All things considered, our ski season was robust. It seemed touch and go for a while in January, but ultimately Aspen’s “lady luck” shone through.
If you’re in hospitality or the ski industry, give yourself a vigorous pat on the back. Congratulations. You made it. Now the Three Musketeers (or Three Stooges depending on your political affiliation) — Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna — galloped into town and put us on track for a busy, celebratory summer. You can still see cars driving around town with grease-pencil markings from the vax program on their windshields.
I spent an entire ski season skiing in a buff drenched with bad breath and essential oils. For whatever reason, I’ve not had a problem recognizing people throughout the pandemic. Others have absolutely no idea who everyone else is. I can figure by the way people ski, their outfits, or little ticks and tells like pole plants and posture as to their who-abouts. People always say they can tell who I am simply by my voice. When you’re from California, and then grow up here surrounded by stoners, I surmise your vocal chords are hopelessly branded for life — it’s like those people that spend a year in London, they return with a cutesy faux accent, only mine is indelible.
Upon SkiCo app scrutiny, it was revealed that I spent the lion’s share of my weekday-only ski days on Lift 1A, hiding right here in plain sight. Runner-up was Buttermilk, then Snowmass and finally Highlands, due mostly to the tricky paid parking situation. Turns out paying for parking was a significant deterrent for me. In reality, paying for parking each time was significantly less than buying a parking pass for the year.
Parking for skiing has always been a problem, and it will continue to get more challenging as the years go by. The city using valuable two-hour free parking spots as snow storage slips the entire winter doesn’t help either. There’s a picture of Aspen Mountain from the 1950s, and if you look closely you can see parked cars serpentined around Wagner Park. The more things change in Aspen, the more they stay exactly the same. One day I’ll be an ambassador and have either a handicap-parking pass or my wife will drop me off at the bottom of the mountain each day with my lunchbox and give me a little pat on top of the head.
The biggest noticeable difference in town was the lack of Brazilian and Australian tourists in January. The demographic dearth amounted to a gaping hole in my business. Not complaining. Money’s easy come, easy go around here. The effect was that I caught myself actually enjoying the winter, the town and some extracurricular activities such as cross-country skiing and snow e-biking to the top of Buttermilk at night. I discovered there’s a vibrant winter biking community comprised of old Aspen Cycling Club members I used to race with, so that was uplifting.
For me the MVP of the year was Snowmass. The arc of one’s ski career in Aspen is like a perfectly thrown spiral that starts at Buttermilk/Tiehack, slides over to Snowmass, then toggles between Aspen Mountain and Highlands before landing safely in the end zone of Snowmass for the game-winning touchdown. My season, likewise, ended in Snowmass for a week of bonus-round spring skiing that was the cherry on top of a confounding hot fudge Sunday of a ski season. We were rewarded handsomely with the brochure-quality spring conditions — corn as far as the eye could see — that we were robbed of last year due to COVID-19.
As a bonus on my last day I was reprimanded for swerving on the Cirque Poma — I’m guessing by an off-duty, plain-clothes patrol. My buddy, a dreadlocked snowboarder, told me a clever hack I’ve yet to try when there’s a huge line there — he traverses to right above the loading zone, then grabs an empty Poma when someone inevitably falls off right at the start — approximately every third person on an average day.
I’ve never understood the Aspenites disdain for Snowmass. I guess it boils down to if you grew up here you don’t hate Snowmass or take pleasure in disparaging it. We’ve all heard the jokes about needing a passport to travel to Snowmass from Aspen, or how hard it is to ski and how bad the skiing is at Snowmass once you get there. Turns out the joke’s on the people telling it. From the Lumin Light show to the fireworks, from the ice-skating at Base Village to the NASTAR finals, Snowmass was the place to be this year. Snowmass is experiencing a second developmental rebirth of sorts — indicative of our growing population — that’s been fascinating to witness.
Sitting on the new Big Burn six-pack lift at 9:01 in the morning, my memory raced through the clouds back to the Naked Lady triple chair that used to seem so high-tech and extravagant, and the gigantic line of skiers at the bottom each weekend below lot C. Then there was the death-defying cabin jump underneath the Burlingame lift and the thrills and spills off the roller jump at the bottom of the Sam’s Knob lift that were both high-value spectator sports, leading up to the big event that’s screaming from the grave to be revived — the ski splash. If any developer had the insight to build another slope-side ski splash friendly venue in Snowmass they’d go down in history as a visionary.
Funniest personal customer service story of the year from Snowmass: I take two pairs of skis to be tuned to a random ski shop and the guy says he’ll give me a deal — $30 each — which I didn’t ask for but thanked him profusely. I go to pick them up, there’s a different guy there. He says $90 bucks. I say, just so you know, the other guy said it was going to be $30 each. He looks at me and says “Yeah, he was just messin’ with ya ... It’s $90!” I’m a customer for life now.
It’s funny to me that the average Aspen Mountain skier wouldn’t cross the street to ski Snowmass for free. They’re focused on their reputations, skier days, pins, goggle tans, the social aspects of skiing, bragging rights at the local watering hole and getting an early season rope drop on Ajax — often at the expense of their skis or health. I’m getting to the point in my ski career where anonymity and the lower-angle powder filled slopes of Snowmass are plenty satisfying. The only rope drop I’m interested in now is the noon groomer on Coffee Pot or Log Cabin.
Lorenzo’s feet are glad to be out of ski boots, but he’s leaving his mask on for the foreseeable future. Follow him on Instagram at instagram.com/lorenzosemple3/ or email him at email@example.com