Alison Berkley: Ajax opener was wild and wooly
November 18, 2002
I’ve been to ski resorts all over the world, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this year’s opening day on Aspen Mountain. Far be it from our local society of uncontrollable hedonists to let a few guys in red jackets stand between them and untracked powder. It’s one thing to brake for the pedestrian right of way or pick up dog poop or latch the trash cans so the bears don’t die or put five bucks in the parking meter. But it’s another thing entirely to control yourself from accidentally drifting into a closed area where the snow is deep and untouched on the first day of the season when the lift lines are a mile long. The day was lawless and raw, the way I imagine Aspen was before Walter Pupcake or whatever his name is came in and turned it into a rich man’s utopia. I like what he’s done with the place and everything, but I think I would have liked the Old West even more.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore the ski patrol and understand they have an important job to do. There is nothing sexier than the combination of mountain-man authority, gruff athleticism, the whole I-could-save-your-life thing, and the way they carry their radios around in halters like police carry guns. (I love that!) I have been guilty once or twice of feigning injury just to be carefully wrapped in one of those heavy wool blankets with my head ever-so-gently laid on top of a soft pillow and carried down in a sled with a very manly man on each end of it. I just want to make it clear that we meant no disrespect whatsoever to those hardworking men and women of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol, bless their red little hearts.
But it’s kind of impossible not to notice that it’s been snowing for two weeks straight. A lot of us have already hiked up Ajax in our snowboard boots (with huge blisters to prove it) and seen the endless, bottomless lines with our own eyes. Did they really think we were going to download? It’s a pretty tall order to keep thousands of drooling, foaming-at-the-mouth snow enthusiasts from getting the goods on the first day of the season, especially when they already wasted half of it waiting in line.
I think everyone dealt the best they could with the whole two-lifts-at-the-top program for about an hour or two. I know I didn’t mind sailing easily down smooth groomers or resting in long lines after last weekend’s power powder session at Snowmass. I was so sore all week that I decided to shell out the 75 bucks for a massage at my gym just so I could lie on a table and have this woman stretch and twist my neck like she wanted to break it. Then again, after last week’s not-so-kind review of my not-so-bargain-basement athletic club, it’s not surprising that she was probably trying to kill me. The point of the story is I was still feeling pretty sore and did not mind taking it easy for a few runs in order to feel like I totally rip again.
Besides, this was only my second day ever snowboarding on Aspen Mountain, and I never imagined I’d be tearing up the steep and deep with a bunch of recluse locals. My first impression of the place when I met up with my two girlfriends in the morning to ski with them for the first time was that I’d arrived in the land of Ski Bunnies. I love them and everything, but these girls’ outfits were totally James Bond meets Aspen Extreme: one wore a skin-tight, one-piece ski suit (like my friend’s dad likes to say, “If she farted, that thing would explode.”) and the other a black, fitted two-piece with leopard-print accents. They were going on and on about some designer skiwear brand and what size they wear, and how she just can’t wait to get her hands on a pair of those new Prada gloves. Whatever! I’m a snowboarder, so it’s OK that my pants don’t fit and my jacket doesn’t match. That is like, so gay! The last ski town I lived in was Jackson Hole where everyone wears old black Gore-Tex repaired with duct tape. But I guess this is Aspen and so the place is filled with coiffed looking guys and beautiful women in tailored, expensive-looking ski outfits. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion, but there is a time and there is a place.
So it was to my pleasant surprise when we stopped short of the massive line at Chair 7 and a cheer exploded from the crowd like the J-Bar does when CU scores a touchdown. Dozens of people started ducking the ropes in huge clusters, with hundreds behind them egging them on. It was total anarchy, or “powder to the people” as one ski magazine likes to say. The rebels’ mission was clear: get behind enemy lines and win the virgin territory without getting caught by the red coats. We lined up 10 across and conquered untracked powder fields or ducked into the woods, hidden behind curtains of snow kicked up by our own spray. Like everything in Aspen, once we got a taste of it we couldn’t stop, and totally indulged ourselves without any regard for our health or safety. That philosophy continued at 39 Degree’s apres-ski party, and then straight into the annual “Pray for Snow” party where everyone dressed up in vintage ski gear and got impressively funky into the wee hours of the cold, moonlit morning. Like any other day in Aspen, it took everything out of us and left us wasted. I guess that’s the price for just another day in paradise.
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[The Princess made this stuff up about cutting ropes based on what she witnessed and should not have her pass pulled. You can send your accusations to email@example.com.]
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