Roger Marolt: The social fall of the Aspen ski expert
How could it be so? It came without powder. It came without clouds. It came without moguls, or snowdrifts, or plows. Christmas in Aspen came just the same, somehow.
By now all the who’s who in Who’s Whosville have figured out that Aspen is as busy as ever over the holiday season even after the Grinch diverted all our snow and dumped it on Wyoming. Congratulations are in order. There is no further need to worry about dry winters. We are no longer bound by all those impossible-to-keep promises of powder on every third day and buttery smooth corduroy on the days between.
We are no longer a ski town. We are a tourist attraction!
How else can we explain so much business with so little snow on the slopes? Admit it. The town is packed, and nobody is taking any of the money they spent over the last week back home with them. Everyone has bought Christmas presents, purchased new ski gear, dined lavishly and tipped heartily, and rented out all of our hotel rooms at the full rack rates. All that’s left is blowing the wad for a New Year’s hangover, and that is inevitable. We can afford to be honest now: The skiing is lousy and nobody cares.
I admit that I don’t get it. I guess if you have money to burn, then you burn it. I also understand that for families, the holidays are about the only time everyone is free to travel. But, if I had gobs of money and the available time, I think I would still prefer to burn it on a beach than in a semi-winter, partial wonderland. I always assumed that if you are paying premium pricing to go to a ski town, you are probably expecting premium skiing. My bad.
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I bet we all suspected that Aspen is no longer a ski town. I think this season is just the proof we weren’t looking for. If skiing was still the main attraction, for better or worse, we would be empty now.
It’s not so much that I care if we are a tourist attraction instead of a ski town. It’s just that it is much more difficult to create a personal identity around a tourist attraction.
In a ski town a skier, and I’m talking about a dedicated aficionado who has devoted a life to the sport and working nights in a bar, is at the top of the pecking order. In a ski town everyone wants to act and look like a skier. It is in a tourist attraction that people strive to look like a movie star or boy-band member on the slopes. In a tourist attraction, a skier is more akin to a juggler on the street corner than an iconic cultural role model. We are reduced to amusements!
An expert skier in a tourist attraction commands no extraordinary social status. Tourists remind their children it is impolite to stare at them or to be sure to get a squirt of hand sanitizer if they happen to brush against one. In a tourist attraction, no tourist mom or dad waxes wistfully at their dream of once wanting to be a ski bum for just one season after they got out of college anymore than do parents at a Ringling Bros. show admit to once wanting to be a carnie in charge of cleaning the elephants’ cages.
Mark my words: We are not far from the day when our schoolchildren will do historical plays that include caricatures of skiers mingling with caricatures of miners in the town square at some indefinite point in our past. There will be no anachronistic artistic intent of irony in the scene. So unreal and far away will both eras feel that it will be like an ignorant artist lumping cave men in with his drawings of dinosaurs. Our children will not know an oar cart from gondola cabin, much less the changing uses of wax along our town’s timeline.
It doesn’t matter whether people come here to ski or just fart around. I admit to doing both and find pleasure in each. Besides, the money they fork out in either pursuit spends the same to me. I guess what it comes down to is that a local from yesteryear who spent a life on the slopes being idolized by doltish visitors had a chance one day of at least being crowned a local character. As it is stands, that very same person today can only look forward to being remembered as a clown.
Roger Marolt remembers the days when the king of the Winterskol parade marched through town in his ski boots. Email at email@example.com.
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When Aspen celebrates Gay Ski Week in 2022, it will be the annual event’s 45th year, and the 20th year for AspenOUT, the nonprofit organization that stages the event.