It was a cloudy, flat light kind of opening day. Thanksgiving, sometime in the 1950s. And not all that unusual. We’d made one run down Ruthie’s, a rocky descent that wasn’t much fun. Similar to hunt-and-peck typing, it was look for a decent place to turn and hope you didn’t hit something. So, we loaded up on #1 again, the old single-seater with the canvas covers, talking up a different plan. “Let’s go to the top, the snow has to be better.” Maybe.
Reaching Midway (top of FIS), I flung the steel gate open with hopes for a finer day. Back then, if you wanted to ski down to #3 (Ajax Express), one had to pole or skate around the bull wheel enclosure at the top of #1, then pack up a way to get to the road and around the bottom of #2. It was all numbers in those days — no one had heard of naming a chairlift.
Red’s and Percy’s hadn’t yet been cut and folks had to ski out to Tourtelotte Park on the road and down to #3. Unless, of course, we got on #2 (which was decommissioned before the naming craze) so we could bail out onto the road just before Bonnie’s current location. The chairs in that spot cruised by at about 4 or 5 feet off the ground, but it never was as much fun as we envisioned it.
Anyway, already feeling sorry for my skis after that Ruthie’s run, and then side-stepping up to get to the Tourtelotte road, I was a little grumpy. You had to pack up over a field of sharp rocks that previous skiers had exposed by doing a side-slip coming the other way off Midway Cut-off. And I got unbalanced or something and slipped just a bit with my downhill ski on those jagged rocks, taking a big gouge out of the bottom.
I’d spent hours in the basement, hand-sanding the bottoms of those skis and then re-applying layer after layer of green, Faski wax, making the bases almost a work of art. Damn. P-Tex hadn’t yet made it to Aspen, at least not for me.
It was almost religion for guys like us, Terry Morse, Spook James and me, to hit Aspen Mountain on opening day. It was the only game in town then, and we knew how to work the mountain, but that first day was generally a refresher. It seems we were always a little short on snow, and there might have been a year the opening was postponed a few days. The day I’m talking about in this column seemed to be one of the worst. Even my grandmother, who didn’t ski, had told me I should stay home.
We used to say that Darcy Brown, the Ski Corp. president¸ had a direct line to Mother Nature for it always seemed to snow in time for Thanksgiving, at least enough to get the lifts open. That is, until the 1976-77 season, when Aspen Mountain didn’t open until January.
That was the winter Buck Deane and I had a tidy little Christmas vacation business of giving horse-drawn lunch rides at the T Lazy 7 for tourists who had little else to do. I’d haul Buck, his guitar and a sleigh load of folks up Maroon Creek to our lunch spot, all of it on private property, drop them off and then return to the ranch to get another group. Buck would cook burgers, sing and entertain, and about an hour later, I’d be back with a new group, returning the first bunch back to civilization. Skiing?
Speaking of snow and the ’70s, Hugh Slowinski, Huck, bartender at the Paragon, horseshoer and general gadabout, and I used to get the annual Christmas tree for the Eagles Club when it was in its original location (Prada). The ceilings were high in there, requiring large trees. Tradition, or availability, one or the other, always led us to Larkspur Mountain, above Lenado, where we usually managed to top out even after December was well-established. In those years, only once did we fail to fulfill our task of a very large tree. The snow was too deep.
So today, we squirm and we wonder, when are we going to get a storm, forgetting every year is different. Thanksgivings come and go, so do the good, early snow years. The Skico was smart and got additional snowmaking to the top, so that coupled with the “ribbon of death” down Little Nell, is enabling us to have our ski season. It just requires a little patience.
As my friend Hesse says, “Ski ya on the mountain.”
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.