We thought this was going to stay clubby
On Saturday, Jan. 6, two days after the Aspen Skiing Co. announced it would lift the snowboard ban on Aspen Mountain on April 1, it’s no surprise that Jim Crown, John Norton and Steve Sewell went to the Aspen Mountain Club.There, the managing partner and the chief operating officer of the company, along with the manager of Aspen Mountain, made themselves available to the members of the private club to discuss the company’s decision.Not all of the discussions were calm. Not all were pleasant. Many members of the club were surprised by the announcement. Some were angry. Some were scared.And some felt that Aspen Mountain was their private sanctuary, and now it was being opened up to young reckless snowboarders who go too fast, dress too weird, and have no business being on the “adult” mountain with its narrow trails.”Some members felt they bought a whole mountain and not just the building on top,” said one member of the club.After hearing the business rationale from the company representatives, many members understood the decision better but still didn’t like it, according to a club employee who talked with a number of club members that day. The employee requested anonymity.And while the members of the Aspen Mountain Club, who paid $75,000 and up for a private place to have lunch, might well be expected to be the most upset by the ban, there are plenty of other members of the Aspen community who are also upset.Many of them are wealthy second-home owners, who, while not technically members of the Aspen Mountain Club, may feel that they are members of a larger “Aspen club” by virtue of the fact that they can afford to live and play here.”Part of this is about social status,” said a local clinical psychologist who preferred to remain anonymous. “People here enjoyed a very clubby mountain experience. When a change comes along like this, they might say `Hey, we’re getting screwed here. We thought this was going to stay clubby.'”There may also be a sense of entitlement among older, successful people in Aspen, explained the psychologist. A sense of “Hey, I worked hard and paid my dues and I want things to be nice and not ruined by a bunch of rude spoiled punks.”Whether someone is for or against snowboarding on Aspen Mountain tends to follow the same national demographics of skiers and snowboarders.Skiers are generally older and wealthier. Snowboarders are generally younger and have less money.According to the National Ski & Snowboard Retailers Association, the median age of snowboarders is 17, and 75 percent of those who ride are age 24 or younger. The median age of skiers is 28, and 59 percent are 25 or older.Given the expense of skiing or snowboarding, it’s not surprising that on a national level, statistics show that 69 percent of skiers and 64 percent of snowboarders come from households with greater than $50,000 in annual income.But clearly, in Aspen, the difference in wealth between skiers and snowboarders tends to be more distinct.There are, of course, many exceptions. There are young skiers in Aspen who think that riders will ruin the bumps, scrape away snow from the top of steep runs and cause accidents in Spar Gulch. There are wealthy snowboarders in town who are in their 60s who can’t wait to ride the mountain.There are older “worker bee ” skiers in town who are dead set against boarders on Ajax and cite safety as their main concern. And there are young snowboarders who don’t think the mountain is worth the time of day.But in general, the fault lines of the debate are running along the lines of age and wealth, and especially age.”I would say that the people who do not like the decision are breaking along age lines,” said Pat O’Donnell, chief executive officer of the Skico. “That’s the way it is coming down.”Many of the older skiers on Aspen Mountain, especially those who are steadfastly loyal to Ajax, might have formed their first negative impressions of snowboarders eight or 10 years ago, when a rebellious attitude seemed a prerequisite to going snowboarding.”I think that snowboarding got off to a bad start from an image standpoint,” said O’Donnell.And the image is still propagated in the industry. In the latest Burton snowboard catalogue, there is a half-page picture of a young rider in baggy pants sliding down a railing, flipping a bird in each hand and wearing an expression that could easily be read by an older skier as “I am your worst nightmare.”For some older skiers, fear is a relevant emotion when it comes to riders on Ajax, as they think they are going to get hit by a snowboarder.And that fear may help explain why some skiers have reacted so strongly to the news, whether they are causing a scene in the Aspen Mountain ticket office or fervently telling a retail store manager that Aspen will now go to hell in a handbasket because of young snowboarders.”It makes it hard to look at things objectively when you are afraid,” said the Aspen psychologist. “Older people are more frightened by changes than younger people. So this may feel very risky for old-time skiers.”Gender may also play a role, with older women being especially intimidated by younger male snowboarders. Most snowboarders, 74 percent, are men.This fear, and possibly loathing, of a younger generation might explain some of the venom that has colored the local discussion of late. The psychologist points out that people deal with fear and the unknown by naming it and by labeling it.”We often name our fears so they are not just `things’ out there,” he said. “It’s easier to label someone as a `boarder’ even though they might be just like them in the sense that they don’t want to run into anybody either. They are just as likely to be caring young fathers and mothers as they are `evil incarnate.'”Experience at other ski areas has shown that the differences between skiers and riders, however extreme they seem to be at first, fade with time. And that may prove to be the case even for members of the Aspen Mountain Club.”We may lose some people,” said the club member. “But they’ll come back when they realize it’s OK.”And from the Skico’s point of view, it’s just going to have to be that way.”This is not a test,” said O’Donnell. “We’re happy about the decision, and we have no intention of ever turning back the clock.”
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I try to remember to give thanks every day I spend outside, whether it be floating the Colorado or Roaring Fork, fishing an epic dry fly hatch on the Fryingpan, or teasing up tiny brook trout on a remote lake or stream. We’re spoiled rotten here, so it’s easy to be thankful.