Where small-town charm meets luxury lifestyle, the quaint town of Aspen only has about 7,400 local residents but remains an international destination. Not to mention the surrounding towns, such as Basalt and Carbondale, that sustain Aspen’s workforce and beat to their own drums. Further down the road, Glenwood Springs continues to thrive in the glory of its historic past. No matter if you're a skier, snowboarder, artist, or pilates instructor, the Roaring Fork Valley has something for everyone because of the dynamic history of this region. These are eight facts about the Roaring Fork Valley that put and kept itself on the map.
1. The Aspen area was originally home to the Ute Indians and called “Shining Mountains.” When the money-hungry silver miners moved into the valley in the 1870’s, the Utes cursed anyone who slept in the shadow of Mount Sopris would be doomed to never leave.
Members of the Ute Indian tribe, photo curtesy of the Aspen Times
2. In 1887, Aspen became the first town west of the Mississippi to provide businesses and street lights with hydroelectricity – meaning electricity powered by falling water. Homes, however, were still heated by wood stoves. For those who couldn’t afford to heat their homes, the Hotel Jerome functioned as a boarding house for locals. Conveniently, those same locals were likely saddled up at the J-Bar with their mining colleagues.
Patrons of the J-Bar at the Hotel Saloon in the late 1800's, photo curtesy of Edible Aspen
3. Glenwood Hot Springs is the largest mineral hot springs pool in the world. With more than one million gallons of water and stretching the length of two city blocks, the healing mineral springs have rejuvenated many famous U.S. figures, such as Doc Holiday, Abe Lincoln, and Molly Brown. In fact, the Ute Indians originally named the springs Yampah, meaning “Big Medicine.”
The Glenwood Hot Springs pool, photo curtesy of Glenwood Hot Springs Resort
4. The 10th Mountain Division, an elite unit of military, was largely responsible for the rapid growth of the ski industry in the U.S. after World War II. The “ski troopers” fired-up what is modernly known as Aspen Mountain Ski Area. The 10th Mountain Division trained for combat throughout the Rocky Mountains and resided in huts scattered throughout the high country. While the 10th Mountain Division is still actively serving our country, the huts they once resided in are now available for rent by backcountry aficionados.
10th Mountain Division soldiers, photo curtesy of the Adventure Journal
5. The first ski run cleared on Ajax Mountain was Roch’s Run and was reached via the revolutionary “Boat Tow.” The “Boat Tow” ran from 1937 to 1946, carrying six passengers at a time in what looked like a boat on a rope. Only two boats ran at a time with one going uphill loaded with passengers as the other returned downhill empty. Shortly after the installation of the revolutionary boat tow, the legendary Lift 1A was built and dedicated as the world’s longest chairlift.
A loaded "Boat Tow," photo curtesy of Agnarchy.com
6. Legendary folk singer John Denver was inspired by the Valley’s beauty when he wrote his 1972 world-recognized hit, "Rocky Mountain High." Denver made Aspen his refuge when he purchased his sprawling Starwood estate and the Windstar Ranch in the Snowmass Creek Valley. However, locals at the time were unhappy with the exploitative nature of Denver’s music because of the popularity it was giving Aspen.
John Denver in Aspen, CO, photo curtesy of TheBoot.com
7. While snowboarding was allowed on Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, Aspen Mountain Ski Area had not lifted their ban on snowboarding until 2001. Aspen Mountain Ski Area was one of the last ski resorts in the country to allow both skiers and snowboarders to coexist on the slopes in an effort to increase revenue and keep numbers up. However, the first snowboarders to ever be documented on the mountain was in 1981, where several of them were allowed on the slopes for a photoshoot in lieu of a requested snowboard competition.
Snowboarders on Aspen Mountain Ski Resort in the 1980's, photo curtesy of Vail Daily
8. According to Forbes's 2021 list of billionaires, there are 2,755 billionaires worldwide. Of those, roughly 60 billionaires own residential or commercial property in the Aspen area. Local real estate appraiser, Randy Gold, estimates that there may be closer to 75. That would make Aspen one of the most billionaire-saturated markets on the planet.
Aspen Mountain towering over town, photo curtesy of Aspen Signature Properties