Part 1: Is Aspen even real?!

Mike and I matched while I was on a work/ski trip to Aspen. It was my first time in Colorado and I’d been told Aspen was a chichi international ski town. A collection of my favorite adjectives! Being in the mountains always makes me feel great, like living inside a deep breath. The experience, whether skiing or sitting in a hot tub or drinking my face off, exists solely in the physical and enables my brain to momentarily shut off. I imagined Aspen would up this ante with poodles in Moncler doggie jackets judging my pronunciation of ‘après ski.’ I arrived ready to love it.

And I liked it, I did. Aspen, and neighboring Snowmass, is beautiful in that majestic snow-capped way only the mountains can be. But there was something about the local vibe that didn’t sit right. In other mountain destinations I’ve cultivated a very strict ski schedule: take a run down the mountain, replenish with a Bloody Mary, back on the ski lift. This adrenaline/salty vegetable/vodka combo connects me with my best self and, in my experience, other skiers and boarders have similar procedures. I’d never been to a ski town where the mountain bars weren’t full during the day only to explode at après ski, so I was surprised in Aspen when I was the only one chatting up the bartender at 2pm. No other patrons with helmet hair, no invitations from new friends to join their next run. Just me and Andy the Bartender, who knew suspiciously little about local life.     

On the mountain itself the lift lines and runs weren’t crowded, which was nice but slightly creepy. When the ski day was through, I finally noticed bars liven up. It dawned on me that Aspen was like a winter resort orchestrated by Bravo’s production team: in the afternoon women in fur vests appear sipping champagne, but no snow on their ski boots. Look closely at the après ski bar and you could be in an airport Marriott, chipping lacquered tables and plastic tumblers. Something didn’t feel… authentic. Where were the locals? It didn’t seem like anyone actually lived there.

I’d spent most of the time working events for Gay Ski Week and was ready to socialize and see another side of Aspen. I immediately swiped right on Mike because he wasn’t a tourist like me and his profile showed we shared a friend in common; she’s a college friend of mine who’s the type of cool and interesting where any of her friends, most likely, will be fun and interesting too. Mike, as it turns out, had the same thought: his first message stated with our mutual connection I “must be good people.”  

We agreed to meet at La Creperie du Village, a French Alpine restaurant in downtown. The moment I walked the few steps below street level, I was swept off the Colorado mountain and transported to the French Alps. The rich smell of melted raclette intoxicated me, along with sultry French music, wood country tables, and candelabras casting soft candlelight. There isn’t a sense they don’t indulge with cozy romance. I arrived before Mike but didn’t mind. Whether we hit it off or not, this date would be awesome because I’d be eating my weight in melted cheese and washing it down with French wine.

Except now David, the thickly-accented French Maitre D’, was informing me a table was impossible without a reservation. Impossible? The French are so dramatic. I wasn’t going to let circumstances spell defeat – I’m a straight woman successfully dating at Gay Ski Week. Bring the challenge! My strategy would be persistence, coupled with a display of pure longing.

“It smells like Val D’Isere,” I yearned. (The French ski town I'd first had raclette - True.)

“I’m leaving Aspen tomorrow!” I mourned dramatically. (Also true.)

“I’ve never been here before and now I’ll leave never knowing!” I sobbed for good measure. (A lie – I was there a few nights before when I’d ODed on fondue, swore I’d never eat it again, then agreed without hesitation when Mike suggested dinner.)

The more I talked about the food I couldn’t have, the more I pined. I went through all the stages of a romantic relationship just thinking about that French cheese.

It was then the door opened, releasing a strong blast of cold and snow into the entry. I immediately recognized Mike, same hat and scruff as the Tinder pics, and we hugged 'hello.' There’d be no time for further pleasantries though, I was using all my flirt up on the Maitre D’. I mean, let’s be real – of the two of them, it was David who held the keys to my lactose-loving appetite. David surveyed the room wistfully, but no dice. He promised to call if something became available. They always promise to call, don’t they ladies? Mmm-hmm. For the meantime he recommended a restaurant across the street and said to drop his name.

Cache Cache was much swankier than the intimate Creperie; an atmosphere of white tablecloths and trained waiters. More anniversary dinner than first date, but we went with it. We started with drinks and appetizers in the hopes David would call before entrees. Mike ordered whiskey distilled in Aspen, and we shared plates of grilled octopus and pasta with a meat ragout. Honestly it was awesome, the kind of food you chew slowly and hang onto each bite. A solid recc.

The company was good, too. Mike gave off immediate friendliness, he’s very easy to talk to. You look at him and know he’s a solid dude, he’s genuine smiles with wicking fabrics and regular exercise. There is no negativity emanating from his mountain vibe and knit beanie he wears indoors. After so many parts of Aspen felt contrived, Mike was very real.

Mike works at the hospital and lives in Basalt, a nearby town where, he said, most of the locals working in Aspen commute from. He explained living in Aspen is so expensive that most people live at least twenty minutes away. Locals don’t find Basalt rent too cheap, either: a housing shortage has driven prices up. Moving to Basalt was the first time in a long time he’d moved in with a roommate. I’m used to NYC and LA rents, so it takes a lot to give me sticker shock, but it’s all relative and I’m guessing incomes aren’t that high. Mike likes life out there, though. He skis on his lunch break. Things seem pretty relaxed.

Despite the low-key lifestyle, however, crime is rampant! Okay maybe not rampant, but I was surprised to hear Basalt residents lock their doors during the X-Games, when alllll the home-thieving thugs come out to play. Really I was most surprised that the rest of the year doors are unlocked. Is this why everyone thinks they need to own guns? Protect the homestead? Just lock your doors, guys. The mention of all these illegalities reminded me of an Aspen news item I’d seen in the paper and was anxious to discuss— Click to Read More in Part Two!