Roger Marolt: Visitors come for the snow, locals take what comes

Roger Marolt
Roger This

It’s a hobby for Aspenites to predict the ski season. It becomes easier once we get past New Year’s Day. The outcomes sprout from the trunk of small talk to crawling out on the long limb of predicting real estate prices. It’s fun to come up with scenarios for the eventual destruction of town due to greedy developers chasing dollars and submitting plans for which success is based on the length of lines at the gondola. That’s what solid foundations are built on, not land. What we love most is bound to be the cause of our downfall. Who knew great skiing and beautiful scenery could be the actual sources of communal discontent?

There are recessions and stock market bubbles, oil crisis and war, travel fads, labor shortages and the strength of the dollar. Considering all these factors and more, seasoned locals, who know how dough becomes our daily bread, delight in telling anyone who will listen how the ski season is going to be. There are those on the fringes; the ones persistently predicting doom and gloom for the death of skiing and the others who believe skiers will show up always, even if only to carve turns on bare dirt. Most predict something between everything going to pot or finding a pot of gold. Experience runs wild, gets exhausted and eventually settles into boring reality.

It continues to amaze those who have weathered more than a few storm cycles that so many townspeople so easily forget that the only thing that really matters for a successful ski season is snow. I was concerned how the pandemic would affect us. It seemed much bigger and entirely different than factors we considered in the past that ultimately ended up beside the point of the measuring stick. Yet, here we are with fresh evidence that the most important factor is depth of the snowpack.

It was a smaller than usual crowd for the holidays this year, and it would be easy to blame the diminished numbers on the virus. But, I am surprised there were as many people here as it was. The snow was thin and the skiing was not great, yet a good number of folks still ventured here, against expert advice and airports crowded with asymptomatic spreaders. My bet is that had there been a 4-foot base at the tops of our mountains we might have had record numbers of visitors. Never mind the restrictions on restaurants and lack of apres ski entertainments currently; a ski bum fantasy, even if it blossoms in a head with a $200 haircut on a pillow in a suite at The Little Nell hotel, is the great white hope.

The dedication of anyone, tourist and local alike, who is skiing now cannot be discounted. Factoring in the destruction of perfectly good skis on the rocks with the cost of lift tickets, you have a normally expensive sport tipping toward cost-prohibitive. It’s not just the cost of replacing gear that raises the cost, either. Making turns on rock skis is just not as enjoyable. You may not believe this now, but you will as soon as a few big storms drop enough of the good stuff to embolden you to bring out a new pair of boards. Then you’ll feel what getting your money’s worth is all about. As a dog’s life is all about bones, hikes through the woods, and cuddling on the sofa with the people it owns, the things that make a skier’s tail wag are big dumps and new skis.

But, that’s enough talk about business. As for us who live here, we take what we get. There’s no choice when you’re in this for the long haul. Eventually you will ski every kind of condition possible. The take away from every winter is that skiing is our common ground, even as the town continues to evolve from quaint to quite something. If the bull-wheels are turning, we are up there, snow or shine, rocks or powder. I have had more social life on the mountain the past couple weeks than I have in the past six months, not much different than normal. I didn’t make plans to meet up there, and rarely ever do, but I met friends and acquaintances in droves, nonetheless, all encounters safely distanced, totally masked, amid winter breezes in immeasurable volume dispersing potential virus sheds into oblivion. The consistency of our snow is nothing compared to the constancy of our camaraderie. It’s hard to quantify that, but easy to predict. It’s going to be a great winter.

Roger Marolt likes to float on the hopes of a few truly great powder days every winter, but a few turns even in thin, hard, brownish snow make him happy enough.