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Aspen’s dream jobs

Aspen Times writer

Modern Aspen is built to some degree on myth and legend. Around the globe, it’s known as a Shangri-La in the Rockies, a playground for the rich and famous with cobalt skies and snow like champagne.Every local, upon telling a stranger that they live or work in Aspen, has heard “well, that must be nice.”Of course, they’re right. It is nice here. Extremely nice.But the mythical Aspen is only half the story. The other half is the reality of paying “Aspen prices” for everything from rent to gasoline, the daily commute on Highway 82, working multiple jobs, the grind of high-season and the deathly silence of spring and fall.This is a great place to visit, but it’s a hard place to make ends meet.Still, there are many locals who seem to lead charmed lives, working jobs and enjoying a state of mind entirely separate from the 21st-century rat race. These people are the envy of tourists and residents alike.What Rocky Mountain wage-slave hasn’t aspired at least once to be a ski instructor or raft guide – one of those people who gets paid to play? What working mother hasn’t dreamed of being a full-time mom, whose nanny watches the kids while she hikes Smuggler and enjoys lunch downtown? What strapping young ski bum wouldn’t love to patrol the slopes by winter and cut trails with a chain saw all summer?No matter what your profession, Aspen is a nice place to work. But there are a few jobs out there that exist only in places like Aspen, a few jobs that are more lifestyle than livelihood.In this edition, we profile a dozen-or-so Roaring Fork Valley residents who do the work that most of us – even Aspenites – only dream about.Enjoy. And dream on.Who: Alley Wilson and Sean HenryWhat: Buttermilk fruit stand workersPerception: Imagine an office tucked at the base of a lush ski hill, where the wind drifts quietly across your “desk” and there’s nary a phone, fax or computer to distract you from the task at hand. Snacking freely on fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, you chat with customers about their day and the delectables they’re about to bag and buy. When it’s busy, you make a few dollars; when it’s slow, you pull up a hay bale and read a good book.Such is the life of the person who runs the Buttermilk fruit stand each day during the summer months – well, kind of.Reality: For 14-year-old Alley Wilson and her 19-year-old cousin Sean Henry, working at the Buttermilk fruit stand is pretty close to the perfect summer job. Wilson is a high school student in Palisade; her parents own the business and have a condo in Snowmass Village where she lives in the summer months. Henry is a full-time student at Mesa State in Grand Junction; he spends his summer break in Aspen working at the fruit stand.”Free fruit is always good – especially when it’s this good,” says Henry.Wilson echoes the sentiment, “We get to eat all the fruit we want … and I love fruit,” noting cherries are her favorite.But not everything is perfect at the fruit stand. “It does get hot sometimes,” says Wilson, pointing out the black asphalt on which the fruit carts stand. (Coincidentally, Wilson says if she weren’t working at the fruit stand, the ideal summer job would be at a pool.)And, like all customer-oriented businesses, customers can be trying at times. Case in point: In 15minutes spent talking with Wilson and Henry, at least a half-dozen customers walked off in a huff when they were told fresh corn wouldn’t be at the stand until 1 p.m. that day. “It can get crazy, really crazy, around here,” says Henry.But there are plenty of moments when life at the Buttermilk fruit stand is anything but crazy, which is why it is, without a doubt, one of the coolest jobs in Aspen.”When it’s slow, I just relax and read my book,” says Wilson. Jeanne McGovernWho: David GibsonWhat: Instructor and “cocktailier” at the Cooking School of AspenDavid Gibson has been working at the Cooking School for two years, assisting guest chefs and pairing the perfect cocktail with whatever meal the instructor is preparing for the students. A lot of people tell Gibson they’d do his job for free.”It’s an amazingly cool job. I’m cooking side by side with the chef, learning from the best chefs in America and the world,” he says. “I’m getting an education people pay $15,000 a year to get at other culinary institutions.”Gibson learns each chef’s ways of doing seemingly small tasks like boiling eggs, caramelizing onions and doing food prep as the on-scene sous chef. In short, Gibson’s “on stage” to help the chef find everything in the kitchen and to use his sense of humor to make sure the students are having a good time.Perception: All this – and Gibson gets to eat gourmet meals six nights a week. What more do you need from a job?Reality: If you see Gibson wandering around City Market in Aspen, try to make it to the check-out line before him. This guy usually has to haul two