On the Mountain: Gear and loathing in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

On the Mountain: Gear and loathing in Aspen

Jeff Bear
The Aspen Times

It was a crisis of recreational proportions. After three years in the Arizona desert, I found myself in an Aspen core apartment with a front-row seat to the snow-laden Little Nell and one primary thought in my mind: I needed ski gear, and I needed it fast.

I'd lived on Colorado's Front Range most of my life, but three years in Arizona had transformed me into a desert-dweller, and desert-dwellers don't own ski gear. Desert-dwellers own light hiking boots, convertible hiking pants, sweat-wicking shirts, a bargain bin's worth of sunglasses and hats, and water bottles … lots and lots of water bottles. That gear is adequate for Colorado summers, but it's like tissue paper in a tornado during Colorado winters.

So gazing up at that magnificent, mine-pocked mountain of snow, I started thinking like an Aspenite would think, and then I did like an Aspenite would do — I hit the Thrift Shop of Aspen. There, I found (gently-used) Phenix ski pants, an Obermeyer jacket and Swany ski gloves. Then I discovered Replay Sports where I found a K2 helmet, Smith goggles and Lexi ski poles.

Willard Clapper served in every position with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department except chaplain during 35 years of service. Clapper died in October 2014.

I knew I'd have to up my game when it came to boots and skis, though, so I elbowed my way into the crowd at the middle school ski swap where I found some Lange boots that fit my narrow feet just right. But choosing skis there was like getting lost in a bamboo forest — the more I wandered, the more everything looked the same.

A nice salesman (his "nice"ness, I'm convinced, was directly proportional to the amount of commission he was making) guided me to a pair of K2 skis that he assured me were perfect for the middle-aged, quasi-intermediate, "show me the groomers" kind of skier I'd become. This was it! I thought. I'd be stomping the corduroy in no time!

But all good stories have a gut-wrenching twist, and mine came while my lady and I were enjoying apres prickly pear margaritas at Venga Venga following a successful ski day in Snowmass. Someone (I assume it was a person, although they profile biologically somewhere between a bacterial infection and gingivitis) stole my skis from a rack outside the restaurant.

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"That never happens here!" I was told by friends with expressions like extras in a disaster flick. But it does, because it did, and I was devastated.

So, as an employee of (that other Aspen newspaper), I immediately placed an ad that said, in effect: "Please return my skis (ye hornswogglin' scallywag), no questions asked, blah, blah, blah, 555-XXXX."

Of course I didn't get a call from the perp, but I did get a call from Anne Clapper, whose husband, Willard, had died just weeks before. She wanted to give me his skis.

I didn't know Willard, but judging from the memorial after his death and the reverence in the tone of everyone whom I've ever heard speak of him, he was a far better man than I can ever hope to be. So needless to say, I didn't feel worthy of accepting such a generous gift. But Anne insisted that I take them. "I'd rather have someone using them than have them sitting around gathering dust," she told me.

So I've been skiing on Willard's skis ever since, and I love them. They're longer and wider than the ones that were stolen. They glide over the chop, float on powder and are super-fast on the groomers, changing me (temporarily) from a mild-mannered copy editor into the flying potato of Elk Camp.

But no matter where I'm skiing on them, I'm always grateful for Anne's generous gift, and I imagine that Willard is right there skiing alongside me.

Jeff Bear is a copy editor for The Aspen Times.

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