Roger Marolt: Roger This
June 22, 2012
It’s an informal quest of a good number of older locals to find the “next Aspen,” the implication being that the current Aspen has been so relentlessly altered since about 1972 that it isn’t even Aspen at all anymore and also that Aspen might not have been Aspen before then, either.
At any rate, “Aspen” is not a moving target to them. They can tell you exactly where in town they were and what they were doing when it happened.
I’ve never really been one of those types because, so far, I still think this is the place for me. I’m not going anywhere on this earth. I’m in a rut, and that rut is the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion about when Aspen was in its prime. As I have expressed many times in this column, my humble opinion is that, as great as this town is now, Aspen was better back in the ’70s and early ’80s.
I haven’t always been confident of this assessment. During that time when I think Aspen was at its absolute best, I was in my teens and early 20s, arguably the years when I was at my best, too. You can see where my doubt comes from. Did I think Aspen was so great then because I felt like I owned it, or was it really just fantastic all on its own?
I have finally put the doubt to rest. I have just returned from visiting a place so wonderful that it gave me flashes of being a boy in Aspen again. Picture this: a beach town of about 500 people whom you see often enough to get to know well enough to run into and have dinner with and talk about surfing, which almost everyone does. Dirt streets without curbs or sidewalks and lots of vacant lots. No airport and a difficult three-hour drive from the nearest city. Dogs roaming freely. Surfboards leaning against trees in yards. Durable cars parked in front of practical houses. No five-, four-, three-, two- or even one-star restaurants but great food at every little place you walk into. A few clean hotel rooms but nothing fancy. One real estate broker in town who doubles as the roving barstool storyteller who can’t remember the last time he made a sale. Two small tiendas with no selections. One gas station. No boutiques. And all art is sold out of lean-tos on the beach. Nobody would consider this place a resort; it’s more relaxing and offers far more to do than any resort I know of. Experiencing this again as an adult made me realize that Aspen really was better 30 years ago.
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But would I move there? Not anytime soon. Why? Because there is nothing to make a living at. The aforementioned real estate broker barely scraping by, half a dozen surfing instructors, some tour guides, a handful of shopkeepers, a few cooks and hotel staffers, and smattering of others who work in the nearby palm plantations are the entire workforce. Remember, it’s a tiny town on the beach with limited career opportunities. That’s why it’s so great! And, it brings up an interesting observation for Aspenites to consider.
If I could afford to not work, I could move down to that wonderful little town and not make much of an impact. I’d buy or rent a place, spend my time learning to surf well, and mix with the locals, which is pretty easy to do there. All in all, I don’t think my presence would require even one more person to take care of my needs for food, shelter, and stuff to do.
On the other hand, since I do have to make a living, the big picture question becomes, How many new visitors must that small community bring in to spend enough so that I can have a job? My guess is that it would take several hundred new visitors each year to support my existence in that beautiful town.
That’s the controversial point: While a nice, mostly-vacant second-house in the West End probably needs the equivalent of maybe two full-time people to keep it functioning at a high standard, my guess is that each person working in this town must be supported by many more visitors spending money every day of the year than that. If this is the case, maybe we’ve been aiming at the wrong targets to keep growth and change at bay.
Maybe this explains why we are working hard to fill our off-seasons with events to attract more visitors and in the idyllic little town I speak of they welcome the slow times as an opportunity for more surfing.
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