The Dichotomy of Two Mountain Towns

Carbondale, Aspen’s Real World Relative

Carbondale, Aspen’s Real World Relative

The choice to live in a place as unrepentantly gorgeous as the Roaring Fork Valley likely seems to be a rather straightforward one for anyone who has been lucky enough to visit. Gorgeous, slanting mountains set an epic scene for skiers, mountain bikers, fishers, drinkers, all like minded in their desire to spend more time outside than in. Yet, what sets Aspen apart is what appears to be almost a constant yearn for the pretentious, a perceived playground for the pompous.  

Aspen itself boasts an enormous amount of activities and beauty beyond the outwardly wealth-centric stereotype. Aspen’s worldwide renown ski town makes it a hotbed for visitors from across the country and the globe, to experience world-class events featuring a wide range of high quality music, food, and art that seem to be happening every week. The town always has something new and exciting to try, making it an addictive lifestyle that would be unlikely to bore even the most enigmatic of residents. Even just for its natural beauty, simply uttering the name Aspen to friends at a party evokes a reaction. To that end, the town boasts a refreshingly wide range of residents who seem to only agree on the fact that Aspen is truly a jewel hidden within the secluded Roaring Fork Valley.

However, many year-round Aspenites operate within the underbelly of Aspen’s work and leisure culture, or most basically, the “service industry.” Therefore there exists a fascinating dichotomy between the two types of lives being lived simultaneously in Aspen.

The righteously outdoorsy and the self-righteously wealthy.

Some residents enjoy a cathartic release from “rich-spotting” women embracing the “Aspen Style” in their ankle-length furs while their husbands gallivant in the Bentley that, like their $22.7 million dollar home, sees use two weeks out of the year. It’s part of the experience. However, not all of Aspen’s full-time residents are so enthusiastic about that Aspen facade, the flaunting of wealth occurring on their doorstep, often so much so that they don’t want to be associated with such a lifestyle. They choose to live in Carbondale.

Aspen vs Carbondale

The choice to move “down valley,” a term which can carry some of it’s own colloquial baggage, isn’t as one-track-minded as the bottom line for buying a home (Carbondale’s median home value is one third of Aspen’s). It’s instead a decision about culture. If you enjoy having easy access to top quality culture with high ticket prices, high-end retail stores, massively luxurious homes, and the stylish people that also do, then it’s time to bust out the checkbook. Seeing and being seen on the streets of Aspen is indeed a lifestyle choice. But if what you’re looking for is access to more land, a relaxed community atmosphere, fun locally-sponsored events, a sanctuary insulated from the megarich, and most importantly a place to grow your dreadlocks without fear of societal scorn, Carbondale will welcome you with open arms.


Roughly a 30-40 minute drive from Downtown Aspen, Carbondale is smaller and simpler than the famous mountain playground. Carbondale’s own character differs from the surrounding and seemingly similar towns of Basalt, Willits, El Jebel, and Glenwood Springs. The main drag gives off the feeling of walking in a 19th century frontier outpost. Wooden storefronts occupied by small business line the strip in a distinctly welcoming fashion. Local saloons and small restaurants are within easy walking distance from one another, and various local events fill the streets with residents of all ages. It all arrives organically. The streets don’t swell with atrocious drivers on the dates of large events, bars don’t fill with vacationing drunkards, and neighborhoods don’t become closed off by mansions and private gates. Residents of Carbondale have sought this out, an alternative way of life in a valley so beautiful they wouldn’t dare to leave. Carbondale provides opportunity for employment outside of the hectic service industry, a welcome option for anyone burnt out on discovering just how shitty people can be as soon as they enter a restaurant. It’s a place to have kids, to raise a family, to really live a normal lifestyle. Carbondale replenishes reality to life while Aspen may tend towards unconsciously sucking it away, which can be a refreshing alternative for anyone who has spent too long outside of the real world.


On one hand, this is also changing. The gradual gentrification of culture that has slowly eroded crunchier, alternative communities across the United States also has its sights set on Carbondale. Lower rent attracts the young people that want a taste of the Aspen life but don’t want to pay for it. Aspenites who want more space for less money and don’t mind the drive are relocating. And as public transportation trends toward greater connectivity across distances, the link between the two towns will likely only get stronger. The residents of Carbondale will resist, of course. Events like the full moon rides and the First Friday community art and drinking celebrations will endure for the alternative seekers, but there could soon be a few more Bentleys on the streets.

* The opinions expressed on are not necessarily those of Jillian Livingston.

** Editorial is open to comments. We welcome your opinions.

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