Celebrating May Selby’s 1,000th Aspen Times column
Turning in this article marks my 1,000th “Mountain Mayhem,” meeting 1,000 deadlines over the course of 19-plus years, covering 1,000 social occasions ranging from benefits to birthday parties and everything in between, and my favorite part of all — connecting with thousands of people along the way. Given the vast number of photos and stories, whittling it down to this retrospective wasn’t easy, but here it goes.
It was in the late fall of 1999, just weeks before Y2K, when a few friends of mine and I were hosting our annual Pray 4 Snow Party at my pad near the Aspen Club, serving as a lead-in to ski season. Guests arrived in retro ski attire, which was easy to source at the time, at either the Thrift Shop of Aspen or Susie’s Limited Consignments. This was before one-pieces and vintage ski suits had gone out of and come back into style, later commanding higher prices as supplies became scarcer. That evening I was sporting a pink one-piece emblazoned with an original Aspen Skiing Co. logo. I learned from friends at the party it was an original uniform for one of Skico’s “snow hostesses,” a position that would morph into today’s ambassador program.
Karin Gieske, a co-owner of the then-popular and since-closed retail shop Funky Mountain Threads, glanced around the party and decided it needed proper representation. She grabbed a copy of the White Pages, thumbed through them, and found the home number for Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, the only social columnist in town who covered parties for the paper. Gieske reached her on the first ring. “With all due respect,” she began, “I’m at a party in town right now and it’s really fun. I’m calling because I think you should be here. You feature lots of fancy events, which is great, but something’s missing – capturing the younger generation at a party like this one just across town.”
Hayes thanked her for the information, noted it was 10 p.m., and added she would not be stopping by. Instead she suggested sending her a photo from the evening to consider running in “Around Aspen,” her long-running column in The Aspen Times.
A few months later, one of the Pray 4 Snow Party photos appeared in Hayes’ column, featuring four of us in our ski attire. I wish I had a copy of this, but it predates the digital age. When it was published, Aspen Times’ editor-in-chief Andy Stone was amused and intrigued, hoisting a copy of the paper in the air as he walked through a packed newsroom, asking who knew whose party this was.
Bonnie Scott, neé Mineo, was working as a graphic designer at the Times and noted we were friends and this was from an event at my house. She put me in touch with Stone and I found myself in his office soon afterward, discussing his idea to start a social column about the younger set. His initial suggestion was I create a subset to Hayes, toying around with a name such as “Underneath Aspen.” I felt it was important to create something that was a standalone and came up with “Mountain Mayhem” as a play on my name.
Coincidentally, I had been trying to find my way into working for the paper. I’d long drawn comic strips of trips with friends and illustrated maps of Aspen for them (similar to the sketch on this issue’s cover), personalized to highlight their lifestyle. I’d even recently contacted Aspen Times cartoonist Chris Cassatt for suggestions on how to pursue this interest, though I believe he discouraged it for whatever reason.
When Stone gave me the opportunity to create this column, it filled a creative niche and he granted me autonomy on covering whatever topics were of interest that captured life in Aspen.
The first few years, I didn’t have a dedicated page and I believe my column ran on rotating weekdays. It eventually moved to Saturday, where it stayed on page 3 for more than a decade and garnered much more attention. As new readers would meet me, they’d occasionally say I was “the young Mary Hayes,” which was a compliment as she was certainly beloved. When Hayes passed away in 2015 at the age of 86 (I’m curious how many social columns she filed in all her time), I moved here into the Aspen Times Weekly in her place.
Looking back, advancements in technology and the rapid changes in the way this column went from party to print glaringly stand out.
My initial years involved shooting with film and then picking up prints from Wolf Camera on the corner of Galena and Hopkins (where Radio Boardshop is now). It wasn’t a timely process and I took a cue from Mary Hayes, who would attach Post-Its to the bottom of each print, carefully listing names from left to right. Back in the early aughts, the paper was printed in black and white and there was no web version as a supplement.
The weekend edition was subscription-based and delivered all over the country. It was rewarding to receive letters to the editor from time to time sent by readers who enjoyed following the social scene through my articles, oftentimes when it related to their kids who were living here.
As the years went by, digital cameras soon become the standard and I would eventually download, edit and deliver photos on CDs that I’d drop through the mail slot each week at the Times’ original Main Street office.
Nowadays, in the digital age, I send photos and captions with the click of an email and I have the luxury of proofing pages on-screen before they go to press — if I find there are errors, my stomach still flips.
There’s also the opportunity to share content on social media. It’s clearly a faster, vaster and more connected era, which has its benefits.
I still occasionally wonder if I’ll run out of topics, though that concern fades given how many fascinating people and places there are to shine a light on each week. Aspen is a social institution unlike anywhere else this size and even rivals cosmopolitan locales.
Among recurring favorites are fundraisers, birthdays, holidays, hut trips, weddings, and outdoor adventures.
In January, there’s Gay Ski Week (I love the Downhill Costume Contest) and X Games (which brings both world-class action sports athletes and global DJs to town). February formerly had the Chocolate Classic, and there’s always Valentine’s Day and typically a string of powder days. March means spring skiing and après-skiing and an influx of guests for spring break (as well as our annual Bonnie’s Bash, open to one and all in true Aspen style on the deck of Bonnie’s restaurant). April’s closing day party at Aspen Highlands was once an organic gathering that has grown into a party of epic proportions (with a highlight being the ski patrol barbecue atop Highland Peak) and also 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale (envisioned by the fabulous founder Julie Kennedy). Offseason travels (a major reason I love living here — we all crave seeing the world and coming back home again) transition into May’s Kentucky Derby Day, Ride for the Pass and Memorial Day.
The Food & Wine Classic is a fixture in June (by far my favorite food and wine festival anywhere), followed by Aspen Ideas Festival and the Fourth of July festivities filling town. August draws a close to the Aspen Music Festival (where we enjoy the lawn as much as being inside the tent) and ushers in the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience (which I’d love to see move back to Buttermilk). September brings Ruggerfest weekend, prime wedding season and the stunning fall foliage. A highlight in October is Halloween, where Aspen dresses up on par with any city or even Broadway show. In the past, November meant World Cup ski racing took over town (it will ideally return to Aspen again) as well as Opening Day for ski season and also Thanksgiving (an important holiday in a place like Aspen where friends truly become family). And December opens with the Summit for Life uphill and ends with the festive season of holiday parties and New Year’s celebrations.
What I’ve gleaned most from getting to document life around here, in and out, over these two decades is the joy in celebrating occasions from the ordinary to extraordinary. Looking through the archives, it’s been an honor and been so much fun to see Aspen through the ages. In doing so, there’s a level of trust in capturing moments and sharing stories, a bond between hosts and guests and an ever-present support system within our community.
Thank you for the opportunity to commemorate these rites of passage and here’s to the next 1,000!