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From Hitchhikers to Private Jets: The Season in Aspen Begins

Aspen is about ideas, and one idea here is that celebrities can be free to just chill out and not be bothered by their celebrity -while getting, of course, the full-fledged celebrity treatment.
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I'm in Aspen now, and the high season, which will start on the Friday before Christmas, is just about to begin. For right now, it's a bit quiet, and the big excitement is that Heidi Klum is here (because husband Seal will be performing), and the scuttle is that paparazzi got kicked out of the lodge at the Buttermilk http://www.aspensnowmass.com/buttermilk/default.cfm mountain where they were lying in wait for pics of Klum and brood on skis.

Aspen is about ideas, and one idea here is that celebrities can be free to just chill out and not be bothered by their celebrity -while getting, of course, the full-fledged celebrity treatment. This doesn't make any sense if you stop to think about it for a moment, but what can you say about a place that has officially sanctioned, apparently town government-installed "thumbing stations" for hitchhikers, and at the same time enough private jet traffic that you must clarify whether you have arrived at the public or the private airport when arranging transport into town?

This Colorado former mining town, with its dramatic Ansel Adams come-to-life mountain backdrop, is a mix of the sublime and the silly, attracting people who truly love to ski, and people who come here simply to wear their $2,000 ski outfits up the Aspen Mountain gondola to lunch at The Sundeck, and then back down again to hit the hot après ski scene at 39 Degrees, the bar in the trendy Hotel Sky at the mountain's base. It's a place for animal lovers -there's seemingly no place here where your dog is off-limits -and where every other person is draped in some sort of animal pelt or fur.It's a place where families can vacation together, and where new mothers can drop their six week old newborns off at the just-opened Treehouse day care facility at Snowmass mountain and ski for five days.

So it's all a little weird and it's more than a little fabulous, and all this odd fabulousness hits its zenith in the week between Christmas and New Year's. The best hotels in town have been booked for, oh, at least 12 months -the Little Nell , the town's only five star, five diamond hotel, for example is by invitation only for this week -but, if you still want to squeeze in here, there is a bit more than a snowball's chance. Ski.com reserves blocks of hotel rooms and last-minute cancellations have been known to happen in year's past, even for this hot week.

The trouble is, even if you score accommodations, you still have to figure out how to get here -the airport here is tiny and flights book up fast. So in true Aspen fashion, if you score a hotel room, you'll have two options on opposite extremes: you could charter a private jet. Or you could fly to Denver and get into a shuttle, which is to say, arrive in Aspen on a van. (Or you could hitch, although I do not believe that Denver has official thumbing stations.) Or you could go somewhere else for Christmas, and book a vacation here in the weeks between New Year's and the next big deal week, which is President's Day.

However and whenever you get to Aspen, new, cool and/or exclusive are the coin of the realm. And so let's start with the sustenance, the food. It is important to know that at the ever-popular Matsuhisa, (Nobu Matsuhisa's other Matsuhisa location outside of Beverly Hills), you should not order off the menu but instead call ahead and arrange for the chef to prepare whatever he thinks is best, which could include sake-steamed Chilean seabass, served with dry miso, shaved black truffles and garlic chips, or butter-poached Kobe beef ,served with miso truffle wild mushrooms, seared foie gras & balsamic teriyaki sauce, or Alaskan King Crab tempura , served with cilantro, red onion, jalapenos and sweet ponzu. Shawn Gallus, cellar master and beverage director, is developing a menu devoted to Shouchu, the popular Japanese spirit, better known in the US by its Korean name, Soju. In fact, Nobu and Matsuhisa restaurants will soon be carrying their own private label soju, Gallus may pour you a sample, or prepare for you a tasty cocktail called "Shiroi Usagi" which translates to "White Rabbit" and is a blend of soju and a Japanese soft drink called Calpico, served with a tiny red Japanese peach.

And then let's move on to the spa. It's also important to know that the Aspen Back Institute , which sounds like a clinic but is actually a high-end medi-spa based at the St. Regis Hotel is opening a branch at Snowmass reports/default.cfm mountain village at any moment. Here, you can work out, with supervision, on equipment that you will not find in your average gym, like, say, a vibrating machine designed to build muscle mass for astronauts doing time in orbiting Earth in space. But the must-do is the signature treatment, a delightful massage by a physical therapist that leaves you not only relaxed, but limber and feeling two inches taller .

For shopping, since you will have spent all your money on flight, hotel, food and spa, you may want to do the Aspen contradiction and hit the new luxury consignment shop in town called The Little Bird (205 S. Mill St. Suite 221A), where you can score billionaires cast-offs.

And oh right, there is a lot happening here on the snow. Like, say, skiing. Which will be the subject of my next dispatch from this strange, fabulous little corner of the world.