Work and play: Living the Aspen life unconditionally
January 9, 2016
A town as vibrant and unique as Aspen is bound to attract its share of equally colorful characters.
Aspen's mountains and outdoor opportunities also draw some of the most passionate skiers and adventure-seekers around.
But the reality is that many locals work long hours and back-to-back shifts, typically at more than one job, in order to keep alive the Aspen dream, which for many includes packing in as many ski days and thrill-seeking moments as possible.
Take, for instance, Grant Henley, who's gearing up for his trip to ski the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, next week.
Henley hasn't missed a month on the slopes since he moved to Aspen in October 2014.
January marks Henley's 15th consecutive month skiing, a streak that he has plans to keep intact for the foreseeable future.
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Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Henley moved to Vail in 2010 upon completing graduate school.
Henley said his experience in grad school is what prompted his desire to travel and pursue his alternative lifestyle.
"Everybody in grad school was trying to have kids and act like they were 45," Henley said. "And I said, 'I want to have a good time.'"
With a bachelor's degree in business management and a master's in labor relations, Henley drove around the country for three months until selecting Vail as his home base for the next five years.
Along with spending three summers surfing in Hawaii and hitting 172 ski days one winter, Henley has traveled the world, visiting countries such as Thailand, Chile, Dubai, Iceland, Denmark, Amsterdam, Sweden, Russia and Greece.
"Everyone talks about working hard and saving to go places when they retire. But you can't guarantee you'll have the money, health or freedom then to do those things," Henley said. "So live your life now."
While Henley may know how to live, he's no stranger to hard work.
In fact, the 30-year-old juggles three jobs and clocks in twice as many hours working as the average American each week.
Henley, who works approximately 80 hours a week, is the bell captain at Hotel Jerome, a bellman at the Ritz Carlton and an on-call banquet server at Vail resorts.
Though Henley lives in Aspen when he's not traveling, he maintains a part-time job in Vail to earn an unlimited ski pass to Vail Mountain.
Henley also has a Premier Pass to Aspen-Snowmass through his job at the Jerome.
"I'll sleep when I'm dead," Henley said as he rode the Silver Queen Gondola up Ajax with a few buddies last Thursday.
Henley had come off a 19-hour shift — from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. — the previous day. "Grant works harder than anyone I know," said Henley's friend, Andrew Benaquista.
"He also knows how to make the most of his life," another friend, Tyler Huntley, chimed in.
Twenty-seven-year-old Huntley is another Aspen nomad.
Similar to Henley, Huntley lived in Vail after college and moved to Aspen in fall 2014.
Huntley grew up in Boston and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he studied geography, but said he spent most his time snowboarding.
"I think I went to the mountain probably 10 times more than I went to class," Huntley said, adding that his father wasn't too pumped about it.
Nevertheless, Huntley earned his degree from Boulder and moved to Vail, where he worked a number of service-industry jobs, including some in ski shops, as a valet at a boutique hotel and as a raft guide during summers.
But Huntley's summers took a different turn when he moved to Aspen in late 2014.
During a trip to attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, last spring, Huntley made an impromptu decision to extend his stay in the Golden State.
An avid surfer growing up, Huntley wasn't ready to part ways with the pacific waters.
After all, Aspen was in its offseason and town was dead, Huntley said.
Huntley figured he'd pay his mother a visit at her home in San Diego.
What Huntley didn't know at the time was that San Diego would also serve his as his home for the next seven months. Sort of.
Huntley got a job at an organic cold-pressed juice company and split his time between working and chasing waves up and down the coast.
"I'd work a few days then take three or four days off and just road trip off the coast, anywhere from Baja to the Oregon coast," Huntley said.
Huntley hit surf destinations like Santa Barbara, Salmon Creek and "the wall" — 500 miles south of San Diego, halfway to Cabo San Lucas — where there's nothing but Caribbean blue waters and desert that meet each other, Huntley said.
"It's like nothing you've ever seen," Huntley said. "It's just spectacular."