Updated: Sep 21, 2022
When I got the call that our DJ would *not* be showing up for my couple's wedding ceremony, it was the moment I knew something had to change.
Note: to protect identities, the photos shown here are not from the wedding I'm discussing.
A very sweet couple came to me a while back with a fairly tight budget. I adored them, and wanted to work with them, so I agreed to help them find budget-friendly vendors. When you’re an Aspen wedding planner, that often means looking outside the Roaring Fork Valley. Simply put, if it costs more to live there, the vendor will have to charge more. (And there’s value that comes with that additional cost, but we’ll get to that in a second.) So for this couple, we looked for vendors from out of town to fit the budget. Sure, I knew it wasn’t ideal. I knew there were minor risks; I had taken those same risks before, so we decided to move forward.
The summer of 2022 has been the rainiest time I can remember since moving to Aspen, which is fantastic on one hand. It meant a lesser chance of kindling the devastating wildfires that have ravaged the area the past few summers. It also meant outdoor ceremonies are more likely to need a rain plan (a topic for another blog post.)
The other consequence of the recent rains was that Glenwood Canyon had been temporarily closed just about every other day in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Let me explain.
The Grizzly Creek Fire that was ignited in August of 2020 burned over 32,000 acres surrounding Glenwood Canyon. (When we say no sparkler exits allowed, this is why, kids.) It was scary and devastating, especially on the heels of the 2018 Lake Christine fire that burned just across the highway from my home. The burn scar is a daily reminder of how devastating wildfires can be. But I digress….
The Grizzly Creek fire of 2020 burned all the vegetation that kept the canyon walls intact. The lack of vegetation led to crippling mudslides in the summer of 2021. In an instant the course of the Colorado River was altered, pushed by all the displaced earth sliding down the canyon walls. The canyon was closed for long stretches in late 2021. Until work could be done to shore up the canyon walls, mudslides continued every time there was rain. Threats of rain caused canyon closures for the safety of drivers, after some folks had been trapped by mudslides and spent a terrifying night in the canyon. Repair work in the canyon will likely take *years* to complete.
Back to the story…
Glenwood Canyon is the only year-round, highway route in and out of Aspen. (There are a handful of mountain pass routes in and out of Aspen. They are winding and narrow; some are only partially paved, and they’re definitely not ideal for taking a box truck full of rented china from Vail to Aspen, if you’re wondering.) So in the rainy early summer of 2022, Glenwood Canyon had been closing just about every other day. I get text alerts on my phone every time there’s a flood watch or warning, so even though I live up-valley of the canyon, I can keep tabs on the likelihood of a closure that might prevent me from traveling on I-70. Knowing that canyon closures can last hours or longer, I always leave myself plenty of extra travel time in case I need to wait it out or take an alternate route.
Well… much to my dismay, an unprepared DJ (who shall remain nameless) did not leave home sufficiently early, and got stuck on the wrong side of the Canyon. He called immediately to update me on the situation, and eventually decided it would be best to take one of the much-longer alternate routes around to get to the wedding. It meant that he would miss the ceremony entirely and would be scrambling to set up for the rest of the night.
I got on the phone immediately, and within a few minutes I had another DJ on his way to handle the ceremony. PHEW! All was well. (Man was I lucky this was a Friday wedding, or most DJs would have been booked.) It sure was helpful that I knew a lot of people in the area… because I’m local… I think you’re starting to see my point… That weekend was when I made the decision to prioritize hiring local vendors.
Hiring wedding vendors…
Don’t get me wrong. There are incredibly talented wedding vendors all over the beautiful state of Colorado, and plenty of them want to work in Aspen. Many of them have done the time-consuming (not to mention potentially expensive) work of scouting, traveling for numerous site visits, and making themselves familiar with the local area and venues. They come into town early to avoid situations like the above. (Summer Canyon closures due to rain aren’t the only obstacle for getting to Aspen. I’ve been prevented from traveling Vail pass in *early May* due to snow. At that time, I was new here, and it was a surprise to me.)
Advice from an Aspen Wedding Planner
So here’s my advice. Hire local. Whenever possible. Yes, obviously I’m biased. And yes, Aspen wedding vendors and Aspen wedding planners are likely to be more expensive than those in other parts of the state, for obvious reasons. It simply costs more to live in Aspen and run a business in Aspen.
But don’t forget, there’s value in that increased cost. Remember how quickly I was able to talk a DJ into hustling to my aid on his only day off? It’s because I’m local. I know the folks I work with. They’re my neighbors and my friends. I’m not for a second saying that other folks aren’t capable of doing the work and doing it well. I’m saying there’s value in hiring local.
And if you are considering hiring a vendor who is not local to the area in which you’re planning your wedding? That's ok; just do your research. Find out if these vendors have worked in the area before. Worked at that venue before. Find out what their backup plan is in case of road closures. Ask how early they come into town: the night before or the morning of your wedding? Do they charge for site visits or is that included in their price? Do they charge for travel and accommodations while visiting or during your wedding?
Are there good reasons to hire non-locals? Absolutely! For example, you looooove a non-local photographer, and can't find that editing style, level of experience, or personal connection locally.
The bottom line: Are they aware of the challenges? What are they doing to mitigate those challenges? Because getting here is only half the battle.
Some additional reasons to hire local…
Mountain venues can be tricky. At certain Aspen venues, guests, vendors, and a whole lotta STUFF will be transported to the wedding venue via *gondola.* I once had to load 200 chairs onto *many* gondola cars and then unload those same 200 chairs at the top of the mountain (with the help of my rental company, of course!) It was not an easy task, but it was easier because I knew the lay of the land. When the weather allows, some vendors drive up the back of the mountain (a quick 3000 ft. elevation gain!). I'm much rather my vendor is prepared with the appropriate vehicle for that, wouldn't you?
In my hometown of Aspen, I know which times of year are going to be crazy. For room blocks, for restaurants, for rentals… If you accidentally scheduled your wedding over Aspen’s Food & Wine weekend, you’ll be competing with the likes of Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay for hotels and restaurant reservations. Do you think a restaurant will be likely to host your rehearsal dinner that Friday? Nope. You’ll also be competing for rental items coming into Aspen from literally all over Colorado. Want a tent? Plates? You might be out of luck. Sure, anybody could look these dates up online, but do they? (The Aspen Chamber and Resort Association or ACRA is also a fantastic resource for help with this kind of thing. Also a good reason to talk with a local planner *before* you book your venue!)
Locals just plain know where things are. I once had to pop over to the local nursery when it was too early in the season for the venue to have their hanging baskets out on the patio.
The other side of the coin…
And let’s be fair… when I talk to potential couples looking to host their wedding in Denver, I’m very honest that I don’t live there, and there is likely to be a Denver-based wedding planner who is better equipped than I am to plan their wedding. That couple is probably better off going with the local choice.
I hope this food for thought is helpful as you embark on your wedding planning journey. Throughout the course of a career, I've learned from my own mistakes along the way. This incident proved to me that the worst case scenario - however unlikely - can happen, and planning accordingly is paramount. I'd love for you to have the benefit of learning from my mistakes so *your* wedding day can be perfect! We’re here to be your local experts in areas where you are not an expert. So don’t hesitate to reach out!