Bring back those quiet seasons … we need ’em
When we speak about sense of community, I can’t define it. I’m not sure anyone can. Yet, every one of us feels it when it’s present and misses it when it’s not.We’ve drafted the Aspen Area Community Plan to help preserve it. It addresses boundaries and growth. It establishes TDRs, FARs, RTA and DEPP. It contemplates annexation and infill. It lauds affordable housing, redevelopment, sustainable economics and open space. It mandates mitigation and restoration. We’ve spent a lot of time tracing this map of nirvana. Yet, sometimes I can’t help picturing us as treasure hunters, only frustrating ourselves in vain efforts to discover the elusive “X” in the sand. Since we can’t actually see “sense of community” and nobody can define it, do we really expect to uncover something that can be quantified, designed or manufactured, that we can spill out of a chest if ever we are lucky enough to sink a spade into its buried lid? Then again, maybe we’ve been trampling through it all along. The only thing we can truly connect with this “sense of community” is time. Since it is something we feel, shouldn’t we examine very closely the times we feel it? Everybody knows sense of community was strong in the ’70s. It was clearly diminished as the ’80s wore on and became almost extinct in the ’90s. It’s gotten to where we only feel it in the offseasons anymore.Here’s the thing, though; it’s not about how many people live here full time. It’s not about a ratio of year-round residents to second-home owners. It’s not even about ski-bums-turned-commuters or dark houses in the West End. In the most basic terms, sense of community is about the number of people we recognize when we walk our streets. It occurs most often in the offseasons.During the busy times, it doesn’t matter how many locals live within the city limits. Visitors will always outnumber us by a nerve-straining margin. Plus, we are working so hard that we don’t get a chance to see one another anyway. Sense of community then is as fleeting as the last few notes of a song we catch on the radio, forever after we first danced to it with friends. That’s the way it’s been since they started punching lift tickets here in 1947. One thing that is changing now is that our offseasons are shrinking. In the ’70s, Aspen’s summers were a well-kept secret. Summer was part of the offseason. Residents had the run of this place. Inevitably, that was the worst-kept secret since Liberace’s coming-out party. With hardly any promotion, summer is now just as busy as the winter, maybe more so. Now, the only times we keep to ourselves are fall and spring. And, unbelievably, pressure is building to squeeze those quiet periods short, too. Efforts are being made to draw visitors here during the tranquil months. At one end, we lure conferences to come as the leaves drop from the trees. At the other, we race to get our snow guns blasting and the lifts open as soon as the harvest moon sets. Back in the old days, after hanging up the golf clubs sometime around the end of September, fall days in Aspen were spent doing just about anything we liked or nothing at all, the difference being only in the perception of the idler. No one felt any urgency to show up for ski-conditioning classes at the middle school gym until the Butterballs began appearing in the freezers of Tom’s Market a week before the big feast. Now, anytime after the first of October there is a sense that we must be fit, have our skis tuned, and hang all of our Gore-Tex in the mudroom just in case it suddenly snows a couple of feet. People pick up their ski passes in August! Where is the relaxation any more? The offseason is an opportunity to slow down and remember who we are again. After the busy times, when it’s hard to recall even one of the great reasons why we live here, we get to exhale, drop our shoulders and be ourselves. We laugh as we dine in quiet restaurants. We drink our morning coffee in shops with friends, acquaintances and the paper spread out across a table for four. The clubs, the courts, the trails and the streets are ours again. Once more, we are a community. As we extend the shoulder seasons by opening the ski lifts as early as possible and keeping them running as late as practicable, the offseason that defines us becomes less defined itself. This comes at the risk of us forgetting who we are.I know that, here in the land of Capital Peak high rents and Red Mountain-sized mortgages, we are all under lots of pressure to make money and pay for it all. It’s almost inevitable that we are tempted to expand the opportunities to make our livings into the times of the year when we used to simply live.I hope we don’t sell ourselves short in the process, though. Between the crazy periods, we still need a little time alone to figure things out. Otherwise, our visitors and guests won’t be able to follow our leads and get it sorted out either. And isn’t that why they really come here, after all? If you think you feel that sense of community slipping away, it’s not your imagination. Its going is as inevitable as the coming of the winter snows. I’m afraid there is nothing to stop its leaving now. Recall all of those good things from the season just past, but don’t grieve the loss too much.If we truly appreciate it, we’ll find it here again next spring.Roger Marolt believes that the best thing about the offseason is that you don’t have to get ready for it. It just happens. Leave him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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High Points: Now I don’t want to be an apologist for the Aspen Skiing Company, but to me $199 to ski the crown jewel of American skiing during the height of what is traditionally the busiest time of year is a total bargain.