I spent 3 days in the most expensive ski town in the US, where a lift ticket costs $184 a day - and I was surprised to find that not everything there catered to the 1%

Alyse Kalish in aspen

Alyse Kalish/Business Insider

Me, skiing Snowmass in Aspen.

  • I recently ventured to Aspen, Colorado to see what it's like to ski in the most expensive mountain town in the United States.
  • It's as full of high-end brands and retail as you'd expect, which makes for fun window shopping - or actual shopping, if you're working with a big budget.
  • It offers great skiing options - with four mountains to choose from for various levels of skiing ability - and has a nice secluded feel.
  • Ultimately, though, I found it's about as good a value as any ski resort in the West.
  • If you want to save money, you can probably skip this stop.
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Talk to any ski bum, and they'll tell you west-coast skiing is some of the best out there (or if you're like me and have only skied the US, you'll say it is the best out there - don't @ me).

Which is why I consider myself lucky that I've had the opportunity over the years - thanks in large part to my father, who made his dream of living in Colorado come true several years ago - to meander down some of the nicest slopes out there. From world-class resorts like Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Vail to local favorites such as Loveland and A-Basin to the conveniently-close Eldora Mountain just over 20 miles from Boulder, I've seen (and climbed, and shimmed down, and sometimes fallen down) them all.
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But one place I'd yet to check off my list? Luxurious, celebrity-hot-spot Aspen. That is, until this year.
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Aspen is the most expensive ski town in America.

Aspen is the most expensive ski town in America.

It's home to "Billionaire Mountain," where the 1% pay up to $50 million on real estate, and it's the only American ski destination where homes consistently sell for over $25 million.

If you manage to snag a cheap-enough hotel or Airbnb as a visitor, you still have to dish out $184 a day on a lift ticket and then some on rentals, making it the most expensive day for any US skier out on the slopes.

In December, I flew to Colorado for the holidays for a week of celebrating, catching up with family, and, yes, skiing. Given Aspen's notorious reputation when it comes to money, we took a couple of steps right off the bat to get ahead of the expenses.

In December, I flew to Colorado for the holidays for a week of celebrating, catching up with family, and, yes, skiing. Given Aspen's notorious reputation when it comes to money, we took a couple of steps right off the bat to get ahead of the expenses.
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To keep within a reasonable budget, my family and I rented a condo in Snowmass Village, several miles outside of downtown Aspen, and took advantage of the town's free shuttle service.

To keep within a reasonable budget, my family and I rented a condo in Snowmass Village, several miles outside of downtown Aspen, and took advantage of the town's free shuttle service.

Aspen's RFTA stops at the four main mountains in Aspen — Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk — as well as at hotels, airports, and condo resorts in between, carrying sight-seers, locals, employees, and decked-out skiers to their various destinations.

We'd also purchased Ikon Passes before the season started. Rather than have to buy a lift ticket for each day, we decided it was worth shelling out $749 for a year's access to various mountains not just in the West Coast but in the East Coast (since I live in New York City) and abroad. As we planned to ski more than once this year, this ended up being a great deal, especially considering how pricey Aspen lift tickets are.

After skiing, I ventured into town to see what the hype is all about.

After skiing, I ventured into town to see what the hype is all about.
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The shuttle drops you off right outside the village, which sits at the base of Aspen Mountain.

The shuttle drops you off right outside the village, which sits at the base of Aspen Mountain.

A local who worked on the chairlift at Snowmass told me that Aspen Mountain, more so than the other three mountains, is where celebrities go to "be seen" — like when the Kardashians visited earlier this year.

In fact, we ran into and took a picture with Gwyneth Paltrow shortly after arriving.

From there, you're instantly immersed in the shopping experience, from jewelry stores to clothing boutiques to home decor.

From there, you're instantly immersed in the shopping experience, from jewelry stores to clothing boutiques to home decor.
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As expected, many of the stores were expensive — really, really expensive. In one store, a pair of snowpants cost $800 while a ski jacket ran for $2,000 or more.

As expected, many of the stores were expensive — really, really expensive. In one store, a pair of snowpants cost $800 while a ski jacket ran for $2,000 or more.

There are other familiar (and expensive) brands in town, like goop MRKT, The North Face, Ralph Lauren, and more.

There are other familiar (and expensive) brands in town, like goop MRKT, The North Face, Ralph Lauren, and more.

goop.com has been made famous by its founder, Gwyneth Paltrow (my celebrity spotting!), and its controversial reputation as a "powerhouse" of wellness tips, tricks, and merchandise. Their 2019 holiday gift guide included a $250 luxe brass fire extinguisher and $1,495 marble Connect Four set.

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You can also find boutiques for dog lovers.

You can also find boutiques for dog lovers.

And, naturally, a Starbucks.

And, naturally, a Starbucks.
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It's not completely overrun with high-end retail, though. At wine-beer-and-coffee-cafe Victoria's Espresso, I warmed up with a $5 hot chocolate.

It's not completely overrun with high-end retail, though. At wine-beer-and-coffee-cafe Victoria's Espresso, I warmed up with a $5 hot chocolate.

Considering that $5 for a hot chocolate in NYC is typical, if not cheap, I was surprised by how affordable eating out could be — if you found the right spots to hit.

When it came to food and drink options, I did admittedly, encounter plenty of sushi restaurants and fine dining spots. But there were also cafes and delis for those of us who didn't want to break the bank on a meal.

When it came to food and drink options, I did admittedly, encounter plenty of sushi restaurants and fine dining spots. But there were also cafes and delis for those of us who didn't want to break the bank on a meal.
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And the community has a lovely park for dog owners and evening walkers.

And the community has a lovely park for dog owners and evening walkers.

If you're not a skier, you can purchase the sightseeing lift ticket, which only cost $37.

If you're not a skier, you can purchase the sightseeing lift ticket, which only cost $37.

This includes access to lifts at all four mountains and a discount on food at the mountain lodges.

The Breathtaker Alpine Coaster is another great option at Snowmass — the ride costs $49 for three go-arounds or you can package it with their snowtubing experience.

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Overall, I'd say that Aspen is just about as beautiful and enjoyable as any ski town in western USA.

Overall, I'd say that Aspen is just about as beautiful and enjoyable as any ski town in western USA.

The views were spectacular, don't get me wrong, but still on par with other resorts in the area. And if you're a more advanced skier, you may find Aspen a bit too easy for your taste. So if you're looking for an excuse to skip this stop in lieu of others, you won't be missing much.

But if you do end up in Aspen, it won't disappoint — on any budget.

But if you do end up in Aspen, it won't disappoint — on any budget.

On the other hand, there's plenty of fun opportunities for shopping (so long as you have a flexible budget), eating out (both on the high and low end), and venturing up and down the gorgeous landscape. Plus, sitting four hours outside Denver and Boulder, it's secluded enough for the perfect getaway, should you decide you need a break from reality.

And I can tell you I feel plenty well rested.

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