NoVA Travelers took its final trip of the year for 2009 on the weekend immediately following our return from San Francisco.
Lets recap - from the east coast to Venice/Greece in mid November, back to the east coast for a few days, then to the west coast for the SFO trip, then back to the east again for a work week, then back to the west for our trip to Aspen. I'm pretty sure my body was losing all sense of time and direction by the second week of December.
After all that whirlwind activity across the Atlantic and across the country, it was time for a relaxing break. No can't miss tourist sights, no walking tours, no historical did-you-know teaching moments. Just a weekend of relaxation and playtime in a snowy wonderland.
I took off for Aspen a day early to work around my job schedule, and spent the night in Denver. I had a free stay coming from The Curtis that was given to me in a gesture to prove that the hotel had solved its noise problems (loud 20somethings at 3am) that our group had witnessed in the summer on our Denver hiking trip. It was a pleasant overnight stay and set the tone for a relaxing weekend.
The next day I met the other member (Tanja) who had signed up for the trip at the Denver airport and boarded our little commuter plane for Aspen.
Forty minutes later we touched down at the Aspen airport and our hotel sent an Escalade to pick us up in style. Nice! The hotel - another Kimpton property (fast becoming my favorite chain) was everything a ski lodge should be. Warm and inviting, the lobby greeted us with a fireplace and highback chairs covered with fur throws. We were provided free breakfast each morning, free cocktails each evening, and the best hot toddies I have ever sipped before bedtime. Heaven! The property also featured a view of Aspen mountain from the outdoor heated pools. And best of all, anytime we wanted a ride somewhere in town, the hotel drivers would whisk us away in the sexy Escalades.
We spent the morning of our first day in Aspen exploring the small town and meeting the locals. My favorite place was this western themed apparel and gift shop that was "manned" by a dog who fetched beers out of the fridge for his owner. I am not kidding! I don't even drink beer and I was still impressed watching the woofies go to the fridge, open the door, pull out a beer and bring it over to her while we stood by in jaw-dropped awe.
After we'd walked a good bit of downtown Aspen, we hopped on the shuttle over to another ski area one village over called Aspen Highlands. The ski area was not yet open (opened the next day) but we had lunch at the renowned Willow Creek Bistro. The bistro's specialty is game meats and there were plenty to choose from on the menu. Bison, elk, antelope, caribou, bear, wild boar, just to name a few. We were both more than satisfied with our warm and filling lunches and I highly recommend the bistro.
We took the shuttle back to Aspen, and then did a little more window shopping before meeting up in a sports store to rent snowshoes. I had not been snowshoeing for many years and I was very excited to get back out there. The shoes have changed A LOT since I last saw them; they've really come into the 21st century. No more tennis racket looking weave, instead it's all modern lightweight aluminum with spiked bottoms to cut through snow and ice. We got our gear, popped back to the hotel and had the driver take us to a nearby trail. We hiked for an hour up hills, over bridges, across stream beds and through a few clearings. The snow was a couple feet deep and beautiful. Quiet was all around us. We could see homes in the distance but saw no human activity. And then, on a wooden bridge high above where we started, a furry dog appeared out of nowhere wearing one sock on one foot. He took a seat beside us on the bridge silently and peered over the landscape below. We could not discern what he looking at or for whom he was waiting but he sat there like a statue, refusing to move even after we began our descent back down the hill.
We had a quiet dinner in town that evening and after a few hot toddies at the hotel collapsed into our warm beds.
The next day we split up after breakfast to spend the day pursuing our interests. Tanja headed off to ski the slopes at buttermilk. I spent the morning Christmas shopping for family members online and then I walked over and explored the winter farmer's market near the John Denver sanctuary. Eventually I took my snowshoes to the top of Aspen mountain (the chairlift was very scenic and it took seemingly forever to get to the top). After lunch in the alpine café I set out to hike across some snowpacked ridges. It was an invigorating hike and I really enjoyed myself in the solitude. While there were plenty of folks on the ski trails, the higher (and more level of course) snowshoe trails were empty.
As the sun began to set I hopped on the last chairlift down the mountain and slipped back into our hotel. I arranged for a massage so that while Tanja was enjoying the free afternoon cocktail I could be given the once over by a professional.
Another relaxing evening with dinner in town and hot toddies to cap the night and we were ready for bed.
We woke up the next morning to find that my flight had been cancelled (I was originally scheduled to leave Aspen about an hour before Tanja) due to the snowstorm that began overnight and that I had been bumped to her flight. We said goodbye to our beautiful hotel and the friendly staff and headed for the airport. Another flight scheduled to depart about a half hour before ours on another airline was delayed and its passengers were in a bad mood. When our airline assured us we would be taking off on time these other passengers laughed and scoffed and said it was impossible to get out on a flight at all with the weather. Cynics! Pessimists! It was essential that we make it out on time because otherwise we'd be stuck a full extra day in Aspen, or faced with renting a car and driving 6 hours through a snowstorm to Denver.
As the other airline's flight was cancelled and an announcement was made that no flights for that airline would take off that day, the grumpy passengers sneered an "I told you so" in our direction. However, no announcements from our airline were forthcoming. About 10 minutes later, our airline announced boarding. Turns out *our* airline was smart enough to bring prop planes to Aspen which can fly in lower temperatures, higher winds and lower visibility than regional jets. HAH. Optimism wins again! We all piled onto our plane and headed down the taxiway to the de-icing station. We were de-iced twice and then proceeded to the runway. Where we sat. And sat. And sat. The pilot told us the visibility and winds were at the right levels to permit takeoff when we boarded but not by the time we finished de-icing. He said the wind was variable and while we could deboard the plane he didn't want to because he was waiting for the next short window in which the winds might lower and we would have a chance to take off. Everyone seemed agreeable to this so we waited perhaps another 20 minutes before the wind died down for just long enough for us to take off. Forty five seconds after we took off the pilot reported that they cancelled ALL remaining flights for the day and closed the airport. God is good to us!
We got to Denver, hugged goodbye and split up to take our flights home as we were on different airlines. I felt so relaxed and refreshed and ready to step up to the business of the holidays. I think it was a fantastic trip and a great way to end the year for NoVA Travelers.
All the pics from the trip are in my facebook album here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=185010&id=603259739&l=16cbe93d57 (must be a facebook friend to view, but I will be happy to add you if we're not already connected on fb).
If you're interested in joining NoVA Travelers, visit us on the web at http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers
I leave you with Tanja's comments on the trip:
" Great food, company, location, hotel, activities, weather... It was a perfectly magical weekend and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat! Many thanks, Jenni! "