The Great Debate at Knuckle Junction | AspenTimes.com

The Great Debate at Knuckle Junction

I am not going to offer any justification for the events I am about to relate. Most of them are wrong and there is no excuse whatsoever. To begin, Saturday morning I found myself at Highlands. I also found a large crowd gathered there. It occurred to me then that it was Presidents’ Day weekend, another holiday forgotten until there was nothing I could do about it. Anyway, like everyone else I eventually ended up on the Grand Traverse. I was screwing around making a few wiggly little turns on the catwalk to break up the monotony in the Land of Steep or Flat when someone launched a blood curdling caterwaul just abaft of my tails. “Call ‘on your right’ a little ahead of time and it will save some wear and tear on your tonsils and my ears … and you’ll keep your tighty whities clean a few days longer … idiot!” I told him.Well, he didn’t take kindly to this and returned a verbal salvo of his own which, though not eloquent, hit me with all the force a three-word vocabulary applied with a modicum of creativity surprisingly can. It marked him as a local. Luckily it ended there.The whole lift ride I stewed, not only about things I should have said, but also about things I shouldn’t have. Altercations on the ski hill make you feel bad. I should know better. I’ve been in a few. I recalled the king of them all: the great debacle at Knuckle Junction (a.k.a. Kleenex Corner on Aspen Mountain).It was 1994. A group of us had just skied the Ridge and were resting at the bottom. Another skier came past us a little too damn close. One of us said something and someone in her group came down to explain something we apparently didn’t understand about her skill level. In doing so, he kicked up a small spray of snow that may have dusted our boot tops. That was enough.As they skied off, we followed. I passed the leader on the catwalk from Spar Gulch to the top of Little Nell. I threw my skis sideways. I don’t think many people realize what a large quantity of snow you can spray up making a hockey stop at 30 mph. If you have any doubt, just ask a group of smart alecs who travel through the frosty cloud at about 29.5 mph.To these folks’ credit, they tried to ignore this gesture. The problem was that they looked so darn ridiculous all smug and caked with ice that we couldn’t keep from laughing. This was the wrong thing to do.As I glided around Kleenex Corner, one of their stragglers skied up next to me and started edging me towards the cliffs. With no apparent alternative course of action available, I grabbed his shoulders and cart-wheeled him into the dirt. Unfortunately, my skis became entangled in his and we both went down, transporting large quantities of terra firma around the corner with us.It looked worse than it was, at least until members of both parties jumped in to help straighten things out. Goggles and gloves and hats went flying. Skis were kicked off. Poles were thrown down. The sound of rip-stop nylon not living up to its billing pierced the crisp air. There was so much bird-flipping, tumbling, and down feathers flying that it resembled a chickens’ gymnastic exhibition. Many of the large number of onlookers feigned shock, but I think most enjoyed the show. The 12 of us pummeled each other for about 15 minutes straight. I judge that we were all very nearly of the same fitness level and fighting ability because we stopped to catch our breaths at the same time and nobody was hurt. Terribly embarrassed, we quietly began to gather up the gear we had strewn all over the upper reaches of Little Nell. So intermingled was the mess that it required cooperation to clean it up. I remember sheepishly pointing out that one of them had inadvertently strapped my goggles onto his hat. He apologized before remembering that he was still mad. Awkwardly, we sorted the gloves into matching pairs again. When we got to the gondola, people were all abuzz about the horrible “crash” up on the catwalk. We hid ourselves in a bucket and hung our heads in what I can only describe as shame of a physically painful nature. At the top, the ski patrol was waiting for us. Apparently we had been scrapping with an off-duty Snowmass patrolman who called ahead to his buddy. He wanted our passes pulled. We told our side of the story, which ended with us demanding that his pass be pulled. In the end, we all pulled our heads out and kept the tickets.That debacle happened on a Presidents’ Day weekend, too. And, I remembered a few other incidents, mostly finger flexers, all occurring on this holiday as well. I don’t know if tensions are high because we’ve had the slopes to ourselves since Christmas and suddenly have to share again, or if it’s because cabin fever makes us all a little grouchy this time of winter. It might have something to do with the crowd that shows up on this one weekend every year. It’s the invasion of the front rangers. These are the people who honestly believe they live in the mountains but don’t. They’re foothill urbanites who attach the Subaru keys to a carabiner, subscribe to the Patagonia catalogue, don’t shave on the weekends and think they’re acclimated to life at 8,000 feet.In the lift lines they spout facts and figures about our town, competing with each other in a nerdish game of Aspen trivia. They know how steep in degrees every pitch on Highland Bowl is. They’ll tell you about the cool places to go and the best places to “hang.” For crying out loud they know how deep the midmountain base is and think it matters! The most irritating thing is not that they get it all wrong, but that they have it all right. They know more about this place than we do! It’s like a busload of busybody librarians from Raleigh showing up to tell Sheriff Taylor about Mayberry.Why then, do we fight with each other when they arrive? Well, you just can’t pick a fight with these bubbly visitors. It’s more like having a spat with someone you love. After going round and round you finally realize that you’re both frustrated about the same thing and you’ve just taken it out on each other because you can’t take it out on anyone else. After making up, you might even share a laugh.So, does anybody else want to get out of here for a few days next February and go on a hut trip or something? Roger Marolt wonders why bad things happen to good skiers. Let him have your best shot at roger@maroltllp.com


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