Aspen has long been a hot spot for amorous escapades, what with its tight geography, hedonistic culture, and evolving mix of worldly visitors and locals pursuing the Aspen Idea of enhanced "mind, body, and spirit" (OK, sometimes it's more about body and spirits when it comes to jet-sitting singles.) Apps have revolutionized the dating culture in big cities - how do they stack up here?
When Allison*, 23, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley last summer, she wasn’t looking for love, just a fresh start. Still, because meeting men in the mountains is inevitable—females comprise the rarer sex in the Rockies, after all—she began the mating dance with a guy. Not for long.
“I realized that dating someone who was well known in the area was not what I wanted,” says Allison, a health and wellness professional. “I don’t really party… and people come here to party. I gave up on the dating game in Aspen.”
So, as it happened, Allison got a part-time gig helping an acquaintance run pop-up events for Bumble. The location-based app, which bills itself as a casual social connector of paramours, pals and even business partners in which ladies make the first move, has established a growing presence in Aspen over the past year. Bumble hosts frequent meetup events during peak seasons with local businesses including athleisure brand Outdoor Voices, Escobar and Highlands Ale House. Allison downloaded the app and connected almost instantaneously with Matt*, 28, who shared her college major and love of dogs. After some easy banter, Allison suggested the natural next step.
“He was like, ‘Actually, I don’t drink, I’m totally sober,’” she recalls. “I was like, holy crap. Most people my age, that’s what they’re into. That’s great for me as I have a history of drug abuse in my family.”
So great, in fact, that Allison and Matt recently closed on a house in Carbondale. “Bumble allowed me to find this hidden gem, someone I would never have met out on the town in Aspen—because he doesn’t go out!” Allison enthuses. “I feel like I hit the jackpot.”
Ditto for Jenna*, 46, and Tom*, 47, both former San Franciscans who converged three years ago on Hinge. “It connects you with mutual friends in common from Facebook,” explains Jenna, whose college roommate was Tom’s high-school classmate.
She also learned that Tom, who lives in Boulder, was divorced—something few of his Facebook friends knew. “People these days don’t take the time to think about who would be good matches for their single friends,” Jenna says. “They don’t want to get involved. [Hinge] reminds me of the way we used to do blind dates—friends would set you up. [Apps do] the matchmaking for you.”
A few years ago, a cache of happy anecdotes about app dating in Aspen might have struck as surprising. But much seems to have changed since hookup app Tinder first infiltrated the Wild West circa 2012. Back then the digital dating landscape was vastly different: Apps were few and users scattered.
TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT
Tinder: A location-based dating app that allows users to browse profiles of potential mates nearby.
Swiping right: On many dating apps, swiping right on a profile means liking it. If both users swipe right on each other, they match and a chat function is enabled.
Grindr: Same concept as Tinder, specifically for men interested in meeting men.
Bumble: Launched by Tinder co-founder (and frequent Aspen patron) Whitney Wolfe Herd. Women hold the cards in this app: Only they can initiate messaging af ter a match is made. Perhaps the most popular platform in Aspen, due to frequent branded events.
Ghosting: Sudden cessation of correspondence sans explanation, leaving the other party to wonder if that person has been hit by a bus.
IRL: Internet - speak for “in real life,” as in, “Let’s meet IRL for a drink?”
Tinder Roulette: Indiscriminately swiping right on all profiles and reviewing matches later.
Though Tinder now claims to count 50 million users worldwide (Bumble tracks about 23 million), a company rep confirms that the number in Aspen is “tiny.” Denver doesn’t even rank in the top 10 U.S. cities for monthly active users. (Those are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco...) Similarly, a multitude of other options—including OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, PlentyofFish, happn, Zoosk, Match— thrive in metropolitan areas.
Due to a small population and geographic area, scouting mates in a cool ski town such as Aspen presents singular challenges—via dating apps or not. One 30-something gay man opines on the paltry selection of potential suitors, both at the bars and on apps such as Grindr and Scruff (for queer hipsters into facial/body hair—really).
“It’s the same five dudes,” the writer says. “Perhaps there is more of a stigma attached to it: You’re a slut if you use it, whereas in big cities it’s par for the course.” During Gay Ski Week, however, “Grindr looks like it does in a normal city, an endless grid of flesh.”
