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Who Are Aspen's Most Influential Women?

By Christine Benedetti and Linda Hayes
Photography by Billy Rood
May 22, 2015 | People

Reconciling its quainter past with the inevitable changes of the future, Aspen is balancing its image of bucolic utopia with the responsibilities of a national nexus of environmentalism and culture. In this time of flux, meet the six dynamic women who prove that the “Aspen Idea” is alive and well, from the trail to the boardroom, from the mountain to the shala.

Jayne Gottlieb

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Jacket, Ermanno Scervino ($5,482). Mario Di Leone, 301 E. Hopkins Ave., 970-925-2740. Pants, Lamarque ($800). O2 Aspen, 605 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-3161. Kempner slide mules, Tory Burch ($395). Nordstrom, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Denver, 720-746-2424. Jewelry, Gottlieb’s own

Shakti Shala translates from Sanskrit to “house of true empowerment,” but in the six months since Jayne Gottlieb opened her Cooper Avenue yoga studio, it’s also become a “home.” And those quick to dismiss another Aspen yoga studio will think twice about this space. Gottlieb’s offerings go beyond yoga, and even the notion of a class.

“I want to create conscious community through movement and intelligent, edgy conversation, and sometimes yoga philosophy brings that out,” she says. “I want to have a place where everyone is welcome.”

While the 40-plus classes on the weekly lineup do include yoga—even one with a live DJ—there are also practices in meditation, high-intensity interval training, world dance, and Hula-Hooping. Everything takes place in one room, and the front of the studio doubles as a retail space lined with goods—most locally produced—that help your “outer artistry be as beautiful as your inner existence.”

But it doesn’t stop at brick-and-mortar. The 36-year-old teaches class at the Sundeck; she still runs her eponymous children’s theater company that was founded in 2005; she’s a Lululemon ambassador; and she’s exploring different paths in the yoga world—she plans to offer more teacher training and transition her Le Cercle Community Studio, in Basalt, into an incubator space for yoga instructors.

As Shakti Shala continues to grow, implementing spiritual programming is high on Gottlieb’s list. “We are committed to the practice of conscious living,” she says. While that might mean different things to different people, Gottlieb says her interpretation is on her website: “You are home.”

Christina King

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Light Ottoman textured knit belted dress, Maison Ullens ($1,265). 445 E. Hopkins Ave., 970-429-4170. Jewelry, King’s own

Two years ago, Christina King dropped everything and moved from Philadelphia to Aspen. A licensed professional counselor, she came with the goal of creating a network of mental health agencies and professionals, and making them easily accessible to anyone in need.

“I had been coming to Aspen for 15 years to ski. [During that time,] I realized that mental health needs here were not being met,” she shares. “It’s not only about addiction and suicide, which are the biggest issues in this community. It’s about asking yourself, How am I today? Do I have anxiety or depression?—and about being honest with yourself. In Philadelphia, I was just another therapist. In Aspen, I can make a difference.”

Today, the nonprofit Aspen Strong Foundation—which King, 32, founded and launched with Hike. Hope. Heal., a highly successful, and now annual, hiking event up Smuggler Mountain—lends guidance and support to people of all ages in Pitkin County, where the suicide rate is nearly three times the national average. In addition to an affiliation with the All Valley Mental Health Professionals Group, King raises awareness and acquires help via “It’s a safe place for people to look at therapists, recognize certain behaviors, find support groups and crisis centers, or just say, ‘Yeah, maybe I should talk to someone,’” she notes.

The website also acts as a fundraising center, on which King is highly focused. “When I’m biking or hiking with my dog, I get in my head and dream for the future,” she says. “Raising money to get the word out [in support of mental health] is vital. I love being an advocate. I’m destined to do that for my foundation.”

Angie Callen

4 - Who Are Aspen's Most Influential Women?
Jacket, Vince ($995). Pitkin County Dry Goods, 520 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-1681. Silk blouse, Equipment ($218). Pitkin County Dry Goods, SEE ABOVE. Pants, Ella Moss ($174). Pitkin County Dry Goods, SEE ABOVE. One-of-a-kind 1950s vintage Zuni squash blossom Arizona turquoise necklace ($2,750) and one-of-a-kind 1930s vintage Zuni turquoise necklace ($1,595), Kemo Sabe. 434 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-7878

“My purpose in life is taking a seed and making it grow. I get to do that here.” So says 34-year-old Angie Callen, executive director of The Red Brick Council for the Arts and manager of The Red Brick Center for the Arts. During her two years in the role, she has given life to the nonprofit’s mission of building a community around the arts and making arts education attainable to locals and visitors alike.

One notable result of Callen’s efforts is an affordable, twice-weekly “paint and sip” program called Masterpiece Mine, during which participants put their own spin on famous works from the likes of Picasso and van Gogh. “It’s very non-intimidating,” she says, a spirit no doubt encouraged by the wine the event provides. “We have a cult following of seniors and 30-somethings and working girls and moms. It’s fun to see them interacting and how proud they are of their paintings.”

With a full schedule of art classes and workshops (for both adults and kids, both free and fee-based) as well as monthly exhibitions, The Red Brick now sees over 500 people a month pass through its doors. That keeps Callen, an alpine snowboarder and river paddler with a civil engineering background, on her toes. “I’m creative, not artistic,” she says. “Managing the whole facility requires a good balance between left and right brains. I like [that] balancing.”

