Vagneur: As Ajax turns | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: As Ajax turns

As I checked in at the Aspen Mountain ambassador station at the top of the mountain a couple of weeks ago, word came from on high (actually the bottom, where the "big wheels" have offices) requesting that I sit tight and wait for a film company to arrive.

"What do you suppose they want?" I asked media guide Diana Lane.

"They are looking for a shrine tour," she replied.

While not an expert, I do know quite a bit about the shrines on Aspen Mountain; in fact, I know where they are, including the ones that no longer exist and a couple that haven't been thought of yet. There are two that have been in existence for 10 or 12 years that only a handful of people know about and are dedicated to mostly living, non-musician, hardworking locals. Imagine that.

Several years ago, I had an invitation from two separate individuals to point out the shrine locations to them so they could write a book about the quirky memorials. I refused. Then, out of nowhere, my friend David Wood wrote the book I didn't want to see in print ("Sanctuaries in the Snow"). So OK, a tour with a Canadian film company (S-Media) no longer seemed sacrilegious. Especially if they wanted to film me on skis.

I was co-star to Martha Lee, a retired Canadian downhill racer and former coach with the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation. She is the skiing co-host of "Ski Television," a Canadian series of specials about skiing in North America. Geezus, she could ski, but before we ever made a turn, her good looks and fine form had a cluster of drooling men gathered around us as we prepared our speaking lines. "This will be good," I thought.

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For all you young mogul mashers out there, there's one thing you should remember about being picked to ski on film — it's usually not about how good you are; it's more about how less bad you are than the last guy the producer was looking at. Helps keep your ego in tow.

My lifelong friend Doug Franklin and I were picked to do some fancy skiing for a guy at Winter Park. College ski bums both, we leaped at the chance to be "famous." Upon completion of the day's filming, the man gave us his card and said he'd send more information along with a check. After a long wait, notice came that the film, undoubtedly starring us, would be shown in the auditorium at the Denver Museum of Natural History. We showed up beaming with pride, only to learn that most of our great scenes had been cut and our "pay" was free admission to the packed event.

When asked about her philosophy of on-snow training, Martha said speed was the essence of everything she looked for.

"Let's face it," she said. "The basic physics of skiing haven't changed over time. We waste resources debating technique when we should be teaching kids how to ski fast. Don't burden them with too much information."

That prompted me to relate my recent lift ride with a ski pro (not from Aspen Mountain) and her student, who was learning to ski moguls. The pro was laying so much information (pertinent but extraneous) on the poor student that I finally plugged my ears, afraid I would never be able to turn again if I listened to her anymore.

"Exactly," said Martha.

Finally, with long afternoon shadows beginning to appear near the top of Snow Bowl, and after a bench-sitting scene in the Garcia shrine, L.G., the director, said he had enough and we were through for the day. I knew Martha was in a hurry to get down and nurse her 5-month-old son, so like two little kids, we shot knowing glances at each other and I quietly said, "Follow me." Too low for Aztec, we strafed the Bowl, shot the seam between Lower Roch and Spring Pitch, sailed off the road into Strawpile and across Tower 7 Road, and whoof, we were down. About three turns, maximum.

"When I saw you fly off the road and disappear into Strawpile, I thought maybe I should slow down," exclaimed Martha, who had never skied here before, "but I trusted your line and didn't. Man, did I catch some air." We weren't smiling, we were laughing and after a quick hug to cement a great day, she went to take care of her son and I got on the gondola, headed back up to see what else the day might bring.

You never know on Aspen Mountain.

Tony Vagneur will let you know the air time and date for the special. He writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.

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