Kate Spencer: Guest opinion
Aspen, CO, Colorado
I had the travel bug from an early age. My first trip to Colorado was at 12 years old, when my family road tripped out for a month in the summer. I knew I wanted to return some day.
In 2007, some friends acted as a catalyst for my now-husband James and me to move to Aspen as traveling physical therapists. The night we arrived, we drove in with a storm, and the snow never stopped. I quickly learned how to love powder skiing and clearly remember my first Highland Bowl lap. We worked, lived at the base of Ajax and really lived it up; after all, it was the only winter we’d live in Aspen.
The next winter, we lived in Maine, where I’m from, but visited for a week of powder. We stayed in a house with 11 other people – totally awesome and so “Aspen.” Waking up to excited voices about how many inches fell, figuring out transportation to the mountain and then, after a hard day riding on the mountain, enjoying the hot tub, sauna and drinks with a group of ski bums.
As one learns quickly here, you don’t have to be uneducated and unemployed to be a ski bum – quite the contrary. These guys were engineers, writers and IT specialists with advanced degrees. Now we are part of that crowd. James and I have returned to work as seasonal physical therapists every winter since 2009.
Aspen is special. No one denies that. Some sort of extraordinary energy centers here because diverse and intelligent people have been drawn to this remote mountain hamlet for decades. The culture of the town cannot be summarized with a few sentences – it changes with each week, each day, as tourists, part-time homeowners and locals make their way into and out of town via that infamous “S” curve that is Highway 82.
I love to chat with locals about “the Aspen good old days.” They were days of car races down the dirt streets, pranksters baffling authorities, renegade rebels with something to say about society. The older locals make me feel like I’ve missed something special by being born too late. I know it’ll never be the same, but in my opinion, this small town is and always will be a haven for those of us who love the outdoors and also relish the culture of a big city. A small town unlike any other that I’ve seen.
The mix of people here is part of Aspen’s uniqueness. You can ride the gondola with a ski-every-day local and a billionaire, and all agree without hesitation that this is a magical place. Over the years, I’ve found myself becoming a fitter person – both physically and spiritually – from living here. Being surrounded by the energy of this valley has propelled me to evolve into a better person.
One day, I hiked up Ajax, did yoga and skied – all before noon. Another day, I completed three bowl laps (without the ridge cat, thank you), and as I rejoiced at the top, the question was, “When are you going to do four?” We do ridiculous things like the 21-kilometer Owl Creek Chase, the Inferno and America’s Uphill. All at a minimum of 8,000 feet elevation.
Just wait, you’ll find me doing the Power of Four in a few years. For now I’ll stick with my friends’ version, the Four-Mountain Crawl, which combines two of Aspen’s favorite pastimes, skiing and drinking. Where else can you ski four mountains in one day? Traveling via Aspen’s free bus system, we dress up in costume (from tutus to tuxes), and elicit smiles and cheers from Snowmass to Buttermilk to Highlands to Aspen – inspiring positive energy and overall happiness.
When I hiked up for my first Highlands Bowl lap, I asked myself “why why why?” all the way up, and then the realization of “Oh! That’s why” upon reaching the summit. The views, realizing how small we are in this universe, breathing in the fresh air. It’s a metaphor for so many things in life, and it’s addicting. And that’s Aspen. I hope that heaven is like the top of Highlands Bowl on a nice February day.
I have traveled all over this country and lived or worked in towns with several hundred residents, as well as cities with 500,000 residents. Though many other places are beautiful and more accessible to travel or cheap groceries, there is no place like Aspen. No place like my winter home.