The 12 Days of Aspen

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
December 19, 2012
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank"> michael.stockton/Flickr</a>

Powderhounds take to Aspen like candy canes to a Christmas stocking, and nothing says "spend your holiday on the slopes" quite like the 12 Days of Aspen.

From December 20 through New Year's Eve, the Colorado city welcomes visitors to its three snow-peaked mountains and four ski resorts with a full calendar of concerts, ice-skating, restaurant deals, and splurge-y shopping. If you're up for a last-minute indulgence, or just want to do a little vicarious window-shopping, here are some highlights:

Free Ice Skating from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Silver Circle Ice Rink on the 12 Days of Aspen opening day, December 20 (Silver Circle Ice Rink, 433 E. Durant Ave., Aspen, 970/925-1710, free on opening day, other $7 for adults, $3 skate rental).

The Spirit of Aspen Spectacular is a new musical presented evenings at the Wheeler Opera House, featuring Aspen locations and actors playing local legends such as the late pop singer John Denver. "The story is about what makes Aspen so special for the holidays," author Jayne Gottlieb told the Aspen Times. "It speaks to the magic of our town." (320 E. Hyman Ave, Aspen, wheeler, tickets $25 for adults, $20 for children 12 and under).

Yoga for Skiers isn't just a relaxing and invigorating way to start the day. Poses such as Chair Pose and Spine Twist help prepare the body's muscles for the twists and turns of downhill skiing and snowboarding. Sessions are free with a lift ticket at Aspen Mountain, The Sundeck, Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 9:30 (Aspen Mountain, The Sundeck, 970/429-6974, free with lift ticket).

Winter Explorers Class gives the little ones an educational, outdoors alternative to holiday favorites like cocoa with Santa and teddy bear story hour. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers kids ages 6 to 10 a chanced to explore the Lake Hallam nature preserve, including examining animal tracks, building a snow cave, and much more (100 Puppy Smith St., Aspen,, from $50).

Free Hot-Air Balloon Rides will be offered in Wagner Park, presented by the Above It All Balloon Co. and The Westin Snowmass Resort, on December 30 from 1:30 to 3:30 (300 S. Monarch, Aspen, 970/925-1940, free).

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St. Maarten Tourism Up in 2012

The St. Maarten Tourism Bureau announced this week that arrivals to the island have increased 17 percent since last year. One major reason, besides St. Maarten's drop-dead beauty and easygoing vibe, was that JetBlue added direct service to the island from Puerto Rico, which is about 150 miles southeast of St. Maarten and the most popular American hub in the Caribbean. That, in turn, has inspired more travelers from the New York and Boston areas to hop a flight. In addition, Delta has launched weekly round-trip flights from New York to St. Marteen.           Not content with this significant increase, the tourism bureau is hoping to entice JetBlue and other airlines to add more routes from other metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas.          So, what will you do in St. Maarten? The island, part of the Lesser Antilles, has an average temperature of 80 degrees F year-round and offers some of the choicest white sand, coral, and snorkeling in the eastern Caribbean. Half the island is Dutch, the other half French, but English is the major language here. Don't miss these attractions:          Dawn Beach, on the Dutch side of the island, is, yes, a great place to watch the sun come up. It's a snorkler's paradise, with a coral reef swimming distance from shore and a soft white-sand beach.          Mullet Bay is known for its "curls"-gently rolling waves ideal for surfing. If you're not a surfer, the cerulean half-moon-shaped bay encourages total relaxation, and the island's only golf course is right next door.          St. Maarten Zoo has more than 60 species of animals that hail from the tropics, including aviaries filled with multicolored birds from around the Caribbean and South America (Arch Road, across the Salt Pond from Philipsburg,, adults $10, children $5).          Sunset Bar &amp; Grill is a favorite place to hoist a beer or pina colada and watch jumbo jets take off and land at next-door neighbor Princess Juliana International Airport. American and Caribbean food are served for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and late night (2 Beacon Hill Road, Beacon Hill,, red snapper in lemon butter sauce $18).