Down the road, Callen would like to see valley-wide collaboration between the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, the Wyly Community Art Center in Basalt, and the Carbondale Council on the Arts and Humanities. “Getting resident artists out and interfacing with locals, artists, and the community helps with our goal of increasing visibility,” she says. “Overlapping programs only increases [the] impact.”

Michele Kiley

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Paris caftan blouse, Ramy Brook ($340). O2 Aspen, 605 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-3161. Pave diamond feather necklace ($1,200) and deep green jade and diamond necklace ($1,440), KCOR. 02 Aspen, SEE ABOVE. Grayce skirt, BCBG Max Azria ($178). Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Denver, 303-355-5504. Hippik booties, Christian Louboutin ($1,295). Nordstrom, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Denver, 720-746-2424

At Justice Snow’s, proprietress Michele Kiley serves up breakfast, last call, and a full serving of vitality through live music, artist parlors, and open doors.

When she won the lease for the former Bentley’s space inside the Wheeler Opera House in 2011, the directive from the community and the Aspen City Council was to create a restaurant with affordable food. Three years later, she’s helped to develop a Colorado-inspired menu, but has coincidentally cooked up a whole lot more.

“This is about creating something that’s inherently good for the community,” she says. That translates to touches like booking quality music two to three times each week, from touring musicians to town favorites like the Crowlin’ Ferlies. Pilot programs such as the Americana Music Series and Writ Large—modeled after the radio storytelling platform The Moth—have been workshopped in the parlor, and the quarterly salon events are now guaranteed sellouts.

Kiley, 46, topped eight other applicants to lease the space from the city at a subsidized rate. Her initial proposal didn’t even include the extended programming that has since become a town staple.

“It quickly became clear that the imperative was about creating a vision of Aspen for the future,” she says. As part of that, she’ll continue to develop the arts calendar while shifting some of her energy toward sustainable food systems, with Justice Snow’s kitchen functioning as a model—just one more ingredient for cooking up community.

Pam Alexander

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Handmade coat with feather and glass beading, Anna Trzebinski ($2,950). 414 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-2848. Dress, necklace, and watch, Alexander’s own

Pam Alexander has clout. Entrepreneurial by nature (after college at Vanderbilt, she founded the high-tech PR firm Alexander Communications, which was acquired by advertising and PR giant WPP in 1998), she is suited to her role as high-profile proponent of Aspen’s myriad nonprofits.

“Aspen’s network of nonprofits, along with its diverse resident and visitor population, enables ‘collisions’ that happen organically,” says the Atlanta native. “They [produce] community and colearning, and accelerate innovation and productivity. They build on our values.”

With her finely honed networking skills Alexander helps enable such “collisions,” too. You can find her out at the many functions and fundraisers she attends in support of local groups—she’s one of the most visible and forward-thinking board members of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC), Aspen Art Museum, Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, and, until recently, the Aspen Community Foundation board—and she is quick to point out their attributes and extol their missions.

“The Community Foundation [helps us] understand the issues facing our region,” she explains. “AVSC [is like] the roots of the Aspen tree—it connects, feeds, and unifies us. And, as the only [art] museum in Western Colorado, the Aspen Art Museum [offers] an essential art and education service.”

When she’s not playing ambassador, Alexander, who moved to the valley in 2009 after years of attending Aspen Institute conferences, puts in miles with the Aspen Cycling Club, yet another nonprofit. It all relates to the original “Aspen Idea” of mind, body, and spirit. “We’re ideally positioned for a future where experience trumps property,” she says. “It bodes well for [Aspen’s] future generations.”

Lissa Ballinger

1 - Who Are Aspen's Most Influential Women?
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Two years ago, The Aspen Institute brought on Lissa Ballinger to cocurate a Herbert Bayer exhibit in the Resnick Gallery of the Doerr-Hosier Center. Today, the exhibit is permanent, with on-loan rotating pieces, and so is Ballinger, as the Institute’s art registrar. She’s since formed her own art advisory firm called Walnut5, a nod to Aspen’s 925 telephone prefix; serves as the curator for the Institute’s Aspen Meadows property; and is coordinating the campus’s summer exhibit, “Guns in the Hands of Artists,” featuring 33 commissioned works of actual firearms confiscated on the streets of New Orleans.

“Aspen has the most amazing visual arts history, beyond Bayer and [John] Powers,” she says. And Ballinger, 40, has positioned herself in the middle of that history, preserving the arts via the Institute and curating new art scenes as a manager for private art collections.

Although she moved here pursuing gallery work after earning her master’s degree in arts management from Columbia University, it’s Aspen’s outdoors that locked her in. “I tell people to take classes indoors here so they can be stronger outside,” she says.

Ballinger teaches more than 15 fitness classes each week in Pure Barre, MOi cycle, high-intensity interval training, and BodyPump, and plays outdoors on the weekends, regularly competing in the 40-plus-mile Grand Traverse ski and mountaineering race and in multiple ultra-marathons. She’s also a local mentor through the Buddy Program’s in-school initiatives.

Indeed, when it comes to Aspen, she isn’t going anywhere. “One of the most empowering things [in] my life was figuring out where home was,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Photography by:

Styling by Faye Power. Makeup by Elizabeth McGuire of Bizzy Lizzy’s One Stop Shop. Hair Styling by Rita Bellino of Queen B Salon. Shot on location at the Residences at The Little Nell