The effects of piles and piles of snow |

The effects of piles and piles of snow

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

There we were, deep in a snow cave, so far in that we could no longer see the entrance. The tunnel leading to the small room was narrow and tight, but once it opened up, the three of us ” Susan and Nancy Coe, and I, couldn’t have been cozier. It was 1951, Aspen’s third snowiest December on record.

We were the youngest of kids, who didn’t give a damn about snowfall records, but we knew how to build snow caves and how to have fun outside. That year set the scene in my mind, though, about what winter meant to me and how it should look. Of course, one has to remember that unlike 2007, it snowed more than 17 inches in November 1951 to make the then-record December snowfall (58.3 inches) really look like something.

Naturally, most of us were skiers of the intense variety, caring for speed and height more than powder, although a few face shots here and there were tolerable. But not all free time was spent on Aspen Mountain, the only existing local ski area back then. I lived on the ranch out in Woody Creek, but through circumstances of extremely good fortune, my maternal grandmother lived on Bleeker Street, and I spent a lot of time in town. Some Saturdays, after a big snow (or not), I’d look across the street and see my cousin, Don Stapleton, and his sled in the alley behind the Elisha’s house on Main. It’s still a good hill for kids, and within half an hour, the word was all over the neighborhood. Several more sleds would show up, a couple kids would bring skis to pack it down and before you knew it, we’d have a great day of sledding, snow ball fights, and then maybe later, just after dark (and dinner), we’d converge on the old skating rink, over by the existing Yellow Brick building.

As we got older, it seemed like responsibilities increased, school became less fun and more work, and although it was impossible to have liked skiing any more than we did as little kids, we took our involvement in the sport much more seriously. The policy at the Red Brick high school required anyone caught ditching school to be suspended for three days. If you got caught again, the stipulated suspension was two weeks. One year, as you may have guessed, we (mostly me) made a mockery of the whole system. The snow would beckon, we’d blow school off for the day, and then to make certain we got caught, would walk slowly by the principal’s office in our full ski regalia, boards over our shoulders, just before the day’s final bell.

Anyone can take a three-day suspension, but after a couple of two-week absences from school, grades were tanking, teachers’ tempers were flaring, and parents had looks and attitudes of exasperation. Skiing was good, though. As juniors, we were forced to cut a deal with the superintendent, Earl Kelly ” if we’d not skip school any more that winter, he’d see that we got at least D’s in our classes, so far into the F category were we at that point. Otherwise, we were going to be suspended for the rest of the year. Not immediately, but finally, we acquiesced.

We were dedicated skiers, but even so, the flavor changed when we realized we couldn’t live without the opposite sex. After school and weekends, we made time for quiet interludes, parked in our cars somewhere up Castle Creek or Independence Pass, or at someone’s empty house. But the skiing was impossible to dismiss. Everyone was a bit surprised when my high school sweetheart and I eventually called it quits, so well-matched were we. I was the rascal in the breakup, but I later learned our future was already dim as her parents would have never approved of me as a husband, anyway, so obvious was my destiny as a ski bum. But that’s another story.

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