It seems fitting that Brad Unglert landed in Aspen as a kid because of an old-timer’s winter tale of ski bum glory.
Unglert’s family moved here when he was 10 years old from New Jersey. They were drawn here, at first, because a painter who worked off-and-on with Unglert’s father had been spending his winters in Aspen, living in a van at the base of Highlands. At work back East in the summer, the ski bum regaled the Unglerts with stories of his epic winters here.
“This guy always said Aspen was the greatest place in the world,” Unglert said Thursday on a ride up the Bell chair. “He was right.”
Now 29, Unglert is among a handful of faces you’re pretty much guaranteed to see on Aspen Mountain on any given winter day — loving life with a perma-smile spreading below a goofy Movember mustache.
Carving down Deer Park this week, Unglert was all fluid turn and relaxed stance, his Trew hat and unzipped Trew jacket flapping in the wind — a skier in his element. He seems to catch substantial air off of every innocuous-looking roller on the groomed trail, appearing to levitate briefly above the hard-packed snow on the power of his stokedness.
A server at the Red Onion and a part-timer at Incline Ski & Board Shop, Unglert has found a winter work schedule that’ll enable him to ski every day — maybe even allow him to top last year’s 130 days on the hill, most of them on Ajax.
Last winter was his first full season back after a serious knee injury from early 2010.
“I basically exploded my knee,” he said of the bad fall in the backcountry around Snowmass that kept him off of skis for the last half of that season and the first half of the 2010-11 winter. Not skiing for that long was a near-torturous experience for this Aspenite. He came back to skiing from that injury, more eager to get outside and more committed to skiing than ever.
“It was so good to be back,” he said. “I’ve been skiing as much as possible since then.”
Even after skiing nearly every day last winter, he was eager to keep going as the snow petered out and the season ended.
“This was the longest summer ever,” he said on day seven of his 2012-13 ski season. “I just wanted to get out on the snow again.”
Unglert was a snowboarder until college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he made the switch to ski with friends, and never went back. His time at school also gave him a new appreciation for Aspen, and steadied his resolve to build a life here.
“Growing up here, I never realized how good we have it,” he said.
At CU, he and friends would drive hours to ski Front Range resorts — an experience that convinced Unglert to come back to Aspen. In high school here, he played other sports, and as a result was discouraged from risking injury on the mountain. Nothing keeps him away from it these days.
While you might hear griping about the lack of early season snow so far this year around town, you won’t hear it from Unglert.
“So far so good, I’d say,” he said. “You’ve just gotta make the best of it at this point. As long as you’re outside and skiing it’s going to be fun.”
He also pointed out that, socially, skiing has never been better — with a fraction of Ajax open, he’s sure to run into anybody who’s out there. That aspect of skiing in Aspen, after all, he said, is what makes the sport so important to him: hanging out with friends in the fresh air and on the snow.
“Lots of days, I won’t ski with the same people all day long,” he said.
Most days, you’ll find him on Ajax, bouncing between groups of his classmates from Basalt High or co-workers from the Red Onion or others. He’d just as soon come out alone, he said, because he can always count on meeting a friend up there — or a playful rival. Among his rivals this year is a Red Onion regular who claims to have gotten first tracks on Perry’s Prowl on every powder day for years running. Unglert has vowed to beat him there and steal the poor guy’s line after every big dump this winter, pitting himself in the kind of faux competition you’ll only find in a ski town like this.
“At this point I can’t imagine myself doing anything else or living anywhere else,” he said.
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