Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

The other day, our friend Tom was in town for a visit, so we all did a nice hike up Highland Bowl on a sunny, warm afternoon.

“How often do you do this hike?” one of his buddies asked me as we waited for the ridge kitty. (Yes, I ride the snowcat because I actually care more about skiing than I do about hiking.)

“Two or three days a week,” I said, hugging my board and rocking back and forth on my heels as we waited in line. I was trying not to brag, but I could not help but gloat, thinking about how I got to do this all the time and not just once a year, how standing on a ridgeline above 11,000 feet was as common for me as ordering a double-tall half-caf soy latte at Starbucks was to them.

I was on my skis, which is always interesting mostly because of the way people freak out when they see me. “Oh, my God – are you skiing?” they’ll ask, as if I just dyed my hair blue or got a boob job. “I knew something looked different!”

This whole sport-as-identity thing always escaped me mostly because I’ve had a natural trajectory that didn’t require any major lifestyle choices or wardrobe changes. I grew up skiing simply because snowboarding wasn’t around yet. I learned to ride when my brother got into it in the early ’90s, when he was 14 and I was 20. It was the first time he handed something down to me, a Burton Free 5 that he’d written all over in Sharpie pen, little cute notes like “To the best sister a brother could ever ask for” and “Bro + sis” and “I love you.” That was long before he became a real estate developer and left the country and learned a second language and started dating 20-year-olds, back when he still thought I was the coolest girl on the planet.

My point is I don’t know why anyone cares. The way they make skis now, they’re pretty much like snowboards except heavier, more expensive and with more stuff to carry, like poles and heavy, uncomfortable boots. But depending on whom I’m with and what the conditions are, I’ll ski. Skiing is pretty fun, and plus, I love being able to ride right off the lift without strapping in (though I will say some of you do fiddle with those dang ski-boot buckles for a lot longer than it takes me to do the old one-two with my snowboard bindings).

But I digress.

So after our bowl lap, Tom wanted to take us all to Cloud 9 to celebrate a big deal he’d just closed. He’s got very lofty goals. He works a lot. Most of the time, when we see him, he’s so stressed-out that he’s like a headless man. There are just shoulders and little veins and nerves sticking out where his smiling face used to be. He’s moving, and he’s breathing, and he’s talking to you, but he’s not really there.

This time, he was there. He was happy. He could relax for a minute. He could taste his success.

“Just five more years, and then I’m out,” he said. “Ten at the most.”

I told him, “You know, we could just go to the bottom and get a pitcher of beer or something. It would be a lot cheaper.”

But he really wanted to go to Cloud 9, so we did. We drank two bottles of champagne on the patio and took turns going inside to see all those ladies with the filled cheeks and swollen lips and inflated boobs and Pilates bodies clad in expensive, designer ski clothes who had too much to drink, dancing on the tables in their ski boots. They were for sure an attraction, like farm animals at the petting zoo, or maybe an accident about to happen. I could just picture it: the table flipping over and their bodies flying through the window, shattered glass and fake body parts scattered all over the patio. No wonder ski patrol hates having to stand around, waiting to do cleanup.

Later, over dinner, Tom went on and on about what a great day it was. He was very sweet about it. He said it was special and that it would be a great memory and how much he’d enjoyed sharing it with us.

I didn’t want to gloat and say, “It’s what we do every day,” because that’s not exactly true. It’s more like every other day.

While at Snowmass the day before he had to leave to return to Chicago, Tom’s demeanor began to change. I could see the stress on his face like the dent the toilet seat leaves in your butt cheeks after sitting on it for too long. He looked a little pinched. He started telling us how much it had cost for his family to ski Snowmass for a day, for his two sons’ ski school and all their rental stuff. Let’s just say it was enough to make a rich guy stress out. It’s a lot more than you think.

We said our goodbyes and then began our journey back to Two Creeks. We love parking over there, where the lift is like 10 feet from your car and it feels like a tiny little ski area. After hammering the bowl all season, Snowmass felt like a snowboard spa. I floated down those wide-open, groomed runs in a way that made gravity feel like a paradox, weightless, face turned up toward the sun. The snow was soft, the sky a brilliant blue, and Ryan and I got to make out on the chairlift even more than usual just because there is a lot of lift-commuting required there. It was the perfect day that made me realize that what they say is true – my life really is better than your vacation.

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