Remembering Charlie Bolte, Aspen’s original Burning Man
Charlie Bolte, the one-time assistant patrol director on Aspen Mountain and later the Highlands patrol director under Whip Jones, was known for skiing on unusual skis, including odd socks, a Northland and a Kastle ski, or whatever was available.Legend has it that he coined the old patrol saw, “It’s just a left and a right.” Recollecting his patrol era of the ’50s and ’60s, he told a story at the last ski patrol union meeting about ski school boss Fred Iselin. Iselin would always come into the old patrol room on Ruthie’s and help himself to the patrol’s hot wax of the day, which simmered in a pot on the wood stove.Charlie said Fred was a bit aloof and that he helped himself to wax for “his important clients.” Charlie had enough, and one day he added some bullwheel grease to the wax. Fred and his clients came in and waxed, leaving without a word of thanks. As the story goes, they had to stop the old No. 2 lift so that Fred’s class could walk down the ramp at the top. Fred never came back for wax. Charlie also called Iselin and Friedl Pfeifer “the Mount Rushmore twins.” Retired patrollers who worked with Charlie, who died in April at the age of 74, said that he was a good boss who led them as a group out on work details. Before grooming, the bumps below Ruthie’s Snowbowl road were as set as fossils, and the patrol would line up on the road and peel off after Charlie, who skied them “bumpity-bump down to the ‘The Corkscrew.'” He was known to drink hard and work hard, and he weathered some tough days.He was a ladies’ man, and he married a local girl just out of high school, had a daughter and divorced. His ex-wife later married the late Johnny Zurflugh, another Aspen Mountain patroller with a rich history.Charlie was that ruddier-than-a-Yorkshireman-looking guy in a tweed jacket and porkpie hat you saw a few years back, driving his motorcycle around town with his German shepherd sitting in a wooden box on the back. He also drove a maroon pickup with a hand-built camper on the rear. In recent years you might’ve encountered him ambling between the Wienerstube and La Cocina with the inscrutable look of a swami after a few beers. He traded in profundities and liked to say, “It’s inconceivably believable.” He preached that all modern music was just another version of “Old Man River,” and then he’d hum it out loud, off key, “BAHH?!”When you talked to Charlie on the street, he had a modest, Diogenes-like bearing, as if looking up with a lantern to find an honest man. And he once observed that “humanity is the miraculous imagination of dust.” One of Charlie’s early adventures broke ground for the extremists of today. He and Earl Eaton (who went on to found Vail with Pete Seibert) took an inflatable Army-surplus pontoon used for bridge building and put in at the Roaring Fork in Aspen after the ski season. They ran the rivers all the way to Lake Mead through Glen and Grand Canyons before Lake Powell existed. In those days on the patrol was “Eatin’ Earl” and “Drinkin’ Earl.” Charlie and Eatin’ Earl made that epic journey. Charlie was “best buddies” with Freddy Fisher, who could fix or contrive anything and who wrote more letters to the editor than that Marolt kid. And in the late ’70s Charlie had an apostle, Cadillac Frank, an enigmatic ski bum who live in a finned Cadillac in the East End. Frank took to Charlie’s style, and from a distance they were hard to tell apart. Charlie built at least 15 different cabins, each an architectural masterpiece in simplicity. Some he built hidden in the wilderness. His first, made of old mine timbers and with a dirt roof, was on the old Midland Railroad spur in front of the Durant Mine off Ute Avenue, an arrow shot from Little Nell. Occasionally he rented the place out for a dollar a day.From there he upgraded and built a Pan Abode house on Red Mountain, using lichen wood he’d skied down from the Bonnie Bell mine dump on Aspen Mountain. The patrol partied there, and Charlie used wooden skis as firewood. He sold that house and then built several idyllic cabins on his Conundrum property, which were bulldozed during the current square-footage mania. At the time of his death Charlie had a cabin in Crawford, Colo., one in Melbourne, Ark. and another in “Last Stop,” Texas. He liked to pick beautiful, peaceful spots, one step ahead of “the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” Talking with Charlie, there was always a sense that he saw deep meaning in everything, that maybe he felt too much paradox and futility in existence, and that that was why he medicated himself with drink. He was interesting and insightful, a mentor and a guru for some.Above all he was a man who wrestled with his thoughts, enjoying long periods of deep solitude and unfiltered Camel cigarettes. A close friend of his characterized him as “a drinking yogi who lived in a hut.” Perhaps he was the original Burning Man. Charlie was my friend, and he gave many inadvertent dharma lessons by example of his roguish existence. From his own mooring he was an honorable observer of the mainstream, and his interjections at gatherings were sometimes ill fitting, often profound and regularly on the fuzzy mark.The last time I saw him he was rounding the corner on Ute Avenue, driving a presentable Lincoln stretch limo that he’d converted into a live-in vehicle for his wanderings between cabins. His dog took the air out of the extremely rear window. Charlie died alone in his cabin in Arkansas. The last entry in his daily journal said that he’d lost his equilibrium and couldn’t fetch water or prepare his own food. We will miss him.All together now, basso profundo: “BAHHH?!”Closer to ski season there will be a gathering for Charlie at the Red Onion, date to be announced. Any pictures or memorabilia will be appreciated. Get in touch with Tim Cooney or Phil Eastley.
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