If you consider what little use the Bell chair has had since it was replaced in 1986, it’s practically brand new. That same year the Silver Queen Gondola transformed the artist formerly known as “Ajax” into another beast entirely, and as a result the Bell chair has rarely been open to the public. That’s why being able to ride it exclusively this November has been a license to chill.
The Bell chair is like one of those classic old cars you occasionally see for sale in the classifieds — a gas guzzling land yacht in mint condition, barely driven by a cautious grandmother. It’s still in excellent condition. Next to lift 1A, it’s a local favorite. It takes a little longer to get you up the hill and it’s considerably more difficult to procreate on the Bell chair than it is in the gondola.
The solitude afforded by the Bell chair is a refreshing departure from the gondola. You are unlikely to get trapped on the Bell chair by a stranger drenched in cologne with an inclination to show you the new app on his iPhone that lets him control features and see real-time video of his lavish home. Wow!
Crammed in the gondola on a busy day, the lines of personal space become blurred, if not erased entirely by bad breath, questionable taste, loud conversation, perfume or smoke. We’ve all had some forgettable rides on the beloved gondola.
If you’re looking for a bite of Aspen’s signature dish, messy vitality, you’ll find it on the Bell chair. My first ride of the year I lowered the bar to discover that the metal foot rest had been covered with a section of green garden hose. Classic! Soon after take-off, the chair swung lazily by the old underwear tree still clinging onto some thread-bare panties and bras. Later on the ride I saw a woodpecker lunching on an Aspen tree in Uncle Wiggly’s Tree Farm. Then there’s the Boyd’s Bump sign leaning patiently underneath a pine tree at the top of the ridge.
While riding chair No. 5 to the top of Bell Mountain, you’ll notice the plethora of old mining roads and game trails criss-crossing Aspen Mountain, made more distinct by the low snowpack. Thanks to snowmaking, the coverage from the top of Bell all the way down to gondola plaza is solid. I’ve seen the future of snowmaking — oscillating snow guns.
The snowmaking on Ajax keeps getting better and better every year. I liken the snowmakers to winemakers, and this year’s crop of man-made snow is another fine vintage. The golden Sorrel award for best snow quality goes to the tower guns in Spar Gulch. If you’re lucky enough to be skiing early enough when the guns are still running, you will be treated to a virtual powder day.
And isn’t virtual the new real? Some people pay good money to go to a day spa and get their faces exfoliated by technicians with hi-tech machines, special tinctures and lotions. You can get the exact same effect by skiing through the gauntlet of snow guns in Spar Gulch at 40 mph.
As long as we’re making so much man-made snow, why not report the depth of it on the snow report each day? It’s been snowing up on Ajax every night. I bet it’s at least 3 feet deep in some spots. In this tedious golden age of too much information, it seems like we would be reporting the snow depths at all costs, regardless if it’s man-made or natural, or both. If we reported the depth of our man-made snow judiciously, I bet other resorts would follow suit.
Speaking of snow conditions, local columnist Roger Marolt already has accused me of being “perpetually optimistic about skiing” and conditions. The ski conditions on Ajax have been good enough for the fastest women in the world and all the NorAm racers to ski on, so what’s his problem? Poor Roger wouldn’t know good snow conditions — let alone how to ski them properly — if you put an apple in his mouth and served them to him on a silver platter with a sprig of parsley.
It seems like the ski industry and our little ski town has gotten itself into a vicious cycle of rampant over-development and one-upmanship by entities that have little or no interest in our community. We’ve put the cart in front of the horse. Our new rally cry is bigger, better, faster. I’m still not convinced that’s the case after riding the Bell chair all week.
It becomes quite clear that less is more, as the old chair patiently delivers a manageable, enjoyable amount of traffic to the slopes. High-speed lifts and all the bells and whistles of the ski industry are an effective disconnect from the solitude of the sport. For me, that’s where the real value and allure is.
There’s been a great old-school meets new-school vibe up on Ajax this week, thanks largely in part to the Bell chair. It’s effectively set the laid-back tone for this year’s ski season. I would strongly urge those locals who haven’t been out yet to get up there and see what the fuss is all about. Riding the Bell chair is considered a privilege, not a slow-speed nuisance.
To contact Lorenzo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.