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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Since the developers of Lift One in Aspen have eased up their time table and are magnanimously seeking input on their plans, now seems an appropriate time to weigh in on a new and novel approach that is, paradoxically, retro.

My dream vision for Lift One links me to the first time I saw Aspen in the winter of 1965, when I was a teenaged skier from the Midwest. The memory comes back like a dream, because that’s what my first ski experience in Aspen was ” a dream. Nostalgia makes me wistful for that time and that place when Aspen defined a smaller, more organic, less obtrusive resort experience. Most endearing was the scale of the small lodges scattered through town in European style, which is what skiing was all about then.

There are only a few remnants of that mellow, quaint ambiance left in Aspen today. Chalet Lisl is one that comes to mind, a small, humble, inviting lodge on East Hallam Street that hearkens to the earlier days of Aspen in a way that evokes a rustic sense of simplicity and charm.

Compare Chalet Lisl to the St. Regis and the difference is startling. The St. Regis is a brick wall between Aspen and the mountain, an unbroken edifice that creates a Bastille-like barrier, not only geographical, but social. There is no local color at the St. Regis, no messy vitality. It is a contained, controlled environment designed to buffer guests from externalities ” good or bad ” and it succeeds.

The Chalet Lisl is small. It has been run for years by a family. There is a return guest list of loyal patrons who appreciate the close context this lodge provides with Aspen. There are no walls put up against the street, no claustrophobic cloister, no sense of distance from the town. When you stay at Chalet Lisl, you stay in Aspen ” old Aspen.

One of my favorite restaurants was the Skiers Chalet at Lift One. Not only could I order a milk shake with dinner, but I walked there over the snow or grass, on foot, passing Aspen’s first chairlift, which is steeped in ski history. Lift One was a quiet part of town, and it had a feel of the mountain because the mountain was dominant.

When I lived in Aspen and rode my bike to the lifts with my skis in my bike rack, I parked by the Skiers Chalet, below the old Holland House. I walked up to the lift, getting a nice aerobic warm-up before putting on my skis. This was no hardship, but rather a blessing. It felt good to breath the air, work my legs, and walk to the lift. At the end of the day, I skied down to my bike on narrow alleys of snow through the old lodges, skiing literally right into town. The scale of those buildings felt right. There was something cozy about it. Now, when I look at old black-and-white pictures of Aspen and, specifically, the quaint “Skier’s Cafe” that served lunches and breakfasts at Lift One, I feel envious of those early skiers who knew Aspen when it was homespun and humble.

My dream for Lift One? A reversion to a smaller scale, to an ambiance of humility and quaintness and local color, to honoring the past with small lodges where families can afford to stay, where visitors develop a sense of loyalty and even love for the experience, to places where you can sip hot spiced wine or hot chocolate by a fire or on a sunny deck, where you can feel quiet and at peace and eat a simple meal and stay in a simple room and experience Aspen as a skier, as a mountain person, to a place where you’re made to feel OK if you’re not a millionaire but just a lover of mountains and snow.

It seems that developers can’t think that way anymore. The costs of development have been driven so high by outrageous real estate escalation and prohibitive construction costs that only gold-plated accessories can produce the big money. Profits have trumped personality in defining Aspen’s sense of place.

If that’s the way it is, then we’ve lost something in Aspen that will live only in the black-and-white photos when people came here because of a mystique that surrounded skiing in days when lodge owners gave of themselves to their guests to make sure they had repeat customers and loyal friends who shared a sense of place they helped to define with everything they did.

The Lift One site could rekindle a special mood, but only if it touches something human, only if it provides a sense of romance, tradition, and history. Maybe it begins by talking with the few remaining owners of small lodges, those old-timers who made Aspen special. Maybe it begins with black-and-white pictures to see what has been lost. Perhaps these collective memories still hold the secret formula for developers who could give something back to Aspen instead of simply taking.


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