For some, Aspen is best described as a champagne-soaked afternoon at Cloud 9 after a morning of outstanding Highland’s skiing. For others, Aspen is the sine qua non of intellectual discourse at the Aspen Institute followed by a meditative hike at St. Benedict’s Monastery.

While most have a singular idea about what Aspen is all about, for every description of this Rocky Mountain town there is an equally compelling counterpoint. And, it is from these contrasts that Aspen’s essence emerges. To experience Aspen’s many contrasts is to fully appreciate this community.

Winter vs. summer:

Given most people head to Aspen with ski boots and mink coats in hand, it is not uncommon to be asked: “have you been here in the summer?” Aspen’s wintry draw is strong what with some of the world’s best downhill skiing across its four mountains, its louche nightlife and indulgent retail. But, when the snowpack gives way to warmer months, Aspen thrives with hikers taking to its many passes, lakes and peaks and culture vultures flying in for a film, music or dance festival.

As Jason Burns, of Burns & Madsen event planners said: “In the summer Aspen is more about outdoor and recreation, simply because the back country opens up. In the winter, when we are all cozied in, it becomes all about the skiing, fine dining and retail.” This seasonal expansion and contraction makes for Aspen’s “heartbeat.”

Mining town vs. resort town:

John Galante, a travel industry expert and Aspen local summed it up best: “What makes us different is that we are a ski resort in a mining town.” 

Unlike many ski resorts, Aspen has a long history that dates back to 1889 when it was founded as a silver mining town. Its history is still very present as evinced by the Victorian Wheeler Opera House, Hotel Jerome and the West End’s gingerbread homes. And the pioneering spirit that drove miners here over a century ago, still defines the essence of those who remain here to experience freedom, embrace acceptance and make new ideas possible.

If Aspen’s mining town roots connect to its soul, Aspen’s resort roots connect to the mind and body. As people experience the “Rocky Mountain high” that is so unique to and in Aspen, they are doing so through the richness and diversity Aspen’s athletic, hedonistic and intellectual offerings. Finding another place in the world that is as robust in its experiences for the mind, body and soul as Aspen is, is a near impossible task.

Explore vs. Cache Cache:

No matter what you know about Aspen, what you likely do know about is its reputation as a “playground” for the well heeled. And, there is no denying that being in Aspen can be an expensive proposition. But it is not the only proposition.

As Tony Delucia, the GM of Hotel Jerome said: “The biggest secret is you can make it here. It is expensive, but you can make it work. If you’re tenacious about wanting to be here, you’ll find a way.” For every way you might spend money in Aspen, there is a way to spend less.

From the food scene, you can make your way to some of the best vegetarian food at Explore, tucked away in Aspen’s most charming bookstore. Or, you can break the bank indulging in the sublime food at Cache Cache.

Staying here can go from taking up residence at any of the charming “Airbnbs” to indulging in the luxe accommodations at the Hotel Jerome, St. Regis and Little Nell. Living here can run you six figures just outside of Aspen in towns “down valley” like Basalt or it can run you seven and eight figures if you make your way up Aspen’s luxe Red Mountain.

And, when we think about Aspen as a pair of well-worn jeans, you can get a pair in Aspen anywhere from Brunello Cucinelli to the Aspen Thrift Shop

But, as Tony went on to say: “The whole rich poor thing has eased up. Everyone realizes that this town functions because of all of the people who come here and make Aspen, Aspen.”

Local vs. tourist:

John Thew, Director of Aspen Film, when describing the people in Aspen, says: “I am struck by how big and small the community is. It is not unusual to see Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama walking down the street, but also see the president of the bank wave and say “hi!”

Aspen’s approximate 7000 townsfolk make it an intimate place. Its exponential tourist trade makes it a bustling one. But, no matter when you come to Aspen, the one consistent experience you will have here is of its people; a group that is unified around one simple fact: making sure Aspen stays Aspen. Everyone who calls Aspen home has as their focus on maintaining its small-town nature and making sure its history remains a vital part of its future.

Much more simply put, people care about Aspen because of how Aspen “takes care” of them. People come here and are transformed. And, because of that transformation, never really leave.

When it comes to the people of Aspen there really is no “divide” or Aspen vs. Aspen. There simply is one tightly-knit, accepting community that is devoted to this extraordinary place.