Roger Marolt: The Skiers are restless at Lift 1A
It’s hard to pull off the ski bum thing. You have to have the body — athletic, strong, durable — but more importantly you have to have the mindset. That’s what allows a person to adopt a sport as a way of life.
A 100-day pin is a warm-up for a ski bum; heli-skiing, a week of active rest. They chase powder like a surfer chases waves; the endless winter being their endless summer. To them there is no such thing as bad snow. Powder, chowder, bumps, ice, crud, corn, windblown, slab, slush, dust on crust, styrofoam, chalk and corduroy are to the ski bum what the flavors of Baskin Robbins are to a treehouse full of 8-year-olds planning their birthday parties. Most people say they could never afford to be one, but the ski bum somehow does. They feel like the richest people on the planet.
It’s just as hard to be in business. You must have the endurance to work nights and weekends, because opportunity knocks at all hours and might not check back after your bathroom break. You have to be tough — skin as thick as the land-use code. You have to love the art of the deal painted in a corner office with big glass windows that rarely get looked out of, because views are for vacationers and time is money. It takes brains and ambition; double degrees and double talk. The work is hard and the money good. Business people, too, feel like the richest humans on Earth.
Aspen is where business and pleasure share a gondola ride with differing ambition. There are also the fabled, but real, beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust. But we won’t discuss them. It’s not that they aren’t interesting, but they do whatever they want whenever, where ever, with whomever they choose, so it’s impossible to say what they are generally about.
Since trust fund beneficiary is not a choice, most of us choose to be something along the spectrum from ski bum to big wheel. The historical benchmarks may be Ralph Jackson on the ski bum end and Jerome B. Wheeler representing the perfect 10 on the business side. Most of us are a mix; few are split 50/50. As with good and evil, to whichever side we slant determines our destiny.
In this context, the Lift 1A development plan gets interesting, because we have business people selling it as a skiing thing. I’m not convinced it’s good strategy.
For instance, the skier just might look past the promise of a new sun deck constructed at the foot of SHADOW Mountain and instead take offense to building a hotel across the bottom of a great ski run, effectively rendering the adrenaline-inducing last pitch of Norway Slope into a drudge-worthy traverse.
The skier may be aware that the ski lift there will be ripped out for at least a year during the construction phase, which is a non-starter by itself. But, the skier may also connect the dots and see the developers needing the $4.3 million subsidy they asked for from the taxpayers as a warning sign that the business is working with thin funding. A little bad luck and the project might stall, leaving skiers without a lift at 1A indefinitely.
Sure, the business people promise a brand new high-speed lift to replace the old bucket of bolts, but is that really a great thing for real skiers? There is a good reason The Bowl has no lift and Deep Temerity has a slow one. It’s all about preserving the quality of snow on expert terrain by reducing skier traffic on it. Do you hear Highlands regulars complaining about the slow lift on the best parts of that mountain?
And what’s the big deal about the possibility of a World Cup ski race here every once in a blue moon? They shut down half the mountain for weeks to put it on. It’s better on television anyway. It can be recorded and watched after skiing; allowing study of every turn of every run up close with replays in slow motion.
Who knows, real skiers may even think more employee housing in town would be better than a minuscule 50 free-market parking spaces at the new base area. I don’t know.
The bottom line might be that skiers aren’t really that eager to change things up with what looks like a plan in need of tweaking. Nothing bad happens to the real skier if this humongous development is sent back to the drawing board. Despite the threats of opportunity vanishing, the worst that can happen is that tomorrow will be just as good as today on the slopes of 1A. The developers think that’s a downside?
Roger Marolt is not convinced that a real estate development can make the best ski area in the world better. Email at email@example.com.
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