Aspen Times Weekly: Why Aspen? |

Aspen Times Weekly: Why Aspen?

For the past nine months, every time I tell a new person that I just moved to Aspen from New York City they respond, without fail, with, “Wow. That’s a big change,” followed immediately by an incredulous, “Why?” On the surface, a banal, small-talk question, yet the more times I am asked, the more curious it makes me why anyone chooses Aspen as the specific mountain hamlet for them. Not just why they came, but why they stayed, invested, worked, raised families and gathered here, season after season, generation after generation.

Someone once told me the Ute people had a prophecy about this valley, once you enter it you are destined to return. (Or was that the Skico?) Either way it’s a special place we live in, bursting with natural splendor and the fruits of human endeavor in many forms. But there are lots of great American towns and a lot of beautiful mountains in the world.

This November marks the arrival of a new ski season and with it, a new freshman class about to be baptized into the Aspen way. As a way to welcome all newcomers, here are a few tales of freshmen past and present, including my own humble yarn.

Etta Meyer

Year arrived: Jan. 20, 2016

Age upon arrival: 31

Why Aspen?

In 1950 my grandparents (pictured above) shocked their family by ditching New York for a cattle ranch in Montana. They loved Aspen and split their time by spending every winter here until 2003.

I have been in New York since college, grinding away, most recently as a photo editor at a glossy magazine. Around my 30th birthday I started to hear that old siren call, “Go West,” as my grandparents and generations of Americans have heard before. I just had to decide where specifically to go.

The West Coast wasn’t right, where my parents live in Wyoming was too remote. Boulder sounded interesting, but perhaps too crunchy? Silicon Valley was courting outposts in Bozeman, but no. I narrowed the search down to “Menver” and Aspen, booked an exploratory trip over the Fourth of July, and by the end of the weekend it was game over, victory Aspen.

I planned to leave New York at the end of the year. At a holiday party the night before I left I got a lead on a temporary sublet, a cheap and dirty crash-pad on Hyman. It had clearly only been inhabited by the opposite sex for who knows how long. I slept the rest of the winter on a camp cot with a cardboard box for a nightstand. It was heaven.

In keeping with everyone I’ve interviewed for this feature, I’ve fallen in love with the people, the sky, the mountains, the smell of the air, the pace of life that includes spending time outside. (Please keep in mind I’ve spent the past 11 years more or less inside.)

This summer I enlisted my brother to give up New York as well and be my roommate. We have set up Meyer & Meyer HQ in an apartment on Main Street and are tirelessly developing our businesses and transitioning to the “gig economy.”

As Pam Cunningham so eloquently put it when recounting her own freshman story, “It’s meant to be — if you’re meant to be here.” Time will tell, but I sure hope I’ve found my forever home.


King Woodward

Year arrived: Nov. 15, 1956, to be exact

“That was the start date for my job as a desk clerk at the Hotel Jerome. When I arrived, they told me the man who had hired me no longer worked there. Thankfully, the position was still available and I was still hired.”

Age on arrival: 25

Why Aspen?

“Over the ’55-56 holidays I had come out here with friends to ski for 10 days. I grew up skiing in the East. I had graduated from Middlebury, was discharged from the service, had worked in a hotel before, so when the opportunity at the Hotel Jerome came up I took it.”

What made you stay?

“This place fascinated me. And I loved to ski.”

Where did you first live?

“In a rented apartment with a ski instructor, the rent wasn’t much.”

Second, third, fourth job?

“I worked at the Crystal Palace then at the Copper Kettle in the summer of ’58 at the Meadows. Eventually I worked for the Aspen Institute for 30 years.”

What was the social scene like?

“You got to know everyone in town. Repeat visitors and people who had homes here. You worked with them, you skied with them. Money didn’t matter, you got to know people for who they were.”

Who did you meet?

Woodward met his future wife back East. Over the phone he tried to convince her to move to Aspen by helping her get a job in town. To which she replied, “I already have a job,” (at the Belgian Embassy in Washington, D.C.). So he asked her if she would marry him. She was more responsive to that proposal. Soon after their engagement over the telephone she was here by his side.


Dirk Braun

Year arrived: 2011

Age upon arrival: 25

Why Aspen?

