Apres Ski Classic
March 12, 2017
The image of the Aspen bartender or server is steeped in ski-town swagger. Maestros of Aspen's vibrant social scene, they earn pocketfuls of cash and stories galore after successful shifts during peak season. Schedules are flexible — there's always a coworker chasing extra hours. Night owls may be luckiest: They sleep in then soak up the sun on the slopes, trails, links, or rivers all afternoon before clocking in again around dusk.
Repeat this pattern a few times weekly until the lifts close in April or the leaves fall in October … then gather stacks and travel for a month or two before returning to town to do it all over again. The cycle is intense, addictive and enough to keep the rest of us wondering: Have service industry workers cracked the formula to Aspen living?
"I love the chaos, I thrive off it," says Campo de Fiori bar manager Chris Carmichael — one of the handsome, dark-haired dudes you've likely encountered at the Italian hot spot over the past 18 years. Recreation during downtime year-round has been his main motivation since moving here following college back East.
"I may not go to a lot of places (which I have), but I've met people from everywhere," enthuses Carmichael, 46. "These eccentric people bring exposure. I love that aspect: People come here to party, spend money, drink and wear their winter outfits. Town can be jamming … and nobody's out on the hill! It's a win-win."
No doubt about it, bartenders, servers and other restaurant staff are crucial cogs in the wheels of Aspen's fast-spinning party machine. Call them merrymakers, conducting fun for cosmopolitan clientele seeking crazy shenanigans, night after wild night, for which our town is known. Fueled by wealth, luxury, camaraderie and good times, the service industry affords workers ample opportunity to enjoy the fresh-air lifestyle we all covet while foiling FOMO.
"My social life is (at) work," Carmichael explains. "On nights off, I am home. I don't feel like I'm missing out anymore." While he might have felt stifled as an Aspen freshman, Carmichael quickly discovered a healthful tradeoff: clearheaded focus to pursue other enterprises, three days per week.
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"I was able to remodel my home," he continues. "I work for Aspen Ambulance part-time and volunteer with Basalt Fire as an EMT two days a week." Currently he manages a bunch of rental units in Basalt, where he lives. Physical separation from Ute City, he notes, has been crucial to his work-life balance.
While it's hard not to feel a twinge of envy toward such perked-out professionals, many of us locals have lived that dream at some point.
"We know that the service industry has the highest number of employees," says Erik Klanderud, Aspen Chamber Resort Association director of member services, citing 2016 City of Aspen retail sales data "Look at the 'restaurants and bars' section: it's second to accommodations — $125 million, year-to-date (in December 2016) — that's huge!"
About 70 of the 86 total liquor licenses in Aspen currently belong to bars, restaurants and clubs, according to City Clerk Linda Manning. That translates to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of folks forgoing the 9-to-5 status quo so prevalent outside our bubble.
To learn more about who these folks creating such an enviable lifestyle are, pick up the Aspen Times Weekly, on newssstands now, and at http://www.aspentimes.com.