Willoughby: The price is just right for some winter sports
February 3, 2018
The new Breathtaker Alpine Coaster at Snowmass is not a new idea. In 1890, Aspen featured an equivalent attraction.
Leadville opened a toboggan run in 1889. And then a club, formed for the purpose, opened one in Aspen the following year. They built it on the slope from town down to Hallam Lake, where a park with a pavilion housed dances and public gatherings.
Despite continued effort, the club garnered little mention in the newspaper, other than a report that someone broke a leg that year. Interest in the run waned.
In 1894 a concessionaire turned the run into a business, The Aspen Toboggan and Skating Park. The Aspen Daily Times wrote "the coaster will leave the office (where you paid) at the foot of Center Street descend a safe but steep incline and speed like the wind across Hallam Lake on a bridge and land far out in the park among the pine trees."
Today, Snowmass charges $35 for two hours. The Aspen Toboggan and Skating Park charged $6 in today's dollars and double in the evenings. The price included skating, but advertisements pushed the toboggan, "it could carry three passengers, that is one gentleman and two ladies."
The business appears to have ended after a few seasons, when local youth began to sled where they did not have to pay, on Slaughter House Hill. That free route now descends from the edge of Red Butte down to the Roaring Fork River.
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In 1898, Billy Van, one of Aspen's more flamboyant entrepreneurs, built a 200-foot toboggan slide at Hallam Lake. He used the route of the 1890s and set it up for both summer and winter use. As before, the business fell to the force of free competition.
Later, someone built a 275-foot wood ramp on the Hallam Lake hillside for a fast, 1,000-foot run. The year, 1929, offered low prospects for a business that charged people for what they had been doing for free. Most sledders rode down the grade of Monarch Street. The ride began at the end of the street, on Aspen Mountain, and stretched toward the intersection with Hyman Avenue.
Advised by Andre Roch, the Roaring Fork Winter Sports Club — later Aspen Ski Club — decided to provide activities that would attract visitors to town. Not all visitors would ski, so the club intended to provide facilities for skating and sledding.
Roch taught club members to ski on the treeless, gentle sloped area on Maroon Creek Road near today's Colorado Mountain College/School district complex. After they had packed the snow for skiing, they also used the slope for toboggans and sleds. Perhaps the slope did not qualify as a breathtaker experience, but the price didn't, either.
Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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