Meredith C. Carroll: Make Aspen great again
The silence in Aspen took on its own texture when the world was involuntarily muted in March. Slipping out at night for long walks with the dog to ogle and bask in the extraordinary tranquility felt equal parts rakish and supernatural. It remained so still in early April that my daughters and I laid down in the middle of the street to watch the full moon levitate over Smuggler Mountain. With disbelieving eyes and in hushed tones, we wondered when and if Aspen had ever exhaled for this long before.
This September will mark 17 years since I moved to Colorado, which means I wasn’t here when Aspen was great; then again, you probably weren’t, either. Like a dog chasing its tail, the best bits are always the ones just out of reach. Except the past few months have made a once-seemingly impossible reset seem realizable. Much of Upper Roaring Fork Valley life was on track to remain as is — that is, predominantly frenetic and arbitrarily extravagant — until it began unraveling irreversibly in late winter. The intellectual wheres and whys of how we got to today is one story. Another one is the once-in-100-years global pandemic that has been transmitted onto us, if not as a gift to get back to basics, then at least as an invitation to shift direction.
Tales of Aspen’s glory days famously include excess, although not on the scope and scale of the $75,000-a-month Five Trees rentals like the one featured in a recent Aspen Daily News article about big-city dwellers seeking extended stays in wider-open-spaces amid the coronavirus panic. But with tourists turning into tenants and locals looking at their own backyard with fresh eyes and lots of time to spend in it, now has emerged as an unexpected yet auspicious moment to reboot.
From the confluence of community that has risen to care for its own — and beyond — during this preternatural public health crisis and economic plunge, to noticeably fuller, younger and more diverse crowds than Aspen’s customary engaged citizenry at last weekend’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, opportunity and rebirth feel palpable, even among so much tenuousness.
Landlords are demonstrating unprecedented (and un-Aspen-like) leniency, and Aspen City Council is proactively marketing the city to actual residents like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association trying to draw day-trippers or grab globetrotters. With marquee summer events moved largely online and either free or more financially feasible, Aspen’s secret favorite season has become more accessible to Aspenites than ever before.
Contributing to the hopefulness is news of Paradise Bakery remaining in its beloved spot, the Snowmass Center adding a real-people-friendly diner to its redevelopment plans, and the Carbondale Mountain Fair harkening back to its early days of simpler gatherings as inspiration for how to move forward this summer. Without lanyards swinging across sport coats and sundresses, white tents occupying sight lines, high heels tearing up grass, and elbow-to-elbow events exclusive mostly to expats, the Aspen playing field is starting to level off.
Even though the placid early-2020 version of Aspen has since elapsed, the dearth of late spring and early summer events, air and road traffic and delirious tourism are nonetheless allowing for the people who are here to relish it all a bit more while also trying to ensure others can, too — kind of like the stories of old Aspen (where there was probably a little too much relishing, but still).
All of a sudden there’s more occasion, space and inclination for the mountain lifestyle to be adopted into hearts and habits. A renewed focus on who and what are already here instead of who and what are coming next makes it seem like inching backward toward some vintage Aspen values is achievable.
Stripping Aspen of what it’s become known for leaves a glaring picture of who and what it used to be, and still is. And if you can manage to scrape away those layers to get down to the heart of what makes Aspen great — again — well, then lucky you.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll
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