Founded as a mining camp in the Colorado Silver Boom and named because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area, the city is now a ski resort and cultural center. The city emerged as a skiing mecca following World War II and the foundation of the Aspen Skiing Company by Walter Paepcke, a Chicago industrialist who sought to create a utopian community of the mind and body. Paepcke's legacy of the Aspen/Snowmass resorts, along with such institutions as the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School, have made the city a year-round international destination for recreation, arts, business, and intellectual discourse.
The city sits along the southeast (upper) end of the Roaring Fork Valley, along the Roaring Fork River, a tributary of the Colorado River about 40 miles south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is surrounded by mountain and wilderness areas on three sides: Red Mountain to the north, Smuggler Mountain to the east, and Aspen Mountain to the south.