Paul Andersen: It’s great to ski free in Aspen
If you have to ask the price of a lift ticket in Aspen, you shouldn’t be skiing here. Revealing sticker shock at the ticket window is out of fashion in the soft, downy lap of luxurious indulgence.
Forking over $179 for a day of lift riding must be done without complaint, as if you were feeding a parking meter for your Tesla. Having fun in Aspen should be priceless.
But the price of fun, at least to one of Aspen’s cultural founding fathers, was always too high. Robert Maynard Hutchins, the youngest ever chancellor of the University of Chicago, opined that “fun is a form of indolence.”
Hutchins, a close confederate with Aspen Institute founder Walter Paepcke, equally denigrated athletics, saying, “I get my exercise being pallbearer for my athletic friends.”
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Hutchins failed to appreciate exertion beyond the furrowing of his weighty brow. He would never have paid $179 for a day of skiing in Aspen, even if he were handed the keys to the Aspen Mountain Club and a pass to the corporeal pleasures of The Little Nell spa.
For me, the Aspen Classic Pass is just right. Seven days riding lifts when the snow is deep and the crowds are down gratifies my downhill passion with the swish of my telemark skis in a prolonged series of crystalline freefalls.
For most visitors, multi-day passes cut the day rate to what they consider reasonable. Ski five days and you pay $159 a day, or a total of $795. To many visitors, this is a paltry sum one might squander on a family dinner at a local silver spoon eatery — which would be a great name for the next best restaurant in Aspen.
Guests would flock to The Silver Spoon despite, or because of, the obvious drug connotation. The Silver Spoon could feature a knockout holiday cocktail — “Champagne au lace” — which is all the rage this year at boutiques on the mall. Or, for land developers, they would serve the “Bourbon Renewal”: Drink two and the whole neighborhood looks different.
There’s an alternative to paying through the nose for lift tickets. Just ski free, as many locals do, by “skinning up” the mountains. You will puff and pant. You may suffer imbeciles catcalling from the chairlift — “You’re going the wrong way!” But you’ll earn cred among the skiing cognoscenti — and save money.
The uphill trend is championed by Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, who envisions Aspen as an uphiller’s mecca. Aspen Skiing Co. has for years bought into this concept by generously allowing uphill traffic during downhill hours, something many other ski resorts strictly forbid.
In Aspen, uphillers lend an aura of mystique by demonstrating healthy, active lifestyles in a Mount Fuji-like parade of mendicants seeking enlightenment at the mountaintop.
As a notorious Aspen iconoclastic used to remark when asked about skiing: “I’m too poor to go up and too smart to come down.” Now you can be poor and still go up — at least once you’ve acquired uphill gear — and then you can come down smartly, with style and grace.
Some problems arise, however, when newbie uphillers take to the backcountry. Assuming there’s little difference between skinning up Tiehack or Taylor Pass, they fecklessly track into avalanche terrain and trigger slides. This happened recently to a group of skiers who took the fatally wrong route to Opa’s Hut.
A member of their party was swept down and surfed a hard slab ala Laird Hamilton. Luckily, he lost only his ski, not his life. Some 30 years ago, a cross-country skier was killed in that same location. Avalanches don’t care how strong, beautiful, well-equipped or experienced you are. Avalanche is a roll of the dice on the typically weak Colorado snowpack.
Skimo, or ski mountaineering, is gaining popularity because it feels good, has some ecological merit, and can look very attractive in Lycra stretched just so over the honed physiques that give uphilling Aspenites an aura of admiration and envy.
So, try going “the wrong way” and ski for free. You may discover why this brand of social climbing in Aspen — true upward mobility — is on the rise.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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