Snowmass, Colorado – music, mammoths, mastodons, and more

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If Colorado means just ski-ing to you, you’re in for a surprise

Down-to-earth Snowmass, Colorado was known in the 1800’s as Brush Creek, when ranchers settled here. Today, it is one of the four winter sport areas and surrounding towns of the posh town and ski resort of Aspen.  Just 15 miles, or 20 minutes by car, it’s quiet, understated, and visitors probably won’t see the Hollywood types nor the Prada and Gucci shops those types frequent, as they would in Aspen. Definitely, there’s big money in Snowmass and other Colorado ski resort towns, as evidenced by some of the enormous mountainside estate homes dotting the landscape, but it’s more discreet, and there are plenty of ‘regular’ folks as well.

Since its beginnings in 1951, The Aspen Music Festival and School have been internationally acclaimed. At the time, there were only three concerts held each week. Today, the 53-day Festival hosts up to eight performances daily, in two primary venues, the Joan W. And Irving B. Harris Concert Hall and the Benedict Music Tent.  But for those looking for a more casual, less expensive (many even free of charge,) yet with top-flight acts, nearby Snowmass is THE place to enjoy open-air summer music in the spectacularly beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains.

For example, the Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brew Fest, celebrating its eleventh year in 2014, was rebranded last year as the Snowmass Mammoth Fest, honoring the prehistoric bones recently discovered in the area , drawing international archaeologists and paleontologists to the Snowmass excavation site in droves.  The Denver Museum of Nature & Science completed the largest-ever fossil excavation at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village in 2011 where more than 5,400 bones were discovered during a seven-week period.

mastado tibia

Ziegler Reservoir where Paul Vallejos found a mastadon tibia. © DMNS

The site has already yielded the largest collection of mastodon bones from a single site anywhere in the world, and it is likely the best high elevation Ice Age site anywhere. To learn more about this, the free-of-charge Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center (in the town outdoor shopping and restaurant mall) allows visitors to watch scientists in the preparatory lab as they work on the preservation of Ice Age fossils, and view creative displays, educational panels and interactive programming. The center is open June 1 through September 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition, two-hour walks with a naturalist are offered, adjacent to the dig site, from June 14 through September 1, daily at 1 p.m, at no charge. The walks leave from the Ice Age Discovery Center. (970-925-5756)

The Mammoth Fest is a full weekend of live music, held in early June each year, featuring specialty red and green chili cooking contests from all over the U.S., and 25 craft beer brewers offering microbrew tastings and competitions, all held at the Snowmass Town Park. This summer, musicians included such as Leftover Salmon, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Xavier Rudd, Nathaniel Rateliff, to name a few.  The Park is also the site for the Jazz Aspen/Snowmass Labor Day Festival (August 29-31), which features such stars as Ziggy Marley, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Carrie Underwood in its 2014 lineup

The Jazz Aspen Snowmass Festival is held in June and July in the acoustically impressive Benedict Music Tent in Aspen, featuring world-class artists. For example, 2014’s musicians included Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Steve Winwood and Red Baraat, among others. Festival attendees flock to the delightful “lawn parties” held before the concerts on the grass outside the tent, with leafy towering shade trees and mountain wild flowers, dining on gourmet selections sold from local food carts or their own picnics.

Looking for a free event? Then head to Snowmass for its Thursday nights’ ten-night Summer of Free Music on Fanny Hill. Get there by 6 p.m. to fully enjoy this beloved community tradition – and if you feel like dancing to the music and the sunset, you’ll have plenty of company! Presented each Thursday night of the season, these concerts bring to the stage performers representative of an array of musical genres: Latin, blues, zydeco, soul, reggae, funk and country (this summer, Grand Funk Railroad performs on June 26.) The Los Angeles Times called it the best free music series in the Colorado mountains, and as many as 3,000 fans attend each Thursday.

Maroon Bells image

Maroon Bells

During the day, take in a sighting, or hike, at the spectacular Maroon Bells, one of the most recognizable mountain views in the world, just 30 minutes by car from Snowmass Village. In this glacial valley, surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, you’ll see the “Bells,” with their distinctive reddish-purple color forming a backdrop mirrored in the turquoise, crystal-clear water of Maroon Lake (9,580 feet . A short lake loop walk is lovely, or if your lungs (and legs) are strong, spring for the one-hour Crater Lake hike, which takes you to another lake, some 10,700 feet up. NOTE: vehicle restrictions are in place to protect this fragile ecosystem. During the summer, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, no vehicles are permitted, except for overnight campers. Visitors take a $6 per person bus tour from nearby Aspen Highlands (where parking is permitted, and tours leave regularly) to Maroon Bells.

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