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Star Spotting in Aspen

Skiing with Antonio Banderes. Shopping with Kate Hudson. Partying with Paris Hilton. Just another day in Aspen.

 There’s a perception that Aspen is for the seriously rich and famous. Sure, you’re guaranteed a healthy dose of star-spotting here. And yes, plenty of wealthy people frequent Aspen, as evidenced by the astounding number of private jets lining the runway at the local airport. But the truth is, you don’t need to be a celebrity, or a millionaire, to enjoy it.

 My love affair with Aspen began five years ago – and there's something incredibly magical about this world famous ski resort in Colorado, that keeps me coming back, year after year. From the moment you arrive, you’ll feel a million miles away from the real world. The sophisticated, yet laid back atmosphere, has you settled into holiday mode immediately.

 With four ski areas to choose from (Ajax, Snowmass, Highlands and Buttermilk), there’s a free bus to shuttle you between the mountains, and enough variety to keep all levels enthused. With a never-ending maze of long, beautifully groomed runs – there’s nothing better than a top to bottom thigh burner at the end of the day. The longest is 4 miles. Have a crack at this baby, and you’ll definitely work off the extra calories from all those schnapps and hot chocolates. If you’re in serious shape, hike your butt up to Highlands Bowl and drop in, for one of the most exhilarating experiences on the mountain, and some of the most challenging skiing in North America. If you’re not in shape, get on the stair master every day for a month before you even think about attempting the Bowl.

 I love the skiing here so much, I usually don’t stop for lunch. But I always make time for at least one mid-ski meal at Cloud 9 Bistro at Highlands. Set in an alpine ski hut perched atop the Cloud Nine high-speed quad, it’s packed for lunch everyday, and tough to get a last minute booking, so make your reservation BEFORE you leave Australia. With the hearty gourmet meals, log fire and all round cosy/rowdy atmosphere – you won’t be in a hurry to leave. And after downing a few glasses of glu wine at 10,740 feet, it’ll be a wobbly ski home (or a panicked rush to make the last lift down).

 When it’s time to loosen the boots, the Aspen Apres scene won’t disappoint. Try the yummy Ajax Truffle Fries at the Tavern, at the base of Aspen Mountain, while watching the stragglers descend on their final run of the day. It’s hard to resist munching on the Cheesy Fries while celeb-spotting at the Bar at the Little Nell. The J-Bar in the Hotel Jermone is for socialising with a slice of history. In the old days, the miners would come here for Aspen Crud – a mix of bourbon and icecream. The younger, funkier crowd prefer the 39 Degrees bar at the Sky Hotel - with the DJ, roaring fire and TVs playing extreme snowboarding videos. If you’re really game, jump in the outdoor hottub and make some new friends.

 Aspen after dark is also heaps of fun. To get into the most exclusive, private Caribou Club, you’ll need to know someone with a membership (or sweet talk the door man). Inside, it’s all big leather couches, expensive cocktails and Cougars with bad plastic surgery. “Belly Up” is more down to earth. Famous for live music, countless big names have hit the stage here - including Ben Harper, Chris Isaak, Seal and Snoop Dogg. If you’re in for a huge night, all roads lead to Eric’s Bar. Everyone ends up here at some stage ... good times !

 You can eat your way around Aspen without emptying your bank account. Most bars in the upscale restaurants have a cheaper menu of tasty treats – so you can order the same great food, at half the price. This is the locals secret to eating well. You might wait a while for a seat at the bar, but the atmosphere is more relaxed than a formal dinner. My favourite bar menus are at L’Hostaria, Elevation and Jimmy’s. Also on my must do dining list … the oatmeal pancakes for breakfast at Poppycocks ... muffins and cookies at Paradise Bakery ... stunning Japanese at Matsuhisa … and American style food with a rustic vibe at Little Annies.

 It’s usually a punish trying to get a decent caffeine hit in the States, but Aspen takes it’s coffee seriously. At Ink! and Parallel 15 - the baristas know their stuff. Not a drip machine in sight.

 If you feel like a day OFF the slopes, you can really get your spend on in Aspen. All the big name designer stores are here, alongside local favourites, Boogies, Pitkin Country Dry Goods and the designer doggie boutique CB Paws. Get some authentic cowboy gear at Kemo Sabe – ten gallon hats, monster belt buckles, and your choice of alligator, shark or ostrich boots.

 Price wise – the ski hire, lift passes, food and drink are comparable to what you’d pay at any ski resort. The sting in the tail could be the accommodation. You’ll pay big bucks for a decent place in Aspen Village – within walking distance to the Gondola, restaurants, bars and shopping (but you’ll be happy you did when it’s minus 5 outside, and you can get home in 3 minutes). A large 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment with kitchen, fireplace (and boot warmers) will sleep 4-6 people, and set you back around $6000/week in peak times. Accommodation at nearby Snowmass Village is cheaper. I met some Aussies who paid $500 for 5 nights accom at Snowmass including ski hire + lift passes.

 If private jet isn’t your thing – it’s an easy trip from Oz. The Qantas flight to LA connects with the morning flight to Aspen – so if you’re super keen - you can strap on the skis by lunchtime.

 Ok, time to confess. I didn't actually ski WITH Antonio ... but he did saunter right past me, as I was having a mid-ski hot chocolate, looking incredibly sexy - even with the icicles hanging from his beard. Kate was browsing right next to me in the hot new “Monclear” boutique (apparently her mum Goldie Hawn was next door in Gucci). And I WAS on the dancefloor at the Caribou Club with Paris. As far as I could see, she was behaving herself (and she was much taller and surprisingly much prettier in person). Wonder who I’ll run into next year?

 By Sami Lukis from Triple M Sydney.