Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore | AspenTimes.com

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Monday last, the great white hope arrived in the form of snowflakes, sorely missed by anyone in the ski industry. A friend of mine was driving his wife up a very slick Aspen Street when the intuition gained from years in the mountains told him to stop short of the top. An impatient driver behind him flashed by, and before that whiz kid could make the turnaround at the bottom of 1A, he was involved in a five-car accident.

Back in the 1960s, early ’70s, sport utility vehicles and other four-wheel-drive cars were unheard of. You either drove cautiously and wisely, or you ended up in a snowbank or a wreck. Many people had Jeeps, the vehicle of choice, but most of them didn’t have tops and would’ve taken a day and a half to drive to Glenwood, so they didn’t get used a lot in the winter.

All the rental cars were two-wheel-drive, driven by folks unused to snow and ice, and on some days getting around town was like running an obstacle course from all the stuck vehicles, generally abandoned in a rush to get to the slopes or to find a wrecker. For days after a big snow, angle parking was guaranteed to get most people stuck, but in that era of a different attitude, there were usually three or four young people walking by who would offer up a little push muscle, just ’cause. Of course, the average age of our citizens back then was closer to 30 than 70.

There are a lot of people today who don’t understand the concept of four-wheel drive. The advantage of four wheels under power is to the act of moving forward or backward. It does not help your braking ability one whit on icy or snow-packed roads.

Today’s radial tires are far superior to the old bias-ply versions we drove on, those stiff-walled, nonflexible, narrow and high-profiled, always with suspicious “new and improved” snow tread models. I might have mentioned it before, but driving cautiously and wisely became a learned trait rather early on if you wanted to be sure of your destination.

Of course, there are always variations to a repetitive theme, and I can provide them, in glaring detail. Vail Pass, before it was turned into a roller rink of asphalt that is closed at the first sign of ice, used to be open no matter what. I remember driving over it with my brother in a Volkswagen bug, pushing through about a foot of still falling, fresh snow. We seemed to be the only car on the two-lane road, moving slowly but surely, until the windshield wipers iced up and he was having trouble seeing ahead. Knowing that to stop most likely would mean we were stuck, I jumped out of the passenger side and, running alongside the car, managed to clear the wiper blades on both sides. I did that a couple of times. He was 16, I was 20.

Occasionally, a newcomer wonders why, with hundreds if not thousands of acres to build on, all the old ranchers put their houses next to the road? So they could get to the main road on big snow days, that’s why. There were no large snowplows hooked to big diesel trucks, and the county might plow the road, might not. Besides, in such quiet, bucolic times, those old-timers could not foresee the huge amount of traffic we have today, bicycles and dog walkers included.

In the 1950s, we traveled around Woody Creek behind a horse-drawn sled or, if we had one, a sleigh. Every day, we fed the cows from large sleds, pulled by horses, and life moved at a different pace. If you needed to go to the post office or the neighbor’s house for dinner, you might hook up an older, trained horse alongside a green 2-year-old and head out on the sleigh, accomplishing a training session along with a good time.

Managing a vehicle in snow today is far easier than it was in our recent past, but in our unquestionable ability to be human, we are still capable of doing stupid things at the worst possible time.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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