Opinion: “There are many ‘becauses’ for the prices of Aspen real estate”

David Hale
Guest Column
Red Mountain subdivision, shown here on Friday, May 27, 2022, is one of the highest density areas in unincorporated Pitkin County.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Looking at all the glossy inserts in The Aspen Times, one might ask, “Why is Aspen real estate so expensive?” I wonder, is it because of all the attention that Aspen gets from the rich and famous or is there something intrinsically special about Aspen?

When someone asks “Why …?” they usually get a response that begins with a “Because …”

I like to ask my Introduction to Philosophy classes a question: “If the Earth orbits the sun, then why do we see the sun go across the sky?”

I get all kinds of answers that range from: “Because you’re not blind” to “Because it’s not overcast.”

Snarky answers aside, one might look to Pope Urban VIII, who oversaw the inquisition and trial of Galileo. The pope simply declared that Galileo was wrong, the sun orbits the Earth. The pope had a point. The sun does cross the sky every day. Experientially, it does make sense that the sun, like all the stars, revolves around the Earth.

Questions that ask “Why …?” invite causal answers. When we ask why are properties so expensive in Aspen, there might be a number of causes.

Similar to Pope Urban, we might even say that Aspen is the center of the universe, and all the stars orbit around it.

Case in point is Gary Cooper. According to a 1949 copy of The Aspen Times, he didn’t just ski in Aspen and hang out at the Hotel Jerome, but he was also building a home here! How cool is that? Purportedly, he built his house at the confluence of Hunter Creek and the Roaring Fork — not quite the prestigious West End, but close.

So maybe we should credit Mr. Cooper with having an early eye for “legacy” real estate.

There are many “becauses” for the prices of Aspen real estate. At the risk of sounding like one of those glossy real estate inserts, one could point out that we have three world-class ski mountains — plus Buttermilk. (Have you ever skied Tiehack on a powder day when everyone else is on the other mountains?) 

What about all the awesome snow we get here — averaging way over 300 inches of powder every year, along with over 300 sunny days.

And let us not forget, as Gary Cooper reminded us, we also have amazing fishing around here.

Last but not least are these beautiful mountains, valleys, rives, forests and all the rest of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Yuck, I sound like a travel brochure.

Maybe the answer is a non-answer. We in the Western world are stuck with a prejudice that we inherited from Aristotle and his Metaphysics. We are obsessed with cause and effect.

Aristotle’s metaphysics initialized this obsession with his “first principle,” a principle of causality that runs through all of nature and back to God (the “prime mover”). This preoccupation also lies at the foundation of our scientific method — the quest for causal efficacy.

Of course, astrophysicists got rid of the God part as a “first cause” (the “unmoved mover”) and substituted the Big Bang. (Does the Big Bang make any more sense that a prime mover?)

The search for prior cause still compels much of scientific investigation. However, there’s one corner of science that doesn’t play by those Aristotelian rules of cause and effect, and that is quantum physics.

Our Western, logical terms for causal efficacy just doesn’t apply very well to entanglement, superposition or non-locality. Nor does it seem to bother quantum theorists very much. They continue to ruthlessly push the boundaries of science because when that push comes to shove, practicality often trumps causal explanations.

Quantum is not alone in its lack of concern for causality. The Tao Te Ching also ignores this Western preoccupation. It implies that at some fundamental level of the universe there is none. There is no causal-efficacy, no one thing after another, no succession. There is only hsiang sheng or “mutual arising.”

In some areas of science, culture and economics, it is just impossible to say whether the chicken or the egg came first because they come together as a package.

Now back to what’s really important — the (be)cause of Aspen’s very pricey real estate. Let’s admit that it is probably impossible to pin it on just one thing (like Gary Cooper).

Maybe we should just forget the brain damage and concede that Aspen really is the center of the universe, as long as the stars continue to rotate around it.

David Hale earned a joint Ph.D. from the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology in Philosophy, Religion and Cultural Theory. He is a lecturer in philosophy at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. He lives in Snowmass, where he works full time as a contractor and lives with his wife, Susan, dog-child, Bodhi, and their cat, Black Kitty.


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