carts through the supermarket, one crammed full of produce and the other filled with everything else. If he forgets something or can’t find just what he needs, he makes extra trips – sometimes several in one afternoon.Then there are the hazards of working with sharp knives and flames; cooking can be dangerous when you’re not paying close attention.”We try to be very casual about things so that people will get over their fears,” Gibson explains. Novice chefs learning how to dice an onion occasionally nick their fingers – and they’re not alone.Once, while teaching a class, Gibson looked up for an instant and sliced his finger open. He tried to not draw attention to himself, but when he reached for the first aid box in the central island the box flew open, creating “a confetti parade of Band-Aids, in case anyone didn’t see I cut myself.”Gibson had another close call while deglazing a dish in a flaming pan, and he once ran into the alley with a malfunctioning blowtorch during a Charles Dale class.”Six-inch long flames were coming out of it in four different directions, and I thought we were all going to die,” Gibson quips. “Charles threw a towel over it and I ran out the back door to the alley – I figured it would kill less people if it exploded out there.”The torch didn’t blow, and Gibson still has all 10 of his fingers. It’s all in a day’s work. Naomi HavlenWho: John BrennanWhat: Snowmass trail crewJohn Brennan is in the business of bringing powder to the people.And in a ski town, there’s no job cooler than that.Perception: By winter, Brennan is the Snowmass Ski Area’s snow safety supervisor. He patrols avalanche-prone slopes and deploys explosives as conditions merit.But when the snow melts, he trades his skis, snow science kit and bomb bag for a chainsaw and a brusher (like a weed-whacker, but with a circular saw blade).And this is where Brennan’s job gets cooler. Working largely by himself, Brennan goes about clearing areas that are too overgrown for safe skiing. He chooses the best lines and then clears them for the paying customers.The Burnside Cliffs? Thank Brennan.Stihletto? Brennan. (Named for his favorite chainsaw manufacturer.)The 2003-04 debut of Hang On Havlins and Buckskin? Brennan. Brennan.This summer, he has cleaned up some sections near Baby Ruth, and when he spoke with the Times this week, he was working on an area below Lower Ladder, in the lower Hanging Valley Wall, called “Black Saturday.””Not much work had been done in [Black Saturday], and you’d get shut down about halfway through the fall-line. So I’ve just pounded out some alleys through there,” he says.We figured Brennan naturally gets heaps of praise and pitchers of beers at the end of a ski day. “Anytime you open something new, people are psyched,” he says. “But I don’t think I’m getting enough beer.”Reality: A 13-year veteran of the Snowmass ski patrol, and 15-year Snowmass trail crew veteran, the 41-year-old Brennan is one of a handful of patrollers at the four Aspen mountains who are employed year-round.”I’ve got enough seniority now that I can pitch the bosses on the areas we need to work on,” he says. “And the management, I think, trusts my opinion, so that if I want to open something, we’re going to be able to open it.”Brennan works with the U.S. Forest Service for approvals before cutting anything, and the feds have generally supported his efforts.”I’m not going after big stuff – trees anyway – just little scraggly stuff or deadwood,” he says. “If someone gets hurt because they wipe out, that’s one thing,” Brennan continues. “But if someone gets hurt because they hit a downed tree or broken stump, that’s another thing.”Where I’m working right now is about a 20-minute hike from the nearest road, so I cache a lot of gear there, and then just hike in every morning with a pack and food and water and whatever supplies I’ll need to restock. Then, I get to work.”So, how is the work?”Snowmass is already a kick-ass mountain and I’m super passionate about it and I want to do what I’m doing for the next 20 years.””It’s great. You’re outside, you’re getting paid to go for a hike, and you’re working on terrain that you want to ski in the first place. Triple my salary and I can’t imagine a job I’d want to do more.”