Aspen’s last gym owner Jean Robert Barbette offers tips for 2023

Jean Robert Barbette at his gym in downtown Aspen.
Rick Carroll / The Aspen Times

Ah, New Year’s Day — that of headaches, hangovers, and perhaps a pang of guilt over the previous night’s indulgence.

But, if you’re feeling anything like Jean Robert Barbette is feeling today, it’s time to think positive, eat healthy, and break a sweat. JR, as he’s called, has been in the fitness business for 33 years in Aspen. He remembers when Aspen was bulging with seven health clubs.

Now, it’s shrunken to just Jean-Robert’s Gym and the publicly-supported Aspen Recreation Center. He started in 1989 with just 400 square feet of studio space in Aspen. Today, he boasts a facility that occupies nearly 14,000 square feet of space in the Aspen Athletic Club building at 720 E. Hyman Ave., along with two gyms downvalley.

“We run our business very lean, and we are 95% local, and we don’t depend on the tourists,” said Barbette, who came to Aspen from Belgium because he loved the skiing. “And, it is the location, a great location.” Traditionally geared toward the physically fit-minded, health clubs are seeing increased demand from people working out to improve their mental health, he said. Exercising helps ease anxiety and depression through its release of natural brain chemicals called endorphins; there’s also the atmosphere of camaraderie that comes with social interaction at the gym, Barbette said.

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