The core of modern-day Aspen is a town of about 5,000 permanent residents, surrounded by the glitter of plentiful powder snow and four major ski areas. Winter holidays become a who’s who of America’s top politicos, athletes, movie stars, and scions of industry. Many are so attracted to this mountain town that they own second homes here, some valued into the multiple millions of dollars.
It wasn’t always that way. Some of Aspen’s first residents were tattered miners bent on uncovering riches hidden under the mountains, not on them. They constructed mineshafts and ore crushing mills and then a railroad to recover and market silver ore.
The city blossomed with banks, theaters, an opera house, a hospital, and even electric lights. But progress crashed to a halt with the silver panic of 1893, closing mines and putting thousands of miners out of work. The industry flickered and died. By the 1930s, only about 700 residents remained. Tales abounded about old Victorian homes and stately buildings for sale for the cost of back taxes.
Skiers from the famous 10th Mountain Division, which trained in Colorado, and other enterprising businessmen saw the potential for a ski area after World War II. Their success with the original Aspen Mountain encouraged the start up of Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and nearby Snowmass. World-class ski competitions followed an expanded highway into town. In the 1960s and 70s, the town became a year-round destination with summer music festivals and the attraction of crisp golden autumns, made possible by the trees that are the town’s namesake.