- Tim MutrieWho: Bruce WoodWhat: Balloon pilotFifteen years ago, Bruce Wood didn’t get wake up every morning and say, “Fire it up.””As most balloon pilots do, I started out as ground crew,” says Wood, 38, of El Jebel.Wood and his wife Pam own Above It All Balloon Co., and nearly every morning in the summer, Wood does fire it up. The company operates six balloons (which carry between two and 12 passengers), and if the weather’s clear, Wood and passengers launch from the rodeo lot in Snowmass Village and follow the winds downvalley to Old Snowmass.The flights typically last two or three hours and cover approximately 10 to 12 miles at 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the ground.Perception: Being a balloon pilot seemed to us like a pretty sweet job: floating high in the air, hearing only the wind and the birds, watching the sunrise and the scenery. According to Wood, we had it mostly right.”Being one with Mother Nature is definitely an experience that doesn’t get old,” says the FAA-certified pilot. “And because when we’re up we have a fairly intimate setting, we get to meet a lot of interesting people, and I think sunrise is the best time of day.””It’s peaceful and serene, the light is soft and there aren’t a lot of people up and about. And being done with work at 9 or 10 in the morning isn’t bad either.”Wood was hooked after his first balloon ride in 1989 at the Snowmass Village Balloon Festival. “I think it was the uniqueness of the flight, and the challenge. Literally, you’re floating with the winds. And every day, the winds are never the same; often similar, but never the same. And unlike fixed-wing planes, you can’t steer where you want to go. You have to find the winds that will take you there. It’s about finding those subtle little layers of wind that will get you close to your target.”Reality: Wood is the only pilot who flies locally in the wintertime. He also works full-time in winter for the Aspen Skiing Co., as the lab operations manager for Mountain Photo. An Arkansas native, Wood graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1985, and “fell in love with the mountains.”Piloting balloons does have a downside, he admits.”The hours – because we can only fly safely at sunrise, which this time of year is 6 a.m. So our day starts at 3:30 a.m. to do weather checks, flight prep, prepare our brunch for passengers, get the rigs hooked up and ready to go, pick up the passengers…”It gets a little later as the summer progresses, though. In August, we actually get to sleep in ’til about 4.”The Snowmass Balloon Festival is scheduled for Sept. 17-19 this year; Wood will pilot one of 3035 balloons expected. Tim MutrieWho: Rolo JohnsonWhat: Professional poker playerPerception: Poker players have a reputation for being pale night-owls, unhealthy and dismal. But we also think of them as the coolest cats in town, enigmatic and unflappable.Reality: Johnson is neither pale nor dismal. He beams health and enthusiasm, speaking quickly and eagerly, almost like a child anxious to tell a story.Johnson spends about six months per year at his home in Aspen. The rest of the time he travels around the country in search of high-stakes poker games. Vegas, L.A., and Mississippi are frequent stops, but wherever the action is, that’s where Rolo goes. When he’s not sitting at the poker table, he’s always on the move. At home, he bikes six days per week. On the road, he works out every day. And in between, he’s trying to lower his golf handicap.Johnson could not be friendlier, but there’s something distant about him, too. He says he recently won nearly $50,000 at a tournament in Las Vegas and that he’ll often play for more than $10,000 in high-roller cash games.It’s difficult to tell how much he embellishes in regard to his career – he mentions something about receiving other income from commercial properties in Tennessee – but maybe that’s the point. In poker, it’s all about being “hard to read,” and Rolo feels just fine about being a friendly, if puzzling, enigma.”In poker it’s all about reading the players,” he says. “It’s called catching their tail, when you figure out whether someone’s bluffing. I’m working right now on making sure that doesn’t happen to me.” Johnson doesn’t play local poker tournaments – “I’ve got all the local players figured out by now,” he says – but he does work with local Aspenite Bobby Oxenburg on strategy. Is there a downside to being a professional poker player?”Well, it’s just like being any other kind of business man,” he says. “The traveling gets you down. Being away from friends and my girlfriend is tough. But it’s what I do.” Eben HarrellWho: Diane SmithWhat: Jeep tour guide and manager for Blazing AdventuresPerception: Smith rumbles around the mountains surrounding Aspen and Snowmass, chatting away with her clients about the history of the area while taking in the breathtaking surroundings. At a particularly picturesque area during a three-quarters or full-day tour, she spreads out a blanket for a picnic lunch, sitting herself down alongside her guests.”I looked around today and thought, ‘This is pretty cool – this is my office,'” she says after a recent trip up Taylor Pass. “I get to be in the backcountry every day, meeting people from all over the world.”Trained by the Aspen Historical Society and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Jeep guides share with people what it was like here during the mining boom, and point out the local flora and fauna. Smith likes her job so much that when family and friends come to visit, she borrows a Jeep from work and tours around – for free.Reality: Bouncing around on rocky dirt roads isn’t for everyone, and