Andersen: Finding upward mobility in Aspen |

Andersen: Finding upward mobility in Aspen

I never pictured social climbing as an acceptable Aspen pastime, but with the new uphill directive launched by the town, social climbing will become a viable part of the Aspen mystique.

This brand of upward mobility will appeal to those whose legs, lungs and hearts are stronger than their financial portfolios. Rather than aspire to luxuriating in a Red Mountain starter castle, uphillers flocking to Aspen will seek personal bests in America’s Uphill and the Power of Four.

Ascending with muscles and willpower to Aspen’s higher reaches will require more than hedge funds and offshore investments. It will take sweat equity and a level of fitness that will awe even the most avaricious Wall Street wannabes.

As a staunch uphiller who craves an endorphin high that no pot dispensary can touch, I fully support this energized upward trend. Finally, Aspen can boast the kind of credibility earned by athletic self-flagellation and feckless narcissism — true Aspen virtues!

The uphill trend focuses on the body part of the Aspen Idea in the ongoing contest with the mind and spirit. The physical part of the Aspen triad has always been the most celebrated here, and the uphill phenomenon takes the body to new heights.

The progenitors of the Aspen Idea never would have imagined that Aspenites would eschew chairlifts for the rigors of plodding up ski mountains on their own steam. This is a Thoreauback to voluntary simplicity and to a more purist approach toward mountaineering. Stamina is required instead of absurdly priced lift tickets.

In the earliest years of America’s Uphill, I reported on this rising urge to gain elevation the old-fashioned way, without noise and motors. As an Aspen Times reporter, I covered the event each year, shooting pictures of numerous ascents, which proved quite a trial.

First, I had to get out of bed early enough to click into skis before the 7 a.m. start. This was demanding enough on Saturday mornings designed for sleep, but then I marched partway up Little Nell to get just the right vantage.

What a thrill to watch the surge of aerobic mendicants huffing up that hill! How special it was to feel the sense of inertia they created with their positive uphill energy. It was impossible not to get sucked along with it.

And so I did, launching into the middle of the pack and then moving gradually up to the leaders so I could photograph them snaking through Spar. This took about everything I had, but my job wasn’t done. Finally, I had to push harder yet to reach the Sundeck for a photo finish as the leaders crested the summit along with the first rays of sun. Phew!

I was a dedicated young reporter in those days and gave my all to capturing on film the magic of the biggest uphill race in America. Now there are dozens of uphill events around the country that make those early races look like plodding walks in the park.

The level of athletic performance today is incredible — the glow of health, the spirit of vitality, the physical mastery, the unmatched stamina, the redolent B.O. that emanates from bodies pumping caffeine drinks like high-octane fuel through a turbo diesel. It’s enough to make an avid uphiller out of even the most lethargic couch potatoes.

According to trade journals, uphill gear is now the hottest stuff on the ski market, ridiculously lightweight and high-tech. Standards of excellence for cardiovascular fitness are off the charts for athletes whose oxygen capacity is equal to that of an adult sperm whale.

Aspen is positioning itself as the epicenter for a growing infatuation with oxygen-gulping, calorie-burning, muscle-screaming madness, and I’m all for it. There are infinite possibilities for promotional events that will bring some of the shapeliest, most well-muscled Lycra-clad bodies in the world to our little Shangri-La.

And the beauty of it is that once an uphiller reaches the top, they become a downhiller simply by the dictates of topography and the laws of gravity. Here is the best of both worlds — where mountains stand tall and uphillers aspire to their glorious heights.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at

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