For as long as I can remember, I wanted to live in a ski town. I pictured an idyllic, sparkly place outlined in Christmas lights year-round, somewhere with a great bookstore and powerful coffee, no dress code, and healthy people with fantastic mountain-climbing legs. Instead I ended up spending my twenties and thirties in Manhattan, working as a wedding reporter at the New York Times, often eating three consecutive meals at my computer. My legs were not fantastic.
Then, in 2001, my husband, an architect and builder, got a job offer in Aspen, Colorado. In about a week we dug out our skis and mountain bikes; enrolled our sons, Will, now 11, and Charlie, 7, in Aspen schools; and found a little yellow house with such a good view of Aspen Mountain we can watch the Sno-Cats grooming the slopes at night, their headlights slowly traveling up and down like sleepy fireflies.
Aspen has been the best blind date our family ever had. The town is even more beguiling than any of us imagined, full of Victorian cottages from its silver-mining days, and classic Western red-brick buildings that glow pinkish at sunset. Everywhere you look, you see mountains—some craggy and unapproachable; others balding, ruddy, and desert-like; the most dramatic ones as scary-big as tidal waves. But Aspen isn't only beautiful; it's a brainy town, too. There are always museum-show openings, operas, physics lectures on the latest black hole discoveries, Save Tibet festivals, and just-back slide shows on climbing Mount Everest. It's also a privileged enclave—onetime hardware stores and sawdusty bars are now Prada and Louis Vuitton outposts. I've walked by people on the sidewalk wearing such enormous fur coats, I felt as if I'd just been through a car wash.
But more than anything, Aspen is a town of athletes and adventurers. The local chefs, bookstore clerks, dental hygienists, baristas, and school-kids are die-hard rock climbers, kayakers, long-distance runners, and dirt bikers. When I first moved here, I got passed on hiking trails by unicyclists, pedaling uphill and over boulders and tree roots, looking to me like lost circus performers.
Another thing about Aspen locals: their favorite season is summer. That's when the gates to the wilderness reopen and ski clothes get marked down 80 percent (prices for hotel rooms drop, too). Day after day, the sky is Tiffany ring–box blue and bug-free. Paragliders twirl above the peaks. Mountain bikers ride through Aspen forests and fields of wildflowers up to their waists—a better feeling, many say, than skiing deep powder. And the Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News, the best sources for all of these goings-on, both expand like bread in the oven. Come for a vacation—and check out my family's legs.