Tales from Aspen Mountain: All day laps on the Silver Queen Gondola
One day, one gondola, 15 laps, plenty of stories
One of the many advantages of living in a ski town is investing in a ski pass and, as a result, being able to parse out time on the mountain at your leisure. There’s no stress of fighting Front Range skier traffic, scheduling your day around stop/start times of partial-day tickets or attempting to squeeze the most out of a $189 purchase.
Though plenty of locals are members of the first-chair/last-chair club, season ticketholders aren’t beholden to the mountain and often treat skiing as such. In light of that, I ventured out to examine the opposite approach: What would a day on the mountain be like if the main objective was to wring every last vertical foot out of that pass? What do you even do after hour four? Hour six?
The best way to accomplish this would be to lap the fastest lift that covers the most distance from start to close. The lift (theoretically) is the Silver Queen gondola on Aspen Mountain.
So, with a backpack full of supplies and phone chargers, I set out for a challenge that apparently many people had done in more impressive fashion decades earlier (more on that later). It took grit, determination, heart and all of those other stereotypes used for white athletes.
Below is lap-by-lap diary of a day dedicated to the bucket.
Run 1: 8:46 a.m.
I didn’t think there would be a line for the first chair on a groomer day but the AARP crowd is out in force. My plan to have my own private bucket all day was foiled as 15 to 20 people jammed into the first four cars. It’s the kind of morning conversation I usually drone out with earbuds but the out-of-towners are pleasant enough.
Run 2: 9:15 a.m.
Getting up at 6 a.m. for corduroy isn’t as rewarding as a powder day. Sure, the turning is effortless but that’s only beneficial to people who don’t know how to ski.
Also, the first lap featured a guest appearance in The Drop In with photographer Anna Stonehouse. So check that out. Also, Aspen Times arts editor Andrew Travers makes one of many cameos today. Apparently this isn’t such a nuanced idea as he introduced me to a now-shuttered event, the 24 Hours of Aspen, that had the same concept but for 24 hours, so there’s that.
Run 3: 9:50 a.m.
Flat light isn’t great but riding through moguls for a photo op might be worse. Being a ski model is harder than you’d think. Good thing I’m pretty.
Now seems like a good time to run down a little inventory. So for a full day on the mountain I have:
- Four playlists
- Two Gatorades
- Three beers
- Two sandwiches
- A breakfast bar
- Some chips
Run 4: 10:25 a.m.
Officially riding solo. I would compare trying to pose for photos while snowboarding to skiing with a beginner: constant breaks, taking gloves on and off, stopping in inopportune spots, etc.
Now I can properly shred just as long as no one is carving up the cat track.* If you’re an instructor and feel like flat parts are the time for boundary-to-boundary turns, you should probably have your teaching license revoked.
*People continued to carve up the catwalk.
Run 5: 10:53 a.m.
I think the gondola is running a little slow due to wind, which kind of impacted my pipe dream of breaking the record for vertical feet snowboarded in a day. I need like 16 more top-to-bottoms, so that’s probably not going happen considering I have four-and-a-half hours left.
In order of least desired weather to most desired for this challenge:
- • Powder day (my legs would fall off)
- • No visibility, socked-in clouds (even more reason blind skiers are badasses)
- • Flat-light groomers (today’s conditions)
- • Bluebird day
I wanted a sunny day for obvious reasons but mostly to document the timeframe for the best light on each part of Aspen Mountain. (Off the top of my head: Copper 10 to 11:30, Spar Gulch 11 to 1:30/2, Ruthie’s 1 to 3:30.)
Run 6: 11:21 a.m.
One of the questions people asked me when I told them I’m doing this was, “Are you going to do everything in the gondola?”
Yes, lunch break, pre-apres, safety meetings, all of that but the restroom. Seeing as I’ve been up since 6 a.m. packing lunches, readying gear and drinking water, nature called and I went into the Sundeck real quick. I thought about taking a pit stop in the trees but saw a guy pissing off the side of the trail — like not even trying to be subtle — on my second run and decided it’s not a good look.*
*I eventually peed in the trees — twice.
Run 7: 11:48 a.m.
I like to snowboard like no one’s watching but random people on the lift. Which, for people who didn’t catch onto the turn of cliché, translates to I dance while riding. A note on playlists: If you’re adding a song from a movie soundtrack, make sure you actually like the song and not the scene associated with it. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges is that song from every Guy Ritchie movie sequence when s— goes sideways, and it projects that same ominous mood when snowboarding.
Also, the latest cameo is by none other than the co-writer of Writing Switch, Ben Welch. And he brought his buddy Jack Daniels.
Run 8: 12:16 p.m.
Time to end the stigma of eating lunch on the gondola. A lady wearing three fur-accented articles of clothing — jacket, gloves and boots — replaced Ben.
