Guest commentary: Our Aspen time comes to an end, but memories will last a lifetime

Will Norton
A South African in Aspen

For many years, Saffas have been making the trip over to Aspen for the winter season. As the end of our experience is around the corner, it is so clear to me now why this is the case and why I know it will continue to be the case.

We arrived here as a group of tanned, broke, overconfident and under-dressed South Africans after our stint in Mexico (which seems like a lifetime ago now) and we are leaving Aspen as pale, not as broke, warmly dressed Saffas.

What we are leaving Aspen with, however, is what I feel is more important. I believe that we have all done well for ourselves in terms of finances. While everyone is different on how they go about saving/spending their money, it is clear that the opportunity is available to kickstart your future by earning in the Aspen bubble.

Yes, the money is important, but actually enjoying yourself — and not working yourself to the bone — is more crucial. We all have a wealth of knowledge about this town and it is no surprise that many in our group have already started planning their second season.

Knowing the ropes took awhile, but once you had the basic feel of Aspen and started to feel like a local, there was no turning back. With the feeling of settling in and being comfortable, in this originally foreign town, comes a real love for this place.

There is definitely a small-town mindset here but the community is extremely tight-knit and possesses endless generosity. The generosity of the residents here in Aspen means a lot to us Saffas and we want you to know that we appreciate every kind offer and every conversation that you have taken the time to give or have with us.

There is no doubt that we are also leaving with an immense amount of personal growth, and what comes with this is the new mindset, or outlook on life, that we have all adopted. This process might have occurred knowingly, or unknowingly, but there is no doubt (although our antics out in town might not show so) that we are finishing our experience as more well-rounded and mature people.

A few Saffas are leaving with even more than mentioned above, and this comes in the form of relationships. Who would have thought that some of us would travel half-way around the world to find love? Options back home clearly weren’t cutting it. These newfound romances have opened the doors for trips to Nebraska and Washington, D.C., and with flights back to South Africa booked, it will be curious to see what Americans think of our country and see how these relationships will flourish.

It feels as if we settled into life in Aspen just the other day. As quickly as it came around, this chapter seems to have come to a close. Looking back, you always contemplate what you could have done differently, but I feel like Aspen is a special place in this regard because every person’s experience is different and completely catered to them. Each person’s experience is slightly different, which is amazing because your Aspen is truly yours.

I am going to miss the skiing and the “jols” but jeez I am going to miss the people we have met throughout our journey. The friends we have made in Aspen, through work, romances or parties, have all impacted our lives in the most positive of ways. Engaging with people from all over the world has been brilliant, and with offers flying around of homes to stay at in South America and South Africa, it just shows what a special bond we have created. I truly hope that these travels are realized because that is what an experience like this is all about.

I couldn’t recommend an Aspen season more to any South African thinking of potentially coming over. You experience immense personal growth in every aspect of life and the friends and memories you make will stay with you until your last day.

As the road through Aspen comes to an end, I hope that this column has enlightened you on what our Aspen consists of. I know that for years to come, we will be talking about this season as the best days of our lives.

Will Norton is South African born and bred, and loves home. He wrote a series of columns for The Aspen Times while he was here. It’s true, there’s no place like it, but Aspen with 30 of your mates is pretty good, too.