There was a wildly amusing article in the New York Times this week about ski patrol at A-Basin, Copper Mountain and Keystone having to shave their beards due to the coronavirus. The concept being that an N95 mask fits better and is more effective on a smooth-shaven face. Maybe it’s just a submissive Vail Resorts thing, but my first thought was if and when that edict comes down from all-high, there are going to be a lot of salty pale-faced ski patrollers here. Is this what the new face of sacrifice looks like in Aspen and Snowmass?
Could there be a sponsorship opportunity here with Dollar Shave Club?
The hidden subtext of the article to me read: “Wives of ski patrol celebrate as husbands forced to shave beards.” Incidentally, my experience with growing a beard has to do with a concerted effort to look more like an Aspen Highlands ski patroller and exude a quiet confidence about town. One year, I grew a full-face beard to see what the fuss was all about. It was a purely fascinating sociological experiment. The results were jaw dropping — and not from all the extra hair, food, snow and debris weight on my face. First and foremost, my wife and spiritual advisor hated it.
One day, she hipped me to a little known fact why guys really grow beards. After fielding some criticism, I had just gone on an epic rant highlighting how important beards were to men: how useful, how functional, how essential in terms of sheer identity they were to today’s sensitive new-age Mountain Man. She then stated in a blunt tone her read on the situation. “Men grow beards to impress other men”.
I swallowed hard and let the sobering proclamation sink in for a moment. It was true in my particular situation. I was trying to look like someone else. I’ve always known I wasn’t man enough to be a ski patroller, so trying to look like one was the next best thing. After I came to terms with being hopelessly schooled, I fired back that men growing beards to impress other men is the same reason women buy throw pillows and wear scarves — to impress other women. Mic drop!
Besides, my beard looked like a dumpster fire, and at times, smelled like one too. I did, however, like the way my chin-chilla performed on a powder day as it iced over and became an impermeable shield to the elements. The other bonus was the level of anonymity my beard afforded me. I’d be at the market and see someone I’d known for over 30 years walking towards me. Just as I’d open my mouth and extend my hand to say hello, they’d look me straight in the eye and walk right by. Conversely, shaving a beard that’s your identity will also render you pleasantly unrecognizable.
Telling a ski patrol to shave their beards is like telling a rock star to cut their hair and get their tattoos removed. It’s like telling a punk rocker to lose the mohawk and ditch their piercings. Some of the ski patrollers in Aspen have beards older and wiser than their kids. Other less-tenured ski patrollers have beards older than their Toyota trucks and dogs.
The one thing I’ve learned about hair is that it always grows back. One of my biggest fears of cutting mine is that it won’t. Perhaps there’s a Freudian connection here as to why I chose lawn care — a brutal form of constant grooming — as a career. To me, a beard was a metaphor. I was hiding from something. After you shave your beard and get a haircut, the positive reinforcement from females is reassuring. As a result, you generally look and feel younger, only you’re not.
Interestingly enough, I was waiting in the queue at Jesse’s Barbershop the other day watching a bearded, nonconformist Aspen Highlands Ski patroller get his haircut who knew nothing of the purportedly potential policy. It was almost as if I’d asked him their favorite question: “When’s the bowl going to open?” As a known columnist, me getting a straight answer from any local ski patroller is, at best, a 50-50 prospect.
Earlier that day, I asked a patroller on Ajax if she’d heard anything about the beard-ban hair scare, to which she replied — without skipping a beat — “I’m shaving mine tonight.” And with that, she disappeared slowly into the distance, riding solo on the locals’ favorite, Bell Chair. All I can imagine is that the female ski patrol in Aspen and Snowmass are laughing their asses off right now.