Roger Marolt: Roger This |

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

There is an old adage in town that goes something like, “the profits are always bigger on the other side of Aspen Mountain.” It is as true today as it was back in the mining days when men dug ever deeper holes thinking about the nuggets that others had pulled out of theirs.

The next time you’re skiing on Aspen Mountain take a run over on the Lift 1A side, down to Norway Slope and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll give you the virtual tour. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself standing right there some time in the past. Picture what those who came here seeking riches must have seen not so long ago.

Imagine the town in about 2003. Look down at the base of Lift 1A and see a dilapidated, run-down collection of ski-bum hovels scattered about the area, not fit for man or beast. Use your imagination. It seems the only person who could stand living there is a local politician. It’s that bad!

Now, take a couple of deep breaths and imagine the potential in the dirt underneath that awful mess. What others have walked by quickly with their noses pinched, you see as buried treasure: The whole damn thing is so flimsy that it could be razed in minutes! The housing market is so red hot that people won’t even recognize the immense pain in the ass it will be to actually live in townhouses with the shared walls that you will throw up there. The area is blight on the cityscape, and you know that it will be no problem to convince local elected officials that it needs to be “revitalized” … except for the elected official who lives there … but he can’t vote since this is his home and he has a conflict of interest! Oh, things couldn’t be falling into place more perfectly!

With your eyes still closed, draw in a few more deep, slow breaths. Take as many as you need. Do not even think about taking your cell phone out of your pocket until you have calmed down and controlled your excitement. If you call your broker in this state of mind, you will certainly end up paying far more than necessary for the land.

Picture yourself presenting an offer to purchase that forgotten piece of property. Sense yourself about to pee your pants as the naive seller says “yes” and scrawls his name on the contract for a mere $9 million. Feel the real estate broker grab your leg so hard under the table that he snaps your kneecap in half so you will miss the entire upcoming ski season. It is one of the happiest days in your life!

Now imagine that you are in front of City Council with the blueprints of your proposed townhomes spread across the table. The local access television camera is trained directly on you, its operator asleep in the corner. Even though nobody is watching at home, you feel like a celebrity. The local gadflies are all there, asking all the right questions, but nobody is paying any attention to them! They have become fixtures like the desks, chairs, and Styrofoam cups half full of stale coffee. One charming old-timer, who you have enlisted, tells a few cute stories about skiing on this side of the mountain in 1958. It has nothing to do with anything, but everyone smiles and believes that his anecdotes prove your case. Can you see the mayor looking you straight in the eye and telling you that your plan for the townhomes is approved? Oh happy day! You are going to be filthy, stinking rich! You know that you can erect some claptrap buildings in a couple of months and sell them even before that! Soon, you’ll be living on Easy Street.

OK. Now, open your eyes. Look to the east, down and to your left about three blocks, on the other side of the mountain. What do you see? Damn! It’s The Residences at Little Nell! What’s that all about? Quick grab your cell phone again and call your broker. “Ahg! … She’s at a closing? … For a Residence at Little Nell? … How Much?! … That’s just the commission?! … She’s busy for the rest of the month closing how many more of those units?!! … No, I don’t want to leave a message.”

Close your eyes again. Feel the sweat on your palms? That’s what someone making a better deal than you did feels like. Listen. Do you hear that buzz? It’s coming from town. It’s everyone talking about how much money can be made in timeshares. They’re laughing at you. Imagine that this is a time in history when it is nearly impossible not to make a fortune in real estate, that there are no such things as bad deals, except if they are too small. Risk does not exist.

Quickly, call your people and tell them that the townhouse project is off! There’s not enough money in that old idea. What, $5 million or $6 million, at the most? Yes, changing everything now will take time. Of course you’ll have to wrangle through the process again for a couple of years, but what difference will that make? With real estate appreciating at 20 percent a year and interest rates pegged at 5, you’re making money all the while! You’ve got to build timeshares instead … and a gigantic luxury hotel … and shops … and restaurants … and parking for it all! Yes, yes! Picture your plans getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and … KABOOM!!!

Sorry to startle you. That tremendous explosion you just heard was the real estate bubble bursting. There is nothing left but shards of your dream lying in the dirt. There won’t be a profit made in that dust for years to come. Try to convince the townspeople that you know what you’re doing, now.

I once had a good friend. Was his name Bob? Or, was it Daniel? … Maybe it was both. He was very fond of the saying, “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.” It is a simple observation, but making the distinction is not that easy if you happen to be one of those animals. I think that hogs don’t know that they’re hogs until they’re lying on the butcher’s block.

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