Smith does encounter clients who complain about motion sickness. She once had a client who announced his fear of heights when the Jeep reached Ruthie’s restaurant on Aspen Mountain and had to turn the Jeep around.Then there’s the dust. Smith is often caked in it; she feels bad for her dust-coated clients, but that’s what they signed up for. And while a little rain provides some natural dust control, too much rain can work against a Jeep tour guide.”The other day a driver went to Taylor Pass, and coming back down Express Creek Road there had been a huge mudslide that washed across the road,” she explains. “He was so close to the paved road he could see it, but he had to double back and drive out Richmond Ridge – that’s an extra 15 or 20 miles of bumpy Jeep road.”Another drawback: the occasional group that isn’t very chatty. In those cases, Smith says she doesn’t know if people are having a good time or not. Silence rules the day.”You’ve told them every possible story you can pull out of your little brain about mining and every historical story you can remember, and then there’s nothing left to talk about,” Smith said. “It’s very rare, but it happens once in a while.” Naomi HavlenWho: Evan MenzelWhat: Naturalist and “ghost interpreter” at the abandoned town of Independence for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.Perception: Anybody with “ghost” in their title must have a cool job. Sure, we realized the interpreter at the old mining town has to answer a lot of the same old questions from tourists. But we figured that would be more than offset by chances to explore the high country around the former gold camp and plenty of time to read.We also wanted to know if the “ghost” has seen or heard any sign of the former inhabitants of the town – which boomed, briefly, in the 1880s – during all those hours spent in the lonely environs where the wind always seems to blow and strange sounds never seem to stop. Independence is near the summit of Independence Pass, about 10,800 feet high.Reality: Menzel’s responsibility and passion is to educate people about Independence and the surrounding natural environment. Some days he hangs out in the old general store and reads a book while waiting for visitors to pop in. Other days he tidies up around the old camp and stops to talk to passers-by. He estimated that 20 to 30 people visit on a typical day.Menzel has immersed himself in the limited but fascinating history of Independence, which was founded on the Fourth of July 1879, and thus marked its 125th anniversary this year. He’s researched and indexed copies of the old newspapers that operated in Aspen during the 20-or-so years that Independence thrived and survived. “I’m searching for the elusive Independence Miner,” he said, referring to a newspaper supposedly published during the brief life of the camp.Menzel, a graduate of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, took up his duties shortly after the pass opened for Memorial Day and he plans to stay until some time in September. After six weeks on the job he’s developed a greater appreciation for what the miners endured to scrap out a living at such a high elevation.”I’m definitely more connected because I’m sort of living it out,” he said. Menzel lives down the road a couple of miles in a small travel trailer owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Nevertheless, he’s roughing it without electricity or running water. “You realize how much we have and take for granted,” he said.Menzel has plenty of time to read and explore around the town site and the old gold mines for remnants not easily seen. As a naturalist he’s also studied when the different wildflowers bloom, and how the mountainside south of town was planted decades ago with lodgepole pine, apparently after being stripped of spruce and fir for mining operations.For the record, Menzel doesn’t believe any ghosts come back to visit their old haunts. “I think all the ghosts were chased off by the tourists,” he said.Nevertheless, he’s got a summer job that friends and family envy. “They’re usually pretty amazed that people pay me to do this,” he said. Scott CondonWho: Steve TurleyWhat: WranglerSteve Turley has one of the best summer jobs in Aspen. Just ask him. He’ll tell you.”I think I probably got the best job,” Turley declares, tipping back his cowboy hat.By 8 a.m. on a Friday morning, Turley has already been at work for a couple of hours, helping wrangle up 50 horses from the lower pasture at T-Lazy-7 Ranch on Maroon Creek Road. His view from the saddle: the morning sun bathing Pyramid Peak.Turley’s working his second summer season as a wrangler for Maroon Bells Outfitters, which offers horseback rides and pack trips out of the ranch. After some 20 years of carpentry, Turley decided he was ready for something else. Trading in his tool belt for leather chaps was easy.”I grew up around horses in Nebraska. I been on horses before I could even walk,” he grins.Come