Long ups, epic downs
December 29, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoFirst there was the boat tow, and then around 1947 the Aspen Ski Corp. (the “p” on Corp. was always pronounced if you were a “local”) began operation of the “Tuna Trolley,” the combination of lift numbers 1 & 2, that started near the top of Aspen Street and ended at the summit of Aspen Mountain, near the Sundeck. Those two single lifts carried everything to the top – not just people – including restaurant supplies, lift parts, booze and an occasional dog. It was quite a production that, at the very least, was highly effective.Of course, there was the T-Bar on Little Nell and then along came Lift #3 (Ajax Express), which changed the way everyone skied the mountain. Without the existence of today’s modern contrivances, there was nothing to miss, nothing to bemoan, ’cause it didn’t exist. We took what we had and made the most of it.Ruthie’s Road got a lot more use in those days (no #6, euphemistically called FIS, now), and we planned our descent with excruciating care, knowing it was a long ride back up the mountain. We skied each run as an adventure to last – had to or we’d have spent our lives riding single chairs, going back up for one more run. Some days we skied nothing but the Ruthie’s side, from Midway (top of #6) down.Elevator Shaft in Silver Queen was (is) a perennial favorite, not just for the speed, but for the close calls it involved. We’d line up at the top and watch each other shoot the Shaft, learning from those in front of us just how ugly and bumpy the transition was that day. Wrecks weren’t very common, but when they occurred, a certain enhanced meaning of “yard sale” became evident.Next, it was easy to cut around the corner to the FIS Slalom Hill and line up on the eastern edge of Lazy 8 Gully, watching each other catch air off the western side of Lazy 8 as we came screaming up and out of the gully. Foibles in individual style were more readily exposed at this spot and sometimes Lower Magnifico could look like a landfill in transition from the scattered equipment. Launching a hundred feet in the air wasn’t uncommon and the mogul field in the landing area was tough to tread. I bruised a kidney there one year in a spectacular fall, and that and the attendant broken ribs kept me off the hill for about a month while I got my innards back together.We skied bumps differently in those days, using them as a field of challenges rather than as something to “artistically” manipulate. Watching Melvin Hoagland, legs gyrating as pistons might in a red-lined engine, taught me how to tuck Snow Bowl with huge moguls in place. Grooming report, you say? Yeah, once mid-winter, with shovels, maybe. You had to be really loose, keep a wide stance and know in your heart that you damned-well could do it.One year, my dad worked for the Ski Corp. at the bottom of old Lift #2, and the advantages to a kid my size were immense. I was in the sixth or seventh grade and two or three days a week, I’d go up the mountain with him to Midway and then rip it down Ruthie’s, just in time for school to start. Red Rowland eventually caught on to our game, and I was unceremoniously forbidden to have so much fun. Something about safety. Other days, though, I’d wait for my dad to get off work and ski down with him after most everyone else had gone home.Anyway, the next time you get in the gondola, think about the old, relaxed way to the top and remember that back ina those days, we called a single chair on the Tuna Trolley a “bucket,” just as we call a gondola cabin today a “bucket.”Tony Vagneur misses the old days, but can hardly wait for tomorrow. Read him here every Saturday and send comments to email@example.com.
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