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Playing a part in local history

Tony Vagneur

Being an Aspen native, one hears far too often the phrase, “Wow, you must have seen a lot of changes.”There are numerous philosophies about life which say that change is good or bad, or change is inevitable, or it sucks. Whatever your take is in that regard, life is more about the thread of continuity, I reckon – but I suspect we lose sight of that with amazing frequency. This was brought home to me this week, when a faithful reader teased me about my stint as the Marlboro Man double, back in the day. Reminiscing through pictures of those historical commercials, I unexpectedly spied Willie, the greatest horse I ever had, captured for all time in one of the photos. It was before I had taken Willie on, before he was tamed enough to be ridden, and his incredible energy and curiosity are self-evident in the picture. Willie came into my life a couple of years later and was my all-star until he died a few years ago at age 34. His headstall hangs over the fireplace mantle in my house, across from hanging photographs of my great-grandparents, Jeremie and Estefan Vagneur, high on an adjacent wall. A lady I was exploring the mountain with the other day offered that she really never knew her grandparents, making the point that great-grandparents are a little far removed to be relative to much of today’s society. Perhaps, but it wasn’t that long ago I could still roam the rooms of houses built by my great-grandfather out in Woody Creek. The houses are now gone to me, but those wall hangings of my long gone great-grandparents have become today’s icons that open the past whenever I look at them, providing a continuity of life in this valley. Trails I wander today, winding through the mountains, have felt the presence of my great-granddad in times past. New to the Aspen Mountain ski patrol back in the ’70s, I was taken under the wing of Erik Peltonen, a fellow I barely knew, who made sure I learned the mountain as well as anyone could, and I knew quite a bit already. Erik got us special permission to do whatever we needed and we skied through every heavy, soggy, early December snowstorm (and there were a few that year) with a smile, backs wet as much from ducking under branches heavy with the stuff as from the individual flakes falling from the sky. I’ll never forget Erik asking one particularly rough day, “You want to keep going?” in that deep voice of his, and the laugh my answer in the affirmative brought forth. A few years ago, Erik made sure I got to the top of Highland Bowl and he always nudges me, an Aspen Mountain snob, to hit it again. We usually end up skiing Ajax to finish off the day. Before she became a teenager, my daughter Lauren and I used to ski Steeplechase with a vengeance, just because that’s what she wanted to do. One day I counted five or six trips down there, interspersed with runs down the Wall, Moment of Truth and some cruisers. That may have been our last day together at Highlands, as she discovered snowboarding the next year and our ski outings became a thing of the past. But, just this past week, I found myself hiking the Bowl behind a young woman, a senior in college, skis strapped to her back and making her first ever ascent. The same kid who tore up Steeplechase was now preparing to tackle terrain she’d never seen before, and as we reached the summit, my eyes clouded for a moment, proud of her and proud of the small part we’re playing in the continuity of life in the valley. Tony Vagneur says that even though his daughter is back on skis, she can still shred the gnar when she feels like it. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net.


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