High-end `ski bums’ in Aspen? | AspenTimes.com

High-end `ski bums’ in Aspen?

Alison Berkley
Special to The Aspen Times

Could Johnny Thrash survive in Aspen?

The charismatic “Mr. Thrash,” featured in the documentary film “Ski Bums” shown at the Wheeler Opera house last Friday night, captivated the audience with his honesty and exhibitionism, though not necessarily in that order.

Laughter shook the house when Johnny got arrested for twirling around buck naked in a gyroscope (yep, you guessed it) in downtown Whistler, cuffed and stuffed without so much as a chance to put some clothes on. The life stories of Thrash and a handful of offbeat Whistler locals devoted to the pursuit of skiing definitely struck a cord with local viewers – riding the gyroscope naked notwithstanding.

It was more than full frontal nudity that earned the local audience’s attention (although the image of Thrash’s manhood blowing in the winter breeze does painfully resonate in this writer’s mind). The free-spirit ski bum lifestyle is brilliantly portrayed in this hour-long film, shown as a benefit for Aspen Filmfest, through candid interviews and top-notch action cinematography. The sacrifices it requires, the power of the mountains and the simple perfection of a powder day were all sentiments that Aspenites could relate to, at least to an extent.

But what would happen if Johnny Thrash rode a gyroscope naked behind a truck driving down Main Street in Aspen?

“Oh my God – I wouldn’t even guess what the judge would do with that one,” said Sergeant Gary Kalkman of the Aspen Police Department. “We’d probably have to throw the book at him, which might hurt a little under the circumstances.”

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For most Aspen viewers, the Whistler ideal of ski-bumming captured the essence of what some of us are up to, though perhaps in a more hard-core version.

“I really enjoyed [the film]. It reaffirmed my beliefs and why I chose this lifestyle,” said Matt Deam, 29, a snowboarding instructor at Snowmass. “But I think Aspen is a lot different. You get the higher-end people here – the richest of the rich. So when the money trickles down you get a bigger chunk; there’s more wealth to spread around. The quality of life as a ski bum here might be the upper lower class instead of the lower lower class.”

“I thought they brought out the whole philosophy of the mountains and how to respect the mountains and the whole idea that this is doing what you love,” said Eliza Ubank, who works at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. “If you’re going to be living in the rat race and living your life in a cubicle and making money by hating life, you might as well be out here enjoying life in the mountains even if you aren’t making any money. I can relate absolutely. But I like to think that my life has a little more meaning. I’m not completely a ski bum – maybe a high-end ski bum.”

Charles Kennedy, a 52-year-old Aspen resident who remodels houses, laughed hysterically when asked what parallels he could draw between his life and the lives presented in “Ski Bums.”

“That lifestyle would certainly be something to shoot for, but I think ski-bumming in Aspen would be a little bit different. I actually work for a living, so I’m not quite a ski bum,” Kennedy said. “But I thought the movie was great. There was some touching stuff which reminded me why we’re here, why we live here. It made me pumped to ski. I’m sorry there’s just a week left in the season. But watching the movie makes me want to ski a whole lot more next year.”

The general consensus among moviegoers is that Aspen is a place for “the high-end ski bum,” a person who loves the mountains but isn’t necessarily willing to give up everything for it. Many of the tactics employed by Whistler locals in “Ski Bums” would most likely not be possible in Aspen.

Living in a van at the base of the lift is not an option since overnight camping is against the law in the Aspen city limits (and all four Aspen ski areas have paid-parking lots). How about scavenging for cafeteria food left behind by overzealous tourists? Those Mountain Security guys who cruise around in yellow jackets probably wouldn’t go for that. A true ski bum might do better in a community where the average home is a bit less than a million dollars.

But that’s not to say there aren’t any real ski bums in our midst. Erich Andel, 26, lives in a camper and gets by just fine.

“I loved the part where [Crucial Mike, another of the movie’s stars] talks about how hard it is to bring chicks back to your camper, or never taking a shower – it’s so true,” he said.

“My number is 948-2006, ladies. Come be my first,” Andel added.