The bible of the Aspen buckets: How best to be a gondola ride-along
January 31, 2019
You board the Elk Camp Gondola, ready for a couple of quiet afternoon laps at Snowmass after brunch and fending off a hangover. You're about to crack the beer stashed in your helmet when it happens: a father and his four tired, cranky children clumsily load their gear on your bucket. "Is this the last run? You said we could get s'mores!" one of them wails, as you turn your earbud volume all the way up.
Or maybe you're taking the Ajax Express Chairlift, steadying yourself against your fear of heights, when you get whacked in the back of the head and then nut-crushed by the safety bar, which your neighbor haphazardly slammed down with no warning.
While Aspen Skiing Co. actually has no official rules about behavior in the lift lines, the gondola or riding a chair, a code of conduct still exists; one that may seem self-evident but also is learned through years of living in a ski town. With a little practice, you too will be running T2Bs like a pro.
So fear not, tourists, first-seasoners, Jerrys and those who need a refresher: this guide reveals the locals' secrets to rideshare etiquette that will have ski bums passing you their flasks in no time.
The scariest thing I ever witnessed on the gondola was an 8- to 10-year-old girl talking with her ski instructor; a private lesson, of course. It wasn’t something out of the “The Shining” but more “True House Children of Aspen.” Not only did she drop “We have a house in Aspen” but made sure to let you know her other residence is New York. That young and already aware of status symbols. Horrifying.
Compared to many resorts, the lift lines at Aspen-Snowmass really aren't that long. With 40 lifts across four mountains, there's enough space for everyone to spread out.
If you're in a line on the mountain, be sure to alternate through the maze, and watch out for your feet so that you're not rolling up on other people's equipment.
The Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain holds six people in a bucket and Elk Camp Gondola can snuggly hold eight. On holidays, opening days, weekends and especially powder days, load those babies up.
However, if it's slower and lines are short or nonexistent, don't make a break for it to join a single rider, who is likely looking forward to their solitude (and maybe their lunch).
Don't bring your skis or snowboard inside the bucket, especially if there are more than two people aboard. Not only is it rude, it's even more embarrassing than not being sure how to load them on the bucket. The lift operators will be happy to give you assistance if needed.
Up, up and away
Congratulations, you're now hurtling 100 feet in the air for the next 15 minutes (longer if it's windy, and sometimes those things will really get rockin'. Don't panic.) Some people will be in a chatty mood, others not so much.
Are their headphones in? Were they almost out of the terminal solo before you barged onto their ride? Are they carrying a loaf of bread? Then you probably don't need to ask, "Where you from?"
Acceptable topics of conversation for the verbally inclined include: Find any good snow? What kind of skis are those? How do they handle? Is that white or wheat? Want to be my plus-one to a swanky fundraiser party tonight?
If children are along for the ride or you're in otherwise polite company, keep the vulgarities to a minimum and abstain from illicit substances until that "safety meeting" in the woods.
The smell that SURROUNDS YOU
I shouldn't have to remind you, but please brush your teeth before sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in an enclosed, plastic capsule.
It's understood everyone is out here exercising and getting a little sweaty on the slopes, but if it's been a couple days and your body has been working overtime secreting all the Veuve Clicquot and mezcal shots, give others the courtesy of rinsing off.
Before hotboxing the ride into a "ganjala" (and note that marijuana is technically illegal on U.S. Forest Service lands), ensure all boarded parties are OK with the smell — preferably before the doors close at the base. Feel free to offer, and maybe turn that "ugh" into a "welcome aboard!"
Get a room
Family vacations mean a lot of time with the kids (or with the parents). Get a bucket to yourself before sitting in each other's laps, whispering sweet nothings and tongue wrestling while others awkwardly concentrate on staring out the window, aghast.
If you and that snowbunny are indulging in a primal gondy rendezvous, be cognizant that people downloading and those in the front and back of your bucket can see into yours. Let's pour one out for the FIS World Cup Final wraps Skico decorated the Silver Queen with a couple of seasons ago, offering the ultimate discretion.
Get it together
When you can spot the end of your ride approaching at the top of the mountain, make sure all your equipment is gathered: poles, helmets, gloves, cellphones and snotty tissues accidentally get left behind all the time.
Recommended Stories For You
If you are nearest the door, take the initiative to exit first and retrieve your skis or snowboard with some level of haste.
Most importantly, we know the scenery is beautiful at the top of the mountain and can be overwhelming for those witnessing it for the first time; but please, leave the loading area before gawking about with wonder, six abreast, waving shouldered skis and poles erratically around.
Do you even lift
Many of the same rules apply on a mid-mountain chairlift as in the gondola bucket, but instead you're riding what feels like a flying church pew.
Again, don't surprise fellow skiers by sprinting onto their lift at the last second. Prepare for snide comments if you drop the safety bar without warning. Refrain from violently swinging your leg and causing worry the chair is going to topple off the cable (that can't actually happen). Feel free to cheer the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard School kids who are hitting 360s off the Hollywood line.