I attended the Wanderlust festival last week in Snowmass, Colorado, a village right next to the tony resort town of Aspen in Colorado. It was billed as a life-changing experience, and since my dear friend only recently moved to the Aspen area, I was doubly interested in a half a week of yoga, Buddhist talks, nature, and catching up with my college friend. There are Wanderlusts closer to NYC in Vermont and West Virginia, but I don’t have friends there, so I booked my plane ticket out to Denver and rented a Prius for the three hour drive through the mountains. (I could have flown straight to Aspen … if I had an extra $1,000 to spare.)
The drive to Aspen was absurdly beautiful. The wide sky over Denver had light pouring through the clouds, creating gold chandeliers across the valley. As I drove through the mountains, the sun set right in front of me. Then, the full moon rose to my left and I almost crashed the car watching it. I immediately began fantasizing about moving to Colorado.
My first class the next morning was at 8 am with Aaron King, a local who runs the studio King Yoga Aspen. It was held under an outdoor tent, with the dew still fresh on the grass. At this early in the morning, the vendor tents were still closed, and the Snowmass Village was quiet. I was happy that I got up early, because it was a great way to start the day. If Car Talk was run by yogis, they would sound like Aaron – he had a relaxed, straightforward style, and played jam band music for the whole class. The tent had a view of a small mountain face (which I would hike up later), with a meadow of yellow flowers and clouds scudding past in the sky. I left feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
Elena Brower, of course, filled her class in the huge hotel conference room. It was a great class, challenging and novel, and the music by DJ Drez was a great accompaniment. Brower had us stretch fully out on our mats when we were on our backs at the beginning and end of class, and encouraged us to keep contact with the people we would inevitably touch with our hands. I felt bad for the girl who stretched back and grabbed my dusty, sweaty feet, but when I apologized during a later hugging session, she just laughed, and did it again and the end, playfully caressing my foot. Burning Man it was not, but traces of that ethos were there.
Eoin Finn’s yoga class, also in the conference room, was fun – he likes to make funny quips. But some poses were too complicated for those of us in the back to see, even though he really did try to demonstrate them. He spoke at length about taking better care of this earth at the end, as we gathered close around him at his invitation. I wondered how many people at the festival would take that to heart, if they made the connection between how their yoga clothes are made and “the earth.”
On Sunday I came back for Kula Flow with Schuyler Grant. I’ve actually been to the Tribeca Kula Yoga studio and loved my class there, but this class by Grant was my least favorite of the festival. She started by announcing that we would have to listen very carefully, as she does not do demonstrations. Then, she launched into a complicated and often quite painful set of poses involved twisting and stretching. We often got lost, but she admonished us, “Don’t look around at other people, you’ll just get confused!” Already confused, thanks.
I wanted to do another class on Sunday, but when I looked through my options, there wasn’t much else I was really interested in, or that wasn’t fully booked. The best classes for the festival – yoga on stand-up paddleboards is one notable example – had been booked up months in advance. And each day you were only allowed to sign up for four events, which could include a talk, a yoga class, meditation, hikes, and hula hooping or slacklining.
There were many, many options for yoga pants, an overload of tank tops with yoga-themed sayings, and jewelry supposedly imbued with protective qualities. (“Run your left hand up this way, and you’ll feel a ping, or some heat,” a vendor told me. I tried it, but failed to feel anything.) My favorite find by far was a pair of yoga pants by Inner Fire, which are made from recycled water bottles and are seriously the best-fitting, most flattering yoga pants I now own. I also kept being drawn back inside the tent of Kelly Horrigan Handmade, a New Yorker who makes incredible accessories from upcycled leather and other natural materials. I never actually ended up buying anything, just continually annoying her by asking lots of questions and then eventually leaving, wistfully, because her items were on the pricier side.
At the bottom area of the festival– the festival grounds consisted of two elevations separated by a gondola – there was a cafe with coffee and sunglasses by TOMS, and the biggest tent of all: the Lululemon tent.
This is a part I’m not proud of, readers. I knew I wanted an athletic tank top and some yoga leggings. So I wandered inside the pretty tent and picked up some things to try on. I questioned an employee on Lululemon’s sustainability, and she said that the material is their signature lycra/nylon blend, and the items are made in a Sri Lankan factory where workers get to do yoga. I failed to ask her about how they dyed the products. In the end, I walked out of the special store with a yoga one-piece and a pair of yoga pants. I immediately regretted my decision. Why did I spend $100 on a pair of yoga pants that aren’t even that sustainable? There are so many other great companies (like the one I mentioned above, or Teeki, or Yoga Democracy). But when I inquired about returning, they said they didn’t take returns at the festival. It left a really bad taste in my mouth. And even though I kept getting compliments on the pants when I wore them, I still decided that there are way too many other eco-friendly yoga options for me to pay that much for yoga gear ever again.