“Aspen is the only small town anywhere I would consider.” If not Aspen, it would have been LA or New York for Braun, who considers himself more of a city person. After snowboarding here on weekends while attending CU, Braun saw the “interesting dynamic that Aspen has. There is a plethora of people that come here. It has a different feel and vibe than other mountain towns that are just targeted at skiing.”

First home base?

A rented cabin in Lenado, “quite a contrast from being downtown.”

First job?

Skateboard coach.

Second job?

“Once I got a feel for the area, I pursued my interests and started Red Mnt Productions.”

What was the social scene like?

“Well diversified age-wise. Plenty of people in their 20s and 30s—a good range. Which has made it interesting and worth living here. There are tons of activities: concerts, skiing, snowboarding, events, all geared toward younger people. As well as events where there are people from there 20s to their 70s—which gives the town more of a city atmosphere.”

Why stay?

“The more time I’ve spent the greater it’s gotten. I’ve grown my business and I like the projects I get here. It seems like a good home base. There is so much that’s happening in Aspen that makes it interesting at least in summer and winter. And it’s a lot happening at once. That’s what’s kept me here.”

Word to the wise:

“Travel during the off season.” Braun travels a few months out of the year to stave off any small town feel that might set in.


Jane Kessler

Year arrived: April 1, 1957

Age upon arrival: 35

Where did you move from?

“Yosemite National Park. I worked for a ski area there and had heard people talking about Aspen.” Kessler decided to check it out for a summer after which she planned to continue on to the Caribbean, but she “got stuck” here.

Why stay?

She was married before her first ski season had begun.

To Whom?

A German ski instructor walked into the Hotel Jerome where Kessler was working. He knew her colleague King Woodward, who was standing right next to her at the front desk. “He pointed at me and asked King, ‘WHO IS THAT WOMAN?’ I thought, oh —how rude! A few weeks later he asked me to dinner. I decided what’s the harm? I said yes and that was it.”

Where did you first live?

“The Jerome provided housing, the Aspen Block… it was a little bit of heaven.” Is that sarcasm I detect? “Yes.”

After marrying Sepp Kessler she moved into a one-room log cabin he built on land purchased from Walter Paepke for $500.

Second job?

“I was the hat check girl at the Red Onion. I just worked for tips but it was all I needed and I could ski during the day.”

What was the social scene like?

People mixed more.


Bland Nesbit

Year arrived: November 1971

Age upon arrival: 24

Why Aspen?

After grad school in Washington D.C., Nesbit either wanted to go to London or to Colorado. She called an old school friend who lived in Colorado in the winters and asked for her help. Her friend was eager to oblige and called back two days later to say she had found her a place to live. The problem was, Nesbit had forgotten to ask which town in Colorado her friend lived in. Now that she was committed to moving, she was quite embarrassed to have to ask. The answer was Aspen, which was a great relief — she knew enough to know she didn’t want to go to Vail.

First Impressions:

Upon driving down Main Street for the first time in her ’69 Mustang, Nesbit felt she “had been here before. I just loved it from the first moment and knew I wanted to stay.”

What came first: The Housing or The Job?

Housing — two roommates and two dogmates. The job was harder to find. “We walked around town and asked who was hiring. It was scary, but that’s what we did, and eventually it worked.”

First, second, third job?

“Every kind of job you can imagine.” In the late ’70s Nesbit developed a sign painting business that evolved into a successful graphics business. She also worked in production at this paper for eight years. But her No. 1 passion is helping dogs in the valley at the Aspen Animal Shelter.

Why stay?

“Because of the people and because I love the outdoor life. It’s a small community and it’s a supportive community. I’m not sure people see that buried under all the glitz. The people that live here take care of each other. It’s pretty amazing.”

What would it be like to come here as a young person now?

“It was so much smaller then. You pretty much ended up knowing everyone. It’s much harder for people to make a living here now. I think it would be hard for me to come here and rent and not be able to have a dog. I also think people behave better now than we did. We were a little wild.”


Seth SachSon

Year arrived: 1992

Age upon arrival: 22

Why Aspen?

Grew up skiing in Snowmass on family vacations and became utterly fascinated by the dog mushing at Krabloonik. When he was deciding whether or not to go to graduate school his parents told him to “follow his dreams.” So he drove to Snowmass from Arizona to become a dog musher at Krabloonik.

What came first: The Housing or The Job?

