Aspen Times Weekly: Ski gangs, the next generation
Photos by Anna Stonehouse
WHO’S YOUR POSSE?
Name: Lady Creeps of Aspen
Year Founded/Average Age: 20-30
Number of Members: As many as show up
Color and/or Mascot: Nope
Motto: We love to ski
Honorary Member: All the ladies
Name: The Umbros
Year Founded/Average Age: 2016 / 30+
Number of Members: 6
Known for: Fastest gang over age 30
Name: The Flying Monkees
Year Founded: It’s complicated but around four years ago in its current form
Number of Members: 25-30 (8 “soul” members)
Color and/or Mascot: Black and white flag white with bananas
Known for: Goofy, a bit obnoxious, but lovable
Motto: Aspen’s Funniest Ski Gang
Name: The Freaks
Year Founded: 2012
Number of Members / Avg. Age: 12 members/ 27 years old
Color and/or Mascot: Black.
Known for: Skiing fast, going big, nonstop gondola laps all day long
Motto: Ski fast
Honorary Member: Hunter S. Thompson
Spirit Band or Song: 666 number of the beast – Iron Maiden
It all started with the “youth quake” of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the baby boomers collided with puberty, which then collided with Aspen. There were 20-somethings everywhere and all looking for a good time. As is consistent with human nature, friend groups formed. Some were passionate skiers and tended to have certain patterns and “territories.”
And so the ski gangs were born. The most prominent display of this idiosyncratic Aspen tradition happens this Sunday, April 15, at the Buck Off, aka Rumble of the Ridge, a no-holds-barred sprint down Bell Mountain at 1 p.m. on closing day.
There, you will see them all: the Bell Mountain Buckaroos, the Dogs, the Bobs, the Powder Sluts, the Flynn Flyers, the Acme Racing Company, the Ski the Trees Foundation, Chicks on Sticks, the Bros, the Menopausal Mamas, the Nachos, the Skizeers … just to name a few. You will also see the next generation.
“Everyone thinks we take this so seriously, but really we are just a bunch of friends who love to ski together,” says Sam Coffey, a member of The Freaks, which is one of the more well-known millennial ski gangs. All of the members, which includes Olympian Wiley Maple, grew up in Aspen and have been racing and hanging out since middle school. The Freaks are easily the best skiers on the mountain and are famous for skiing extremely fast and extremely close together. “People think we’re going to crash into each other, but we are totally in sync,” Wiley says.
“It was basically just a group text of people who were always up for skiing hard,” he says. The name, “The Freaks,” and titular Instagram handle (@thefreaks), is an homage to Hunter S. Thompson, who embodies their rebellious spirit. Indeed, a strong anti-bourgeois, anti-Caribou Club streak has always characterized the ski gangs despite the odd trust-funder hiding among the ranks — not to mention the Crawford brothers (oil tycoons) and Gene Reardon (millionaire trial lawyer) who are considered the godfathers of the ski gangs.
“We called our ‘clubhouse’ the Buffalo Club as a counter-point to the newly opened Caribou Club,” recalls Boots Ferguson of the Flying Flynns, one of the original ski gangs. “On the weekends, we would always park on Aspen Street in front of the Skiers Chalet and then hang out there on the street after skiing. One day, the proprietor invited us in.” The Flying Flynns were named after founder Mike Flynn and their love of air. “They aren’t there anymore, but there used to be incredible jumps on Aspen.”
Customary with all gang culture there are rivalries, the most famous of which is between the Buckaroos (jovial, constantly breaking into song and according to one source, “always with the most beautiful women”) versus the Dogs (think rottweiler, not labradoodle.)
Andrew Israel, founder of AspenSpin.com, recalls his first run-in. “I was getting on the gondola one day and these four guys just started barking at me. Obviously I took the next cab but asked the lifty, ‘who were those a–holes?’ and he said, ‘those were the Dogs.’” Israel would go on to join the Buckaroos.
“If the Bell Mountain Buckaroos were The Rolling Stones and Motown, the Dogs were The Clash or Sex Pistols. Like punk rock, the Dogs were, and still are, a big middle finger to Aspen’s establishment,” author Greg Fitzsimmons wrote in a 2014 article in Teton Gravity Research, easily the definitive article on ski gang history.
Nowadays, the roles of Capulets and Montagues are played by the Freaks and the Flying Monkees (@theflyingmonkees). “The Freaks are really good skiers. I mean, we’re good skiers, too, but they go really fast and hard,” a member of the Monkees explains. “We like to keep it casual. We’re more concerned with just having a good time.” The Monkees, about 25 to 30 members altogether with 10 core or “soul members,” are roughly 50 percent female, 50 percent snowboarder and pride themselves on being the most inclusive of the gangs. They all climb together during the summer, as well. “We play up the differences between us and the Freaks and talk smack, but it’s all good fun.”
Speaking of rivalries, if you are wondering if the gangs skew male, well, they do, but fear not, the ladies represent.
“I have lived and skied all over the West and Aspen has the absolute best group of female skiers I have ever seen,” says Paula of Chicks on Sticks, a Highlands-based, all-female crew that was founded sometime in the ’80s. No one remembers the exact year, as it was the ’80s. And why Highlands? “Après was more fun over there back in the day. And, well, we like to joke that when we need a break from skiing, we go to Aspen Mountain.”
The next generation of Chicks on Sticks would most likely fall to The Lady Creeps of Aspen. Sister gang to the all-boy Freaks, the two groups ski together every weekend and take the same casual attitude toward their gang credentials.
“A few of us have dads that were in ski gangs,” a Lady Creep member explains. “My dad and his buddies used to have a snowcat that they put couches on and would take out into the backcountry. They would ski all day, then party with their ski boots on all night.”
As for any boys club shenanigans or institutional sexism, neither the Lady Creeps nor Chicks on Sticks see it that way.
“It’s just a group of friends who are fun to ski with and fun to be around. There’s not really anything more to it,” Paula explains.
“We have never felt unwelcome,” the Lady Creeps add. “But we also don’t really want to be part of their ‘gang’. We ski with (the Freaks) all the time, just not so agro. We are in essence a bunch of gals that love to ski together, après together and just have a good time all around.”
The Best Mountain in the World
Underneath all the silly names and feuds is a mountain unlike any in the world. There are versions of ski gangs at other resorts. The Jackson Hole Air Force is perhaps the most legit of all ski gangs (There’s a great documentary made about them called “Swift. Silent. Deep.”). Big Sky has the Lone Peak Secret Society. Vail has some pretty hardcore gangs. There are Bowl rats and people who ride Deep Temerity all day, every day; the Chicks who are something of an exception; and of course plenty of folks who adore Snowmass; but the devotion and reverent love for Aspen Mountain stands in a class all by itself.
“It’s the best mountain in the world, and I have skied on a lot of mountains,” Maple says. “There’s just nothing else quite like it.” This is demonstrably true. It offers every kind of terrain, every exposure, and you can ski the whole mountain at once, instead of it being divided up into sections. It also happens to be about this amazing little town.
Ferguson of the Flying Flynns observes, “Skiing down you are faced with a constant set of decisions. There are a million slightly different variations on how you can choose to go. Everyone has their little patterns and I think this is perhaps why it’s so conducive to the whole ‘gang’ thing.”
No doubt the town of Aspen has changed dramatically over the decades, but there is something wonderfully flinty about the mountain itself. Generations old and young talk about it in exactly same way.
“It’s been 46 years and we’re still skiing together,” Ferguson says. “The bumps changed shape a bit because of the different kinds of skis. They built the gondola in ’86, but other than that, basically it’s all the same. And we’re still not tired of it.”