Aspen is the Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Pitkin County, Colorado, United States. Its population was 6,658 at the 2010 United States Census. Aspen 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.
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.
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 some of the most expensive real estate prices in the United States and many 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.
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 to avoid an uprising of the Ute Indians, who were trying to maintain possession of their land and communities. 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. 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, Aspen Magazine 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.
Aspen is a Home Rule Municipality 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, Van Cleef & Arpels, Burberry, Valentino, theory and Ermenegildo Zegna boutiques.
Aspen was the most expensive place to buy real estate in the US in 2011. 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. As of June 2015, the median listing price for homes or condos for sale in Aspen is $5,081,388 or $897 a sq ft according to Trulia. It is not uncommon to see listing prices of the higher end homes reaching the mid-eight figures. In a 2015 survey of U.S. ski resort towns, Aspen was listed as having the second most expensive rentals, with a one-bedroom averaging $1,750.
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 39°11′32″N 106°49′28″W, 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. There is a large diurnal temperature variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures, rendering summer days to be moderately warm and winter nights to be very cold for the latitude. Summer lows and winter highs are relatively moderate, with frosts being rare in summer and winter days often averaging above freezing.
As of the census 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.
Aspen's only airport is Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, also known as Sardy Field. The airport is an FAA Class 1 airport and has one asphalt runway, 100 ft (30 m) wide and 8,006 ft (2,440 m) long.
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.
The bike-sharing system WE-CYCLE serves Aspen and Basalt with 16 stations and 200 bikes. Docking stations and bikes are build in Canada by PBSC Urban Solutions.
As of 2012, based on data from the 2009–2010 school year, according to US News & 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.
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.
The Winter X Games sports event has been held in Aspen since 2002.
The Gentlemen of Aspen is the local rugby team. The Gentlemen of Aspen won the Rugby Super League several times: 1997, 2001, 2002.
Aspen has seven sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International: