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High Country: Needing nostalgia

An homage to Aspen’s OG ski bum babes

Katie Shapiro
High Country

Who’s getting high and heading down the deepest depths of the internet by now? One of the most fun rabbit holes to hide out in during these long days is vintage Aspen, which thanks to the private Facebook group “Friends of Aspen from the 1960’s and 70’s,” there’s a coronavirus- uptick of content to help escape the reality that is 2020.

Culling through posts from the long list of locals that came before us, a true virtual sense of community comes through on-screen with old friends and acquaintances checking in on each other, retelling wild stories from the good old days, sharing snapshots from family photo albums, and directing members to archive articles and film footage.

My favorite find so far is from the March 5, 1971 issue of LIFE magazine — a feature spread introducing the world to “Aspen’s New Kind of Ski Bum” (girls! gasp!). Photographed by John Dominis, these women pioneered the path to living life at its highest and inspired future generations of us that “we can do anything guys do.”

According to Aspen Journalism’s “Aspen’s Skiing History” timeline, “surfer bums” discovered Aspen between 1960 and 1968 and in 1965, the Denver Post dubbed the all- male transplants as “ski-niks.” LIFE reported that by 1971, six out of ten of the 900 new annual arrivals were women. One of the earliest cannabis kerfuffles on-mountain also went down that same winter season LIFE was on-assignment in high country.

Aspen Journalism’s entry for 1971 reads, “The first-ever ‘Hot-Dog Contest’ dominated the Ridge of Bell under the Bell Mountain lift on March 1, 1971 where the only rule was to go top to bottom as spectacularly as possible. On a razor-blue day 2,000 irreverent spectators watched 89 local competitors rip. Ski instructor Sid Erickson won by popping ‘Sealander’s Rock’ at the top skier’s left of the steep Ridge, before flying over all the bumps in three turns, performing a never-before-seen stunt of luck and skill. A wet T-shirt contest followed at the Red Onion night club. D.R.C. Brown rode over the extravaganza. After smelling marijuana, he later declared there would ‘never be another hot-dog contest on a Ski Corp mountain.’”

The spring tradition endured and is now held in April, known as the “Bell Mountain Buck-Off.” This season would have marked its 49th year and since we’re all sitting at home, let’s look forward to the 50th in 2021 and plan to pay homage to the debauchery of decades past. And here’s to Aspen’s OG ski bum babes, may we all live as free (and be as cool) as them someday soon.

For more throwback photos, vintage videos and nostalgic news stories, I’ve rounded up a few more of my favorite links for you here:

Special thanks to David C. Wood (author of “Sanctuaries in the Snow” and frequent Facebook poster) for the inspiration! 

Katie Shapiro wishes she lived in Aspen in 1971. She can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.


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