Writing Switch: Power grab Aspen

Benjamin Welch and Sean Beckwith
Writing Switch

Our first column almost three years ago was a fantasy draft of the best watering holes in town, in a contest to see who could outline the better apres bar crawl. So why not repeat — for the only time — a format? But because most of those establishments are probably gone at this point, we’ll instead draft the offices of powerful positions to determine which team of handshakers can dominate Aspen politics and rule with an irony fist. It’s like Grand Theft Auto meets SimCity meets NFL Blitz.

Selection No. 1: Aspen Skiing Co.

SB: Since Ben either sucks at rock-paper-scissors or cheats, I was awarded the first pick. This is easy because Aspen Skiing Co. continues to be the most powerful force in the area. From expansions at Lift 1A and Pandora’s to Snowmass’ on-mountain amusement park and downhill mountain biking trails to employee housing complexes, they’re the largest and most powerful company in town. (Real estate is the biggest business, but skiing is what makes the housing market so insane.)

The CEO or CFO or whoever else once wrote me up for scowling too much on the sandwich line at Two Creeks can just show up at a meeting about the airport and flex Skico’s muscle. Like, I’m sorry, but what part of aviation falls under Skico’s purview? If William Munny has killed everything that’s crawled, walked, slithered or breathed on this godforsaken planet, then Skico has tried to influence everyone who’s driven, flew, biked or bused into this godforsaken town.

I’m not sure anyone other than the CEO of Skico could go into a county commissioners meeting about ski area expansion and give a scorched-earth development ultimatum. It’d be like if a 5-year-old child wanted a new bike and told his parents if they don’t get it for him, he’ll be forced to shit on the dining room table, and the parents relented. Give me that kind of power.

Selection No. 2: Developers

BW: To seize control of Aspen, you need to be a blue whale in a lake of big kahunas. A pharaoh among Spartans. A cardinal between Boy Scouts. You need to have that offshore money — literally, like, being named in the new Pandora Papers leak, because that’s how much will be required to ensure we get these expansion projects through the proper approvals. In my quest to become emperor of this humble hamlet, I’m going to need the ability to remodel and build every inhabitable space and then sneak in my draconian social measures and other payola pork in my viewplane variance proposals. I also would like to reserve the right to rename the inhabitant of the posh building across from the old City Hall and continue its proud tradition of ridiculous monikers that sound like you’re about to sit down to battery-operated candles and tablecloths over lawn chairs. How about “Bespokenfork”?

Selection No. 3: Tourists

SB: You can’t understand the influence tourists wield until you see the lengths the city goes to keep them coming and spending.

Look at the “timing” of the mask mandates; right after Christmas break and right after superspreader September. Look at the sham that was the COVID affidavit; we trust tourists so much we implemented the honor system. Look at when Skico opens new terrain: always on the weekends.

Vitality is a few letters off from Viagra, but it seems to have a similar effect on business owners and city officials. And it’s not enough to solely keep the downtown core “vital,” but we also need to bring some of that to the neighborhoods via Airbnb and VRBO.

The issue is, how does having tourists in my back pocket translate to running Aspen? If you can control when they come and where they stay and spend, then you can bolster your pockets and bleed your competition (Ben) dry.

Selection No. 4: Mayor’s office

BW: I have about as much confidence in the voting system as the next tinfoil hat-wearing SOB, yet it’s amazing to me that we give so much power to random people who woke up one day and said, “Yeah I’m intellectually capable of shaping policy that will affect everyone’s lives for generations. Hell, there’s only a few other candidates, I have a 1 in 4 chance of winning!” (The person in this example doesn’t know how statistics work.) I think IQ tests are lame — not because they’re hard; I got an A with a score of 97 — but we should still have some mechanism in place to prevent dullards from running, like completing a Sudoku or holding up a “Marmaduke” strip and seeing if they laugh.

But, because no such barriers exist, we must convince citizens with flexible wills, loose morals and absent ethics to run for the highest office so we can simply buy them off. It won’t take much campaigning to defeat the ghost of Lee Mulcahy. Besides, you wouldn’t want a little height variance or reduced parking spaces to come between you and a lifetime of comfort, would you? And I do mean a lifetime. Drink this elixir.

Selection No. 5 (and 6 via trade): County commissioners/City council

SB: I drafted these two entities with my third and fourth picks, and they will serve me equally well even though they’re very similar. If I want any building, expansion, policy or whatever approved, I have it.

Employee housing, airport upgrades, ski area expansion? Check, check and check. Hell, if all it takes to get an ultra-important, potentially landscape-altering question on the ballot is minimal argument and a Zoom-in vote after a few mai tais, then my Ski Area Tycoon plans for expansion are going to get passed before locals even have a chance to write a letter — or file a lawsuit.

I would say I need the help of the U.S. Forest Service, but those guys seem to sign off on everything. I have yet to hear of an environmental assessment coming back stamped “DENIED.” (Also, can we bring back stamps? There’s a delightful finality/f— you to smashing that stamp in ink and then on paper.)

Game plan: If I plan on becoming this city’s version of Brad Wesley, I need more than a JC Penny, a monster truck and a few thugs that can’t even beat up an overzealous bartender. I need the influence of the most powerful company and agencies in Aspen, as well as the spending power of the masses.

Imagine, I could make or break a hotel or restaurant simply by funneling tourists like swarms of locusts to locales of my choice. However, if I could do all this, harness all this power, it would be less monopolizing all the money like a Kemo Sabe-clad Jeff Bezos and more of a benevolent existence.

I’d ration tourism, get rid of short-term rentals, dial out the terrain that’s already in-bounds and, most importantly, make all traffic studies illegal. (I know I didn’t mention traffic studies anywhere, but let’s do less car counting and just see what does and doesn’t work — regulations and safety be damned.)

I want all of my councils to vote after a lengthy self-discovery trip — preferably featuring peyote and a mescal cleanse.

Selection No. 7: Sheriff’s office

BW: I don’t need a nosy cop or a private dick to be snooping through transcripts or rifling in my trash or whatever and finding out that everyone is in my pocket. I want Barney Fife and Officer Barbrady’s asses in them seats, not Columbo, Sam Spade or Scooby-Doo. This should be good news for the current Pitkin County sheriff, as it means he can keep his job even after I take over. Most police officers aren’t experts on the law, per se, which is ever-changing. A handful of them might remember the Ten Commandments, or something about how hate speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment (wrong), but what your typical grunt is good at is putting themselves in a lot of self-defense situations. If I need an opponent — be it politically or because he’s the amorous affection of my beloved — disposed of, I’d appreciate a personal army of thugs willing to yell STOP RESISTING! and take care of it.

This is starting to feel like “The Screwtape Letters.”

Selection No. 8: Media

BW: Finally, to round out my bench and take care of bye weeks, I must manipulate the public by creating a liaison with reporters, editors, directors and publishers and folding the press into my office of propaganda and puff pieces. Thankfully, society at large has already fallen into the habit of proclaiming everything they disagree with or don’t like as “fake news” or “misinformation” (depending on an individual’s narrow-minded political leanings), so eroding trust among every persuasion until news media is forced to accept my benevolence should be a mostly painless task. Worked for Bezos at the Washington Post, after all.

When one day you pick up The Aspen Times and it is filled with nothing but community event previews, poems in the commentary section and hand-drawn “Marmaduke” submissions, you’ll know my plan has been fully implemented and is too far along to stanch.

Aspen Times Weekly

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