Roger Marolt: Droughts just ain’t what they used to be …thankfully

Roger Marolt

I didn’t do the snow dance. Did you? I don’t think anybody did. What the … ? Now look: a dusting of snow, not enough even in the peaks to make a decent Christmas card background. We’ll look silly under the sun in holiday sweaters, our foreheads all shiny with perspiration.

Let’s blame it on coronavirus. Who had time to do the big blizzard boogie while digesting news of higher pass prices for socially distanced, sanitary skiing? That was naive. Now with the spread mushrooming, we’ll consider ourselves lucky to keep the bull-wheels turning all winter.

The snow dance used to be a real thing, not just an excuse to act foolish in public and ignore open container laws. It can include that, of course, but we were kind of serious. This was before snowmaking in Aspen. Everybody was a ski bum, whether they liked it or not. Without snow, the communal worry was starving or having to go back to the real world.

It wasn’t just a lack of artificial snow that made things tough. We didn’t have special shoulder season events that attracted anyone when there was no skiing. Summers hadn’t been discovered yet, so it wasn’t even particularly crowded then.

There was no phenomenal shopping. I take people’s word that we have it now, because I don’t know, but I am certain we didn’t have it then. Levi’s from Bullock’s were popular and we liked flannel shirts. Locals were proud for never dressing up and made wisecracks about anything polished, pressed or pleated.

We’ve always had good restaurants, but nothing written up in magazines. The Red Onion was the fancy place. I’m sure trained chefs and sommeliers lurked, but I bet more worked for the ski school than made livings as foodies.

Also missing was anything resembling a surge of second-homeowners. There were no blurry lines, you either lived here or you didn’t. Anybody who bought a place in Aspen did so by giving up something usually more expensive but worth less in the city. Nobody came here to check on their second homes or out of curiosity about offseason. Our visitors were skiers and skiers came for three things — getting ready to ski, skiing and apres ski.

More people in Aspen worked because they had to then and most local jobs were tied to skiing, which was tied to natural snowfall. We were snow farmers. We watched the skies and rejoiced when the snowpack finally sprouted. If it grew tall, we ate well. If it withered, we made due on liver and onions.

My father worked in the ski industry. He wholesaled gear to ski shops. There was a one-year lag to the effect a drought had on our family’s fortunes. Shops did their buying in April for the upcoming season, so we were financially set for that year even if dry weather shriveled up the ensuing ski season. It was the next winter that crushed us, because the stores were still fully stocked.

I became a weather watcher. It felt like an obligation then, but is an infatuation today. I love to study the weather for fun and worry. Back then, it was mostly worry. I dreaded waking to clear blue skies this time of year. I would yell at the television when a Denver forecaster delighted in announcing “another mild and lovely December weekend ahead for all you shoppers.”

There also was a brief period when I felt I had finally achieved some expertise in skiing after a childhood spent chasing and mimicking my father, and I worried that during a drought year, with a late opening and little challenging terrain available, I might forget how to ski. I didn’t see how I could stay proficient without lots of practice. I worried about this until, as an adult, I realized skiing was more like riding a bike than playing golf — once you learn, you never forget how.

But, we forgot the snow dance this year, no doubt. Nobody likes a dry winter even now, but there are many more things to do and greater opportunities to survive if we get one. Three years ago, we had no snow, it was 60 degrees and sunny during the holidays, and town was jammed nonetheless.

I do have to admit, though, every now and then I still get midnight visits from the Ghost of Christmas Past, 1976 edition. That year, we opened presents and went golfing. Town was empty. The thought makes me shiver even if the north wind doesn’t.

Roger Marolt is presently inwardly conflicted: he is sure grateful for what skiing we currently have, but man is it boring. Email at


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