Saddle Sore: In defense of Buttermilk
It was one of those days — a big dump of soft, light powder and it was lunch time already as I grabbed my gear and headed to the Tiehack lift. David E. Stapleton, my cousin who was just inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, was coming off the hill after a great morning, and we both laughed to see each other there.
“Damn, Buttermilk has some of the best powder when it snows.”
Buttermilk takes a beating for its name, as though there’s something sissy about it. Try to drink a glass of buttermilk straight down without puking, and if you can, you’d rate “tough SOB” in my book.
Never mind that the mountain was named by my great-aunt, Julia Stapleton, when a gallon jug of buttermilk rolled out of a horse-drawn buckboard and splattered all over the mountainside. Ms. Stapleton, some of you may remember, owned most of the property that now encompasses Buttermilk West and was up there fixing fence with a couple of her brothers when the mountain was christened.
Aspen Skiing Co. didn’t like the name and tried to change it to Tiehack a few years ago, somehow thinking that showed more muscle. A serious faux-pas, shortly thereafter corrected. As an aside, they also tried to change Aspen Mountain to Ajax, which didn’t work either.
Buttermilk first opened back in 1958, or so the pundits say, although I’m pretty sure it was 1957, and what a fun place it was. One lonely T-bar, to the then top, which was near today’s Patrol Phone 13, or right above the Wall of Death, which doesn’t seem to appear on any trail map. My 4-year-old daughter took me down the Wall of Death more times than I could count, until she discovered Temerity at Highlands.
Whenever Buttermilk opened, it became an immediate magnet for a group of unruly grade school kids on the cusp of puberty who found skiing a great way to mingle with the opposite sex. Of course, the skiing was pretty fun, too, for such a bunch, even though it was in the backseat, and we pulled more than a few shenanigans on a T-bar that would lift us off the ground in several places.
Aspen Mountain was our favorite, but when the call went out for a Saturday meet-up at Buttermilk, there was palpable excitement running through the Isis Theater the night before. (Everyone who was anyone went to the Isis on Friday nights.)
Tree skiing wasn’t the big deal then, but jumps were, and we found or created more jumps alongside those trails than was legal and got good at sailing long distances, even for youngsters. There was one memorable official jump, about halfway down the face to the skier’s left of where the super pipe now resides, that we hit with regularity. We were X Games pioneers and didn’t even know it.
One of the ski school supervisors hated us for our expertise off that bump and was continually nagging us about going too far, too high, too fast. We always had a spotter and that seemed to piss him off even more. The envy ran deep. We could feel it.
Early in her childhood, my daughter and I hit that mountain every weekend, although to be honest, I hadn’t slithered down its slopes for many years when Scooter LaCouter asked if I’d guide some visiting International Skiing History Association folks during a reunion here. How tough could that be? Just add a little color, he said.
On the first day, we met on top at the Cliffhouse for lunch, and then with all the ignorant enthusiasm this big guide could muster, hollered, “Saddle up and let’s go skiing.” Mind you, this was an older group of skiers, whose mettle was untested in my book but who, just by reputation, knew their way around a fast parallel turn. You’d recognize some of the names if I’d sell them out.
It might be called Little Teaser, and it used to be a nice warm-up for my daughter and me, so it seemed like a good spot for us to get to know each other. With unbridled gusto, I led them straight into a terrain park. It wasn’t there the last time I was.
What’s a guy to do? I popped off a couple of bumps, taking it easy, cranking around with diligence, making sure everyone was making it through the gauntlet. They got a kick (pun intended) out of it, figuring it was part of a preplanned tour.
If you think Buttermilk isn’t tough enough, take three or four non-stops down the Sterner bump run (or maybe it’s Buckskin?) on the Tiehack side and get over it. You’ll be a better skier for it.
My grandson, Cash, and I will be out there this winter, polishing our turns and practicing speed control.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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