The job. Sachson had no idea how hard it would be to find dog-friendly housing so he and his four-legged friend, Jackson, spent the better part of a month in his truck in a parking lot in Snowmass. “It was grueling and I was shy; it was lonely month.” He decided to head to graduate school after all. On his way out of town he passed a small house with dogs and mountain bikes in the yard. Since he had nothing to lose, he knocked on the door. A beautiful young woman answered and he asked if the house had a spare room available to rent. It did—and in that moment his luck changed. The roommates from the year he spent in the little red house in Snowmass remain good friends today.

First, second, third job?

He took over the contract for the Aspen Animal Shelter in 1992 and has been there ever since. It’s his passion and life’s work.

Why stay?

“This whole valley is all about community. There’s so much community here it’s in sane. We’re all so interconnected. It’s like an extension of college.”

If you were 22 in 2016, would you do it again?

“I can’t imagine a different life.Because of the Animal Shelter I became a business owner at a very young age. My life felt purposeful and fulfilling.” He found a way to live his dream.


Pam Cunningham

Year arrived: 1967

Age upon arrival: 24

Why Aspen?

After attending boarding school back East, Cunningham was not eager to leave Colorado upon graduating from CU. “I wanted to be in the mountains and I wanted to ski. I presumed I would be here one or two years.’”

Why stay?

“It was just like being in college and I had a very good time in college,” Cunningham recounts with a wry laugh. “It was too great a lifestyle to think about going home.” And then, about a year in, she landed a good job at the Aspen Alps where she worked until her retirement in 2008.

First job?

Gretl’s restaurant, the first winter it opened. (Present day: Bonnie’s.)

First home base?

“I wish I could tell you. I remember one winter I lived in the Prince Albert.” (Present day: Ralph Lauren.) “My first summer I was the night watchman at Gretl’s; I lived next to the restaurant in an airstream trailer. I decided I didn’t want to wreck my car driving up the mountain every night, so I got a Yamaha dirk bike to get up and down.”

Social scene?

“No real stratification as you may see today. The social scene was based on your favorite watering hole. Mine happened to be the Red Onion. Dinner at friend’s houses. The generations were sort of mixed. It didn’t matter who you were as long as you were enjoying skiing and enjoying what you were doing.”

If you were 24 in 2016, would you do it again?

“It was such a different time back then. I don’t think it can done be with any ease at all now, although I don’t know enough about technology to know how you can work from afar.”

“I lived in the best of times. We would hitchhike. We would get a bee in our bonnet and drive up to Alaska… It was so loose.”


Tigey Eads

Year arrived: 1992

Age upon arrival: 19

Why Aspen?

After visiting a friend at Colorado Mountain College in the summer of ’92, Eads decided to ditch art school and move out West. “In hindsight, best decision I ever made.”

First home base?

Hunter Long House

First, second job?

Masonry work on the River Park homes, then Café Suzanne at Snowmass.

Social scene?

“It was pretty crazy. That first year we were out pretty much every night, and worked or snowboarded every day. My mom kept asking, ‘don’t you get sick of snowboarding?’” The answer was no!

Love at first sight:

“Even just the first night. I hadn’t seen the mountains yet and got out of car in Glenwood Canyon and looked up at the stars. Then I saw Mt. Sopris. They say there is some curse about Sopris—once you see it you will always come back to it, or something like that…”

If you were 19 in 2016, would you think to come to Aspen?

“Probably, but I don’t see it happening the way it did for me. There used to be five of us living in a two-bedroom, tear-down house. It was tight. Not a lot of houses that you can rent like that anymore.”

Eads lives in Basalt with his wife and three daughters, and still marvels at sunrise and sunset over Mt. Sopris.


Melissa Wisenbaker

Year arrived: June 2011

Age upon arrival: 22

Why Aspen?

“After living in Boulder and having to drive I-70 to the mountains, which was terrible, I moved to Aspen for the easy access to the mountains and outdoor lifestyle.”

First home base?

“I found a random listing on Craigslist to share an apartment in Snowmass with two other girls. It worked out really well! The girls don’t live here anymore but we’re still great friends.”

Why Stay?

“Belly Up. Live music is one of my favorite things. Boulder and Denver have such great music scenes. I was a little nervous to move to a small town, but once I went to Belly Up and experienced the intimate venue, and saw many of my favorite artists there, I knew I could stay forever.”