New Travel Trend: Crowdfunding Your Dream Vacation

If your dream trip feels out of reach financially, crowdfunding websites let your friends, family, and even strangers help you pay for your vacation. You can raise funds for any project on this site, but it's also a good way to put the word out that you need a little help with your vacation budget. Make your case or post a video to let people know what you plan to use the money for, then share the link to your page on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Your page will stay on the website for a set number of days allowing people around the world to contribute funds via credit card or PayPal. It is free to create an account, but Indiegogo does take a small percentage of your earnings. If you want to help someone you don't know take their trip, a recent search found more then 350 people looking for help. These included a group raising money for a friend's 60th birthday trip, people putting together vacation funds for a military veteran and his family following his return from deployment, and a ninth grader trying to raise money for her school band and choir to travel to Disneyland. Honeyfund.comInstead of toasters and place settings, couples can register for hotel nights and even flights. It's free to set up a personalized page on outlining details of your trip with options for how friends and family can help. According to the site, about 62 percent of couples pay for their own honeymoon, and this is a way to have friends and family contribute. Plus, many of would rather have a trip to the Caribbean instead of a set of hand towels.  


4 Restaurants Alain Ducasse Loves in New York

Even Alain Ducasse, the renowned French chef who runs 23 gourmet restaurants around the workd, loves a great deal. When he's in New York City, here are a few of his favorite places to eat—not a $$$$ in sight! Pommes Frites "This East Village hole-in-the-wall is my go-to whenever I crave something completely satisfying. The rustic Belgian-inspired operation has perfected the fried potato." 123 Second Ave.,, pommes frites from $4.50. Four &amp; Twenty Blackbirds "This cozy bakery is owned and operated by the talented sisters Melissa and Emily Elsen. It's a delightful Brooklyn shop that's perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of their seasonal pie." 439 Third Ave., Brooklyn,, piece of salted caramel apple pie $5. Russ &amp; Daughters "This New York institution started as a pushcart in 1908, and now it's a little kosher-style specialty shop on the Lower East Side. It's a must for travelers looking for some small bites to go, a bagel and cream cheese, or locally smoked fish." 179 E. Houston St.,, Fancy Delancey (smoked tuna with horseradish dill cream cheese and wasabi flying fish roe on a bagel) $8.75. The Farmers Markets "One of the reasons I love to come to New York at this time of year is for the incredible selection of fruits and vegetables at the outdoor markets. The multicolored squash are beautiful. Something that isn't found in France but is one of my favorites is the yellow spaghetti squash." Union Square Greenmarket, Union Square Park,, open Mon., Wed., Fri., Sat., 8 A.M.-6 P.M. Alain Ducasse's J'Aime New York: A Taste of New York in 150 Culinary Destinations (Hardie Grant Books) is in stores now.  


A Gourmet Meal for $20

There's no fancy silverware, no tablecloth, and no dress code. In fact, most diners, fresh from a hike, show up at this low-key lodge's dining room in flip-flops and shorts. Based on the setting, you might not guess that you're about to eat one of the most complex meals in all of Colombia, or, more importantly, that Chef Joseph Romero was sous chef at Spain's now-closed El Bulli, often called the world's best restaurant. But the real question on diners' minds, as they start their 10-course tasting menu with an appetizer like free-range hen salad with coconut biscuits and kefir is, "How can this all possibly cost $20?" After 25 years at upscale restaurants in his native Barcelona and elsewhere, Romero tired of typical fine dining—instead, he wanted to share with the world his so-called "gastronomic revolution." "Our scheme is to demystify 'luxury' and still create luxurious, local food at a reasonable price," he says. He traveled extensively before setting up camp at Dapa Hostel, a rustic ecolodge 30 minutes from Cali in the mountains of the Valle del Cauca. He found the area to be the ideal spot for his culinary coup—its natural diversity means a bounty of fresh ingredients, all sourced from farms and markets within a 50-mile radius. The result is a firsthand education in the region's distinct tropical fare. You'll find papaya in the béchamel sauce, or tropical fruit steamed with sage, thyme, and rosemary on a blackberry coulis for dessert. His trio of ceviches—based on the recipes of El Bulli chef Ferran Adrià and top Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio—come with a local twist, courtesy of his 23-year-old son and sous chef Mikhail: passion fruit vinaigrette and citrusy lulo fruit foam. You don't have to be a guest at the lodge to enjoy Romero's meals, but book early: Dinners are kept to 25 or under so Romero can interact with his guests, often sitting down to explain the dish's subtle flavors or local origins. After the delectable 10 courses—from French bean soup with an orange and purple basil sherbet "floating island" to yuca and corvina fish stew to potato and plantain waffles—it's pretty hard to believe that the check is so low. "Ferran Adrià says every product has the same gastronomical importance regardless of its market value," Romero says. "A potato and caviar don't have to be different in gastronomical value. If a potato has been grown properly and is well cooked, it can be as good as lobster." Dapa Hostel, Valle del Cauca,, for reservations call 011/57-318-349-9710 or email, 10-course tasting menu $20.