On the Hill: Jam session
Photographer Mark Fox and I didn’t know what to expect as we walked through a quiet Snowmass mall and boarded the Burlingame lift Tuesday morning.Rows and rows of empty chairs stretched out before us as we climbed up to the Velvet Falls glacier, eager to take in the mountain’s first-ever Fourth of July Rail Jam. Skiing and snowboarding in July? Yeah, I was a bit skeptical, too. There was no snow in sight. People were swimming in the pool at the Silvertree Hotel. Cyclists zoomed down rock-strewn paths below. It was a day better suited for a snow cone than a ski competition. As we crested a hill and neared the lift shack, a modest patch of brown snow the size of a glorified sandbox came into view. It was hardly spectacular – there was one box and a small rail off to one side. But nearly two-and-a-half months after the lifts shut down, there was skiing on Snowmass. Technically, anyway.I expected the course to be packed with spectators and a large group of competitors showcasing their talents. The crowd was sparse – there were three of us, if you don’t count the small group of curious passers-by – and I could count the number of competitors on one hand. One person told me I’d be assured a spot on the podium and a prize if I just signed up. It was tempting.When one skier unloaded at the top of the lift 20 minutes before the start, another said, “Now we almost have enough to fill the podium.” for the record, they were still one skier short. In fact, the event had twice as many sponsors – 11 – as skiers and boarders. There may have been a lack of competitors, but the enthusiasm was never in doubt. Those who did show up, no doubt enticed by the chance to put on their boots one last time, threw down a wide array of tricks. And whether they stuck the soft landing or not, organizers took turns playing the siren on the mechanical bullhorn and shouting words of encouragement. “That was so hot, you’re melting the glacier,” one organizer said as music blared from a nearby pickup. I admit I was surprised the event didn’t garner more attention. It sure sounded a bit more enticing than sitting in traffic or dodging oversized strollers on Main Street sidewalks. The jam went head to head with Aspen’s Independence Day parade and seemingly lost. Did that deter organizers? Not a chance. They’re already hard at work concocting strategies for next year. “Maybe we should be wearing clown suits,” one chimed in. Another suggested free beer. Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like marketing gold.
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