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School days and ski days

Tony Vagneur

The other day, waiting for a meeting at the Red Brick Arts Center, I happened to walk around behind the building. The memory of a scared first-grader, wandering the grounds, wondering where his skis and poles had disappeared to, crossed my mind and a bit of that boy’s young soul tugged at my emotions. The boy had somehow missed the instructions, coming back to school from a Wednesday afternoon on Aspen Mountain, on where the skis would be left and was asking himself how he’d ever explain to his dad what had happened. The worst fear was knowing that once lost, the skis would never be replaced and my skiing days would be over.The Aspen School District used to have a Wednesday afternoon activities program, designed to get kids out into the world of winter delights and to partake in the benefits of living in this, even then, legendary town. The choices were sparse, but opened up a huge world to most of us: skiing, ice skating or study hall. Skiing was by far the most popular event, but believe it or not, there were a fair number of kids who preferred ice skating or study hall. It was kept very simple and plebeian. Imagine a town full of students, first grade through twelfth, coming to school dressed for their chosen afternoon sports, somehow keeping gloves, hats, goggles, boots, skates, etc., within the confines of the very small spaces allotted kids in those days. We lined the skis and poles up in the snowbank along Hallam street out front – there was no going home and coming back – you lived it from the first bell. Right after lunch, skiers loaded onto buses, bound for Aspen Mountain; the skaters walked kitty corner to the ice rink on Bleeker; and the rest went to study hall, which was held in various rooms, including the science laboratory. Volunteers from town were our instructors/chaperones and we generally had a blast, learning to ski and getting the savvy of the mountain on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday afternoons – we were living pretty good.When I was nine, tucking Spar Gulch from the dam (bottom of the FIS lift) for the umpteenth time in bear-trap bindings, I finally fell, and as my buddy Terry Morse said would happen, broke my left leg in a deforming fashion. Needless to say, I found out what went on in study hall the rest of the winter, along with Tommy Moore, who broke his leg twice, once at the Junior Nationals in Whitefish, Mont.; Gerry Morse, who broke his while training on Aspen Mountain; and a couple of other broken-legged guys whose names are the stuff of lost memory. Tommy and Gerry, who were several years older, gave me lessons in balsa wood model building, how to fake people out by throwing steel-tipped darts into each other’s casts, how to walk on hip-length plaster casts (forbidden by the doctors – we all had to get replacement casts much earlier than technically indicated) and how to otherwise occupy ourselves through the warmth of an inside room at the bottom of a world-class ski hill.The next year, Terry and I joined a powder skiing class, and had fresh powder every Wednesday, every week. It didn’t snow all that much – the mountain just didn’t get the traffic and we really didn’t think about it. On that day long ago, and through the window of an empty classroom, the young boy spied some skis stuck in a snowbank out behind the school and wondered who the kid was lucky enough to leave his skis anywhere he wished. It turned out, with exhilarating relief, that I was the kid.Tony Vagneur thinks he may have missed the transition between then and now. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net


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