The little mountain |

The little mountain

Paul E. Anna

Sometimes the little guy wins.

If you’re looking for a great example, just head down the road to the little mountain between Highlands and Snowmass. That’s right, Buttermilk is the poster child for image overhaul.

This week, Buttermilk becomes mecca for the alternative-sports culture. The X Games have become, for a certain segment of the population, bigger than the Olympics. And the altar and stage upon which worship is directed and the show performed is the roly-poly mound known as Buttermilk.

Oh, I know, you wouldn’t be caught dead on Buttermilk. You hike the bowl, ride the cirque, humble the dumps. Only kids, old women and hikers ever go to Buttermilk. But guess what? For millions of wannabes around the world, Buttermilk is Aspen. It is the place the hucker from the Czech Republic, the slopestyler from Slovenia, the mono skier from Montana want to be.

How did this happen?

From its inception in 1958, when Friedl Pfeifer left the Aspen Ski Corporation’s ski school to open his own ski mountain, Buttermilk has been the place you took your babies for their first fling on skis. It was where you sent your friends from the flatlands so they could get used to riding rails without the possibility of getting hurt. It was a teaching mountain. A treadmill, if you will, for those who weren’t trail-ready.

Even the name (which quaintly derives from the mining days in the 1880s when the milk the miners’ wives would tote up to their husbands would turn to butter on the journey) has a warm fuzzy feel. So much so that some of the geniuses in the ski company’s marketing department tried to toughen the mountain’s image by rechristening it Tiehack for a couple of years.

But turning the ‘Milk from lamb into lion was a direct result of marrying the X Games and Buttermilk Mountain together in a holy union that will, if all sides do the right thing, last till death do they part. Buttermilk and ESPN are extreme winter sports. They have become inextricable. Tied together at the halfpipe.

Buttermilk is a perfect venue for the X Games. Sure, it could use a little more vertical, but as a “made for television event” mountain, it has it all. In fact it would be hard, given all the money in the world, to recreate a facility that allows a crowd, event venues and television production facilities to live so harmoniously.

For Aspen, the event brings to town exactly the crowd that Skico wants. If folks in the state had known that the event would eventually get this big, they probably would have voted it down, à la the 1976 Olympics. But under the radar, Skico and ESPN have created a world-class event right here in Pitkin County.

At the heart of it all is Buttermilk. The little mountain that could. It is the hill that became bigger, and no doubt badder, than its local brethren ” even if for just one weekend a year.

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