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How Aspen Groves Are Driving Economic Growth in Colorado’s Mountain Communities

Sharing a massive root system, the aspen grove atop Kebler Pass between Crested Butte and Somerset is one of the largest living things on Earth. When its leaves turn from green to gold and red, it’s also a tourism engine.

Andrew Sandstron, marketing director for the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, says the county’s lodging tax income reflects the trend. “September is second only to July for us and has been consistently for a number of years,” he says.

READ: Top Company 2023 — Tourism & Hospitality

In September 2015, the county’s lodging tax receipts totaled $209,000. That’s roughly doubled to $400,000 in recent years. 

“Historically, we have our shoulder season when kids go back to school, and not until we open the ski resort does it bump up again,” says Sandstrom. “The biggest growth area in the last 10 or 15 years has been that late summer shoulder season. We still see a big drop-off on August 15 when all the kids go back to school, but September pops up again.”

Between annual events like Vinotok and the Mt. Crested Butte Beer and Chili Festival — not to mention uncrowded fly-fishing and mountain biking — the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership has strategically aimed to push some of the area’s peak summer traffic into fall. 

“One of the issues in these mountain communities is the booms and busts of business, where July is slammed and October, there’s nothing, then December is slammed, then April, there’s nothing again,” Sandstrom says. “By building up those shoulders — and that fall shoulder season is our biggest growing one — it helps us level out the booms and busts of our economy and allows our businesses to better stay open and offer jobs year-round. It helps us to smooth out our economy.” 

It’s not just Kebler Pass. The state’s other aspen hotspots also reap economic benefits from the turning leaves. The aspen on Kenosha Pass “are important to the Bailey business economy, and people do count on seeing them,” says Robb Green, president of the Platte Canyon Chamber of Commerce in nearby Bailey. “We always joke that we go from the summertime RV and boat show on U.S. 285 to the leaf peepers. Once the leaves are done, winter’s in. Winters are tougher for businesses up here.” 

Jim Myers, proprietor of Sasquatch Outpost, a tourist attraction in Bailey, says the fall colors drive visitation after the peak summer season. “Things would normally slow down mid-September to mid-October, which is when the leaves are at their height, because the kids are back in school, summer traffic has died down, but we’ve found we definitely have an uptick in that period because of people coming through to go look at the leaves.” 

In a good year, the bump lasts for about two weeks, Myers adds, but Mother Nature doesn’t guarantee anything. “It depends on the year. There are years when we don’t have the leaves. It depends on the rain. There are years where the leaf season almost is nonexistent, because it comes and leaves — no pun intended — very quickly.”


Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]

Heritage Fire Announces Chef and Resturant Lineup in Snowmass

America’s beloved live-fire, open-air culinary experience, Heritage Fire, returns on Saturday, July 29, with an impressive list of Colorado-based chefs and restaurants who will take guests on a delectable journey in one of the state’s most picturesque mountain towns: Snowmass Village, Colo. Attendees will enjoy a diverse array of heritage and heirloom foods, such as beef, whole pigs, lamb, goat, squab, rabbit, duck, fish, chicken, oysters and locally grown vegetables, paired with free-flowing beverages and stunning mountain views.

Heritage Fire will showcase more than 20 notable chefs, each grilling heritage-breed animals and preparing globally inspired dishes en plein air against a Rocky Mountain backdrop. The lineup of participating chefs includes Megan Thomas of Aspen Dreamery, Cody Rydin of Aspen Skiing Company Mountain Dining, Bill Sauer of Aurum Food & Wine Aspen/Snowmass, Will Nolan of Black Salt Hospitality, Robbie Reyes of Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant, Scott Hybbeneth of Carboy Winery, Ashley Jenkin of Charlee’s Comfort Kitchen, Mark Burrows of Cocoa Club by Pollinator Chocolate, Matt Kennedy of Foraged and Farmed Catering, Chris Teigland of Glo Noodle House, Troy Guard and Adam Vero of Guard and Grace, Johnny Curiel of La Molina, Michael Dunning of Mizuna, Erin Shepherd of Sugarland Farm and Provisions, Julio Gaspar of Teocalli Cocina, Oscar Padilla of The Gaucho Parrilla, Eddie Chimal of Venga Venga, and Jason DeBacker of The Edge Restaurant/Timberline.

A favorite event tradition, guests will get to vote for “Best Bite of the Day,” and the winner will be crowned the title of Heritage Hero.

