At the top of Aspen Mountain’s Copper Bowl in a pine tree hangs a plaque that reads “Bob’s Spot.” A few years ago, local radio personality Tom Egan saw a man standing near the tree and said, “Welcome to Bob’s Spot. I’m with the Bobs ski club.”
The man turned to Egan and said, “Well, I’m Bob.”
“Oh yeah?” Egan said.
“Yeah, I’m the Bob who put the sign in.”
Grabbing a beer at the Flying Dog Saloon, Egan introduced the rest of the Bobs to the man responsible for the sign, Bob Shanahan, who first visited Aspen in the winter of 1963. That year, he stayed at the Mountain Chalet, where he ran out of money and ended up sleeping in the kitchen for a few nights. The next year, he worked for Aspen Skiing Co. at Buttermilk, cleaning johns and assisting ski patrol. When asked to stay at his job in Aspen, he balked because he already had been accepted to dental school. The choice was this: Move to Aspen and risk being drafted into the Vietnam War, or enroll at Northwestern in Chicago. He chose dental school.
It wasn’t until four years later that Shanahan returned to Aspen. He married his wife, Hannelore, in 1969, and they’ve been visiting Aspen regularly ever since. Aside from three trips to St. Moritz, Switzerland; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Whistler, British Columbia, the Shanahans have visited Aspen every winter for 40-plus years. And each time, Shanahan takes the same first run through Lazy Boy to the Copper Bowl/Copper Cutoff junction, where his plaque has been hanging since 1990.
On Thursday, the 68-year-old said he might like to have his ashes scattered at Bob’s Spot one day, a thought that nearly had him in tears on the gondola.
“From the beginning, I’ve always sort of stopped there and thanked God for letting me do this,” Shanahan said. “Because people who don’t ski, they don’t know what they’re missing.”
With Shanahan on Thursday was Hannelore, as well as David Wood, 70, who has written the book “Sanctuaries in the Snow,” which details 124 shrines and landmarks between Aspen and Snowmass. Wood guesses that there are only a handful of shrines older than Bob’s Spot. The Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe shrines were established in the ’70s and ’80s. In 1982, a plaque was placed near the Buckhorn Cabin for Graham Ladd, an Australian who died that year. There’s also Trisha’s Trunk, a 1983 monument to a ski patroller who was severely injured on Aspen Mountain.
All proceeds from Wood’s book are donated to the Roaring Fork Valley Scholarship Fund, which has provided $1.3 million in college funds since 2001.
At one point, Shanahan found out about the book, and he and Wood been in touch ever since. The same goes for the parents of former Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser, who died of cancer in 2002 and has a shrine dedicated to him near Bear Paw on Aspen Mountain. When Houser’s parents, who are avid skiers, found out about the shrine, they contacted Wood, who splits time between Aspen and Des Moines, Iowa. After meeting up with Wood, the Housers skied to their son’s shrine for the first time. They’ve been visiting with Wood in Aspen ever since.
The plaque for Bob’s Place was created by a woodworker at the Wisconsin state fair, who burnt the words into it. Hanging from a branch with X-ray wire from Shanahan’s dental office, the plaque has become harder to reach because the pine branches have grown out. Shanahan said this is the first year he’s noticed any weathering to the wood.
He remembers his first run on Copper in 1963, when the run was much narrower. He said he must have fallen about 20 times from top to bottom. For him, each trip to Bob’s Spot is a spiritual experience, one that often makes him tear up.
“It’s a precious place, Aspen is,” he said.