What was a little harder to find was food conducive to yoga. There were two food vendors near the gondola, one selling curry dishes and the other selling falafel and smoothies. But when I asked if the smoothies had sugar, one guy said he didn’t know, and the other said, “Only natural sugar!” The best food options then were the free granola bars being handed out by a couple of sponsors, and sit-down meals at the restaurants operating within the village. I just wanted a healthy smoothie, or a salad bowl to go!
Friday night I came back from our nature drive and attended the farm-to-table dinner at the Viceroy, the elegant hotel a five minute walk from the main festival grounds. It was an intimate affair. No wonder, tickets were $108. I did the math, and realized that, since it included tip and two drinks, it was a $60 dinner. That’s pretty pricey, though we had more than enough food served to us family style to satisfy everyone, including a summer salad composed of unexpected local greens, a cold tomato soup, smoked Colorado trout, lamb, pork loin, and a spread of rich cherry pie and cobbler. We at as the sun turned golden and set behind the mountain, and I enjoyed my conversation with the people around me.
I went to a couple of Buddhism talks by LA-based Noah Levine. They were very cursory sessions, but introduced me to some new concepts I hadn’t thought about before. One was held in something called The Quiet Place, a low tent away from the main grounds hung with prayer flags, where attendees sat on meditation cushions. The other was held inside the Westin Hotel in Snowmass village in a small presentation room.
Down in the bottom area of the festival, I found a goofy partner class going on, with people cheering and dancing about. This was a theme of the lawn – there was always hula hoopers, acro yoga, and aerial yoga classes, plus slackline classes. Other activities included runs, rafting, and biking.
My first non-yoga activity was the 1.5 hour hike up to the Rim Trail. It wasn’t too hard, and I was rewarded with a path lined with purple and yellow flowers, and a view of Snowmass village and wild mountain peaks fading blue into the distance. At the top, the guide asked us for silence as we stood around the yin yang marble slab, and showed me and a couple other people on the map which mountains we were looking at. I got a bad sunburn on my back during that hour and a half – the sun up there was brutal.
Which brings me to an important point: I think Wanderlust is best enjoyed with a friend – a friend to put sunscreen on your back, to try out acroyoga with you, to compare notes on classes, to yank you back to reality when you’re considering shelling out for an expensive and unnecessary yoga accessory, to sit down for a healthy lunch with, to clink glasses with you at the happy hour after a full day of yoga and meditation, and to attend the concerts with. I was halfway in and out of the festival, since I was also visiting my friend who lives nearby, and she’s not so into yoga. So I would attend a few events, then dip out and hang out with her.
It was both a positive and negative that this Wanderlust was held in Snowmass, near Aspen. A positive, because it’s gorgeous there. It was a much-needed escape for me from the concrete heat of NYC. But it was also a drawback, because I never fully immersed myself into the Wanderlust scene. Instead of blacklight yoga, I played hookie, and my friend took me driving into Independence Pass, a tiny road that switchbacks ever higher into wilderness, until we stopped at an overlook so elevated only lichen grew there, and the winter snow remained. How could I possible spend 16 hours of the day inside Snowmass Village, doing yoga in a giant conference room, when all this nature awaited? Instead of sticking around for happy hour and the yoga-vibe DJs, we went to a rodeo in Carbondale. Instead of seeing Moby, we watched the fireworks in Aspen. Instead of going the the festival at all on the Fourth of July, I floated around on a nearby reservoir in tubes with friends, and grilled out.
Another Wanderlust is held at Snowshoe, a much less spectacular resort in West Virginia that I used to go to with my high school friends. If I had gone to that one, I might have stuck around all day and made more friends, seeing that there’s not so much to tempt me away there. As it was, though, I kept leaving to see everything else the mountains had to offer. I suspect it’s similar for Hawaii, Vermont, and Australia. So if you’re going to a spectacular local, maybe arrive early or late so you have time to explore.
In the end, I left the festival feeling like I had learned a little bit, and spent way too much money on yoga stuff. But the thing is, I wouldn’t disagree with you if you said that’s my fault. Nobody forced me to buy yoga stuff, even if it was positioned in a way that you passed it multiple times on the way to talks on non-attachment. If I had forced myself to spend the entirety of each day at the festival, and made a more concerted effort to make friends, I might have felt it was a life-changing experience.
So, should you attend a Wanderlust festival? I would say yes, if you have the budget for it, you have an enthusiastic friend to go with you, and you can spare a day before or after to explore the local area. I don’t think it will change your life, but it will definitely refresh your body and help you set an intention for a better year ahead.