Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I tried ” really, I struggled ” not to begin this column by screaming, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!”
But, as you can see, I failed.
For some reason, a supposedly imminent Russian invasion of Aspen has become a popular topic these days. In the past week or so, at least three different people have alerted me to the fact that this is it, the death knell of Aspen.
We are, I have been assured, pretty much doomed to whatever ash heap burned-out resorts are dumped on once their souls have been ripped from them and destroyed.
One young man with extensive experience and strong opinions when it comes to the Russians tipped me off at a recent dinner party.
A wolf pack of Russian billionaires, he explained, had already pretty much ruined the French ski resort of Courchevel with their early-January Christmas/New Year’s antics. The French, however, became fed up ” despite the vast amounts of money the Russians were spending ” and pretty much kicked them out of town.
And now, my dinner companion explained, those same Ruskies would be coming here and trashing the place.
I said I thought Mayor Mick would stand up to them.
My friend said (and I am quoting very loosely here), “If Mick gets in their way, those Russian mobsters will murder him.” He may have snapped his fingers and added, “Like that!”
I admit that, as a cold-hearted reporter, I thought that would certainly be one hell of a story: “Moscow mob murders Mayor Mick!” But, of course, on the other hand … well, yeah, it’d be one hell of a story.
Just a few days after that, a couple of other friends, who had just returned from a trip to Russia, talked about spotting a gaggle of Russian billionaires in Moscow.
My friends said they spotted the largest cluster of Ferraris they had ever seen, pulled up in front of a nightclub. They were curious, so they stuck around to watch as the Ferrari owners came and went. “The men were all fat and bald. And the women with them were very thin, absolutely gorgeous and very insecure.”
Eventually, becoming either disgusted or nervous (I can’t remember which ” either seems reasonable), my friends decided it was time to move on.
The thought of that scene moving to Aspen made everyone nervous.
Could it happen? Of course.
Start with the fact that the richest Russians are very, very rich.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a brief moment when the entire economy of Russia was up for grabs. The “state”/Communist Party had owned everything, but suddenly the “state”/Communist Party dissolved.
Think of what happens when there’s a fumble in a football game: Everyone dives for the ball, and there’s an enormous, savage pile of large, vicious men fighting for the ball. The biggest and meanest ” those most able to inflict and endure pain ” usually emerge with the ball.
Same thing happened with the Russian economy.
Anyway, Russia has lots of billionaires ” more than any country except the United States.
And those billionaires ” and their billions, of course ” are already in Aspen.
Roman Abramovich, Russia’s No. 2 billionaire (out of 87 Russian billionaires on the Forbes list), snapped up a Wildcat mansion for more than $36 million just a couple of months ago.
And where Abramovich leads, his pals seem likely to follow. Abramovich was, after all, something of a trendsetter in the Courchevel “invasion.” According to some reports, he tried to buy the entire resort village of Courchevel 1850 a few years ago.
So what happened in Courchevel ” and will it happen here? And do we want it to happen here? And, if we don’t, can we stop it without getting the mayor murdered?
Well, according to numerous newspaper reports, for several years the Russians ” as many as 20,000 of them ” pretty much took over Courchevel for a couple of weeks every January. They spent freely ” no, make that “wildly” ” which everybody loved.
One British reporter reported that jeroboams of Cristal, at roughly $4,000 a pop, had become “Courchevel’s basic unit of currency.” You didn’t tip in cash, you tipped in jeroboams.
The same reporter managed to sneak past security and crash an exclusive party at a nightclub where every table seemed to hold a large ice bucket that contained “three out of four of the following: a jeroboam of Cristal Champagne; a large bottle of L’Or de Martell; a bottle of Krug Grande Reserve; and a can of Diet Coke.”
That same reporter noted that the Russians were “not friendly.”
So we learn that the Russians spend too much for their liquor, mix Diet Coke with their multi-thousand-dollar bottles of cognac and aren’t friendly to people who crash their private parties. Well, I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world (except maybe for mixing Martell and Diet Coke).
On the other hand, The Denver Post ran a story in January about the Russians who were visiting Aspen this winter. The reviews of their spending were the same; the reviews of their behavior were less than ecstatic.
According to the Post, one concierge said, “They treat us like slaves. We’ve had employees leave work crying because they couldn’t take it.” The Post also quoted a waitress in an Aspen bar as saying, “I have never been talked to so rudely.”
So it seems the Russians really are both rich and rude ” imagine those two qualities going together! I’m shocked.
Anyway, what finally happened in Courchevel?
Well, as reported by The Associated Press in January 2007, the local police jailed one of the most prominent of the visiting billionaires, one Mikhail Prokhorov, a 42-year-old known as Russia’s most eligible bachelor. Prokhorov was taken into custody as part of a crackdown on a suspected prostitution ring.
He was released pretty quickly, and no charges were filed ” all of those gorgeous women (“about 20 years old,” according to one story) were just there on holiday like everyone else. And if they happened to stay in $5,000-a-night suites … well, so what? In any case, following that outrage, all the billionaires swore they’d never go back to Courchevel again.
Will they make good on that threat? Long-term, it’s too soon to tell. But one British newspaper predicted that “Courchevel’s loss … is likely to be Aspen’s gain. Members of the Russian elite are now planning to take their holidays in the exclusive Colorado resort instead, where they will be able to mix with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.”
Look out, Mayor Mick! The Russians are coming!
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