winter, Turley hopes to drive sleighs and lead trail rides near Carbondale, where he lives. Last year, he led snowmobile tours out of T-Lazy-7.Perception: What’s not to love about this job – taking folks on horsey-back rides into some of the prettiest wilderness around and getting paid to do it.Reality: Long hours, hoisting saddles on and off horses countless times, stable chores, manure, more manure and teenage girls who start crying five minutes into a ride because they don’t like their mount, don’t like the trail, don’t like something.Turley is up early in the day to arrive at the ranch by 6 or 6:30 a.m. By 7 a.m., he’s starting to saddle up horses for the day’s rides. Wranglers take guests on a variety of outings, including overnight pack trips. Twelve- to 16-hour days are typical.”If there’s a downside with this job, that would be it,” he concedes. “And, maybe after a month of rain, walking around in manure that’s up to the calves of your legs. You get used to it.”Whatever the drawbacks to life as a wrangler, they’re far outweighed by the rewards.”I have the opportunity to take people into the wilderness and the forest, show them and tell them about things that they may only get one time in their life to see,” Turley says. “Just to be able to share that with them – I think that’s probably one of the most gratifying things I can do.” Janet UrquhartWho: Rob BrownWhat: Golf caddyIt has always been said that Aspen is a town where your waiter probably has a masters degree. Traditionally, the skiing has drawn America’s young end elite from the cities to the slopes.Now, you can add golf courses to the list.Perception: Caddying has become a new fad for over-educated Aspen youth. Last year, Maroon Creek Golf Club boasted three “loopers” with ivy league degrees and one all-American golfer from Oklahoma State.It’s not hard to see why: The money is good (up to $300 a round), the hours reasonable, and best of all, your boss changes every day. Caddies, after all, are “independent contractors,” working when they want and for whom they want. As long as you don’t piss off the caddymaster, you can show up whenever you please.Reality:Rob Brown holds a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University, but he currently works as a caddy at The Snowmass Golf Club. At his home in Philadelphia, he is a member of Merion Golf Club, one of the most exclusive clubs in the country.Out here, the roles have been reversed, and Brown has found himself schlepping clubs at the whim of Aspen’s elite.”I’m a ski instructor in the winter and my clients are so respectful. It’s a little different when you’re a caddy,” Brown says. “As a caddy you are in a different class. Often, everything that goes wrong is your fault.”Brown says the job does have some perks – free golf on an exclusive course (caddies play for free three days a week), flexible hours, and every once in a while he’ll finish a round feeling like he’s really helped someone enjoy the game.”I know this sounds cheesy,” Brown says. “But I like running around, working hard, interacting with my player. I like to feel like I’m making a difference.” Eben HarrellWho: Lisa DiNardoWhat: Basalt Town HorticulturistPerception: After three years as Basalt’s town horticulturist, Lisa DiNardo has cultivated quite a reputation for the fabulous perennial and annual gardens scattered around town, especially those at Basalt Town Hall and the roundabout. We figured she’s got a dream job that places her in the great outdoors all day, kicking back and smelling the flowers during summer after working hard to establish the gardens in the spring.Reality: DiNardo does have what she considers a dream job, but kicking back isn’t in the job description. DiNardo’s work is never done.Spring, of course, is a busy time for a master gardener. She’s out digging in the dirt in March when other gardeners shy away from the cool, damp conditions. It’s a perfect time to rearrange and transplant perennials, take care of general maintenance and assess the condition of the trees in town parks and rights-of-way.DiNardo purchases “ton of flats” of annuals that she plants at Town Hall/Lion’s Park and the roundabout. She designs with annuals and accents with perennials at those showcase locations. Perennials are used exclusively at the numerous other little parks around town.Summer, of course, requires hundreds of hours of weeding and maintenance such as “dead heading” – properly removing dead and dying flowers so flowers continue to bloom. With the right maintenance, flowers such as daisies will bloom into October, she said.DiNardo is constantly experimenting – looking for the right combinations of plants and plotting placements according to sequence of bloom. Some asters, for example, colonize and crowd out other species. She works with what the plants and flowers naturally give her.”I consider myself a collaborator in a garden. I’m not running roughshod in a place,” she said.DiNardo enjoys