Meredith Carroll: The straws that stir the drinks
For those who live here year round, Aspen during the holidays can perhaps be summed up best by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire.” And, no, it’s neither “Show me the money!” (although, yes, of course — that, too) nor “You complete me” that most accurately captures the sentiment felt among many locals during the high season.
The moment comes somewhere near the middle of the film during a montage showing Jerry putting his nose to the grindstone — to the detriment of his marriage — for the sake of a client. When in an airport for the nth time in as many days and weeks, he and his ex-fiancee momentarily lock eyes while passing in opposite directions on a moving sidewalk, neither of them fazed by the randomness of the encounter. Notwithstanding an acrimonious and relatively recent breakup, they acknowledge each other with a nod that tacitly communicates their solidarity as people who have chosen lives in which success comes only by relinquishing themselves for the sake of advancing others.
Despite appearances to the contrary, the magic of Aspen over the holidays doesn’t happen via a Christmas miracle. Not center stage at glittery A-list fêtes or featured in People magazine cuddled under cashmere blankets with glasses of prosecco in front of crackling fires are the real-life people who fold the blankets and stoke the flames, or the people making the gondola run, the Champagne chill, the lights twinkle, the Santas jolly, the restaurants bustle, the hotels welcoming, the roads and sidewalks clear, the fitness studios sweaty, the hot tubs sanitary, the stores overpriced and the massages soothing.
Other resort towns may boast amenities that rival Aspen’s; however, it’s here where you’ll find people at peace with sacrificing their holidays to make those of its visitors that much better. Tuning a ski well takes expertise; doing it joyfully takes heart. The former is a skill that’s learned, the latter is something that’s either in your DNA or isn’t. Aspen attracts people who crave community as much as celebration, and it’s those people who blend both, seamlessly, that style the holidays in Aspen as if they’re out of a fairy tale or on the silver screen (just not “Dumb and Dumber,” because, as any Aspenite worth their full-season ski pass knows, that was filmed in Breckenridge).
While tourists with overflowing wallets certainly help make Aspen tick, it’s the people with overflowing spirits that allow it to thrive. Because when the crowds thin out after New Year’s Day, what remains are the people who lifted all the luggage into the trunks, who shuttled the visitors back to the airport, who refreshed the sheets and towels, who cleared the tables, who taught (and keep teaching) the 7 a.m. Pure Barre classes (go, Lissa, Jillian, Asia, Frances and Jordan!) with just as much energy and enthusiasm as before the seasonal visitors descended into Sardy Field.
What endures before the Christmas trees are trimmed and after they’re hauled away are the people who smile because they mean it, not just because they’re being tipped well (still, please be sure to do that, too). While the green provided by the holiday crowds is necessary fuel, Aspen’s natural greenery and the way of life it provides enriches beyond dollars and cents. The local community ails, grieves, rejoices, loves, encourages, commiserates, and supports indiscriminately, making it hearth for those who choose to call Aspen home, whether permanently or even for just a few days.
Aspen still thrives after the snow and crowds melt away — and the knowledge of that is communicated wordlessly by the people who live here as they surrender their holidays in order for visitors to make the most of theirs. Aspen’s health care providers, baristas, ski instructors, cashiers and bellman aren’t beneath anyone; they’re likely just as well-educated and well-spoken as the tourists they’re serving. Plenty of local residents choose to live in Aspen because they’re attracted to the scenery, not the scene. (Likewise, visitors will do well to act like they’ve been there, not like they’re better.)
It’s been said that the life of an Aspenite is better than those who vacation here. Indeed, Aspen serves to live — and then lives happily ever after.
More at MeredithCarroll.com.
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