Before the X Games and Shaun White, Aspen was John Denver and Hunter S. Thompson's Domain

U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix Mammoth
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For a new generation, Aspen, Colorado is synonymous with the winter X Games. Held this year through Jan. 26, they feature more than 200 of the world's top snow sports athletes competing in extreme feats on snowboards, skis and snowmobiles. The made-by-and-for-ESPN event brings 125,000 travelers to Aspen each January to witness the craziness. And the X Games have helped make a household name out of people like Shaun White.

But for an older generation, a different--but still fabulously coiffed person--was synonymous with Aspen: John Denver.

Denver's love of the outdoors, the human spirit and the simple gifts of Mother Nature made him one of the most popular musical artists of the 1960s and 1970s, and helped put the little ski community of Aspen on the map. He and his first wife Annie lived in a log home in Aspen, both of which he sang about often.

A few years after his death in October 1997, Denver's friends and fans built a sanctuary for those who come to Aspen in search of the tranquility his music expressed. Located on a creek bank adjacent to the Rio Grande Place Visitors Center, the spot is as peaceful and natural as the music he sang. Words from many of his songs are carved into stone. Birds sing overhead, a rabbit hops in the underbrush.

Aspen, of course, is a beautiful mountain community. The 10th Mountain Division trained here prior to its service in World War II, and later those veterans helped develop Aspen as a world-renowned ski destination. Despite the influx of high-dollar jet-setters from around the world, Aspen maintains little pockets of quirkiness. The novelist Hunter S. Thompson actually ran for sheriff of Aspen and the VFW Hall is the best place for a drink.

Those worlds all come together at 8,000 feet. Now with the assistance of legalized marijuana sales, Denver's "Rocky Mountain High," which is one of official state songs, has become more popular than ever. No matter who you are or how much is in your wallet or what your skill sets, a visit to Aspen is indeed like coming home to a place you've never been before.

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