The only problem with staying at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, is afterwards, all other digs in this pretty mountain town seem a little, well, downhill.
Perched at the base of Ajax Mountain, this swank 92 room resort is Aspen’s only five star hotel.
Was that Paris Hilton who just wandered past, with a small pooch under her arm? Probably. But there are plenty of other good-looking, well-heeled folk lurking in these parts.
Elegant, comfortable and unpretentious, Little Nell is ideal for the visitor seeking comfort, convenience, and good company.
For ski-lovers, nothing beats being able to glide down the slopes at day’s end, straight to the waiting concierge, who’ll relieve you of your skis and help ease you out of your boots while handing you a hot cider and a tasty snack.
It’s then just a matter of retreating to the hot tub, then re-emerging, replenished, for cocktails at the bar.
I first came across The Little Nell on my first trip to Aspen 14 years ago.
Standing at the bar with friends, I found myself gawking at the beauties and cuties, bankers and wankers from across the US of A, and beyond.
Fur-clad and friendly, all were on holidays, and out to enjoy themselves. Everyone loves an Australian accent, thankfully, and over the years a fair few of us antipodeans have come to grace this bar.
Now, for the first time I was actually going to stay overnight here as well.
Our room, was, not surprisingly, luxurious and spacious. The mini-bar was the first thing to catch my eye: “everything in it is free,” proclaimed the friendly staffer escorting us to our room. That’s right, no extra costs for tucking into a few chockies and nuts from the hotel fridge.
After chomping on a snack or two, I looked around and was taken with the walnut tables, stone-clad gas-burning fireplaces, and spacious bathroom.
The bed was super-comfortable, and large enough to incorporate a St Bernard or two if your pets won’t slum it on the carpet.
The hotel features two mountainside restaurants, Element 47, priding itself on its abundant use of fresh, local produce and Ajax Tavern (famous for its Truffled French Fries, served in a paper cone.)
Would Fido be wanting Grilled Chicken Breast or Local Ground Beef with his brown rice and scrambled eggs? If your pooch is lucky enough to stay with you here well, he gets his own personalised doggie menu.
A little over the top? Perhaps, but not by Aspen standards. This is, after all, the America’s premier ski playground for the rich and famous, many of whom can’t bear to travel without their hounds.
We knew of one Little Nell guest, a lady from Florida who flew in to Aspen on her private jet with a plastic lawn(Astro turf) to lay out on the snow so Bugsy wouldn’t feel disoriented on arrival. Yes, really!
Over lunch at Ajax Tavern, we chatted to Aspen local, May Selby, who manages PR and social media for The Little Nell. Not only that, she’s the social columnist for The Aspen Times, a DJ, mum of a two-year-old, Remy.
What do you love about living in Aspen?
I love that it’s a small mountain town and yet it feels like a city, it’s so cosmopolitan, and there’s always something happening. The cultural offerings rival those in an urban environment from our renowned Aspen Music Festival in summer to the lectures at the Aspen Institute year-round to the Aspen Film’s festivals that dot the calendar. Incredible musicians – both on the rise and long established that you’d normally expect to see in a stadium or an arena – come and perform here at our intimate venue, Belly Up, as well as outdoors at festivals like Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June and Labor Day Experiences. On the adventure side of things, I love the hiking, biking, running, skiing, yoga and Stand Up Paddle boarding. And just love living at this altitude! (Aspen sits at 7,980 feet above sea level or 2,400 metres.)
Where are you from originally?
Cincinnati, Ohio. I moved to Boulder, Colorado, to study French at university. My graduation was in December so I decided to move to Aspen for one ski season, which extended into one fabulous summer, a gorgeous fall and then another winter! That was more than 20 years ago. I met my husband here in 2000, we married here in 2005, and well, it’s home now!
How did you get into becoming social columnist for the local paper?
I’ve always been a social person, have had a lot of parties. Previously there’d been one woman who’d been writing her social column for the Aspen Times for about 50 years and naturally covered an older crowd. Then about 15 years ago, friends of mine called her to invite her to a wild retro ski party I was hosting. She declined the invite, but offered to run any photos provided afterward. When the article ran, the editor tracked me down and said he’d been looking for someone to represent the “younger generation of Aspen.” He offered me a social column of my own and I’ve run with it every week ever since.
