SURROUNDED BY snow-swathed mountains, I’m doing the Downward Dog atop Ajax Mountain above the beautiful mountain town of Aspen, Colorado, and I’m feeling the love.
“Open your heart and relish this pose,” drawls Jaime Hartrich, our 66-year-old, ultra- t instructor, demonstrating the moves in his ski gear. It’s a treat to be partaking in a morning yoga class reached by gondola, 3263 metres above sea level, with heavenly views of this famous mountain we’re soon to ski down.
“Aspen is definitely getting more into yoga—so is the whole world!” says Jaime, a former architect. By his own admission, Jaime was once an in exible chap who could barely touch his own knees; “too much wild living”.
Then one day, ten years ago, “I went to a yoga class within a small store in Aspen, and I was hooked. It changed my life.” The next day, he and his then-wife Caroline started their own yoga business. Their studio Arjuna Yoga (517 East Hopkins Ave), in the heart of Aspen, specialises in Bikram Yoga.
“I’m much more loving, much more spiritual, and much healthier,” says Jaime, who’s studied extensively in India and around the world. “You’ll ski so much better for having done this class,” nods Jaime. “It makes you better at everything!” He’s right. An hour later, I feel like a champ as I glide down the mountain, my muscles already stretched and ready for action.
For decades, Aspen, on the roof of the Rocky Mountains, has been a magnet for skiers, movie stars, and trendsetters. The former mining town was reinvented as a ski destination in the 70s, and quickly attracted the jetset, lured by the four mountains within close proximity, plus the fabulous nightlife.
But now Aspen is also becoming something of a mecca for yoga-lovers; skiers wanting to lift their game with greater exibility, plus those mountain dwellers and tourists longing to feel more balanced. Wander around the glittering little town, and nestled among the upscale boutiques and art galleries, you’ll see yoga studios that have managed to ourish despite the hefty rates.
“I used to have a fast life in New York but now Aspen’s home, and I live for my yoga here,” a 62-year-old woman tells me. She’s just emerged from a class at Shakti Shali (422 East Cooper Avenue) one of the town’s most popular yoga centres.
Established by dynamic yoga/meditation teacher Jayne Gottlieb, Shakti Shali hosts a variety of classes every day which are popular with locals and tourists alike. The studio also sports a small boutique with alluring items produced by local artisans and designers, including vintage cowboy boots feminised with exquisite fabrics, crystal feather pendants and other goodies.
Soon after flying in to Aspen, an hour’s flight east of LA, I wander in to attend a class at Shakti Shali and nd the deep breathing and stretching really help me to overcome the jet lag. My instructor here is dynamic 20-something Courtney Smith. “I first fell in love with yoga when I lived in Sydney and injured my ankle, so I turned to yoga and it changed my life!” she explains.
She now teaches yoga every day and in doing so, has got to know many of the ski and snowboard champs who flock here during the year. Courtney calls her particular style of yoga Thug Yoga, and it’s taken off around Aspen. She plays groovy music and uses cheeky terms for the poses, mostly coined by the males in her classes. “I did this to help a lot of the guys I knew become interested in yoga, and it just went from there!” she explains.
She says, “At Aspen’s recent annual X Games championships, I held special classes for a bunch of guys, including some Australians. They did really well! But you don’t have to be a champion to benefit from yoga in this ski town. It helps everyone to ski better.”
Skiing and snowboarding are, of course, great winter pastimes in this tiny Colorado town. The four mountains, accessible by free buses that zip around the area every few minutes, are Buttermilk (which is ideal for beginners) Highlands, Snowmass and Ajax. Each has its own personality and charm; all offer great snow, quality chairlifts and good service, and restaurants with panoramic views.
When it comes to accommodation in Aspen, there’s no shortage of luxury hotels to choose from. The five-star Little Nell resort, perched at the base of Ajax, is the only hotel in Aspen with ski-in, ski-out access. Within seconds of walking from their rooms, guests are at the gondola, being handed their skis and a newly baked muffin from their obliging ski concierge. The hotel’s 92 luxury rooms feature heated floors, fireplaces, giant elegant bathrooms and super-comfortable king beds. I also especially enjoy the range of complimentary snacks in the mini-bar. In the morning, it’s worth going out to the balcony in your robe to survey the first skiers trundle towards the mountain in the crisp, early air.
“A growing number of our guests are into yoga and they love that they can just walk out of their room, hop on the gondola and do a morning class up at the Sundeck,” the hotel’s public relations manager, May Selby, says over tasty salmon nicoise salad and truffled French fries at Ajax Tavern beside the Nell.
The Little Nell, named after one of the town’s original madams from the mining era, also boasts the popular apres-ski bar, Chair 9. Here ageing billionaires compete with strapping lift operators for the attention of ski bunnies; again, fabulous people watching!
The St Regis Aspen Resort, at the base of Ajax mountain, is also a well-known place to stay. In its large, welcoming foyer, with elegant yet relaxed décor, you can sit by a blazing fireplace, sipping on your hot chocolate or cocktail, and feast your eyes on the passing parade of glamorous guests. While some are dressed to the nines in their furriest finery, others will wander past in Gucci tracksuits cuddling their pooches (yes the hotel is dog-friendly) or in a robe, fresh from the hotel spa.(The resort offers its health-conscious guests a three-day ‘Mountaintop Reboot’ programme, which includes a daily delivery of cold-pressed juices, customised massages, yoga, and fat-biking.)
During my stay here, I head to the Remede Spa for a massage, and am soon being pummelled into oblivion by Aanya, a Colorado woman with the Midas touch. She swiftly targets some tender points and gently suggests I adjust the way I sit at my computer, before her words stop making sense and I feel my mind relax. I’m dimly aware that she’s caking my feet in paraffin wax, then massaging my scalp with lavender oil. Aanya then leads me into the spa’s dimly lit lounge, where I lie in comfort, hooked up to a supply of oxygen to help me adjust to the altitude.
If money is no object, fashion lovers can knock themselves out buying glorious rags at a range of glamorous, high-end boutiques around Aspen. Those on a budget needn’t despair; movie stars often can’t bear to wear an outfit more than once, so you’ll see wonderful garments on sale for a fraction of their original price at shops like The Little Bird (525 East Cooper St) and Susie’s Consignment Shop (600 East Main St). There’s the good old Thrift Shop of Aspen (422 East Hopkins Ave) where you can buy a quality ski jacket for about $12 on the right day. It’s next door to Peaches Café, a fine spot for a bowl of soup or a toasted sandwich while reading your local Aspen Times. The health-conscious will enjoy Spring Café (119 Spring St Aspen) with fresh juices, kale salads and delicious soups, and Pyramid Bistro (221 East Main St) above the fabulous Explore bookshop.
Aspen has plenty to offer culturally, as unlike other ski resorts, it was originally a town. There’s a picture theatre, historic opera house, umpteen art galleries, clubs for writers, groups for artists, and even a physics club which welcomes visitors!
“I’ve lived here a long time and I used to worry, ‘Am I going to all the right parties in this place?’” says Jaime. “Now I’ve opened my heart, I see something beautiful in everybody. That’s all thanks to yoga, and I’m so glad it’s becoming so popular in my amazing mountain home.”