When did Aspen peak?
I want to start this week’s column with a crazy premise: Aspen was a better place when you first arrived than it is now.That assertion is true for me. It’s true for the majority of people I know. It’s certainly true for the people who used to run around town in white T-shirts with “I love Aspen” hearts on the fronts. Remember them? To those few people who weren’t here “back then” and believe Aspen is as good now as it ever has been, I could say: “You’re wrong!” But why waste breath at this altitude? How would they know anyway? Besides, give them a few years of traffic and construction and they’ll come around. The other exceptions to this rule are Realtors. They’ll always tell you that “now” is the time to buy in Aspen. But they’re getting paid to say that. Now, I know that some of you editorial page doctors of philosophy, logic and wasted ink (i.e. letter writers) are mulling this over, thinking that there is a fatal flaw in accepting the argument as true, but not quite being able to pin it down. Well, relax and take another sip of coffee. I’m going to give it to you: This argument, if true in every case, means that Aspen was at its best on Day One and has been getting worse ever since. It was a cool glass of water once, and now we are coursing along through the big pipe on our journey to the wastewater treatment facility.Of course, we know that this isn’t true. We may be swirling around the drain, but it hasn’t been a straight flush to get here. Before silver was discovered, life in Aspen had to be tougher than elk meat cured in high-altitude sun. After that, it was relatively comfortable until the repeal of the Sherman Act in 1893 had the effect of a citywide eviction notice. Things were so bad then that you could have taken ownership of almost any property in the West End simply by paying the back property taxes. Despite romantic notions, the Quiet Years may have been the worst time ever to live in Aspen. This presents us with seemingly conflicting information: Most of us feel Aspen is getting worse. But it’s obviously better than the years of poverty after the silver crash and during the Great Depression.Aspen rose to stardom during the silver boom and then crashed when the country abandoned the Silver Standard. We caught a lift with the advent of skiing in the 1930s and began another slip into a construction pit with the advent of low bid, cost-plus contracting in the 1980s. Think roller-coaster! Recall the clickity-click sound of our car being pulled up the hill. Now, feel the wind in our hair as we are picking up speed. Have you got it pictured? We’ve peaked!We could talk all day – strike that – forever about what lies ahead, how fast we’re falling, etc., etc., but where does that get us besides buzzed out of our minds on Weinerstube coffee? Instead, I think it’s more constructive using this information to figure out exactly when Aspen was at its best. We know it was between, say, 1935 and now. Hell, that’s only 71 years. Surely we can sift through that much data.To figure this out, I suggest we start by interviewing the old-timers. Some of them have lived here for all of those 71 years. They’ll have some ideas about when Aspen was at its best. We have to get right on this, though. Call a codger today and make an appointment. Then, we’ll have to make a trip to the historical society. Don’t worry, somebody around here knows where it is. I think we should go back in the archives and give the information from the mining days at least a cursory review. Skiing is more fun than counting money, so I think our peak came after 1950 rather than before 1893, but we have to make sure. And, we may find some similarities between Aspen’s last decline and now. Don’t forget to check out places like the Wheeler Opera House and Holden/Marolt Barn, too. (No, this is not a shameless plug. But I can show you where my dad scratched his initials into the wall when he was a boy.) These places are full of information about the people who made important contributions to this town. (Rumor has it that Walter Paepcke might have been a developer.) We should go up into the mountains and look around, as well. Let’s get back to skiing for skiing’s sake to see if it was any more fun in the old days. Sure, wool sweaters stink when they get wet, but maybe they were onto something back then. Don’t discount anything. Imagine we are the first mountain bikers to cross Government Trail – without full-suspension bikes! Let’s pretend we are riding on horseback up Maroon Creek before the road was paved. These are just a few ideas to get a clue about what made us happier in the halcyon days. This could be an incredible educational project!And don’t forget to research what they used to call “nightlife.” You may feel funny standing in the middle of a timeshare sales office that used to be a really happening nightclub, but just close your eyes and allow yourself to be mesmerized by the ghost of a twirling disco ball.So, what’s the purpose of all this? Well, for starters, we can finally prove that there is an actual answer to at least one of Aspen’s most pressing concerns. And I suppose someone could push the research far enough to pinpoint the exact person who broke this camel’s back. Mostly though, it’ll just give us something to do this summer. It’s either that, or simply accepting as fact that Aspen was better when you got here and has been heading downhill ever since. Do you want to shoulder the blame for that?Roger Marolt has a suspicion that Aspen peaked just before he began writing about it. Fire some blame to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hold on a second. Did I read the headline right? Aspen is going to host World Cup downhill and super-G races next March? I don’t believe it. It’s impossible! I know it’s impossible because that…