Produced by a21, the event aims to provide education to consumers and create an experience that guests can sink their teeth into: honest food from real farmers.

“We are so excited to return to Snowmass this year,” said Brett Friedman, Partner & CEO of a21, the largest culinary event agency in the country. “Our lineup of talented local chefs from around the state promises to deliver an unforgettable, live-fire culinary experience. This year’s celebration will feature returning favorites from previous years alongside new and unique participants, all offering creative bites and mouth-watering flavors.”

In addition to one-of-a-kind, live-fire culinary creations, food dishes are paired with wines from partners including Brave Cellars, Poggio Costa and San Simeon Wines as well as brews from Fat Tire Ale. Guests will also be able to quench their thirst with LaCroix sparking water and Icelandic Glacial natural still water.

For an in-depth look at the Heritage Fire event, and to purchase tickets inclusive of food and beverages, visit

Official Host:

Snowmass Base Village, Snowmass Village, Colorado


Saturday, July 29, 2023


4 p.m. for VIP entry | 4:45 p.m. for General Admission

VIP Access: $175 

Guests can enjoy a sneak peek of the culinary creations with the VIP experience — an extra 45 minutes to get up close with the chefs, winemakers and farmers who make it all happen. Chefs will serve one special dish to entice VIP palates, while professional bartenders and sommeliers bring their best with specialty cocktails and reserve wines.

General Admission: $125

Guests will feast on responsibly-raised heritage breed animals cooked over live fires, a perfect setting of ethically sourced food, and a variety of beverages from local craft breweries and wineries — all created by some of the nation’s most forward-thinking food and drink leaders.

This year, Heritage Fire is honored to partner with the Southern Food & Beverage Museum – a nonprofit educational and cultural organization based in New Orleans dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of food, drink and its related culture and folklife in America and the world – to which a portion of the event’s ticket sales will be donated in support.

“We are thrilled to welcome back this one-of-a-kind culinary experience dedicated to promoting the talents of local chefs and restaurantuers,” said Rose Abello, Tourism Director, Snowmass Tourism. “Heritage Fire has become a favorite community event for locals and visitors alike. There’s nothing better than enjoying delicious food and refreshing beverages among Snowmass’ beautiful scenery!”

Please note:

Attendees must be 21 years of age or older. All ticket sales are final. This is a rain or shine event!

About Heritage Fire:

Established in 2010 in Napa Valley, Heritage Fire is a live-fire culinary event that celebrates pasture diversity and local family farms. Touring fourteen cities across the United States, this one-of-a-kind outdoor bacchanal shines a gastronomic spotlight on the hard-working people who are raising heritage-breed animals and sustainable produce. The wood-fired feast will feature more than 30 prominent chefs, farmers, sommeliers, distillers, brewers and barkeeps all working in tandem for an unforgettable tasting experience. From locally produced fruits and vegetables to heritage breed beef, pork, fish, and rabbit prepared by the top chefs in the country over open flames, there’s something for everyone at Heritage Fire. After indulging in each dish, attendees have the opportunity to vote for the ‘Best Bite of the Day’, resulting in one chef being crowned the Heritage Hero of their city. The all-inclusive tasting experience features a bevy of wines, craft cocktails, and beers. For more information on the Nation’s Hottest Competition, visit  

About Snowmass Village, Colorado:

A renowned winter playground and vibrant summer community just 9 miles from Aspen, Snowmass consistently ranks as one of the best winter ski areas and summer mountain biking destinations in the world. Ski Magazine named Aspen Snowmass the no. 1 “resort of the year” in the West in 2020, and Snowmass, along with the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, is the first IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) Gold-Level Ride Center™ in Colorado, only the 5th in United States, and the 7th in the world. Snowmass offers guests incredible views of mountain vistas, in addition to 2.8 million adjacent acres of wilderness, open for activities and exploration. Snowmass is home to 30+ restaurants, 95 percent slopeside lodging, shopping, unique special events and music – all year round. For more information and a complete calendar of events and activities, please visit  


a21 is a dynamic, full-service event and marketing agency, specializing in event production and management, corporate sales and fulfillment, brand activations, and experiences. Founded in 2006, the agency is headquartered in Miami with representation in New York, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. a21’s portfolio includes nationally recognized culinary events and festivals across the country ranging from the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach & New York Food & Wine Festivals, Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, Heritage Fire Tour, Whiskies of the World Tour and more.