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Aspen, Colorado

Ute City
View south along Galena Street in downtown Aspen, 2010. The Aspen Mountain ski area is in the background.
Name origin: From trees around the city
Country USA
State Colorado
Region Western Slope
County Pitkin
River Roaring Fork River
Elevation 7,890 ft (2,405 m)
Highest point At SW corner of city boundary
 - elevation 8,460 ft (2,579 m)
 - coordinates
Lowest point Roaring Fork at N corner of city
 - elevation 7,660 ft (2,335 m)
 - coordinates
Area 3.5 sq mi (9 km2)
Population 6,658 (2010)
Density 1,900 / sq mi (734 / km2)
Settled 1879
 - Incorporation 1881
Government Home Rule Municipality, council-manager
 - location Aspen City Hall
 - elevation 7,940 ft (2,420 m)
 - coordinates
Mayor Steve Skadron
City manager Steve Barwick
Timezone MST (UTC-7)
 - summer (DST) Mountain Daylight Time (UTC-6)
ZIP Code 81611, 81612 (PO Boxes)
Area code 970
Exchanges 920–925
FIPS code 08-03620
GNIS feature ID 0204686
Location of Aspen in Colorado and United States
Wikimedia Commons:
Website: The City of Aspen & Pitkin County

Aspen is a city in and the county seat of Pitkin County, Colorado, United States.[1][2] It is situated in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains' Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains, along the Roaring Fork River at an elevation just below 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level on the Western Slope, 11 miles (18 km) west of the Continental Divide. As of the 2010 census, there were 6,658 permanent residents.

Founded as a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom and later named "Aspen" because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area, the city boomed during the 1880s, its first decade of existence. That early era ended when the Panic of 1893 led to a collapse in the silver market, and the city began a half-century known as "the quiet years" during which its population steadily declined, reaching a nadir of less than a thousand by 1930. Aspen's fortunes reversed in the mid-20th century when neighboring Aspen Mountain was developed into a ski resort, and industrialist Walter Paepcke bought many properties in the city and redeveloped them. Today it is home to three renowned institutions, two of which Paepcke helped found, that have international importance: the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Aspen Institute, and the Aspen Center for Physics.[3]

In the late 20th century, the city became a popular retreat for celebrities. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson worked out of a downtown hotel and ran unsuccessfully for county sheriff. Singer John Denver wrote two songs about Aspen after settling there. Both of them popularized Aspen among the countercultural youth of the 1970s as an ideal place to live, and the city continued to grow even as it gained notoriety for some of the era's hedonistic excesses as well, particularly its drug culture.

Today the musicians and movie stars have been joined by corporate executives. As a result of this influx of wealth Aspen boasts the most expensive real estate prices in the United States[4] and most middle-class residents can no longer afford to live there. It remains a popular tourist destination, with outdoor recreation in the surrounding White River National Forest serving as a summertime complement to the four ski areas in the vicinity.


  • History 1
  • Government 2
  • Image 3
  • Real estate market 4
  • Geography 5
  • Climate 6
  • Demographics 7
  • Transportation 8
  • Education 9
  • In pop culture 10
    • In film 10.1
    • In games 10.2
    • In television 10.3
  • Sister cities 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15


Silver wire specimens from the historic Mollie Gibson Mine near Aspen
Aspen Lumber Company, 1882
Aspen in 1962

The city's roots are traced to the winter of 1879, when a group of miners ignored pleas by Frederick Pitkin, governor of Colorado, to return across the Continental Divide due to an uprising of the Ute Indians. Originally named Ute City, the small community was renamed Aspen in 1880, and, in its peak production years of 1891 and 1892, surpassed Leadville as the United States' most productive silver-mining district.[5] Production expanded due to the passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which doubled the government's purchase of silver. By 1893, Aspen had banks, a hospital, a police department, two theaters, an opera house and electric lights. Economic collapse came with the Panic of 1893, when President Cleveland called a special session of Congress and repealed the act. Within weeks, many of the Aspen mines were closed and thousands of miners were put out of work. It was proposed that silver be recognized as legal tender and the People's Party (populists) adopted that as one of its main issues; Davis H. Waite, an Aspen newspaperman and agitator was elected governor of Colorado on the Democratic Ticket; but in time the movement failed.

Eventually, after wage cuts, mining revived somewhat, but production declined and by the 1930 census only 705 residents remained. Remaining, however, were fine stocks of old commercial buildings and residences, along with excellent snow. Aspen's development as a ski resort first flickered in the 1930s when investors conceived of a ski area, but the project was interrupted by World War II. Friedl Pfeifer, a member of the 10th Mountain Division who had trained in the area, returned to the area and linked up with industrialist Walter Paepcke and his wife Elizabeth. The Aspen Skiing Corporation was founded in 1946 and the city quickly became a well-known resort, hosting the FIS World Championships in 1950. Paepcke also played an important role in bringing the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation to Aspen in 1949, an event held in a newly designed tent by the architect Eero Saarinen. Aspen was now on the path to becoming an internationally known ski resort and cultural center, home of the Aspen Music Festival and School. The area would continue to grow with the development of three additional ski areas, Buttermilk (1958), Aspen Highlands (1958), and Snowmass (1967).

