Asher on Aspen: Skiing on the Mind
The night before opening day always feels a bit like the night before Christmas.
Aspen was bustling and lively as locals and tourists scurried around town to get their passes, tune up their skis and shop for last-minute gear upgrades. For many locals, the first snowfall of winter indicates that it’s officially time to swap out the paddle board and hiking shoes for goggles and ski boots. The arrival of snow also, of course, triggers one of the season’s greatest joys and the reason why so many of us live here: skiing. Ever since our season was unexpectedly cut short last March 14, I have been dreaming of carving turns and flying down the mountain with my friends.
My alarm went off early on Thanksgiving Eve and I promptly sat up to peak out the window for an old-fashioned weather report. The snow that rolled in the day before was still looking lush and untouched. I caught myself smiling like a giddy kid on Christmas morning as I changed into my base layers that I had laid out the night before. I sat in my new, white North Face snow pants at the kitchen table while drinking a hot cup of coffee and wondering how long the pants would actually stay white. I grabbed my buff, the piece of clothing that doubled as my mask for the day and was out the door by 9 a.m.
With new COVID-19 restrictions in place by the Aspen Skiing Co., I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the first day. Luckily, they seemed to have the systems dialed in by the time we walked up to Gondola Plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain. As expected, there was a decent-sized line to board the gondola. However, the line appeared to be much longer than it actually was as people were spaced out and socially distanced. After about a 20-minute wait, we were able to load on with myself and the four girls who I was skiing with that day.
We eagerly discussed what runs were open as we gazed out the gondola admiring the fluffy, untouched powder. I clipped in, lowered my goggles and turned up my headphones. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who was the first stoke song of choice. My poles trailed gently behind me as I took off in the direction of my friends. I heard the girls yelping and screaming with excitement as I glided my way down Silver Bell. The powder was fresh, the sun was brightly beaming down, and, for a moment, the world felt normal again.
I caught an edge as I slowed down to get in line at Ajax Express. Out of breath, I pulled down my mask briefly while looking back to ensure my friends were still following. Almost immediately, a Skico employee spotted me. I was asked to reapply the mask and keep it on at all times while on the mountain. Despite my annoyance of how fast he caught me, I appreciated how diligent employees were about monitoring the mask ordinance. If not for the constant friendly reminders that I witnessed throughout the day, I’m afraid the rules would get too lax and eventually lead to the mountain closing down early (obviously the worst-case scenario).
As the calendar turns to December, many of us are left to reflect on this particularly strange year. Nothing about 2020 has been normal. The pandemic has forced institutions across the globe to rethink every aspect of their operation. The sport of skiing was not immune to the world being put on pause. Thankfully, the masterminds at Skico figured out a way for people to still enjoy the sport of skiing while also following federal, state and local regulations to keep us all safe.
Among many other things this year, the holiday season is going to look a lot different in terms of parties and family gatherings. This Christmas, I am taking a moment to reflect on the gifts that I am giving. Oftentimes, I feel the gift of an experience can be much more rewarding than a physical object. If you’re looking to give an incredible experience this year, I highly recommend giving the gift of skiing. For me, skiing is the reason why I live in Aspen. There are few things in this world that bring me more joy than cruising down a mountain with skis strapped to my feet alongside some of my best friends. I think many Aspen locals would agree.
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Longtime Aspenite Mark Howard’s new memoir, “A Rewiring Life,” chronicles a life of change across five decades in Aspen.