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Aspen: Is It A Modern Day Berchtesgaden?

By Phil Butler | March 9, 2011

Statistically speaking, if you are reading this, you'll never own a home in Aspen, Colorado. And do you know why? It's pretty simple really, homes there just cost too much. Yeah, I know, that was a bit unkind. But, just how many people can afford $559,000 to live in a trailer park?

Aspen is far and away the most expensive town to live in in America. While you may think I was kidding about the half million dollar trailer home up there, compared with the highest priced property in this part of Colorado, that's chicken feed. With the rest of the country teetering and tottering on the brink of foreclosure, Aspen's real estate market just keep chugging along, seemingly unencumbered by all that goes on down the mountain. And maybe this is symbolic, or one reason the rich and famous cling to Aspen - the place is even secluded from economic disaster.

No this is not Aspen

You tought it was Aspen, huh? Wrong, this is Berchtesgaden in Bavaria

Luxury Aspen estates - you know those Hugh Hefner style pads with mirrors on the ceilings, pink champaign on ice, and etc. - well, foreign buyers are snapping them up like hotcakes. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, of the top 25 real-estate transactions recorded in January there, 20 percent were foreign buyers from Hong Kong, Australia, and Turkey. Who would even bet someone from Turkey would know where Aspen is? Sorry, not many in Aspen know where Istanbul is I know.

The entrance to Wildcat Ridge

The entrance to Wildcat Ridge - being a billionaire, one has to keep up appearances

Russian Alexander Zanadvorov, the 40-year-old owner of Sedmoi Kontinent, a chain of supermarkets, bought a $13 million dollar estate last year, and billionaire John Paulson paid $24.5 million for a 13,000-square-foot estate replete with its own 35 foot disappearing wall of glass (and other James Bond stuff no doubt).  Then there are the "regulars" - the Goldie Hawn's, Lance Armstrong's, Jack Nicholson's, and Kate Hudson's, on the mountain - well, you get the picture. Aspen is a small community of fabulously wealthy "white" peeps basically. Did I say that?

A look out the back window from Wildcat Ridge

Russian billion Roman Abramovich's Wildcat Ridge overlook - hmm.

If one looks at the demographics of the community of roughly 6,000, it's clear that more than the Rocky Mountains serve as barriers to entry into this exclusive neighborhood. The place is like 91% Caucasian, less than one half of one percent Black. And those pesky Native Americans who used to own this spot of dirt? Less than one quarter of one percent of the population falls into this ethnic category.

Heck, you would think those Ute savages the town was named (Ute City) for back when, they should be crawling all over the place, right? Now there are only like 14.2 citizens with any Ute blood at all. I bet anyone $50 all 14 of them work at some sort of trading post or Native American museum, and takers?

Hitler's Eagles Nest

Hitler's Eagles Nest - Now open as a beer garden - hmm.

My how history as a way of adding color (excuse the pun) to a story. My tongue in cheek references to ethnic groups here has an obvious cynicism surrounding it. It is fascinating to note that Aspen was once within a territory controlled wholly by the Ute. Those Native Americans, history shows, did nothing but decline from the instant they had first contact with Europeans. After what was known as the Meeker Massacre, the United States government used that controversial incident to take away all Ute lands in Colorado. You know this story ten times over from other such tales.

What was probably some sacred Native American spirit land gave way first to mining communities (there's gold in them thar hills) and fast forward to today, as Ralph Lauren, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, and Fendi replace old "Bob" and his Injun trading post. Now Goldie and husband Kurt Russell are part time residents at America's most exclusive enclave of civility. Don't get me wrong either, I love both of them in the flicks. This wondrous spot high in the mountains of Colorado, once just a chic ski destination, now attracts the likes of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich - he paid $36 million for a 14,300-square-foot house on 200 acres here. Hmm.

Welcome to one of the Ute reservations

Welcome to one of the Ute reservations

It almost seems like the rich and famous are "forting up" or something? Maybe the world's billionaires are scurrying to snap up modern day Berchtesgaden? The WSJ article talks a bit about the "why" of Aspen's rich demographics. Secluded, wonderful, exclusive, tucked neatly into the mountains and away from the chaos of civilization these days - does that paint a nice picture of what? If old Adolph and Eva were alive today, I can envision some talks about a retreat, can't you?

Chief Ignacio

Chief Ignacio in his later years - one of the Ute's most revered chiefs

I have shown images of Wildcat Ridge because it is beautiful for one, and because if Roman Abramovich was ever looking for a fortress away from home, he found one. Wildcat Ridge (situated in Caucasian land) is perched some 9,000 feet above sea level. The place is not so much a luxury retreat as it is a self sustainable fortress. Geothermal wells supply energy to the place, how many American homes are there running off this energy source, huh? Not only do the 60 wells heat and cool the home and pool, but they actually "defrost" the driveway in Winter.

Well, there you have it, a bit of a news slash history segment on Aspen's inclining real estate market. Excuse the soap box this time folks, some excess and eccentricity just goes a bit far, especially when most of you out there are dieing for just a sale.  But hope there is, if Ronald Reagan were around today, he might advise us that trickle down economics can save the day. More later.

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells Wilderness Area, outside Aspen

Phil Butler is a former engineer, contractor, and telecommunications professional who is editor of several influential online media outlets including part owner of Pamil Visions with wife Mihaela. Phil began his digital ramblings via several of the world’s most noted tech blogs, at the advent of blogging as a form of journalistic license. Phil is currently top interviewer, and journalist at Realty Biz News.
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