And will you, stay forever?

“My friends from home wonder how I can live in a such a small town but Aspen functions more like a city than a resort. I love that it’s not a resort town. It’s an international destination so you’re meeting people from all over yet who share similar interests.”

Sounds like it.


Amy Roldan

YEar arrived: June 2016

Age upon arrival: 27

Why Aspen?

Roldan had been living in Glenwood since she graduated from CU in 2012, working in a law office. In October of 2015 she got a job in destination marketing for the Aspen Chamber of Commerce.

What came first: the housing or the job?

The job! Roldan commuted from Glenwood for nine months until her lease was up. She then spent fifteen days surfing couches, which felt, “slightly ridiculous as a young professional,” until she found a room to rent from a friend-of-a-friend in an affordable housing unit.

“I love it, it’s great. I have two roommates. One has her own business as a marketing consultant, the other one is a bartender at the Aspen Brewery.”

Want to stay?

“I do want to be here long term.” But, Roldan says she is always open to opportunities, and concedes, “it is hard to own a home here, hard to put down roots.” She notes that half of her friends from college already own homes. “To find a home here, you would have to win the lottery.”


HannaH Schanfarber

Year arrived: August 2015

Age upon arrival: 23

Why Aspen?

“I moved to Denver after college, tried city life, didn’t really take to it. I’m from a small town and have always lived in small towns. I had a couple friends from high school and college that were already here in Aspen. They definitely helped get me set up.”

What came first? The Job or The Housing?

“I lived in a friend’s spare room for the first two months at T Lazy 7.”

First job?

Free People and Ajax Tavern — still there!

What was the social scene like?

“It can definitely be crazy! My first winter was a big blur. I have enjoyed meeting a big mix of people from different backgrounds, from all over the world, with different types of jobs. The more I found my core group the more everyone wanted to get out and do things, instead of just going out at night.”

Like hiking and skiing?

“Definitely — and I’ve learned how to rock climb, fly fish, raft… Friends in the outdoor industry are great friends to have to learn new things.”

If you could live in a bygone era of Aspen, which would it be?

“Twenty or 30 years ago when it was a pure ski town. The true locals from that era seem to really love it for what it is… the outdoors, the mountains… instead of what it has become… wealth driven.”

Do you want to stay?

“I love it here. I definitely want to stay for a while. I moved here to be with my favorite people that I know in the world, and the people I’ve met since arriving will be lifelong friends.”


Helen McCulloch

Year arrived: Nov. 16, 2015

Age upon arrival: 24

Why Aspen?

“A friend brought me out here. He helped me get set up with housing and a job. Couldn’t have done it without him, you definitely need some knowledge before getting here.

“Aspen has name recognition. It’s known for being a young, fun place, and it’s so connected to other places… like New York and LA.”

First home base?

Marolt Ranch. “We weren’t sure we had secured housing until the month before moving.” This year McCulloch got her deposit in by May to avoid the same stress — only to discover a new unpleasantness surrounding Aspen housing — turning potential roommates away. “I put an ad up on Facebook for a roommate and got at least forty responses right away. Even after posting I had filled the room, I got emails for weeks. I felt terrible turning people away.”

First job?

Aspen Sports

Second job?

Front desk at the Limelight Hotel.

First impressions?

Learning how to snowboard last winter was “pretty life-changing. It was a big deal. I loved it.”

Will you stay?

“Long term? Maybe not my whole life, but as long as it goes well. There is no other place I would rather be.”

If you could live in a bygone era of Aspen, when would it be?

“Right now! Can I say that? Right now is pretty great.”

At this point her roommate, Joe Holstein, an Aspen vet of seven years chimes in, “I know the partying was crazy back in the ’70s and ’80s, but Aspen keeps evolving. Every year there is more art, fashion, music, places to eat and higher levels of health. Now is the best time to live here.”



If there is one thing that has always defined Aspen, it’s a continuity, a shared experience passed down through generations. In other words, it’s a community, an elusive thing in America after five decades of increased transience for jobs. Community is something money can’t buy, only time and human input can create it. As more and more young people seek out community either in urban neighborhoods, re-designed suburbs or small mountain towns like this one, rest assured, we will do our best to keep passing the Aspen torch.

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