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Editor's Essay

Janet O’Grady and Harley Baldwin with the fox terriers

O’Grady on top of Mount Kilimanjaro

It is said that great magazines reflect the decades they are published in. Going over past issues, one finds always a smart voice on our pages, especially our annual Best of Aspen Issue. Aspen Magazine’s Best of stories evolved from the usual Best Burgers, Best Ski Run to include irreverent jokes about the town’s highly visible hippie counterculture, the local political scene and the excesses of assorted Hollywood types—which we tagged as only-in-Aspen goings-on.

For many years, we had an editorial franchise on the wickedly funny Best of Aspen features; these satires captured the zeitgeist and somehow tapped into our perception of our town as a place apart. Aspen really was a wild place. Readers of all stripes had a ball laughing at our own foibles, and also how the world of paparazzi and gossip columns seemed to watch our every move. After all, this is a town known for gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson running for sheriff, locals riding their horses and motorcycles through bars or boasting about how many ACL surgeries they’ve had, or even what year they left Harvard or Wall Street to move here.

Aspen is still a place unlike any other town that I—and most others agree—have ever seen. Compared to most places, it’s still pretty zany, but certainly not as wild as it once was. But our entire country has also changed since 9/11 and the recession, so it’s hardly surprising that Aspen has changed too, and, dare I say, lost some of its sense of humor. But it brings to mind an observation of my friend and former mayor John Bennett that I quoted years ago. “I wish we could recreate the spontaneity and freedom that existed in Aspen in the ’50s and ’60s, but that freedom could exist only at a certain moment in time.”

The future has arrived,” said the essayist and novelist Kurt Andersen, (a frequent Aspen speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival). “And it’s all about dreaming of the past.” In assembling this 40th Anniversary Issue, I solicited ideas from many people throughout the community and had a decision to make: Should this be a regular fall issue? Should it look back or forward? After many conversations, it seemed that the best way to look forward is to look back at our town’s unique legacy. I came to see that the heritage that made Aspen unique is what also makes it so special now.

As Aspen’s premier and oldest magazine, our Aspen brand has something others don’t: a storied past, a vast archive and decades of cross-generational readers. Culture is as synonymous with Aspen as adventure is. The incubator for what became Aspen’s current cultural life traces back to the late 1940s and 1950s, with the defining ideas stemming from the Bauhaus and modernism. Today the once rundown campus of The Aspen Institute is a recognized modernist gem (see “Art, Culture and Design” feature), as important as our Victorian and ranching design traditions. Then—as now—Aspen and its cultural institutions, rely on the synergy created when talented people come together with forward-thinking ideas. More than ever, especially looking back on this last decade, it seems as if what was once old in Aspen became new again. For example, the Aspen Idea (the Paepckes’ vision to create a retreat for mind, body and spiritual pursuits) and the town’s original institutions, like The Aspen Institute and The Aspen Music Festival, all revitalized themselves and are more relevant then ever. They reimagined themselves by mining their original vision, mission and history.

So much of what matters, so much of what endures today in Aspen, came out of individuals’ passions and dreams. Look at our now world-famous Food and Wine Classic, started by a handful of local enthusiasts, and eventually acquired and expanded by American Express’ Food & Wine magazine. The Classic inspired local chefs and attracted committed restaurateurs to Aspen. There is arguably no other small town of approximately 6,600 residents that can boast the number of high-quality restaurants and master sommeliers that Aspen possesses.

Over the years, I’ve often made the distinction between glitz and glamour. Glamour has always been a part of Aspen and always will, from Hollywood stars who have visited or called Aspen home since the 1940s to the Paepckes—a glamorous couple if ever there was one. Current-day Aspen—with its stylish stores; year round soirees; cultural celebrations, like artCRUSH; and international visitors, such as the Brazilians and Australians who flock here in winter—is glamorous in the best sense of the word.

Yes, Aspen has changed—and continues to change—the lives of so many individuals. These pioneers came to Aspen for the same reasons most of us come today: to find a place of stimulation, adventure and solace for mind, body and spirit—in our own moment in time. Over the past decade, Aspen legends like Thompson and Baldwin have passed. On a more personal level, my husband and business partner, Randy—a legend in his own way—died of cancer in 2001. We moved to Aspen to call it home and live the life. We created Aspen Magazine together, to be a litmus test of the times. As the 21st century began, I updated our tagline—where luxury meets adventure. In the past year, Aspen Magazine has begun its third incarnation when it became a part of the Modern Luxury family.

Making selections for this special issue was challenging: I could have written a book. This issue captures the big ideas of the decades we have covered, as well as its spirit. I hope on these pages that our readers who know or have been a part of Aspen’s modern-day history will enjoy remembering what has brought and kept them here, as well as for new readers to discover why Aspen has been, and continues to be, such a one-of-a-kind place. Ultimately, the past can inform and inspire, but nostalgia should not be part of it.

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jogrady@modernluxury.com