Asher on Aspen: Getting Lost in the Trees |

Asher on Aspen: Getting Lost in the Trees

A Shrine Tour of Aspen Mountain

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
(Aspen Times archive)

We secured a red gondola and immediately pulled out our phones to pair the music to Bluetooth. Was it a Kygo, Kenny Chesney, or Rolling Stones type of ride? I’m a firm believer that the music on the 17-minute journey up the mountain sets the tone for the rest of the day. I leaned over to tighten my boots while my friend stuck her arm out the window to capture a video. The sun was shining, the temps were in the mid-50s and it was shaping up to be yet another beautiful bluebird day on Aspen Mountain.

While discussing where we would ski first, my friend — visiting from Denver —confessed that she was tired of skiing the same runs with me. “We always just do laps on Ajax Express and then go for a drink at the sundeck,” she said. After reminiscing about her previous ski trips in Aspen, we decided it was time for her to explore more of the mountain. Part of what makes Ajax so unique is its series of shrines hidden in the trees that pay respect to legendary locals, musicians, athletes, cultures, and even animals. After telling her about these secret sanctuaries, we spontaneously decided to embark on a shrine tour of Aspen Mountain.

Many people visiting don’t realize the sheer number of unseen shrines and memorials hidden in the glades. For over four decades, locals have been ducking through the trees to establish concealed hideouts dedicated to their favorite hero’s and loved ones. The sanctuaries remain unseen from the average skier’s view while cruising down the groomers. These shrines are typically found in tight, dense trees. So it is recommended to be well-versed in skiing in the pines before setting out to find these special places.

The mystique and whereabouts of these shrines are half the fun. Their exact locations should only be revealed by word of mouth and by means of exploration. To continue in this spirit, I will reveal the general vicinity of a handful of shrines, but I refuse to give away their exact coordinates. With only a few days left of Aspen Mountain being open for the season, I implore you to try and find these on your own. After all, this closing weekend will be your last chance until next season when Thanksgiving rolls around.

Our journey started with the easily accessible Jerry Garcia shrine located on Ruthie’s run. Skiers come here to pay tribute to the lead guitarist and vocalist of the psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead. There is an old guitar with a couple missing strings hanging loosely from a branch with lyrics scribbled on the front. Street signs that read “Stoner Ave” and “Grateful Dead” are nailed down across the trees and several bouquets of red roses dangle from the branches. There are even a few leaves of marijuana that have been strategically placed as well as several hand-drawn photographs and printed images of Garcia tacked down to the tree trunks.

Nearby, skiers will also find a shrine dedicated to Aspen locals who have passed away. It was a pleasant surprise to find a laminated picture of my Aunt Gunilla (former publisher of The Aspen Times) nailed down to a tree for everyone to see. I couldn’t help but smile and feel inspired to bring more pictures of her and dedicate an entire tree in her honor. What a remarkable way to carry on someone’s legacy.

Next, we ventured over to Buckhorn and veered right after the catwalk. Here, we dipped into the trees and found Bob Marley’s shrine. My favorite part about this memorial is the fort constructed of branches and twigs that holds a wooden bench inside for people to sit down and enjoy the view. Jamaican flags fill the nearby tree trunks along with framed pictures of lyrics from his most celebrated songs. The view from this location is quite spectacular and I envision it to be the perfect spot for a picnic ski break.

Our next mission was to find the Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe shrines located deep in the trees near Ridge of Bell. This is rumored to be the first shrine ever on the mountain built in the 1970s after Elvis passed away. While getting lost in the glades trying to track down the King of Rock and America’s ultimate diva, we stumbled upon a shrine dedicated to the culture and people of Scotland. We stopped for a moment to browse pictures of castles, bagpipes, and men in kilts before we continued our search.

(Aspen Times archive)

On the verge of giving up after skiing through several paths of tight trees, we eventually found Elvis Presley Boulevard (as the locals call it). The strenuous hunt for this particular shrine made it even more worth it once we finally discovered its whereabouts. Here, skiers will find several trees with pictures of the actress herself as well as two fully covered tree trunks dedicated to the famous rock star. License plates, keychains, beads, old concert posters, photographs, and other memorabilia filled the trees that honor this legendary musician. Given the storied history between the two, it seems appropriate that their shrines are placed next to each other.

Our tour merely scratched the surface of all the shrines that the mountain has to offer. Other notable shrines on Ajax include John Denver, Jimi Hendrix, Hunter S. Thompson, The Beatles, Jimmy Buffet, 9/11, golfers, cowboys, and many more. To see them for yourself, be sure to scout out a ski patroller or ask a local to point you in the right direction. Getting lost in the trees to find these special places makes for quite a rewarding scavenger hunt.

I challenge you to soak up these last four days of skiing Aspen Mountain and find these shrines for yourself. Just like the picture I found of my aunt; you may just come across something entirely unexpected. Happy hunting. And happy closing day.

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