Paul Andersen: Showing Aspen to Crested Butte
Two old Crested Butte friends dared to bridge the culture gap of the Elk Range for a recent visit to the big city. Such cross-fertilization has provided me an ambassadorial role since I moved to Aspen from CB almost 35 years ago.
A three-day tour was to enrich bodies, minds and spirits with the Aspen Idea. Included were a desert hike in the Seven Castles behind my Frying Pan home, a lift-served ski day covering all four mountains and a backcountry wilderness ski tour.
The greatest challenge was trying to explain Aspen to Crested Butte, as these unique communities seem to be separated by a divide far more imposing than the spine of the Elk Range.
How to explain the Rescue Lounge, where a drip IV cures hangovers and tones the body from the inside out? My friends, being needle-averse, declined this pointed Aspen amenity.
How to explain a tanning spa where customers expose tender flesh to infrared rays in pursuit of the savage tan? My friends, being melanoma-averse, said they would consider it, but only with SPF 40-plus sunblock.
How to explain Aspen to homespun Crested Buttecians? With simultaneous exposure to natural beauty and explorations of Aspen’s cultural origins.
A couple of free ski passes were offered by friends who gave up skiing this winter for golf, so our ski day began on the Silver Queen Gondola. Rising over town, our perspectives on Aspen were enlightened by a second-hand high from the pot smoke of fellow gondoliers.
Now began the Power of Four, backward, with a whirlwind of lifts and shuttles. The day was beautiful, sunny and mild. The view from the top was breathtaking.
We toured the Sundeck and took note of historic photos of “skiing the way it used to be,” when Aspen set a mythic tone for the Euro-style of wood, wool and leather.
“What’s that restaurant back there?” asked one of my guests, gesturing to the Aspen Mountain Club. It’s where you go to squander your hedge funds on elite privilege and wanton luxury, I explained. My friends and I had no hedge funds, so we passed it by.
Arcing power turns down perfect groomers, I pointed out Bonnie’s as my favorite on-hill eatery. We carried makings for a picnic lunch, so we skied past, savoring the mouth-watering aroma of fresh-baked strudel sweetening the mountain air.
After a couple of top-to-bottoms, we caught a ride to Highlands, rode lifts to the top of Loge, and gazed up at the Bowl. We opted not to hike, holding to our tight schedule, but my visitors marveled at the vast expanse of epic skiing without the subtle pretense of Aspen Mountain.
We made a requisite stop at “Joint Point,” where costumed skiers were downing morning tequila shots. We stood in awe at the twin marvels of the Maroon Bells, then schussed to the bottom.
From the top of Buttermilk we negotiated the ever-shifting slalom course of kids in ski classes on snow softening in the spring sun. We skinned up the ridge behind West Buttermilk to the fire pit overlook where empty beer cans evince monthly debaucheries that turn uphillers into howling werewolves on the full moon.
We savored the scenic view along with our picnic of crisp apples, hard cheese, homemade bread and chilled Chardonnay as twin ravens croaked “welcome” from a gnarled snag.
Far below, we noticed snowmobiles doing laps at T-Lazy-7. Here we assumed the higher moral ground by scowling down at the droning machines from our elevated status as backcountry skiers whose brief apostasy of riding lifts was handily overlooked.
We barely made it to Snowmass via bus in time for the last lift to the top of the Burn where wind scoured vast, empty runs and my friends realized that Aspen, which many Butteicians eschew as effete, is a glorious place to ski and to live.
It helped that lift tickets were comped, that the weather was perfect, that skiing was superb and that high spirits brought a contagion of fun that made us feel young and frisky.
The divide of the Elk Range dissolved, and we were all euphoric, impassioned skiers.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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