How often do you go out?
About four or five nights a week.
Met many celebs here over the years?
Umpteen. I’ve met and connected with musicians from Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction to Kaskade the uber successful DJ. I ran into Paris Hilton at Bonnie’s restaurant on Aspen Mountainhaving breakfast one morning– we snapped a photo of her with her date outside and they snapped one of our group. I used to be an event director for a non-profit that had an annual celebrity race so we’d round up friends of friends to be guests – from actor Matt Dillon to heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield. They all wanted to support the cause, as well as come have fun for a ski weekend. In my early Aspen days, I was at a party once when Diana Ross got up and started dancing to one of her own songs the DJ was cleverly spinning. There have been many little moments like that!
Another highlight was back in the late 90s when I was flying into Denver at the time the Denver International Airport had just opened. Sitting next to me on the plane was Hunter S Thompson. We didn’t speak to each other until the plane landed, then he turned to me and spoke for the first time: “It looks as if we’re landing on the moon,” he commented, referering to the pocky landscape of east Denver where the airport was built. He followed this up with an invitation to go for a drink. It was 7.45 in the morning; I declined! We chatted a bit and discovered we were both flying into New York City. He then invited me to a party in the city that night. I didn’t go. Well, it turned out it was a premiere party for the just-released “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” film adapted from his novel and it was all over the news that night on TV with Johnny Depp and other stars surrounding HST. Big regret!
Where should visitors go to in Aspen if they want to do some star-spotting?
Well, if they can get on the list at the legendary Caribou Club downtown in Aspen, there’s a good chance they’ll brush shoulders with A-listers there – primarily over peak seasons like the 4th of July or the Christmas holidays. Another private venue where you just may see stars is the Aspen Mountain Club atop Aspen Mountain, which is managed by The Little Nell and exclusive to members who join for a $220K US ($290K Aus) initiation fee. In order to step foot in the luxurious club, one must be a member or accompanied by a member – no exceptions! The Little Nell has long been an attraction to celebrities.
What are your favourite spots around town?
The new Aspen Art Museum (637 E Hyman Ave), designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is one place, with its rotating collections of contemporary art. I love its rooftop So Café, too, for great views and healthy selections. A favourite coffee shop is Jour de Fete (710 East Durant Ave) for my daily caffeine fix. And Olivier Mottier, the owner, is tres charmant as they say en Francais! Also, 520 Grill (520 East Cooper) is my go-to for fast, casual food – including the best burgers and fish tacos in town! (I am a bit loyal seeing as my chef-husband Troy Selby is the owner.) As a DJ, I love to hear other DJs and bands play so Belly Up (450 S Galena St) is a regular stop on my social calendar.
What do you do to keep fit here?
Aside from skiing, I love the Radiant DJ Flow yoga class Monday nights at Shakti Shala (422 E Cooper Ave) led by studio owner Jayne Gottleib as the yoga instructor and resident DJ Bhakti Styler who spins while she teaches. I love mountain biking on the relatively new Sky Mountain Park trails that hover over Aspen and Snowmass, swimming at the Aspen Meadows Health Center’s outdoor pool and, at least once a summer, running the Four Pass Loop that circumnavigates the scenic Maroon Bells.
Isn’t that about 26 miles?
Yes, I love running!
What’s great about your job promoting the Little Nell?
When I describe the reasons why I truly connect with Aspen and love living here, they all can be encapsulated in what The Nell offers: sophistication balanced with approachability, energetic events lightened by calm and restorative programs, the stimulation of being surrounded by worldly staff and guests who lead inspiring lives. This is Aspen’s only ski-in/ski-out hotel, and it’s run by an energetic Australian! Managing Director Simon Chen. Executive Chef Matt Zubrod provides incredible dining experiences, and our legendary wine programme, managed by Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy holds its own with the world’s top restaurants. I love the gentle and thoughtful nature of the staff who anticipate your needs and ensure your stay is just so; the exciting events held here from our New Year’s Eve party with Dom Perignon to wine tastings in our cellar to apres-ski on the sun-soaked patio at Ajax Tavern or in the hip bar Chair 9.. Throughout the year, there’s always something spectacular happening at The Nell and it’s a privilege to present this to the media and guests in as a creative and inviting a way possible.