Typical Aspen — Albie Kern got an advanced degree, moved to town and picked up bartending.
It was the mid-1950s and, even though he had a nice and crisp new law degree, he worked the morning shift at the Red Onion, serving the old miners their boilermakers.
Tending bar is one of a handful of odd jobs Kern had in those days, when he went from attending college in Boulder, spending more time up in the mountains, to eventually moving to Aspen full time. The deciding moment came when, while working on a fishing boat during the summer in Newport, Calif., Kern was offered a spot on a ship setting sail for a mining expedition to Australia. He decided at that point that he should settle back in Colorado, in the town he knew he loved, and get going on his law practice.
“This was the only place in the world I wanted to be,” said Kern, 81, who grew up in Chicago but was drawn to the Centennial State for college and to ski. “It fit, it worked, it was what I wanted.”
Back then, you could be a lawyer and also be on ski patrol, which Kern pulled off for a few seasons in the ’50s. He recalls racing down Spar Gulch after clearing the mountain with the other patrollers — there were a total of eight — while working at his law office part time. He pulled stints in the ’60s as an assistant district attorney and city of Aspen attorney, which were also part-time gigs in those days.
Kern has been retired for four years, and claims that the law office he kept on Mill Street for 50 years was the longest running business in a single location in Aspen. He now has another “office,” two blocks from the gondola, which he said is primarily a ski locker.
Retirement has been good to Kern, who said he skied 80 days last year, mostly on Aspen Mountain, where he comes up to enjoy sun-drenched laps on Chair 3 and lunch at Bonnie’s. Ajax is his favorite mountain, he said, because of the terrain variety.
Kern still loves Aspen, but he’s worried that the town might be losing its heart, he said. Back when he first got here, in the ’50s, Aspen was harder to get to, he said, and everyone was here primarily because of the skiing. While the town will always be a commercially successful resort, the sole-purpose-of-skiing aspect has changed, he said.
“Now you see a lot of people coming here for many different reasons, who don’t even ski,” he said with a tinge of disbelief. With fond memories of old-line Aspen establishments like the Copper Kettle and the Tippler — very important restaurants, he said — Kern estimates that he hasn’t set foot in 95 percent of the current crop of downtown retail establishments. He likes the new Finbarr’s, however.
Town is much more crowded now than it ever was then, and the traffic is also horrendous, Kern said, while looking down at the city streets from the top of Little Nell run.
But that interface, with the ski slopes and the town bumping into each other, is still unusual and awe-inspiring to Kern.
“It was wonderful and it is wonderful,” he said. “My wife Sue and I travel quite a bit, but it’s always wonderful coming back here,” he said. “I feel gratified, lucky, fortunate.”