Marolt: Ski racing is not a development factor

Roger Marolt
Roger This

There is a lot to consider in the process of developing (or not) the base area of Lift 1BS. (You know they put the next letter of the alphabet behind the “1” every time they screw with the location of the ski lift over there, and I added an “S” because I think that’s appropriate when they want to move the bottom of the lift farther up the mountain.)

I mean, we’ve got mass, scale, height, proximity to Norway Slope, distance from the lift, a white-to-black zoning change from conservation to commercial, the mixture of hotel rooms and free-market condos, transportation, employee housing, parking, lift access, community benefits, privatization of the area, construction mitigation, Aspen’s veritable survival and the best place for apres ski to consider. You know it’s complicated when the potential developers up there are lobbying against each other’s projects — a battle nobody’s ever seen waged in Aspen. It’s a big deal.

But let’s be clear about one thing: Aspen’s ski-racing heritage is not something we need to consider. That’s right — I said it. It’s blasphemy in print. Feel free to use it to have me burned at the bamboo stake.

Oh, you want some reasoning, huh? Well, let’s start with the fact that we are, after all, hosting the World Cup Finals up there next spring, and nobody has so much as bent a blade of crabgrass to improve that deadly quiet, decrepit wasteland, as the unenlightened sometimes call it.

Sure, “they” threw out the prospect a couple of years ago of the big races being staged here and then yanked it back, saying we first needed a new lift, a new hotel, new restaurants and serious revitalization of the entire area in order to be worthy of the event. “I” called B.S. (bluff for sure) from the get-go.

It turns out “I” was right. The area up there is two years more run-down than when the demands were commanded, yet the races are coming anyway. Apparently Aspen has more to offer the International Ski Federation than vice versa, even without the damned demanded improvements.

Another thing to consider is that, partially due to the short-sightedness of the FIS, World Cup ski racing is not a very large part of Aspen’s identity anymore. As much as it absolutely kills me to say it, Aspen is an X Games kind of town nowadays, bro. That’s what Aspen Skiing Co. bet its branding money on, and that is what we now are. So, I ask you, would we ever consider approving a development project based on what ESPN might threaten to do with the X Games? That’s what I thought.

I will conclude with a subtle observation about Aspen’s competitive skiing heritage: It is alive and well and thrives in spite of very little interaction with the World Cup over the past 25 years. The competitive skiing culture is stronger in Aspen now than at any point in my life, including the 1980s and early ’90s when we annually hosted America’s Downhill on the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain.

Our ties to skiing have far less to do with one big international event that may occur once a year. They have everything to do with massive participation by local kids in all varieties of programs offered by Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. It’s about the Town Race Series. It’s about locals clinics. It’s about Nastar. It’s about the unwritten yet unalterable 6-inch rule and lunch on the lift. There is something here for everyone interested in going for it on some kind of apparatus designed to slide fast over snow.

Crossing parallel universes, I draw your attention to the Dominican Republic. It is the center of the baseball cosmos. It produces, by far, the most professional baseball players per capita, even though it doesn’t have Major League Baseball games there. It doesn’t have great facilities. The kids don’t even start out with gloves. Nonetheless, they love it. Everyone participates. Passion is their fuel.

You see what I’m getting at. If I hear that the development at Lift 1A is the cornerstone of our skiing heritage in Aspen again, I am going to scream; at whom I don’t know, but trust me, I will scream.

Preserving our skiing heritage is all about us skiing with passion. Crediting a fancy hotel with enhancing Aspen’s ski heritage would be as ridiculous as saying luxury boxes ignited baseball fever in Fenway Park. OK, so are we straight? Unless we’re talking about museums, development doesn’t preserve heritage.

Roger Marolt thinks that putting new lifts in the right places for skiing and lengthening ski runs is the way to start and that the developers should work around that. Email


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