I take that back.
Upon further inspection, it’s a quartet of fur pieces as I now see a hat peeking out of her purse. HOW MANY ANIMALS MUST DIE FOR YOUR FASHION?* Also, pretty sure she’s from out of town so me eating a sammy and drinking a Red Stripe could be normal for all she knows.
Speaking of counting, here’s an inventory update:
- Two-and-a-half playlists
- One Gatorade
- Two beers
- One sandwich
- Zero breakfast bars
*I was eating a steak sandwich.
Run 9: 12:43 p.m.
Due to the speed of the gondola — or the fact that I have 60-plus days of snowboarding — I’m not as tired as I thought I was going to be. I can unequivocally say this is the longest workout I’ve ever done.
I thought the comedy factor would be higher because a fat guy (by Aspen standards) flailing and complaining is always funny. Am I in shape? Is this what being a long-distance runner feels like? I’m going to say yes. Congrats, self, you’ve reached peak physical prowess at age 32.
Run 10: 1:09 p.m.
A storm appears to be blowing in, which means bad light for snow reasons.* Only the Aussies, who are crazy by nature, are out. I guess if you fly 20 hours and pay Aspen prices, only injuries can stop you.
Another small-sample-size study I wanted to explore today is what hours are the busiest on an average day. The powder fiends assure pandemonium during morning hours and sun naturally attracts people. But what about the days, like today, that aren’t super nice or full of snow? My educated guess is 10 to noon is the busiest. The first-chair crowd is waiting for Bonnie’s to open, and the late-night hospitality crew is beginning to filter onto the slopes.
Thank you for reading this round of gondola musings with Sean Beckwith.
*Apparently one thing that was exhausted was my creativity.
Run 11: 1:38 p.m.
Of my 11 trips up the mountain, I’ve had four private trams, one of which was just Aspen Times people (Thanks for the VIP service, Joan). Ben and I should’ve had one but some guy hustled in late.
That 10 to 20 seconds before the doors close is as stressful as any non-stressful situation can be. The only time it really matters is if you have a party bucket or safety meeting and some Jerry sneaks on because he has to get the most out of his ski ticket.
Run 12: 2:07 p.m.
The latest cameo comes courtesy of Alvarez, bud-tender and private chef to the stars. A well-coordinated meeting at the top of the mountain went better than trying to find snow on Gent’s Ridge. Even Al, who skis, was like “Nah, not that again.”
Like Zion Williamson (eventually), Ben and Andrew, Al was one and done. Another solo ride up. Gondola cabin fever is setting in. I’m getting restless and low on supplies. Also of note, this particular tram keeps creaking/making this ride all the more eerie. If I plummet to my death, someone please spread my ashes all over Ben’s apartment.
Run 13: 2:33 p.m.
I’ve seen many of the people who were in line for first chair still on the mountain. I may have to rethink my geriatric jokes. Admittedly, I was nervous about today because I don’t exercise at a gym. If these people are still skiing either they’re a.) in really good shape or b.) this isn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.
We’ll just assume they’re the Cal Ripken Jr.s of skiing. (And if you think the “ageless” Tom Brady is a better comparison, clearly you’re unaware of his rampant steroid use. The TB12 diet? Please, the guy has done more needlework than your grandma.)
Run 14: 2:58 p.m.
Only half an hour left and I’m still faster than the aggressive gaper in the Bud Light backpack and picture face buff, which I believe was a grown man’s face with a pacifier in his mouth. So if anyone was wondering who wins Jerry of the Day, it was that guy.
Also, Ben and I wrote a piece about Aspen’s myths and we omitted the red gondola myth. People sandbag and wait for the red buckets on Aspen Mountain because they have Bluetooth speakers. That sounds like a great idea if, you know, they actually worked. I haven’t been on a gondola car with functioning speakers all season.
Run 15: 3:26 p.m.
A couple observations before my last run:
- If you ski first to last chair and are sore afterward, you don’t get out enough or you’re not from around here.
- Mobile chargers are awesome. My phone would’ve died three times over and I’d be without music.
- The only flaw of Bluetooth earbuds is they die.
- If you put your beers in coozies, they stay cold all day in your bag.
- Shout out to the fur lady, first bucket mates and all the people who made appearances and gave me content.
Apres: 3:51 p.m.
Last cameo came via Dan, longtime bartender in Aspen. He got in the post-lap picture even though he took off at the top before I could wave him down, but we rode in spirit. (It’s also a good picture so way to go, Dan!)
- Half sandwich
- Half Gatorade
- Zero beers
- Zero breakfast bars
- One playlist
In conclusion, if you don’t ski 48,000-plus vertical feet in seven hours, are you really getting the most out of your lift ticket?
Now it’s time for a hot tub, another cold beer and a hot meal.
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