How to be a true ski bum |

How to be a true ski bum

Tony Vagneur

Back in the 1960s when I graduated from high school, a couple of buddies and I wanted to buy a Victorian house in the West End. It wasn’t much compared to today’s overdone extravaganzas, but it would have suited us well without much repair. We thought it was a little expensive at $12,000, but when the owner told us he’d talk price when we came up with some serious money, our hopes were lifted. It was a career move that, in the end, we failed to make, mostly because 12 grand might as well have been 12 million back then, but I’ve always wondered where it might have taken us. Our goals were lofty – a few parties here and there, chase some women around the potbelly stove and pursue the lives we’d dreamed about (and witnessed) from our perspective as Aspen high school students. Like ski every day and hang out at the Aspen Institute. I kid you not.My dad was one of the most level-headed guys to ever have kids, much to my chagrin, and once he’d convinced me a house in town wasn’t in my best interest, I started hammering him about ranches in Australia or Canada, and in the absence of any enthusiasm from him on those subjects, how about if his eldest son joined the Peace Corps or lived in Europe for a couple of years? In the end, I promised him I’d get an undergraduate degree and then, as he gently put it, “You can do whatever the hell you want.”It was a gamble I’m sure he thought he’d win, but before the ink was dry on that college diploma, I was back in Aspen, skiing almost every day (December graduation). My dad was true to his word and didn’t complain, but he didn’t support my decision, either. But thanks to my aunt and uncle (Vic and Eileen), I had a ski pass, a job and a place to live. It’s hard to get over being a first-class ski bum like that. The party was on for the next seven or eight years and, given the latitude we enjoyed in those days, especially my cousin Don Stapleton and me, we’re lucky we didn’t self-destruct from the responsibility of maintaining our niche. Luckily, we weren’t into drugs – how odd, as it was the days of Drug City, USA. Of course, there wasn’t a drink in town that didn’t have our names on it, and some of the wildest adventures and craziest ideas were attracted to us with regularity.It was also a time for sporadic but serious introspection, and I spent a lot of time in Wyoming and Montana looking for something serious to do, finally accepting that I was just looking for another Aspen, or maybe just a way out of the one I had created. Realizing there wasn’t much life elsewhere, not for me anyway, I committed my future to Aspen. I went into business, carved out a career in town and did OK for a kid who never took life too seriously. But a lifetime of work, unless in the arts or literature, is for most of us as vaporous as being a skiing fool. Oh, there are some guys you can think of, such as Ralph Jackson or Red Campbell, who couldn’t help themselves when it came to skiing, even if they tried, but they represent only the tiniest fraction of the crazed skier population. To be a true ski bum, it helps to have a lot of money (and free time), but one of the cardinal rules is that, to be authentic, you must never pay for your lift ticket, at least not in cash.Go ahead, dream of buying a cheap house in town, get on the ski instructor call list, party hearty, but remember, no matter how you do it, you’ll only be as good as your last run. Some days, Tony Vagneur wonders what it was he started out to do. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to

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