In 1977, notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, while in the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen for a pre-trial hearing, jumped from a second-story window and escaped. He remained free for six days, hiding out on Aspen Mountain, before he was arrested while attempting to drive a stolen car out of the city.

In 1977, Aspen was thoroughly photographed for the Aspen Movie Map project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The Movie Map is one of the earliest examples of virtual reality software.

Aspen is notable as the smallest radio market tracked by Arbitron, ranked at #302.

Local media in Aspen includes two radio stations: KSNO and KSPN; two daily newspapers: The Aspen Times and The Aspen Daily News; three local, lifestyle magazines: Aspen Sojourner [1], Aspen Magazine [2] and the bi-annual Aspen Peak; one digital magazine, Skollie Magazine's Aspen Edition; as well as one local, live, lifestyle television channel Aspen 82.


A brick building with trapezoidal roof overhanging the sidewalk on its right side at an intersection. Signs say it is at the 100 block of South Galena Street and the 500 block of East Hopkins Avenue.
City Hall, formerly Armory Hall

Aspen is a Home Rule Municipality[6] under Colorado law. It has a council-manager government. An elected council of four members and the mayor supervise the city's operations, managed on a day-to-day basis by the city manager, an appointed official who serves at their pleasure. Steve Barwick has been city manager since 1999; Steve Skadron is the mayor.

The city's main office is at City Hall, the former Armory Hall listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the intersection of South Galena Street and East Hopkins Avenue. Because of its expansion in the late 20th century, it has outgrown that space. Several city departments are housed in satellite offices around the city.


The historic character of the city has been challenged in recent decades by skyrocketing property values and the proliferation of second homes, increasingly shutting low- and middle-income workers out of the city and creating a large pool of commuters from nearby bedroom communities such as Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. At the same time, in stark contrast to its historic character, the city has emerged into international fame as a glitzy playground of the wealthy and famous. Aspen has become a second and third home to many international jet setters.

The downtown has been largely transformed into an upscale shopping district that includes high-end restaurants, salons, and boutiques. Aspen boasts Ralph Lauren, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Bvlgari, Burberry, Brioni, theory and Ermenegildo Zegna boutiques.[7]

Real estate market

Aspen is the most expensive place to buy real estate in the US.[8] Aspen is a mixture of high-end luxury estates and condos intermixed with single-family homes and mobile home parks. As of March 2011, the lowest-priced single-family home on the market was a trailer for $559,000.[9] The median listing price for homes or condos for sale in Aspen is $4,570,633 according to Trulia.[10] It is not uncommon to see listing prices reaching the mid-eight figures.[10]


The city sits along the southeast (upper) end of the Roaring Fork Valley, along the Roaring Fork River, a tributary of the Colorado River about 40 miles (64 km) south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is surrounded by mountain and wilderness areas on three sides: Red Mountain to the north, Smuggler Mountain to the east, and Aspen Mountain to the south.

Aspen is located at ,[11] along State Highway 82.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2), all land.


Under the Köppen climate classification, Aspen has humid continental climate (Köppen: Dfb) owing to its high altitude.
Climate data for Aspen (1981–2010 normals, extremes 1899–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 58
Average high °F (°C) 35.6
Daily mean °F (°C) 22.5
Average low °F (°C) 9.4
Record low °F (°C) −37
Precipitation inches (mm) 1.70
Snowfall inches (cm) 25.2
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 12 12 12 12 11 7 11 12 10 9 10 12 130
Source: WRCC (temperature and precipitation data 1981–2010, snowfall 1899–1979)[12][13]


Henry Webber House

As of the census[16] of 2003, there were 5,914 people, 2,903 households, and 1,082 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,675.4 people per square mile (646.9/km²). There were 4,354 housing units at an average density of 1,233.5 per square mile (476.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.94% White, 0.44% Black or African American, 0.24% Native American, 1.45% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 1.64% from other races, and 1.20% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.14% of the population.

There were 2,903 households out of which 16.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.8% were married couples living together, 5.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 62.7% were non-families. 43.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.94 and the average family size was 2.67.

In the city the population was spread out with 13.1% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 42.1% from 25 to 44, 27.6% from 45 to 64, and 7.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 115.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 117.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $53,750, and the median income for a family was $70,300. Males had a median income of $41,011 versus $32,023 for females. The per capita income for the city was $40,680. About 3.6% of families and 8.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.4% of those under age 18 and 2.6% of those age 65 or over.


  • Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, or RFTA, provides free bus service within Aspen and Snowmass Village, and pay service to the surrounding communities of Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Rifle. Local RFTA bus service within Aspen and to Snowmass Village is free. Amtrak serves Glenwood Springs, offering in conjunction with RFTA an environmentally friendly way to travel to Aspen.
  • State Highway 82 is the only major road that provides access to Aspen. There are some mountain pass roads that lead to the city, but those require all-terrain vehicles and are typically impassable during the winter. Highway 82 east of Aspen is also impassable due to persistent snow on Independence Pass, leaving Highway 82 west of Aspen as the only means of motor vehicle access during the winter.


