Why We Ski: Aspen’s most committed reflect on their love of winter season
Roger Marolt has seen nearly six decades worth of opening days in Aspen, but none of those came during a pandemic. The native Aspenite has experienced plenty of dry winters, however, and equates a drought year to that of COVID-19 because of the uncertainty.
“You just don’t know what you are going to get,” Marolt said. “It feels just like that. You hope for the best and you see what you get.”
Marolt is a member of the famed skiing family that includes Max, Aspen’s first Olympian, Bill, Mike and Steve – all accomplished skiers in their own respective ways. It’s safe to say skiing is in the Marolt bloodline, as is the love of the sport that so many in Aspen share with the world.
When the pandemic brought an early end to the ski season back in March, it forced everyone to examine what is most important in life. Sent indoors because of a spreading virus, skiing and snowboarding became something of a fantasy. Lunch laps, après parties and powder days, all things most locals probably took for granted, were stripped from our existence without warning.
“There was no time to prepare mentally and all of a sudden we were just in limbo and trying to figure out what to do with our lives besides puzzles and crosswords,” Marolt said. “Don’t just assume you are going to get tomorrow to ski. Just like life, ski for the day, because tomorrow is not guaranteed.”
So, what is it about skiing that draws us in? Each person has their own reasoning for loving their time on the slopes, but it often boils down to a few key themes.
‘THE FLOW STATE’
Considering the stress that comes with a pandemic, this might be the most important. Aspen’s Jordie Karlinski, a former competitive snowboarder who reached the doorsteps of making the Olympic team, sees the sport as an escape from reality.
“What has kept me going back is that every time I am on my snowboard, I am fully absorbed in what is happening in the moment. Oftentimes you experience the flow state, if you will, and that’s a feeling I want to recreate often because of how it makes me feel,” she said. “You can just tune everything out and be creative, be yourself, be with nature, be with friends, be with family, and it’s really a place for me to go and just decompress.”
With this comes the opportunity to be one’s true self.
Stella Sherlock, a teenaged competitive Alpine skier with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, spent a lot of time uphilling last spring after the lifts were closed. Sherlock views this winter as a way to feel a sense of normalcy in a world that has moved far from it.
“Skiing is sort of a rock, I feel like. It’s something you can depend on,” Sherlock said. “I feel like it’s a way for me to express myself, because I’m not an extremely social person. Skiing allows me to be social, but it also allows me to be myself at the same time.”
‘THE MEMORIES ARE PART OF IT’
For some, skiing is like walking back into their childhood bedroom or reliving those long summer nights with friends in high school. It’s a flashback to a time long ago, before the worries of adult life got in the way.
“Some of my fondest memories of childhood are hanging out with my family and getting up and being on the first chair,” said Rana Dershowitz, Aspen Skiing Co.’s chief legal officer and its chief operating officer for its mountain division. “And not being off the mountain until they shut the lifts down and going home and jumping in the hot tub for a little while and grabbing dinner and passing out. If you stayed awake until 9 o’clock we were all proud of ourselves. It has a really special place in my childhood and I’ve tried to keep that love alive.”
Marolt is often taken back to his childhood while skiing, as well. After all, he’s probably done as many top-to-bottoms on Aspen Mountain as anyone, and will occasionally ask himself why he still enjoys doing the same runs over and over, decade after decade.
Simply put, it’s because it brings back memories of skiing, and those memories are always worth revisiting.
“I’ll be riding up the lift by myself and thinking, ‘How can I still enjoy this?’ It’s the same runs I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. But I think that’s all part of it,” Marolt said. “You ski a run now and you remember a really fun time you had on it when you were 12 years old with your friends or you remember this happened there. The memories are part of it.”
‘ACTING LIKE IDIOTS’
When it all comes down to it, skiing is just fun and it’s easy to become passionate about things that are fun. For the lucky few, like Aspen’s Colter Hinchliffe, there is an opportunity to go a step further and turn that passion into a career.
“The love for skiing is still growing with all the things I’m finding I can do with it and all the places I’ve traveled to ski,” said Hinchliffe, a professional skier who has appeared in many films over the years and learned to love the sport when he was a young kid hanging out with his buddies. “It really set in for me when I could just get on the RFTA bus with my friends and go to the mountain by ourselves. It was a really fun thing we could do with no chaperones and just be goofy kids.”
And the fun doesn’t diminish with age. Dershowitz liked to point to her 78-year-old father, the attorney Alan Dershowitz, who can still be found singing while he skis. There are not many activities that can continually bring out the inner child in a person like doing laps on one’s favorite mountain. And while the pandemic may have taken that away for a time, it’s also reminded everyone how important it remains in our lives.
“My favorite days are with him on the mountain and my kids on the mountain and my husband and all of us just acting like idiots and singing while we ski,” Dershowitz said of skiing with her father and family. “The exhaustion at the end of the day, where you really feel like you’ve worked and been present and connected to your body, connected to nature, is super special.”
On a recent trip to Spain, I discovered something that I believe tops the espresso martini. It’s called a barraquito.