedestrian trail for views of the Elk Range and Roaring Fork River. FYI, you don't need a car in Aspen. The bus to all the ski areas is free and frequent, has loads of stops, and is a handy way to safely handle your après-ski buzz.
Related: In Aspen Even the Weed is Luxurious
At elephant-conservation organization ElephantStay in Ayutthaya, Thailand, a Danish visitor had an extremely interactive encounter with an adorable baby elephant named Double Trouble who loved being hosed off and taking a dunk (or five) in his miniature bathtub. Getting in and out of the tub is the difficult part for Double Trouble, but judging by how much the six-month-old elephant likes the water, we're guessing he'll be an old pro in no time. Want to stay overnight and care for an elephant at ElephantStay too? Rates start at about $183 per person per night for a three-day, two-night package, meals included (elephantstay.com).
Would You Pay $250 for a Professional Vacation Photographer?
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Nomadic in Morocco: You CAN Afford the Trip of a Lifetime
Prepare for an unforgettable adventure! While the name Morocco may conjure images of endless desert, or the classic film Casablanca (which was, of course, shot entirely in Hollywood), the real Morocco rolls out some of the world's most beautiful mountains, a scenic coastline that may remind you of Northern California (really!), a surprisingly easy-to-navigate Sahara, and opportunities to pamper yourself, especially when you arrive in chic Marrakech. The North African nation welcomes visitors to its ancient medinas and souks, but also to world-class restaurants, alluring (and affordable) spas, and stylish hotels. Whether you decide to see Morocco on a pre-arranged package tour or to dive into a self-guided road trip like the one photographer Michael Hanson took for this story (take a slideshow tour of his incredibly beautiful photos!), you'll delight in the cultural coming-together of Berber, Arab, and Saharawi cultures on an exotic-yet-attainable vacation of a lifetime. MARRAKECH Whether you're seeking days of adventure in the mountains and desert or just a day trip to get a taste of "wild Morocco," we recommend that you make Marrakech your base of operations. Everybody starts their exploration of the city at Djemaa el-Fna and you should too: You'll enjoy wandering through the souks, shopping for exquisite carpets and other handiworks, and you'll also be pleasantly surprised at the number of stylish boutiques in the old city. We love Cafe de France, at Place Djemaa el-Fna, perfect for strong coffee (or fresh-squeezed citrus juices) and people watching. For an indulgent night, book your lodging at a riad, such as Riad Noga (riadnoga.com, from about $100), and ask about their spa treatments. AIT BENHADDOU Many day trips or multi-day tours out of Marrakech head to this town via 4x4, and it really is a must-stop on your way to or from the big city when exploring the wilder side of Morocco. Ait Benhaddou is one of the most impeccably preserved examples of a 1,000-year-old North African caravan stopover. It actually looks like a movie set. And for a very good reason: The town has served as the location for scenes in Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jesus of Nazareth, and has benefited from some Hollywood spruce-ups. You'll nab some of your best Morocco photos here, and enjoy an hour or two getting to know the handful of locals who call it home. You'll probably be on your way before evening, but if you do need to bunk down, Hotel la Kasbah (hotel-lakasbach.com, from $31) is reliable and very affordable. OUARZAZATE While Ait Benhaddou may resemble a movie set, nearby Ouarzazate is actually a major center of TV- and movie-making. Scenes from Game of Thrones and other film and TV projects have been filmed here and it is home to CLA Studios, which you can tour. But on a hot day, the first thing you may want to do is jump into the cool blue pool at Hotel Al Baraka Des Loisirs (hotel-albaraka-ouarzazate.com, from $30), which offers high-quality rooms at a great price. And since your next stop may very well be the Sahara Desert, Ouarzazate is a good place to relax over a tasty hot meal: Get your tagine on at Les Jardins de Ouarzazate (hotel-les-jardins-de-ouarzazate.com). The delicious staple of Moroccan cuisine is a historically Berber recipe named after the clay dish in which it is prepared with a rich collection of spices, vegetables, and sometimes meat. SAHARA Are you ready? Camel treks to Berber tent camps are the easiest way to make your way through the wild landscape of the Sahara Desert, though a healthy hike can take you to the top of one of the many dunes in this windswept masterpiece of nature. Of course the desert is a scorcher during the day, but at sunrise and sunset it's magic, with the smooth red dunes glowing and the temperature quickly dropping. If you're on a 4x4 tour or in the hands of an experienced guide, the logistics will all be arranged in advance. If not, La Maison Rurale, in Merzouga, offers treks into the desert and can help with accommodations before and after. As beautiful as the desert is by day, the real show is at night, when you can stare at an infinite universe of stars swirling overhead as you lie on the warm sand. ATLAS MOUNTAINS Sure, tour guides will give you the opportunity to ogle the beautiful Atlas Mountains from a distance if that's what you prefer-but you can also get a little more adventurous and start hiking. A gentle trail leads you to Refuge du Toubkal les Mouflons (refugelesmouflons.com), in the ski area of Jbel Toubkal, where you can have a surprisingly comfy stay, enjoy a home-cooked meal, and meet fellow trekkers intent on conquering Toubkal Massif, at more than 10,000 feet, the highest peak in North Africa. Don't miss Dades Valley and its winding roads-one of the most stunning drives in the world, cutting through the rugged landscape for a 100-mile stretch. And you can even relax and watch the sun sink and the shadows rise as you sip mint tea at a café perched high above the valley. Whether you see the mountains for a few hours or a few days, they are a sight you'll never forget. PLAN YOUR TRIP We've suggested several reliable hotels and restaurants to help you plan your Morocco adventure. But even travelers who enjoy blazing their own trail in Europe or South America may appreciate a little of the TLC that comes from booking a package tour when visiting Morocco. Budget Travel has offered Morocco deals from such package tour companies as Gate 1 Travel, G Adventures, and Intrepid Travel, which offer a range of itineraries and price points. You'll always get great airfare and hotel rates rolled into a package deal, and the security of having an English-speaking tour guide and transportation prearranged. Whether youj're looking for a romantic getaway that's heavy on the spa treatments, shopping, and fine dining, or a let's-get-lost adventure that lets you snap selfies atop the highest peak in North Africa, riding a camel to a Berber camp in the Sahara, or haggling over the price of a carpet in a souk, Morocco has something for every taste and every budget.