So long, my good friend
Monday morning, about 5:15 AM in the middle of a hot summer, I grabbed the paper out of the rack and glanced at the headline. “Max Marolt dies on ski trip”. Maybe I’m not really awake yet and should roll over and try it again. But then, as the knot began to tighten in my gut, I realized that however much it hurt, it really couldn’t have happened any other way.
I first met Max when I was 4 or 5 years old and had surreptitiously slipped the caring clutches of my maternal grandmother for a stroll up West Bleeker. I had quietly bolted from her house at 233 W. Bleeker and was headed west, most likely to Waterman’s, the “other” grocery in town.
As I walked up Bleeker, I saw a much older “kid”, a teenager, (possible trouble, such as teasing), heading my way, and my first reaction was to go back home, but then I noticed this kid in a little more detail. He had the first pair of “bow-legs” that I had ever consciously seen, which was interesting enough, but as he walked toward me, he displayed an energy that was hard to ignore. He had big thighs, and a pair of big-looking work-type shoes on his feet, and all of it together made his upper body lean from side to side with each step, in a sort of friendly swagger. My walk slowed to an apprehensive crawl, as I didn’t know what to expect, and he just kept charging on toward me, and as we passed on that dirt street, he gave me a big smile and asked how I was doing.
When I got home, I described this chance meeting to my grandmother and her sisters, and almost immediately, they knew it was Max Marolt. It is a scene that has stayed vibrant in my mind all these years, 50 of them maybe, more or less.
I don’t think I encountered Max again for a long time, even though we both went through all 12 grades in the old red brick schoolhouse. We were different ages, kind of like oil and water. But I guarantee you, I rooted hard for Max in the 1960 Olympics.
In the very early 1970s, I packed Max, family and friends, and an occasional priest, into Snowmass Lake a few times, using my horses, and Max and I got to know each other a little bit.
He started coming into the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol shack, my place of employment, when he was up on the mountain, asking if I wanted to take a run. It got to be a habit with us, and when we parted, he’d always say, “I’ll be back up Thursday around 2:00,” or whatever his best guess might be. I’d always try to stick around and catch up with him.
After his heart attack in the mid-’70s, I didn’t see him for awhile, and wondered how it was all going to turn out. One day, he rolled into the ski patrol headquarters and happened to catch me in. “Let’s go for a run.” You bet!
I was hitting the road in Snow Bowl about the time Max was stopping for the lift line, and I thought, “Boy, this guy is burning it up today.” On the old #8 lift, I asked him if he thought the heart attack had slowed him down any. He got that thoughtful look on his face, and said, with a smile, something like, “Well, yeah it has. I can’t make as many turns as I used to.” We treated the subject with a solemn sort of seriousness that belied the irony of it, although when I reminded him of the story a couple of years ago, we had a good laugh about it.
Lives go different ways, and I didn’t ski with him for a long time. About 1999, we both had started thinking about doing less work and more skiing, and we ran into each other quite a bit. We were both on the mountain about every day, and managed to hook up for a run or two a couple of times a week. His enthusiasm for skiing was always apparent, and he told me more than once how he continually worked to improve as a skier.
The skiing was always awesome, for me, because Max was a hero of mine since that day on Bleeker Street, but the conversations were just as good. Max had an excellent grasp of the history of Aspen, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his reminisces of some of the “old-timers” we both had known over the years, including his high school employment out on my grandfather’s ranch, picking potatoes.
The last run we made, in 2003, was one of the best. We had just blasted down the FIS Slalom Hill, and somewhat out of breath, congratulated each other on a great run. I mentioned something about it getting better each run, meaning I could almost hold my own, and he said, in parting, “We’re not getting that old,” and bailed off the road at the bottom into some gnarly crud, feet together as always, disappearing into a snowy afternoon.
So long, my good friend. I’ll look for your spirit in every run.
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