As of 2012, based on data from the 2009–2010 school year, according to US News and World Report Aspen High School, the only high school in the Aspen School District, is the top ranked high school in Colorado and ranked 59th in the United States. The high school has grades 9 to 12, 540 students and 41 teachers. Minorities, mostly Hispanic, make up 13% of the school's enrollment. 4% of the students are economically disadvantaged. The school has a high rate of participation in the International Baccalaureate program.[17] As of 2012 the school was not included in the lists of top high schools published by Newsweek and The Daily Beast or The Washington Post.

In pop culture

John Denver memorial

In film

  • The Searchers (1956) was partially shot in Aspen.
  • The fictional "Aspen Beer" seen in Alien (1979) is supposedly brewed in Aspen.
  • In the film Used Cars (1980) the character Luke Fuchs is falsely advertised to have journeyed to Aspen by a former employee as part of a plot to conceal his death.
  • Documentary producer Frederick Wiseman captured a diverse cross-section of local residents & culture in Aspen (1991).[18]
  • The film Aspen Extreme (1993) is set in Aspen.
  • In the movie Dumb and Dumber (1994), the main characters set off on a cross country adventure ending in Aspen.
  • In the movie Cougar Hunting (2011), the three buddies go to Aspen to pursue the booming trend of dating cougars

In games

In television

  • In the Desperate Housewives episode 6.21, "A Little Night Music", Gabrielle Solis tells her husband Carlos she wants a ski house in Aspen.
  • In the Revenge episode, "Duress", Aspen is referenced when Conrad and Victoria Grayson are discussing the fate of their properties in their divorce contracts.
  • In The Simpsons episode, "Double, Double, Boy In trouble" 1 of the main characters Bart Simpson meets his doppelgänger Simon Woosterfield. Simon lives an upper class life and Bart lives a middle class life. Bart switches lives with him. Simon has an evil sister and evil brother who go on a trip to Aspen. When Barts parents find out Bart has switched lives they go to Aspen to save Bart from skiing on a double black run on Ajax. The episode ends with The Simpsons family in downtown Aspen.
  • In Murder, She Wrote episode, "A quacking in Aspen" Jessica Fletcher visits Laney Sherman Boswell in Aspen.
  • In April 2008 Tv show Destination Tennis episode, "Aspen, Colorado" the host traverses the globe in search of the most exciting and delicious adventures possible and one of the towns in the show's series includes Aspen.
  • In October 2014, Dateline NBC covered the murder of Nancy Pfister in Aspen, Colorado.

Sister cities

Silver mines in Aspen, 1898

Cities listed alphabetically (together with their respective regions/departments).

Aspen has seven sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International:

See also


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  2. ^ "Colorado County Seats".  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Keates, Nancy (March 4, 2011). "The Most Expensive Town in America". Wall Street Journal. 
  5. ^ Charles W. Henderson, 1926, Mining in Colorado, U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 138, p.176, 201.
  6. ^ "Active Colorado Municipalities".  
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Aspen Named Most Expensive Town in America". Fox News. Fox. March 4, 2011. Retrieved November 4, 2011. 
  9. ^ "The town where a trailer costs $559,000: By the numbers". By the Numbers. The Week. March 8, 2011. Retrieved November 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Aspen Real Estate Overview". Market Trends for Aspen. Trulia. November 3, 2013. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  11. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990".  
  12. ^ "General Climate Summary Tables - Aspen 1 SW, Colorado". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  13. ^ "General Climate Summary Tables - Aspen Colorado". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  14. ^ Moffatt, Riley. Population History of Western U.S. Cities & Towns, 1850–1990. Lanham: Scarecrow, 1996, 66.
  15. ^ "Subcounty population estimates: Colorado 2000–2007" ( 
  16. ^ "American FactFinder".  
  17. ^ "Aspen High School Overview". US News & World Report. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Aspen." Zipporah Films. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  19. ^ : Aspen: Murder on the Slopes"City Confidential". IMDB. 29 July 2003. Retrieved 26 September 2012. 

Further reading

  • Berger, Bruce. The Complete Half-Aspenite WHO Press, 2005, ISBN 1-882426-22-3
  • Berger, Bruce. Music in the Mountains: The First Fifty Years of the Aspen Music Festival Johnson Books, 2001, ISBN 1-55566-311-7
  • Park, Lisa Sun-Hee. and David Naguib Pellow, eds. The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America's Eden (New York University Press; 2011) 288 pages;
  • Rohrbough, Malcolm. Aspen: The History of a Silver Mining Town 1879–1893 Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-19-505428-8
  • Wentworth, Frank L. Aspen on the Roaring Fork, Sundance Publication, hardcover, ISBN 0-913582-15-8 (earlier editions exist), Wentworth lived in Aspen (1866–1942),

External links

  • City of Aspen website
    • CDOT map of the City of Aspen
    • Aspen Ski & Snow Report
  • Aspen: The Forgotten Times Documentary produced by Montana PBS
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