Another factor: Our “Shangri-La in the mountains” is an incubator of extremes, where an adrenaline- and substancefueled party atmosphere, whirling merry-go-round of tourists and epic outdoor recreation foster wild behavior.
“This town exudes instant gratification as a value,” notes Lori Kret, one half of Aspen Relationship Coaching with husband Jeff Cole. “We have no lift lines! You walk out your door and you’re in the most beautiful place! Anything you desire is right there. People come to expect that in every aspect of their lives—and in relationships.”
Which can make dating extra-difficult. When new partnerships face obstacles, Cole says, people panic. “They think it shouldn’t feel that way because it’s Aspen,” he explains. “There must be something wrong with the relationship. It must be the partner. They seek the next wave of newer, shinier, prettier, richer.”
Dating apps present opportunity at the tap of a finger. “Now when we see flaws in a partner… we just look for another partner,” Cole says. “There’s a lot of indulgent, impulsive behavior.”
Unsurprisingly, the therapists cite data that Aspen is home to the highest number of divorcees of any town in Colorado, almost twice the state average. Lorelai*, 45, isn’t surprised; she’s seen friends’ creepy husbands on Tinder. Say what? “Not a ton,” she admits, “but enough. Like, three.”
While foreigners are able to hop a fast flight out of ASE and leave late-night transgressions in the dust, locals grapple with a universal issue: lack of anonymity. In a town of just two grocery stores, good luck ghosting on that lame Tinder date! (Indeed: Cole, 53, shares a tale of encountering one dud of a Tinder date when she arrived at his office, several months later, unaware she was seeking counseling from someone she had previously been out with.)
Some good news for those on the market: Folks who flock to Aspen—to live, work, play or all three—are in a prime class: athletic, brainy, cosmopolitan and charismatic, with an eye for beauty and palate for luxury. No doubt Aspen is a hotbed of joie de vivre.
By comparison: “It sucks in Maine,” says a 35-year-old gal pal who lives in Portland. “I pushed the search radius as far as it would go!”
In Aspen, though, mileage can be misleading. During Christmas week 2014, Katie, a 37-year-old media professional then living in Denver, logged on to Tinder while visiting family in Aspen.
“There were 10 people that night and I was like, that’s it?” she says. “Then you have to expand your mileage, and it shows as far as Vail and Crested Butte.” Those towns, by the way, are 39 and 24 miles as the crow flies, yet two to three hours by car, respectively—not exactly convenient for coffee dates.
After 48 hours, though, Katie began chatting with Craig, a photographer and recent Manhattan transplant, three years older. He’d downloaded Tinder out of boredom following hip surgery and was fascinated by a young bro co-worker’s game of frenetic right-swiping, aka “Tinder Roulette,” for sport, to see how many women popped up. (Swipe right for a handy app-dating glossary.)
“Unless it was a weekend,” Craig says, “I ran across [only] the people in town that I knew [already]. Within a week I found Katie.”
Now cohabitating in Snowmass Village—and insistent that I use their real names—the couple is vocal about how they linked up. “I think we’ve got a great story,” they exclaim in unison. Quips Craig, “I tell everyone. I call her my Tinderoni.”
Katie concludes that serendipity is out, technology is in, and there’s no such thing as shame in the game. “Everything is done online now,” she says. “Why wouldn’t dating be part of that?”
Annabelle*, 70, who met her first husband the oldfashioned way, in a lift line on Aspen Mountain in 1971, declares, “You would need an app to meet anyone today!” She sees quick lift trips and short queues as an impediment to the old Aspen way of making friends. “Lines were 20 minutes and the ride was another 20,” she says. “You got to know people that way. It was just a more sociable time.”
While it may be true that many are lucky in app-love, Kret and Cole caution against prioritizing ease and efficiency over meaningful intimacy built over time.
“If you think about dating apps, when someone chooses you, there’s this huge rush of adrenaline and dopamine,” Cole says. “It’s instantaneous when someone picks you. That gets confused as love—I feel so good! Then you meet, and a couple months later you don’t feel that way anymore. ‘Why don’t I feel that rush of intoxicating chemicals? Oh, well, I’ll find someone else...’”
Editor’s Note: Names with an asterisk have been changed.
PHOTOGR APHY BY JAMI E JAYE F L E TCHER