Paul Andersen: My ski trip to Aspen ? 1970 |

Paul Andersen: My ski trip to Aspen ? 1970

The most vivid memory of my ski trip to Aspen in 1970 was stepping on a nail in my stocking feet. The unfinished condominium where I “crashed” for the night in my Army surplus sleeping bag had the floor ripped up and nails sticking through.

That nail was a pointed reminder that I had paid nothing for my accommodations; some guy I met at the old Crossroads Drugstore had led me there late at night. The place had no lights, no furnishings, no running water, but it had heat and plenty of prickly floor space.

I was happy to be in the vacant condo compared with standing on the road with my thumb out on a cold January day. The hitchhike from Crested Butte had taken about 13 hours and was a bit of an odyssey. With my hair hanging down my back, flagging rides carried a measure of uncertainty.

A friend took me from the Butte as far as Johnson’s Village, just south of Buena Vista, where I stood with skis, boots, poles and an old backpack and stuck out my thumb for a ride to Leadville. On the next hillside stood the gray, fortresslike facade of the Buena Vista Correctional facility, not the best place to solicit a ride.

Standing for three hours adjacent to a prison surrounded by curlicues of concertina wire soured my mood and I wondered if my “hippie” appearance had sabotaged my further progress toward Aspen. My feet were beginning to freeze, so I wrapped my hair into a ponytail and stuck it beneath my stocking cap.

No sooner had I done so than a middle-aged man in a pickup stopped and offered me a ride. “Where you goin?” he asked. Aspen, I said. “Hop in,” he beckoned, and I tossed my gear in the back.

After a genial exchange of names and origins, the man said: “I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers on this road … too many goddamned hippies.” I suddenly became conscious of my ponytail and hoped like hell that it wouldn’t come unraveled. I sat as still as a crash test dummy all the way to Leadville.

From Leadville, I flagged a ride with a young guy who didn’t give a damn about the length of my hair; he delivered me to Minturn after proffering hits off a huge joint. From Minturn, my progress was a blur. Somehow, I ended up with a partial bottle of wine by the time I hit Aspen.

I went directly to Crossroads Drug, where I was to meet an old buddy coming in from Denver. While I waited, my buddy struggled for his life in a Denver hospital, deathly ill with hepatitis contracted from a bad needle.

When the drugstore was about to close, I began asking for a crash pad, which is when this guy led me to the condo with the pincushion floors. I spread out my bag in a nail-free zone and slept fitfully until nature called in the wee hours.

I stumbled in the dark toward the bathroom, which is when I impaled my foot, then discovered there were plumbing fixtures but no water. So, who needs water? I hopped carefully back to my sleeping bag, nursing my bleeding foot, then lubricated a desperate thirst with a hit off the wine bottle.

The next morning, I returned to Crossroads to await my friend, who by then was undergoing a blood transfusion or something. After another hour or so, I said screw this and limped toward the “Thumbing Station” on Main.

I got a ride as far as Buttermilk and stood there in the cold of the morning looking more forlorn than a treed cat. That’s when a state patrol pulled over. The cop checked my ID, then warned that there was no hitchhiking on Highway 82. He told me to get out of town, so I started walking toward Glenwood.

A kind soul picked me up and my sojourn began in reverse. This time, I rolled up my ponytail into a bun and stuck my cap over it. Snow began to fall at the bottom of Monarch Pass when I hitched a ride with an elderly couple in an ancient Buick towing a big trailer home.

“Hope we can make it over,” said the man, as the road became treacherous. On every curve, I could feel the trailer drifting toward the low side of the road, threatening to take the car with it. My hand was on the door handle and I was ready to jump in case the rig started for the edge.

Ten hours after leaving Aspen, I was in Gunnison, where the nighttime temperature on the bank thermometer read minus 15. On my final ride to Crested Butte the driver asked how the skiing was in Aspen. “I believe it was fine,” I said, happy to be back on my side of the Elk Mountains.

[Paul Andersen’s Aspen ski vacation cost $8 and a tetanus shot. His column appears on Mondays.]

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