The slow ride has its place |

The slow ride has its place

Nothing ruins downhill skiing faster than a quicker uphill ride.

I’m resigned to a big new hotel of some sort at the base of Lift 1A, so long as they leave that ancient two-seater alone. Of course, now that the city has nixed the hotel proposal that was on the table, I sense hand-wringing by a certain sector of the community over the fate of the high-speed lift that the rejected hotel’s developers had promised to bankroll if their project got the go-ahead.

I guess the prospect of a quicker ride up the Ruthie’s side of the big hill had some folks salivating like the first powder shots of the season. Count the other guys with real estate development dreams in the 1A pipeline among the dismayed. Count me joyful.

Anyone who has hit Tiehack over at Buttermilk on a powder day knows the benefit of a decrepit chairlift ” one of those jobs that shuttles riders up the slopes with all the efficiency of the Entrance to Aspen. That slow crawl on a two-seater virtually ensures untracked lines and frozen feet until at least late morning. At best, you can pull off maybe four runs per hour over there ” a sure-fire deterrent to the hordes who might otherwise let themselves be seen at Buttermilk. OK, maybe not hordes, but dozens. Several dozen.

Granted, Aspen Mountain is a slightly different story. The gondola will spill more skiers onto the slopes quickly than the inaugural drop of the rope on Walsh’s, leaving 1A devotees at a distinct disadvantage. It takes them three separate chairlift rides to reach the summit from the as-yet-unglittered side of the mountain and two just to reach the Dump runs.

I guess its strategic advantage, if 1A has one, is the theoretically quicker shot it provides at first tracks on some of the steep, lower runs on the Ruthie’s side, but nothing short of a death wish would make me point my skis down Corkscrew Gully anyway.

Still, I’ll join the convivial crowd at the base of 1A. Why? Maybe because it smacks of quintessential Aspen even to those of us who don’t know the A-frames from Abetone’s and think the Aspen Crud is the flu.

On a powder day, one might still score a decent spot in line after 8:30 a.m., while the mass of inhumanity over at the gondola is already jockeying into position to trample the weak when the loading begins. I first developed a distaste for the whole scene when I watched an Aspen Mountain regular shove past a kid of about 12 who’d earned his rightful place at the front of the line by showing up first.

I’ve learned to hold my own at the gondola, and I’ve been an infrequent visitor to the 1A side, but a powder day last season made a 1A believer out of me. Locals lined up casually in the dumping snow, greeting each other and joking about the traffic jam at the gondola that we were all surely sidestepping with our ascent of South Aspen Street to 1A.

The gondola, which had been running, suddenly developed problems right before boarding time and the 1A lifties made us wait until the malfunction was resolved, turning a deaf ear to our pleas for a jump start on the speedier buckets.

We couldn’t go up until the gondola riders could. By this time, the serpentine line behind us was, I suspect, epic by 1A standards.

A ski instructor and his pupils ” the folks who get early rides up on the gondola while the regular, paying customers wait ” schussed down to 1A, their faces flush with the joy of undeserved first tracks.

The we-get-to-cut-to-the-front-of-the-line look on the instructor’s face quickly turned to one of trepidation. We jeered and closed ranks. Nobody, but nobody, was going to let this guy and his customers nose in ahead of them on “our” side of the mountain.

The gondola began to move, and we began loading onto our humble chairlift simultaneously. As we creaked slowly upward, the gondola lurched to a halt. The snow pelted the immobile buckets and a wave of incredulous hoots rippled down the chairlift line. Surely the cursing was reaching a fever pitch at the gondola.

It was an insignificant moment that happened to make my memory’s highlight reel.

I don’t need prescription ski goggles to see the change coming to the base of Lift 1A. Something will be developed there, altering the landscape and the feel of the crowd. But when the old lift disappears, so will another piece of the place that is ” make that was ” Aspen.

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