SAFE HEAVEN

Dancing Bear Aspen is a chic respite that is loved by all those who have experienced it. Ready for adventure? It’s here. Ready to chill in the snow? Yep, that’s here, too. Our Dallasite guy-on-the-go Greg Haynes Johnson reveals why the resort is the place to be these days.

Let’s face it:  Aspen is packed with high-end scenes, restaurants, and lodging.   We’ve all been there, skied that. In fact, there is very little left in Aspen that has not been gilded to appeal to the nouveau – all of them rushing to be noticed at the Ajax Tavern or the Sky Hotel (a once-motel with a very hipster veneer.)  Among so many other insider places. Some call it Hollywood In The Mountains. I call it a great escape.

For many years I have attended the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen to support friends in the restaurant, hospitality, and wine businesses. Several years ago some of my industry friends kindly added me to their “posse” of foodies hosting an annual celebration of Texas foods, wines, and spirits – which had grown to be one of most buzz-worthy parties of the festival. This has allowed me to build a wonderful Food & Wine circle in Aspen.  And, it has allowed me to enjoy a wide variety of experiences there.

The annual “Texas Party” was rested this year, which cleared my Aspen Food & Wine agenda just in time to follow an invitation to stay with Dancing Bear Aspen.   That lucky turn afforded me some of the most pleasurable lodging I have had in the luxe resort community.  It also afforded me introductions to a group of people that several of us Food & Wine Texans now consider our Aspen family.

It is easy to get a photo in Aspen with a TV actor or a celebrity chef. You can Twit-pic your way to surface prestige within hours of arriving. All this makes it easy to miss the settings in Aspen that feel genuine while delivering the true luxury a seasoned connoisseur enjoys.

I’ll admit, in my younger days the glitz and flash were part of the allure. I first came to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic for the prestige of the event, rather than the wealth of amazing wines, natural mountain beauty, and soul-strengthening activities. Now, I’ve realized that it is much easier to get to Vegas if I have a need for fast-paced, faux-luxury for the sake of spending. I have found my way past the Caribou Club and the Little Nell to discover the real treasures Aspen has to offer (regardless of image and social media fodder).

If you bypass the hipsters and the see-and-be-seens you can easily find the places of sophisticated luxury in Aspen – where the less transient folks are seeking less of the spotlight and more of the sunlight.  These are the haunts of the authentic folks that have no need to prove their wealth. They are genuinely interesting and, usually, generally interested in getting to know you. Not surprisingly, many of them call Texas their first home. Dancing Bear Aspen, I found, a second home to many of them, is just one of those places.

I had been at the Dancing Bear Aspen before as Brexi, my favorite brasserie in Aspen, is just off the lobby (the chic bar is an easy gathering spot for the residents). But, I had never ventured beyond the restaurant into the owners’ areas

As is usual during the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, some streets are closed to allow pop-up venues. Since Dancing Bear Aspen is in a very prime location, the Grand Tasting tent, the biggest attraction during the festival, was literally steps from the doors. That meant that the street in front of the building was closed when I arrived. Frustrated that I’d had to park around the corner, I was not my usual friendly self when I walked in. My travel-weary impatience was no match, however, for the charming, sincerely friendly staff that greeted me at the welcome respite, and I was quickly impressed and reminded of my great luck to be their guest.

Dancing Bear Aspen fills most of a city block bordered by Aspen Street, Durant Avenue, and Monarch Street in the historic core of Aspen – the lobby doors face the idyllic Wagner Park. There really is no better possible location in Aspen for enjoying both the mountain activities and the many offerings of the town. There are only nine units in Dancing Bear Aspen and each unit is a very spacious three-bedroom, 3 ½ bath residence with an inspiring perspective of the surrounding mountains and valley. Even a short gaze at the views can take the worries of the world away.

The resort is a Private Residence Club – this is no “time share.” Each unit is a multi-million dollar get-away that is shared by a small group (eight owners per unit) of luxury enthusiasts. Before arriving your personal belongings are unpacked from your private storage, your wines brought from the cellar, your favorite activities arranged, the kitchen is stocked per your preferences, and, perhaps, the concierge has organized some otherwise unobtainable experience for your time in residence.

The owners’ amenities include a dramatic wine room/board room, an incredible private screening room for showing films or sporting events, and a fitness center equipped better than many big-city gyms. The units are designed with the attention to detail that a world-traveler would put into their private, second home. The Dancing Bear Aspen interiors are inviting and serene with layers of comfortable treatments and fabrics. As designer Frances Karsh of Slifer Designs describes it, it is “a fusion of mountain modern design and eclectic elegance. Elements such as mohair, faux fur, silk, velvet and leather are used throughout the living room and bedrooms.”

Interestingly, each unit has an impressive copper entry door. Copper is echoed in beautiful accents to the stone and stainless in the professional-grade, gourmet kitchens. The living rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art audio/video systems and a beautiful fireplace set perfectly for movie nights or a book in the afternoon. Plus, the bathrooms include comforts like heated floors, steam showers, soaking tubs, and (even) Etro bath products. What’s not to love about all that? Perhaps the most stunning amenity for owners is the rooftop with a beautiful lounge, fire pits, hot tubs and the most spectacular setting for morning coffee or sunset cocktails of any place in Aspen.

The talented team at Dancing Bear Aspen is steeped in personal attention.   There are no blank stares or forced “good mornings” – each encounter shows genuine interest in your comfort and well-being.

In our city-dwelling lives, there is always the question what do you do? It can be a less-than-sincere way of judging one’s perceived importance. When asked the same thing at Dancing Bear Aspen, this question is sincere and an appropriate answer might be “I love skiing but, I may start the day fly-fishing. Regardless, at 5 PM, I’ll do a rosé on the rooftop and I hope to see you there, too.”

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