Not-so-rich and not-so-famous
The “Rich and Famous” get all the attention in Aspen, but the heart and soul of this town reside not in the 15,000-square-foot mansions, but in the decrepit dwellings fenced with used skis and carpeted with dog hair.
In this edition, the Times paid good money to glimpse of the places where Aspen’s high rollers live, but in our never-ending quest for journalistic balance, we decided to offer our own free “tour” of the other end of Aspen’s economic spectrum ” the homes of the ski bums and workers who operate the chairlifts, change the linens, wash the dishes and drive the hotel shuttles.
There are mansions lining the hills and outskirts of Aspen, reinforcing the city’s image as a playground for the rich, but some dwellings remain in this mountain town that provide a glimpse into the past, and evidence that the ski-bum spirit lives on. Interestingly, these places now house Spanish-speaking workers as often as they house all-American fun hogs.
It may not draw many paying customers, but here’s the tour of Aspen homes that we’d like to see.
The Yellow House
This place is a freak show ” the king of the dumps. But its crumbling, storied life is coming to an end, and its inhabitants have been forced to look for alternative housing. It’s for sale, with plans for demolition; like many of Aspen’s older buildings, the ground is more valuable than the house.
The outside of the Yellow House looks innocent enough, but the inside is shocking. The floors are a mix of collapsing, scarred wood and beer-soaked, dog-hair-choked carpet. Six people and four dogs ” one of them resembles a bear ” were the most recent occupants.
Holes are everywhere ” the floor, the walls, the carpet, the back yard. What remains in good shape, however, is the homemade wooden bar in the corner of the living room. It even appears to be stocked, at least enough for one last bash.
“I’m bummed out,” said Garen Distelhorst, 26, as he packed up his belongings. “This is a great ski-bum house ” it’s like a big bomb shelter.”
Distelhorst took me to the fenced back yard, which is full of barbecues and fire pits. Dying grass is receding like an aging man’s hairline, giving way to bald dirt.
“We had some great parties back here,” he said.
Back inside, Distelhorst looked around and shook his head, “This place is about as dumpy as it gets. It’s worse than my place in college, and that’s saying something.”
Still, Distelhorst said he’ll “miss everything about it.” One of his roommates, Kristin Gerloff, isn’t as nostalgic.
“I haven’t been in any place in town that’s as crappy as this,” she said.
Gerloff moved in with her boyfriend a year ago, supposedly for the summer, but the rent was cheap ” at least by Aspen standards ” so they stayed. Gerloff and her boyfriend split the $750 per room cost, $375 apiece.
“The first time I ever came over here, I was like ‘no way,'” she laughed. “But we stayed because we were saving money.”
Now, Gerloff, her boyfriend, and Distelhorst are moving to a place in Woody Creek.
“It will be good,” she said. “It’s right on the river and they allow dogs.”
Located near the Tyrolean Lodge on West Bleeker, this is probably the most common type of ski-bum dwelling left in town ” hidden behind towering pines, sunken in the ground, full of unknown characters, and cheap but not a health hazard.
Last winter, Danny Beauchamp, 22, shared one of these units with three other guys ” one was a ski instructor, one worked at Surefoot, and the other split his time working at the Ute Mountaineer and tutoring children.
I spent one night hanging out in this unit last winter, and all I can remember is that an intoxicated Kiwi girl spilled a full glass of red wine on the crotch of my jeans.
Fond memories indeed.
Beauchamp, who can still be seen ripping on old long skinny boards, is now moving out.
“I don’t want to look for three more roommates,” he said.
But he’s going to miss it.
“Besides the odor coming from the room next to mine, the place had character,” he laughed.
Like tiny dirt-bag castles, these places still stand ” even if it’s just on one leg ” all around town. Old skis are heaped against sagging fence posts, or line paint-chipped buildings, offering a hint of their inhabitant’s persuasions. But in many cases, you might be surprised who you find inside.
If you’ve ever ridden Lift 1A on the lower, western flanks of Ajax, you’ve seen the Mine Dumps apartments. Old couches, lawn chairs and a hot tub (whether it works is not known) adorn the roof. Ski posters cover broken windows, faded Tibetan prayer flags hang from ledges, and its location ” slopeside ” suggest it’s the perfect ski-bum building.
But like most places in Aspen that are still affordable, it’s no longer exclusively inhabited by mountain freaks dreaming of their next powder shot. Now, a new breed of Aspenites ” Latinos ” also call the dwelling home.
I discovered this after knocking on an open door from which I could hear voices. Inside, I found three people lounging around, cooking lunch, and it quickly became apparent that none of them spoke English, at least no better than I speak Spanish. I tried to explain what I was doing, but they just turned to each other and said something in Spanish that sounded like “What in the hell is he talking about?”
I apologized and left them to their meal.
Perhaps the most telling sign of the changing times is the “ski house,” near the corner of Sixth and Main. Dozens of used and broken skis are stacked against the outside wall of the cottage. A barbecue, lawn chairs and more old skis decorate the yard.
But there are no ski bums in sight. Instead, Hilda Flores, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, occupies the old ski haven along with her husband and their two children. Although my knowledge of the Spanish language is limited, I do understand Flores when she says, “I like it.”
These tiny units, formerly a hotel located next to the Amoco near Monarch Street and Main Street, house employees of the Hotel Jerome. A friend of a friend once lived in a unit he dubbed the “pain cave,” in which he had to face east while playing his guitar; the apartment wasn’t wide enough for him to play and face north at the same time.
Cortina inhabitants come from all over the world ” New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Iceland, Brazil, Poland and America ” to sample the goods of Aspen.
“It’s cool, it’s right in the center of town and has great access to work,” Daniel Ungvari, of New Zealand, said. “It has hot water and heating. What more can you ask for?”
Ungvari, who studied at a hotel school in Switzerland and is now the room service captain at the Hotel Jerome, represents a growing number of internationals who come from far and wide to spend a season or two in Aspen.
“It’s just a great place to come and ski and snowboard, and party,” he said. “That’s why they all come.”
Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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The National Weather Service is predicting a La Nina weather pattern to continue through this winter, but don’t go turning in your ski pass just yet.