Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
OK, I learned a lot covering the 11,000 vertical feet and 25 miles from Snowmass Village to Aspen via the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race on Saturday. First of all, I learned that when we got out on the course during that grueling, bitter-cold day, I didn’t have the energy to fight, and Lorenzo Semple didn’t have the verve to smart off, so it turns out that exercise really is the answer to alleviating stress that can lead to nasty complications.
The second thing I learned on that incredible backyard adventure is that we are basically squandering the Power of Four. The best way I can explain this is by saying that our bus system uses the long route to connect our four local ski areas, and notwithstanding the exhausting toll the race took on me, the standard MapQuest route is probably the most energy-intensive, too.
The Power of Four race is all about the up and down. The horizontal travel between the slopes is nothing. This is the perfect set-up for skiing and alpine recreating in general. There are few places like it in the entire world. We are blessed! We all know it. The problem is that we aren’t doing enough with the incredible geographic layout that we have.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. It occurred to me, in a hypoxic state somewhere on Highland Bowl in frostbiting hurricane-force winds Saturday when I was trying to put my mind on something other than quitting the race, that there can’t be much difference between a bus ride from Vail to Beaver Creek and one from Aspen to Snowmass Village. So much for our competitive advantage there. But there would be an incredible difference if you tried to cover the two distances on foot and wanted to get a little skiing in during the process.
When you cover the shortcut between Snowmass and Aspen under your own power, you get the bonus of having all four ski areas in your way and thus get to do a little skiing en route. If you walked the shortcut from Beaver Creek to Vail … well, there actually is no shortcut there. If you decided to walk from one place to the other you would be shadowing I-70, and the only runs you would experience would be dirty slush from speeding semi-trucks dripping off your face. That’s our advantage: going from resort to resort by bypassing the highway!
I remember back in the old days when locals actually spent a lot of time dreaming about connecting our ski areas. That was before high-speed quads and gondolas. Politically the idea would have been more expediently possible, but technology wasn’t there to make it happen. Chairlifts were so slow that it would have taken all day to get from one resort to the other – if you didn’t freeze to death first.
The great interconnect had to wait. The problem with putting a dream on hold, though, is that often it gets forgotten. In the ’80s we turned our attention to making money instead of capitalizing on our God-given geographical advantage. Instead of focusing on improving skiing to lure more people to the sport, we turned our attention to making accommodations more cushy so we could charge the same old skiers more money. The result was that skiing became a real estate amenity rather than the main attraction.
Anyway, all this accomplished was to ruin the ski industry. Since 1978, the number of skiers has increased an average of a measly 0.06 percent per year despite the “explosion” in the popularity of snowboarding. And, no, I did not put the decimal point in the wrong place.
And, speaking of points, it’s time to get to mine: We need to find a way to put in three or four new lifts, mostly short ones, to completely connect our four mountains for skiers … and riders, too, I guess. There really would be no place in the world like Aspen then. I honestly believe something like this would attract more new skiers to the sport and our local resorts than a dozen more halfpipes, a new private club on Sam’s Knob and an X Games extravaganza every weekend all winter long – combined.
Call me crazy, but I experienced for myself last weekend in the Power of Four race just how close our ski mountains are together … although it didn’t seem like it when I was climbing the Bowl.
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