‘Hippie Chick’ Jill Sheeley looks back in new Aspen memoir
IF YOU GO . . .
What: Book launch for Jill Sheeley’s ‘Those Were the Days: Memories of a Hippie Chick”
Where: Mountain Chalet
When: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 507 p.m.
More info: The evening will include stories, a slide show, food and music by Bo Hale; jillsheeleybooks.com
Jill Sheeley had dreamed of coming to live in Aspen since her childhood in Illinois, when she saw the Aspen-filmed movie “Little Skier’s Big Day.”
She made it here for a visit as a high school senior in 1968, then entered the University of Denver that fall, soon to be hitchhiking up to Aspen for ski trips. When she finished school, she settled here and found herself in the midst of the town’s ski bum heyday.
Sheeley has been in Aspen ever since, best known these days as a children’s book author, writing instructor and as the force behind the Fraser Writing Contest for local elementary school kids. But her latest release is for grown-ups. “Those Were the Days: Memories of a Hippie Chick” is a fond and episodic memoir of her charmed days during the ski town’s freewheeling 1970s.
She calls it “a story about the town of Aspen and how she wooed me, then charmed me and then wove me into her fabric.”
The book joyfully recounts the ski bum life, juggling service industry jobs at iconic local spots like Gretl’s, Gwyn’s and the Wienerstube, living in the far reaches of Lenado when it was a drop-out Shangri-La, crashing in the hippie haven of the Agate Lodge, the colorful on-mountain scene of the era and its ski gangs (Sheeley was a member of the “Powder Sluts”).
She also has chapters devoted to her experiences of defining Aspen moments, from the anxiety during the Vietnam War draft and the terror after Ted Bundy’s courthouse escape, to the rich local music scene and crossing paths with John Denver, to Spider Sabich being shot and killed by the singer and actress Claudine Longet (Sheeley was a nanny for Longet’s children).
Sheeley is releasing “Those Were the Days” with a book launch party Tuesday evening at the Mountain Chalet, where she’s planning more than the standard signing and talk. Sheeley will be inviting people who lived through the ’70s in Aspen to tell their own stories, and expects some who’ve moved away to come back for the event.
“I thought it would be fun to throw a big party,” she said.
Sheeley has been writing books in Aspen for 40 years now, going back to the now-classic children’s book “Christmas in Aspen” in 1980 and continuing with the popular “Fraser the Yellow Dog” series.
“Those Were the Days” is a departure for the author, who along with children’s titles has published cookbooks and the young adult novel “The Blue Bottle,” though she renders Aspen’s notorious sex, drugs and skiing era in mostly PG-13 fashion.
“I do have a daughter and grandson and son-in-law,” Sheeley said with a laugh of the lightly sanitized tales in the book. “I didn’t want to tell all and I didn’t want to make anybody angry.”
Her inspiration for the book came during a trip to Gulf Island, near Vancouver, when she came across a light-hearted memoir by a local about settling there in the ’70s.
“A lightbulb went off and I said, ‘I need to do something like this,’” Sheeley recalled.
She started taking notes, conjuring the old days and favorite stories, including her courtship with the charming Snowmass ski patroller and Ruedi sailor Don Sheeley, which began a 48-year partnership and and a long marriage.
When Don died in 2017, at 68, the manuscript became a joyful refuge from her grief.
“It brought back all these fun memories,” she said. “It helped with my sadness. It was cathartic when I thought about the hippie days, his long hair and how we evolved together.”
Don had read and loved the first few chapters before he died, Sheeley recalled.
As she attempted to piece together her early days in Aspen, Sheeley made charts of the years to keep her memories straight and called many old friends she hadn’t seen and talked to in years to jog her memories and reminisce.
“It was amazing to connect with all these people,” she said.
Sheeley is also remarkably uninfected by the bitterness so common among longtime Aspenites who’ve seen the town evolve and commercialize since those days.
“She can deal with change,” said Marjorie DeLuca, Sheeley’s longtime editor and publisher at Carbondale-based AGS Publishing. “She doesn’t like it any better than anybody else, but she’s not someone who is going to spend her life grousing about it.”
The grousing in the book is limited to a tongue-in-cheek two-page section listing some of the trappings of contemporary Aspen that Sheeley and her former hippie cohort didn’t have to contend with (paid parking, facelifts, leash laws and ski helmets make the list).
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The Aspen Music Festival’s Harris Hall recitals and “Met: Live in HD” broadcasts will run in February and March, with tickets on sale Thursday, Jan. 27.