Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
They gathered around me like curious Utes glimpsing the first white man in the valley, eyeing me up and down and inching in closer. “Now listen, we’re not the usual run-of-the-pack skiers, so don’t give us some whitewashed version of where to ski.” Skiing by myself puts me in contact with some great people, but occasionally, I run into a few ducks with a different quack.
The big guy, the one in front with the hunter’s blaze-orange, knit-wool balaclava pulled haphazardly around his mustachioed face, was intent on impressing me with the high level of skiers standing behind him. A quick roll of my eyes around the semicircle revealed a couple pairs of old, straight sticks from 10 or more years ago, and without giving away the game, I made another fast glance for rear-entry boots, but came up empty on that one.
It’s a tough racket, trying to gauge the type of terrain someone might like, based on what they tell you. People have practically begged me to take them down some “steep bumps,” only to discover what they really meant was something like Silver Bell late in the day.
About 40 minutes later, we crossed paths again, the guy in orange threatening to kick my butt for not alerting them to the Lud’s Lane runout. “You call that Walsh’s a good trail?” came the next comment. “You’ve obviously never skied Jackson Hole.”
Actually, in order of insults, I did warn them about Lud’s Lane and yes, I have skied Jackson Hole, more than once, and in all fairness to the folks up that way, most of the skiing is excellent, indeed. However, I don’t think it’s the area against which all other ski mountains should be measured, and there are a couple of catwalks up there that have made me think it would be more expeditious to hire a horse out of Steamboat than to pole all the way back to the tram.
On another day, I had barely gotten settled on Lift 3 (Ajax Express) when the other passenger (mid-30s compared to my 60) asked if I knew how he could get to “that stuff,” meaning Hanging Tree and the Face of Bell. “Oh, sure,” I replied, “I’ll ski you over there and show you around a bit.” Not so fast. “Well, um, we’re from Vail and like to ski pretty fast,” he said, “maybe you could just tell us.”
If he hadn’t mentioned Vail, I might have let it slide, but the gauntlet once thrown, must be picked up and honored. I’m sure they thought it was an aberration that I dusted them on Hanging Tree, and therefore consented to a cruise down the Face to No. 6 (FIS). A wiggle down International with an aggressive shot through the bumps on Perry’s, followed by the Slalom Hill had the four of them strung out like string cheese on an oven-fresh frozen pizza. When they begged off for an early lunch and a need to meet their heretofore unmentioned wives, I wished them a safe trip back to Vail.
Before some of you grasp for your insecurity blankets and question why I’m bragging so hard, trust that this is not about me. It’s about Aspen Mountain and its incredible terrain of unbelievable niveous viscosity that has to be sampled to be enjoyed. It’s kind of like sex – if you go into a new relationship with the previous wild enjoyment still at the front of your mind, using it as a marker, you might just huff and puff yourself right through the next and best rambunctious romp you’ll ever experience.
I’m an Aspen Mountain snob, and readily admit that I’m spoiled. All that aside, however, one thing remains: Aspen Mountain has excellent skiing, appreciated by almost all good skiers everywhere.
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