the attention the town gardens have garnered, but not for her ego’s sake. Some people have told her that the gardens are calming; others have labeled them educational.”It’s a blessing to me,” she said. “We should try to make an impact in our life.”DiNardo cannot name a single favorite flower. “It’s like having 10 kids,” she said.Among bulbs, her favorites are ornamental onions, allium azureum, which produce 18-inch-tall flax-blue flowers in May and June, and allium moly, which produce 10- to 12-inch yellow flowers.Her favorite perennials are Nepeta faassenii or “Faassen’s Catmint”, which produce blue flowers from late spring to fall; echinacea purpurea or “White Swan”, which bloom mid-summer to fall; and scabiosa columbaria or “Butterfly Blue,” which have lavender blue flowers from late spring to fall. Scott CondonWho: Alex PalmazWhat: Paragliding guideWhat would it be like to fly? Ask Alex Palmaz. He gets paid do it. The 12-year guide and part-owner of Aspen Paragliding, Palmaz can be seen swirling above Aspen with a client strapped to his chest every morning, afternoon and evening when the weather allows. Perception: I was lucky enough to fly with Aspen Paragliding last summer, and I can’t imagine that it would ever get repetitive or boring. Spiraling thousands of feet above the Roaring Fork Valley with only a harness separating you from the ground is an incredible adrenaline rush. Plus, the views aren’t too shabby. For this reason, the Times staff thought it would be pretty cool to get paid to fly. Reality: “It’s a great job, but it’s very weather-dependent,” Palmaz said. “We joke it’s like farming, we call it sky farming. You could be booked up all week long but unless the weather is on your side, nothing happens.”As a result, Palmaz said being a paraglide guide “is unreliable as an income,” but he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “You meet so many different people from all over the world,” he said. “When you spend two hours with somebody you get to know them pretty well, and they put all their trust in you.”You’re showing them an experience that’s once in a lifetime.” But sometimes those experiences can get a little messy; some clients are prone to motion sickness and have been known to vomit in mid-flight. “It’s not too common, but it does happen,” he said. Despite piloting for 12 years, Palmaz said he’s still surprised by what some people can endure. On one flight, Palmaz said, conditions were ideal for flying high, and he took his client up to 18,000 feet. “We couldn’t come down very easily so we had to put this guy in a spiral dive, which is like a corkscrew, for five minutes,” Palmaz said. “I thought for sure he was going to throw up. We were pulling pretty good G’s. “I was impressed this guy didn’t get sick.” Steve BensonWho: Marilyn SeltzerWhat: Full-time mom with a part-time nannyPerception: As any working parent will tell you, there are times – sometimes all the time – when we wish we could quit the 9-to-5 rat race to be home with our children. In fact, most working parents would give their left arm to spend more time with their little ones – with a few stipulations.As the working mother of two small children, ages 4 1/2 and 17 months, I fall squarely into this group, as do most of my friends. We want to be full-time moms with part-time nannies. Reality: Marilyn Seltzer, the mother of 4-year-old Cameron and 10-month-old Mia, has made the dream come true: She is a stay-at-home mom with a live-in au pair. And she knows she’s got it good.”It’s a dream job,” says Seltzer, a Snowmass Village resident. “I’m one of these people who has worked my whole life – even with my first child – so I really appreciate being able to be at home right now.”It’s the best job in the valley … I’m so happy and so lucky.”Seltzer, who worked in interior architecture and design in San Francisco, chose not to re-establish her business when she and her husband, Jeff, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley and she became pregnant with Mia. Rather, she figured out a way to stay at home – and get a helping hand. Hiring a live-in au pair, says Seltzer, was more affordable than hiring a part-time babysitter so she could return to work. To make it work, though, her kids share a room so her au pair – Christina, from Denmark – has space.And like many mothers, being a full-time mom with a part-time nanny is not a ploy to ditch her children with a sitter, says Seltzer.”I totally hang out with my kids,” explains Seltzer. “Christina is more like a partner … we share everything; she helps with the cooking, laundry, childcare. But to me it’s like the olden days, when you had extended family around and everyone pitched in.”Still, being a full-time mom isn’t easy.”No job is perfect,” says Seltzer. “I know both sides of the coin, and it’s harder to be a full-time mom – especially if you don’t have help – than it is to go to the office.”And there is always the chance you might actually