Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I am not the type who passes the time on a solo trip up a long ski lift looking about, admiring the natural beauty surrounding me. I have forced myself to not take it for granted so many times that I’m exhausted from the effort. I am resigned to the fact that it is there in all its magnificence whether I work myself into lather over it or not. I am content to wait for it to strike me, which it does now and then. The element of surprise is what puts me in awe.

It’s not that I’m busy texting or tweeting on the lift. Neither my gangly fingers nor my patience is suited for that, either. What I often think about when I am alone on the hill, when concentrating on a line through the bumps does not demand my attention, are the things that have revolutionized the sport to where I can do it so easily and often, even as I carve my way through middle age.

On a thin snow year like this, snowmaking and the gondola come to mind. Without one or the other, we’d be heading downvalley on our days off for the novelty of golfing on frozen fairways in December. In 1976, we didn’t even have to go to Glenwood to play. The course was clear here. On Christmas Day I hit a 450-yard drive that never left the ground and skittered all the way past the green on what is now the 16th fairway at the Aspen muni course. I chipped six or eight times and never was able to stop the ball on the putting surface.

So, yes, the gondola taking us up to the snow early and late in the season and snowmaking equipment providing coverage that allows us to ski all the way back down thankfully have enhanced skiing while rendering winter golf obsolete.

But don’t discount modern ski boots in importance. Skiing footwear used to be something you just had to suffer through. I have scars from two foot surgeries to remove marble-size bone spurs from my heels caused by the ill-fitting first generation of plastic boots to prove it. Somewhere toward the end of middle school, I misplaced my black toenail collection, but the pain is still a source of nightmares. I can’t tell you exactly what they have done to change things so much. All I know is that boots don’t have to hurt anymore. I still love the feeling of taking them off at the end of a day, but I no longer have to ice my feet.

Then there are modern skis: There is new evidence that suggests their propensity to arc so easily it is hazardous to knees, but man are they fun! Did I mention effortless? I remember as a teenager praying to God asking him to let me ski well until I was 30 (yes, admittedly a dumb prayer, but I was only a sophomore). Ha! I’m almost 50 now and making technically better turns than I did when I was in my athletic prime. I’m weaker, my reflexes aren’t as quick, I’m less flexible, my vision is worse, and I’m less coordinated (this is starting to get depressing, so I think I’ll quit), but I am skiing better than ever! It’s all about the skis.

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We have fog-free goggles, too. In the old days when skis were narrow enough so that you actually could sink up to your waist in fresh snow, more incredible powder days were ruined because we couldn’t see because we spent most of the previous evening at the Tippler. As long as we didn’t perspire or breathe, the old single-lens Baruffaldi goggles were great.

And speaking of perspiring, today that is at least an option for skiers. It hasn’t always been. Sure, we got plenty wet in the old days, but it wasn’t from sweat. It was from snow melting on the outsides of our jackets from all the heat that was escaping and then seeping all the way into our bones, where it would cool and turn to ice. Gore-Tex, Thinsulate and miracle fabrics with amazing wicking properties have brought skiing out of the ice ages.

We could go on, adding high-speed lifts, corduroy grooming equipment, safety bindings, boot warmers, avalanche bombs, gourmet on-mountain restaurants, Advil, sunscreen, Kleenex, ski poles you can fill with rum and sip out of the grips and many other things that have enhanced the modern ski experience. But, incredibly, the most important inventions for skiing are more likely to be found in a hardware store than in the Skiing Hall of Fame. Without the chain saw to cut trees down and then matches to burn them up, all the other improvements to skiing would be fairly irrelevant.