Group keeps funky Aspen alive with Snowmass shrine

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun
A member of the Glorious Leaders of the Underground Movement helps install and remove items from the Hunter S. Thompson shrine on Feb. 9. GLUM created the shrine in 2006 on the first anniversary of Thompson's death and has maintained it ever since.
Courtesy photo |

People honor the memories of loved ones and heroes in different ways.

A unique way in the Roaring Fork Valley is to create shrines on the local ski areas, stapling posters, newspaper articles, photos and other memorabilia to a clump of trees.

Some of these are maintained by friends and family, while others are added to by all sorts of skiers and snowboarders. One shrine in particular, though, has a loyal group of people who consider it their mission to carefully maintain it.

That group, the Glorious Leaders of the Underground Movement, recently returned to the Hunter S. Thompson shrine on Snowmass ski area to honor the anniversary of Thompson’s death. GLUM returns to the site once or twice a year to install more items, take down ones that are in disrepair and clean up the area around it.

“That’s the idea of all the shrines: something that means something to people.”
Michael Rafone
Member, Glorious Leaders of the Underground Movement

“We take our responsibility very … responsibly, if that is possible for a gang of ski freaks,” said a man who would identify himself only as Rusty Hematoma. “We think it’s kind of a holy site, so just anything shouldn’t be deposited up there. And then we’ve attempted to build benches and kind of make the place a little nicer.”

The shrine, located in the trees off Gunner’s View, likely has more items than any other, said David Wood, author of the book “Sanctuaries in the Snow: The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass.”

“Not just any random clip goes up there,” Hematoma said. “It doesn’t have to be voted on or anything, but we put things up there that make sense.”

Most things currently on display are newspaper articles that have been published since Thompson’s death as well as items that people have sent to the group.

“For instance, a person from L.A., a person named Bornagin Forthehellofit — that’s his name — mailed us a Mickey Mouse poster that Hunter had shot with a shotgun and a hanging ball of paint, which sort of splattered it,” Hematoma said. “It’s pretty clear that it’s not an original. (But) that got laminated … and installed this year.”

Thompson’s love of shotgun art is one reason the shrine’s location makes sense, said another GLUM member who goes by Michael Rafone. It also approximately faces Woody Creek, Hematoma said.

Over the years, some of the original shriners have moved from the valley and returned, so the size of the group ebbs and flows on every annual visit.

“There are characters who come and go,” Rafone said. “(But) there always seems to be some sort of spirit driving us.”

GLUM’s most recent trip on Feb. 9 was the first that the core group was present for in several years, Hematoma said. A full ceremony starts with a hearty breakfast — “because Hunter loved breakfast” — and a reading on the gondola ride.

“Then we ski down as rowdily as possible and then get really quiet when we get close,” Hematoma said.

GLUM conducts some ceremonies at the site, which might include another reading and some sort of indoctrination for new attendees.

“It’s really a special day,” Hematoma said. “I get chills, literally, when I’m there, when it’s happening and then when I think about it later.”

Carrying the torch

GLUM created the shrine in 2006, on the first anniversary of Thompson’s death. Each member has their own reason for wishing to carry on the “Good Doctor’s” memory.

“Hunter Thompson represented the cool of Aspen, and people of a certain age will remember when Aspen was cool, a little funky and a little edgy,” Rafone said.

“This world is a terrible, terrible place at times, and Hunter was one of the good ones,” Hematoma said. “He had his finger on the pulse of mankind, and that needs to be celebrated and actually renewed as often as possible.

“He knew who the bastards were, and they’re still with us, and he’s not. So it’s up to us and those who subscribe to his beliefs to at least keep things weird, at the very least, and at the best to effect change and confront the bastards.”

The members of GLUM remain anonymous because the U.S. Forest Service is not fond of the posting of items on national forest land. Wood said he has communicated with GLUM via email and Facebook but never met its members in person.

“It’s one of the best shrines out there, either Aspen or Snowmass,” Wood said. “It’s like a good shrine should be: It’s hidden; it’s kind of easy to get to, get into and get out of.”

For Rafone, taking care of the shrine is also honoring part of Aspen’s history.

“I think Thompson was a part of Aspen history, and it can help to perpetuate Thompson’s legacy by some contribution,” Rafone said. “That’s the idea of all the shrines: something that means something to people.”