miss working outside the home.”Absolutely I miss it. I love to be creative and I love making clients happy, but because I worked for so many years – and will go back in just a few years – it was fine to walk away,” says Seltzer. “I so appreciate my children that I never think, ‘Oh, I’m stuck at home and can’t work.'”I just feel really lucky.” Jeanne McGovernWho: Elise GrovesWhat: River guideA couple years ago, Elise Groves left Kentucky to spend a winter in Aspen. But long after the snow had melted, Groves was still here, guiding raft trips for Blazing Paddles.Perception: It’s summer, you’re working outside and you’re constantly in the water. What could be better? Then again, you’re stuck in a boat – sometimes for hours – and if you’re clients are less than ideal, it could be a nightmare. Reality: “It’s a really cool job, I work with a bunch of cool people whose priorities are the same,” Groves said. “Money isn’t the priority. Fun and adventure and living here is. “One season could turn into 10 years.” Or 23, as is the case with Tim Dice, a rafting guide for River Runners Aspen, which is based in Buena Vista but draws many of its clients from the Roaring Fork Valley. “I started running rivers in 1978, and I realized it was what I wanted to do with my life,” said Dice, 51. “It’s just the love of the lifestyle of running rivers – it’s not about the money.” Dice, who spends his winters teaching skiing at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, said being on the river everyday between May and September puts life in perspective. “When I’m on the river, not very many things are important,” he said. “And the things that are important are real important.” “It’s a real clean existence.” Groves admits some days “are better than others,” but she loves her job. “It’s an adrenaline adventure that people pay for,” she said. “You’re out in the sun everyday, and the people you work with are all just a bunch of fun-loving people who are in it for the right reasons.” Added Dice: ” The camaraderie of the people you work with is a real special kind of feeling. You get a relationship with them that is similar to what firefighters and policemen have with their friends.” Steve BensonWho: Mike HaasWhat: Fishing guideThere’s nothing worse for an angler/daytime desk jockey than knowing there’s a caddis hatch under way – that beyond the office walls, on a river just a few blocks away – the trout are rising.It’s enough to make you hate your job, unless you’re, say, Mike Haas. Fishing is his job.A longtime resident of the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Haas is a fishing guide with Pomeroy Sports in Aspen during the summer and a skiing guide by winter. He’s also Pomeroy’s guide service manager and the buyer of all things fishing for the store.All in all, it’s not a bad way to make a living, and Haas is quick to admit it.The typical day may find him guiding clients on the Roaring Fork or Fryingpan River, but he also leads multiday float trips on the Gunnison River, enjoying the splendors of the gorge just downstream from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Most summers, he spends more than 40 nights on the banks of the Gunnison.”It’s a good mix of the hustle and bustle of the valley and being out there – no cars, phones and doing what it’s really about – camping and fishing,” Haas says.On the other hand, it’s not all lunker rainbows and postcard sunsets. Some days you might find Haas vacuuming the shop, among other in-house duties.Perception: Fishing guides spend all day on the river, catching fish. They’re wading in cool, crystal-clear waters on perfect summer days and instructing ever-pleasant clients who always tip well because, after all, this is Aspen.Reality: The guests get to catch the fish. If a guide hooks a trout while demonstrating a cast, the guest is typically handed the fly rod and the joy of trying to land the fish. Also, though it doesn’t happen often, sometimes no one catches any fish. “Some people expect a trophy trout on every cast,” Haas says.Tips can be very generous, or not, and there are other summer jobs in town that offer better pay, he adds.It’s not all about perfect summer days, either. Guides take clients fishing on bitter-cold days in the spring and fall. And, there are long days. Some guides pull “triples” – half-day outings in the morning, afternoon and evening during these days of lingering light.Clients themselves can be a challenge, but the diversity of people is also one of the profession’s greatest joys for Haas.And, though Haas stands by while others catch the fish, he revels in the “big-smiles, kick-in-the-pants experience” that comes with a trout on the line as if it were his own.”It’s evolved into, can I catch a fish using your hands and eyes?” he says. “I’m still fishing – I’m just not holding the rod and reel. This whole job is about teaching and sharing.” Janet Urquhart


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