Editor’s note: “Their Generation,” an ongoing series profiling longtime locals of the Roaring Fork Valley, runs every other Thursday in The Aspen Times.
For those who are wondering what the early days of Aspen as a ski resort were like, “The Aspen Kid,” by Terry Morse, is the book with the answers.
And for people who have lived in Aspen for some time, it’s a visit back to the people and the happenings of the era.
Morse came to Aspen in March 1946, at the age of 6 months, the son of Rudy and Wendy Morse, who decided to give up life on the East Coast for life in an old mining town in the wilds of Colorado.
The Morses bought the 800-acre Art Roberts ranch — called the Lazy Chair Ranch — at the end of a dirt road just after the Maroon Creek bridge.
Then began the saga of the Morse family in Aspen. Wendy became a ski instructor with the Aspen Ski School, and there were eventually eight children known as “those Morse kids” because they all looked alike — skinny, blond and tall. There were only about 600 people in Aspen then, and the Morses became part of the town’s fabric.
The book covers the 1950s and ’60s in Aspen, the years of Terry Morse’s childhood and adolescence. From the beginning, trouble seemed to find its way to him. He was known as “Terry the Terrible” or “Terry the Terror.” It was a lot because he was trying to keep up with and outdo his two older brothers, Gerry and Teddy.
The kids learned to ski almost as soon as they could walk. Wendy shot deer on their property, and they ate a lot of venison. They got worms in the process and had to be de-wormed by Dr. Robert Lewis, the town’s family doctor at the time. Dinners were the same as those being served on most Aspen tables — venison, mashed potatoes and vegetables from their own backyard garden.
A lot of work had to be done on the house: plumbing for an indoor bathroom, electricity, rooms added. It was what all the young families had to do with the old miners’ cottages they bought.
There are stories about friends of the family. The Friedl Pfeiffers and the Pat Henrys, the Hume family, who loaned the Morses their house in town one winter when Rudy was having another baby; the Grove family, who took the Morses in when one of the kids set fire to the house.
Terry played with the kids in those families. He went to school in the Red Brick, which at the time held all the grades, first grade through high school. He was fond of his first-grade teacher, Pat Lumsden, who taught him to read, and his third-grade teacher, Dottie Helmkamp.
Miss Helmkamp was also a ski racer and helped Terry get into the Aspen Ski Club when he was still too young but wanted so much to be part of the skiing gang. Being on the Aspen Junior Ski Team was the utmost happiness for Terry.
“The Aspen Kid” is such a story of growing up in Aspen. There are vignettes of ski coach Gale Spence, of favorite teachers like Hildur Anderson and Mrs. Houston, of family doctors Dr. Lewis and Dr. Charles Houston. There is the story that so many local children shared, such as stealing candy from Walt Matthew’s Drug Store (now Carl’s).
The 1950s were also a time for Aspen as a ski town and a ski resort to grow. Wendy decided there was a need for a beginners ski slope and thought he has just the place for it on his ranch. He began putting in a T-bar up to Tiehack. But his financial partners backed out, and he and Rudy were left trying to cover the bills.
Terry’s two older brothers already had summer jobs and jobs after school. So at age 10, Terry got a job at Guido’s Restaurant, where one of his brothers worked. He needed money for shoes and for repairs on his bicycle, which was his mode of transportation from town to their ranch. He mostly washed mountains of dishes and helped Guido’s wife, Trudi.
Then in 1959, the worst happened. Wendy broke his leg when one of his ski students ran into him. It became the broken leg from hell, with many Aspen hospital operations, a staph infection and having to go to Denver and back east for more operations. It was an end to Wendy’s ski-instruction days.
Finances got so bad that their ranch was sold to Art Pfister, with the Morses just keeping the house and barn. The kids had a terrible time with losing their stomping grounds. They continued to roam the property, and Terry and a friend even managed to set a meadow on fire. No wonder they called him “Trouble” instead of “Terry.”
High school days were spent getting into more trouble with his pals Tony Vagneur, Richard Sabbatini and Spook James. They explored old silver mines and broke into the Koch Lumber Yard barns, looking at the old tools and furniture.
He wasn’t all bad, though, doing well in school, making a telescope and radios. He and Fred Henry built a go-kart. With his parents in such deep trouble, he decided his behavior wasn’t helping.
By that time, he had been working at Aspen Sports and running the tennis courts as Aspen Meadows. With the money he’d made, he went to Holderness Prep School in New England, picking that school because of its good ski team. Holderness was where the other students gave him the name of “The Aspen Kid.”
The book ends with a horrific ski accident for Terry, months of recovery and a decision to go to Middlebury College in Vermont, again because the school had a good ski program.
Terry now lives in Moab, Utah, having built his own adobe house and moved there in 2005. He is working on another book, one that follows the year of “The Aspen Kid.” It deals with his romance and marriage to Anne Vitte, his mother’s au pair from Scandinavia and their life in Aspen. There are also stories about Terry’s years in the Army and skiing with the biathlon unit in the Olympics.
How does he feel about Aspen now?
“Aspen used to have a heart and soul,” he says. “You note that I now live in Moab.”
For those who are wondering, Wendy Morse went into real estate in Aspen, eventually forming Mason & Morse with Bill Mason. Rudy and Wendy retired in 1984 and moved to Phoenix.