Mountain Highs

The snow may be gone, but there's no better time than summer to head to these mountain resorts

Aspen, Colo.
When the Independence Pass opens around Memorial Day, music lovers, artists and intellectuals stream into Aspen for the area's summer festivals, along with rock climbers, paragliders and back-country explorers hankering for adventure. Befitting this cultural haven is the eclectic collection of books in Explore Booksellers on Main Street, founded in a Victorian house by the daughter of MGM mogul Irving Thalberg. With bespoke butler service and just one and a half blocks from the mountain slopes is the relaxed luxury of the St. Regis resort. Its in-house Remede Spa is the place to check in and check out while you rejuvenate. But some of the best things in Aspen are free, such as the street musicians and the picturesque and often-
photographed sunsets behind the Maroon Bells mountain peaks.

Banff, Canada
Banff National Park grew around the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, a Scottish baronial castle rising from the Canadian Rockies. This mountain hideaway has wide corridors around which Cole Porter and Ginger Rogers have wandered and where Marilyn Monroe broke her leg while shooting 1954's "River of No Return." Today's guests can soothe sore limbs after taking part in a little hiking, fishing or golf with the resort's world-class water treatments, waterfalls and mineral pool at the Willow Stream Spa. Banff Avenue in the village is lined with designer factory direct outlets, while most of the restaurants are within three blocks of the avenue and pride themselves on their elaborate wine lists. Eden restaurant in the Rimrock Resort Hotel is decorated with Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence honors. Don't leave without saying hello to the mile-long monster lurking under the park's largest body of water, Lake Minnewanka, known as the Devil's Lake and located just 45 minutes away from Lake Louise.

Chamonix, France
In the sophisticated French Alps, rent a donkey to be your companion on mountain walks in Chamonix, a posh ski resort nestled at the base of Mont Blanc -- the highest mountain in the European Alps and the birthplace of modern mountaineering. Or get a Mont Blanc lift pass and take one of Europe's highest cable cars, Aiguille du Midi, to the Mount Blanc viewing platform. At the end of the day, make your way into town and stroll around the cobbled streets, fin de siecle villas and the River l'Arve. Foodies will appreciate the Michelin-starred Albert Premier Gastronomic Restaurant in Le Hameau Albert Premier hotel with its impressive wine cellar.

Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Cortina is a feast for the eyes with the jagged Dolomites near Italy's norteastern Austrian border dominating the view. And the fashion and people watching isn't bad either -- Luciano Benetton, head of the knitwear empire Benetton, has said that fashion begins and ends here. Saunter along the Corsa Italia, the town's pedestrian promenade, to see what wares are hot in Europe now. There are plenty of trails to explore the great outdoors but if hiking and biking are not challenging enough, the Cortina Adrenaline Center offers tree-top acrobatic and aerial crossings, rafting, canyoning and kayaking. Burn off enough calories to enjoy a trip to the Cafe Royal in the Hotel Royal for traditional ice cream.

Jackson Hole, Wy.
It is the Old West with unspoiled cowboy landscapes, rugged mountains, hot springs, wild flowers and wilder critters, but you can also get homeade margaritas made with freshly squeezed juice at Mexican eatery Pica's. Anglers find solitude in the pure clean waters of the Snake River, one of the world's most beautiful fly fishing destinations, but sushi is still flown in daily at Nikai Sushi. After white water rafting, golfing or seeing nature in the raw at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Teton's eco-friendly Hotel Terra offers guilt-free indulgence. Take in the mountain views from its rooftop tub and know you are not hurting the scenic landscape. At the Four Seasons with its sumptuous western-inspired decor, visitors detox in willow bark wraps at the spa and wallow in a whirlpool while gazing at the star-filled sky.

Sun Valley, Idaho
This valley of the stars, once a sheep meadow, is the American answer to Switzerland's St. Moritz. It has attracted the rich and famous since 1936, when Errol Flynn and Clark Gable tried the first-ever ski lift there, but the Sun Valley Village and nearby Ketchum can be refreshingly down-to-earth. After biking, riding or rafting, fill up at the cozy diner-style Smiley Creek Lodge, north of the Valley on Highway 75. The menu at Trail Creek Cabin, a former hunting lodge where Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper caroused, is western and looks west, so you can see the sunset from a deck over the creek. At the Knob Hill Inn, the dining and atmosphere is more European at this intimate retreat surrounded by picturesque mountains, within walking distance of Ketchum. All rooms have balconies with views of the Bald, Sawtooth and Boulder ranges.

Telluride, Colo.
Miners drank away their pay checks in this box canyon town, where Butch Cassidy is said to have robbed his first bank. Now this locale with well-preserved Victorian buildings has an upscale, though low-key, image. All the snowmelt from the San Juan Mountains creates wonderful waterfalls while the mining heritage has left intertwined roads -- and the thrill of a 4x4 adventure through land few have seen stays forever. Motorcyclists get the adrenaline rush on the San Juan Skyway and cyclists use the free gondola that connects Telluride to nearby Mountain Village. For entertainment, Telluride celebrates everything and anything with a festival, including the Telluride Film Festival, which runs at the end of summer from Sept. 4-7.

Whistler, Canada
The brave can jump off the top of British Columbia's Whistler Peak from mid-July onward -- literally -- by rap jumping (face-forward, free-fall rappelling). For vacationers not seeking the ultimate adrenaline rush, there is also golf on immaculate greens against a backdrop of mountain peaks. A three-hour trip along the ocean on the Whistler Mountaineer train to Vancouver surpasses the Orient Express for comfort and scenery. Or slip into the past in a wagon pulled by Clydesdale horses around the Nicklaus North and Green Lake areas. For refueling, sample the seafood catch at La Rua in Le Chamois Hotel, or try the seasonal menu at Araxi in Whistler Village with its 13,000-bottle wine cellar.
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