story and photos by Joey Amato

For years I’ve heard about Aspen Gay Ski Week, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to take the journey out to Colorado and experience the event for myself. Now in its 43rd year, Aspen Gay Ski Week attracts guests from around the country and possibly around the world.

For most, there are two ways to get to Aspen. The first is to fly to Denver and then take a connecting regional jet or drive 4 hours through beautiful Rocky Mountain terrain. My guest and I decided the drive would be fun, plus we’d get a chance to spend some time in Denver. After speaking with locals, I’d actually recommend this route because it’ll help your body adjust to the altitude. Altitude sickness is definitely a thing, so don’t take the warnings lightly. Drink lots of water throughout your stay and watch your alcohol intake. One drink equals about three in the mountains.

A night at the historic Hotel Oxford in Denver should be on your itinerary. It’s the oldest hotel in the city and a ghost is said to maintain residency in one of the rooms. The upscale property boasts a wonderful bourbon happy hour every evening in which guests get a chance to sample a variety of wonderful bourbons.

Connected to the hotel is Urban Farmer, a restaurant that serves brunch every day of the week. If you’re really hungry, order the Mile-High Omelet. Or, try the Chestnut-Banana Breakfast Bowl served with muesli, clementine, strawberry and an almond brown sugar crunch if you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter.

If you only have one day to explore Denver head to the Denver Botanic Gardens or Denver Art Museum, which during my visit hosted a sold-out “Claude Monet: exhibition” featuring more than 120 paintings spanning Monet’s entire career.

Stop for dinner at El Five, one of the city’s newest dining establishments. The restaurant has a beautiful view of downtown so try to get a table by the wall of windows. Order a few tapas for the table to share or if you’re in the mood for something a bit heartier, try one of El Five’s paella options.

The road to Gay Ski Week in Aspen could be quite adventurous. You never really know what the weather will be and it could turn on a dime in the mountains. Luckily, we were met with clear skies on both our drives to and from Aspen, but during our stay, we saw 10 inches of snowfall and it shut down major roads into the city, stranding some revelers for hours.

I had never been to Aspen before and wasn’t sure what to expect. As you drive along I-70, twisting through the steep mountain peaks and tunnels, you begin to envision what the ski town will look like. Aspen is an old mining town, founded in the 1870s and its deep history can still be seen today in some beautifully preserved buildings. As you wander around the narrow streets, you can see old mixed with new, evident by the contemporary design of the Aspen Art Museum. Even the glamorous boutiques like Chanel, Gucci and Dior are housed in historic buildings, which add to the city’s mystique.

The Limelight Hotel Aspen is ground zero for all things Gay Ski Week including a daily activity known as Après Ski, which loosely translates into after ski drinks and conversation with friends. Even non-guests of the hotel would gather daily in the lobby for this Aspen tradition. Limelight is located in the heart of the city and a few blocks from the base of Aspen Mountain. The hotel offers a complimentary buffet breakfast as well as shuttle service making your stay even more enjoyable because you won’t need a car or rideshare. Our room at Limelight was nothing short of magnificent. The Cathedral Suite features a full kitchen, dining and living room complete with a wall of windows offering breathtaking views of the mountains.

Aspen Gay Ski Week events change on a daily basis. The evening we arrived, many boutiques and art galleries stayed open late for Aspen’s Fashion & Art Night Out. The following night featured a comedy show with Julie Goldman and Alec Mapa held at Belly Up, followed by a dance party at the venue.

However, one of the most anticipated events of the week is the Downhill Costume Competition, where teams of skiers dress up in a theme and ski down Aspen mountain. I can’t even ski in regular attire, but some of the outfits ranged from Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers to Olivia Newton John-inspired costumes with the team performing to her hit “Physical” on stage, after skiing down the mountain. The event was hosted by Sister Helen Holy, quite simply one of the funniest, quick-witted drag queens I’ve ever seen. Sister Helen had the crowd roaring with laughter throughout the entire event.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Aspen is quite expensive. It’s a town visited by the super-rich, so keep that in mind before you go. A meal at one of the town’s fabulous restaurants like Pinons or Acquolina can easily set you back $100 per person if you order a drink with dinner. There are some less expensive options but just be prepared to spend a bit more than anticipated.

In all, the week was a wonderful experience, one that people come back to enjoy year after year. I reconnected with old friends and made some new friends along the way. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2021.

Enjoy the Journey!