On the Mountain: Aspen’s Silver Queen is ruling my heart | AspenTimes.com

On the Mountain: Aspen’s Silver Queen is ruling my heart

There was a time I thought of a gondola much like portable toilets: very confined spaces with a whole lotta of germs.

I wasn't a big fan and would rather take a lift, feel the cold air and know I'm in the mountains, which is a lot different than a porta-peoplemover teaming with the hot breath of strangers.

From Telluride to Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge, I used to hold my breath and worry. Constantly.

But I have found something that has taken my breath away: the Silver Queen. She has become my winter mistress.

My sweet, wonderful wife of almost 24 years accepts it — she doesn't get it, but she accepts it. She knows this fling will be over in April when my love turns back to driving our topless Jeep up Ajax (but that's for another day).

I wonder, though, if I have become addicted to my cup of free coffee, a morning muffin and polite conversation with strangers.

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I think about starting every day with the Silver Queen.

With Monday's announcement that Winter Park will be getting a 10-person, $16 million gondola to replace the old four-person Zephyr lift, which I put a few laps on as a Front Range rider, I began thinking about all the gondolas in my life.

My first was when the "aerial tramway" opened in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in the early 1970s (because the Smoky Mountains were a summer draw for our Detroit family).

Then there was the trip to the top of Georgia's Stone Mountain in the skyride cable car in the summer of 1976 when we moved from Michigan to Atlanta, and my Motor City-born parents were trying to immerse us in the Southern culture (Underground Atlanta and The Varsity were other stops in our six weeks living there).

There was the lull until I started skiing at Keystone after college in the early 1990s. I tried to come to grips with the gondy, knowing it was a not the horrible hotbox that had manifested in my head.

But it wasn't until a trip 10 years ago to Telluride when my distaste for gondolas took a turn. The way that town embraces the transportation side of the Free Gondola screams of mountain-town living.

Now I live a barely half-mile morning walk from the Queen or a four-block waltz for lunch laps from our office, and the Silver Queen has taken a hold of my heart.

That section between those big, beautiful towers at the top of Bell Mountain is a marvel to me. When I come around the Highway 82 curve just before the airport's runway light, look to Bell Mountain, see that Deer Park Span 3 miles away and know I'm home.

I have had an epiphany of sorts riding in a gondola, and I'm a better snowboarder (and person) for it. But for the record, my view on event restroom facilities has not changed one bit. Not. One. Bit.