History of Aspen | Silver to Snow

As seen in Volume 7 of The Scout Guide Aspen. Image courtesy of Aspen Historical Society.

The origins of Aspen are filled with truths and tales. From the original settlers to the origin of the ski season, this town and this valley are rich in history. We scouted out Aspen through the decades, from silver to snow, in our latest guide.

What once started as gathering grounds for the Ute Indians, Aspen quickly became a booming mining town that subsequently went through a lengthy quiet period, decades of transition with growing pains, and ultimately into the modern-day mountain mecca we know and love today. Here is a summary of Aspen through the decades, from silver to snow.

Until the 1870s// The Utes use the area as their summer hunting ground, going back centuries.

The 1880s // Originally settled as Ute City by a group of miners and incorporated in 1881, the city is officially named Aspen in 1888. Miners, prospectors, and entrepreneurs reside in town and the surrounding valley, with schools, grocery stores, and services established as the area grows.

The 1890s // Electric lights arrive in town, along with banks, a hospital, police department, theaters and to much fanfare, a grand hotel.

The 1900s // Mining is on the decline, the Ashcroft and Independence mining areas go bust, and bankruptcy abounds. To account for the town drama, a newspaper revives the local gossip column.

The 1910s // Farming becomes the newest currency, in the form of cattle and potatoes. Dubbed The Quiet Years, the population starts to decline.

The 1920s // Cars arrive in town, and Independence Pass is completed after more than a decade of work.

The 1930s // The lowest recorded population of Aspen during a census accounts for just 705 residents. In the latter part of the decade, a ski resort is conceived but put on hold due to World War II.

The 1940s // Aspen Skiing Company founded, Sardy Field opens, Bauhaus arrives, and the ethos of mind, body, and spirit is born.

The 1950s // Buttermilk and Highlands ski areas open and residents celebrate the first Wintersköl.

The 1960s // Snowmass ski area opens, Ruedi Dam is approved, the first condominiums arrive in town, and the arts and music scene begins to flourish.

The 1970s // The population starts to rebound from the previous decades. Aspen elects its first female mayor, mass transit is born, and the first traffic light appears. Snowmass commences the wild west tradition known as the rodeo.

The 1980s // Skiing in the Aspen area draws an international crowd, along with hordes of celebrities and the birth of private clubs. Snowboarding finally arrives, as well as the Silver Queen Gondola.

The 1990s // The population sees a boom that it once saw in its mining heyday more than 100 years ago, with thousands of year-round residents that swells to three times or (much) more in prime tourist season.

The 2000s // Winter X Games arrives, along with a new generation of visitors that come to visit for the summer but never leave.

The 2010s // Snowmass Village gets a facelift, milestone celebrations abound for skiing and arts, and Aspen finishes the decade with one of the snowiest winters on record.

The 2020s // A new chapter for Aspen begins.

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