Paul Andersen: Savoring the voices of old Aspen brings back dreams of a young skier
Tony Vagneur’s voice echoes from the ranchlands of the Roaring Fork, eliciting the dreamy landscapes of a pastoral idyll made earthy by the pungent fragrance of manure.
Tim Willoughby’s voice booms from the mining stopes of Aspen, the industrial city, whose rich silver culture speaks today in the facades of peachblow Victorians.
Roger Marolt’s voice calls from both ranching and mining, but, like a yodel, it rings most from the snowy slopes of skiing where his forebears bashed bamboo slalom gates when skiing was a romantic novelty in America.
These three voices — all in The Aspen Times — are vital to the collective conscience of Aspen. It is only through shared anecdotes of the old that we can appreciate what’s at stake with the new.
Vagneur called for retrospection when he wrote: “Imagine walking out your back door, lifting up a curtain of gingham and being able to see as far as the eye could imagine. Vast expanses of land, plains, mountains, rivers, streams, forests, wildlife; a veritable garden of immense possibilities, and it was yours to explore. That’s what almost everyone saw before the West was ‘settled.’”
Willoughby described the fiery nature of Aspen politics from over a century ago, a paean to a vibrant, spirited Aspen made up of characters who enriched the social fabric with a colorful weave of local lore.
Marolt recently reflected on preserving old Aspen from developments that threaten Aspen’s character: “Every time I have jumped into this fray in opposition to the next great project for Aspen, I have donned the costume of the concerned local, willing to tie myself to the elm tree in front of the widow’s house so the bulldozers must idle for a few minutes longer.”
Why hold onto memories of what was? The importance of the past was made clear to me last week when Jenifer Blomquist, whose family owns the Chalet Lisl, was archiving family memorabilia and excavated a column I wrote nearly 10 years ago. She sent it on to me.
The topic then, as it is today, was development of the Lift 1 site: “My dream vision for Lift One links me to the first time I saw Aspen in the winter of 1965, when I was a teen-aged skier from the Midwest. The memory comes back like a dream, because that’s what my first ski experience in Aspen was — a dream.
“Nostalgia makes me wistful for that time and that place when Aspen defined a smaller, more organic, less obtrusive resort experience. Most endearing was the scale of the small lodges scattered through town in European style.
“There are only a few remnants of that mellow, quaint ambiance left in Aspen today. Chalet Lisl is one that comes to mind, a small, humble, inviting lodge that hearkens to the earlier days of Aspen with a rustic sense of simplicity and charm.
“Compare Chalet Lisl to the St. Regis. The difference is startling. The St. Regis is a brick wall between Aspen and the mountain, an unbroken edifice that creates a Bastille-like barrier that’s not only geographic, but social.
“Chalet Lisl is small. It has been run for years by a family. There are no walls put up against the street, no claustrophobic cloister, no sense of distance from the town. When you stay at Chalet Lisl, you stay in old Aspen.”
Critics respond: “Oh, you just can’t handle change.” Not when change of scale compromises community values. Aspen is still a remarkable place, but reflections of the “old Aspen” often convey loss and melancholy for the intimate human scale that is routinely sacrificed for so-called progress.
Look what they did to Highlands and Snowmass by building “a big, beautiful wall” against the mountains. These towering walls rear up in impenetrable brick and mortar, glass and steel. Walls are built to keep people in or out. Walls arbitrarily divide the world.
Give me open access to the mountains with unfettered view planes. Give me family lodges and homey dinners at the old Skiers Chalet. Give me the voices and the images of old Aspen so I may remember a young skier’s dream.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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