Tony Vagneur: Luds had my back, and boy am I grateful for it
Every once in a while, we get that warm afterglow, maybe after a glass of wine, remembering what a great town Aspen used to be, that place where you could sidle up to the bar and sit next to a millionaire and neither one of you knew the difference. It was a great place for kids to grow up, most of the time, so many people have said, but there were unsavory things that brought terror into our lives, even back then.
It was the winter after I’d broken my leg in Spar Gulch, the year the Little Nell double chair replaced the never-say-die T-Bar and I was eager to get back on the hill. My dad had bought me new skis (Cortina), this time with safety bindings, and I’d just picked them up from Aspen Sports, ready for a trial run.
My grandmother had been chauffeuring me around town, picking up skis, etc., and finally dropped me off at the base of Little Nell, late afternoon. “Why don’t you wait until tomorrow, when you can get a full day in?” she’d said, but the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old is hard to tamp down.
I’d spent the past 10 months or so in physical rehab, either from the high school coach or my dad on the ranch, making sure I kept my exercises up. Once again strong, my leg was fit and ready, and the fact that I was by myself — no friends around to witness my return to the mountain — didn’t seem to bother me.
There used to be a parking lot at the bottom, where The Little Nell Hotel now sits, and grandma dropped me off there, in full view of the ticket office, and left. As I gathered my gear together and started to approach the office for a ticket, an adult stranger approached me out of nowhere, asking if I needed a lift ticket. Well, yes, I did was the honest answer and he said, “Great, I am done for the day and will sell you mine.” I’ll never forget the ticket he flashed at me — blue and white and foreign looking, something unfamiliar to me.
It started to smell at that point, mostly because mine cost $0.75 compared with the $2 he mentioned, thinking I’d fall for such a good deal. When I demurred, saying no thanks, he started to get a bit hostile and said never mind, come over to the car and I’ll give you the ticket for free. Why do we have to go to the car, I wondered?
He grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward his car, opening the trunk, getting ready to shove me in, it seemed, when Luds Loushin, who ran the Little Nell ticket office, suddenly appeared on the scene.
The Loushins were family friends, but hell, everybody fairly well knew everyone else back then, and Luds was keeping an eye on things.
“Leave the boy alone,” he said. Luds was a very soft-spoken but no-nonsense person, and the man started making some excuse about me trying to steal his lift ticket, all the while getting in his car and driving off.
Naturally, no one could really say what was on the man’s mind, but the consensus between me and Luds was that the man was trying to stuff me in the trunk. He might have got it done, even though I was fighting back, had it not been for Lud’s intercession.
You may not have ever known Luds Loushin, but his name lives on. Lud’s Lane, the last-ditch effort out of Pandora’s and Walsh’s, is named after him. His family helped pioneer Aspen and there is a spring down in the neighborhood of Lud’s Lane that provides water to the Sundeck.
There are a couple of upshots to the story that probably should be mentioned. Luds took me over to the ticket office and gave me a ticket, courtesy of the Ski Corp., for my run-in with that guy. Whether Luds called the cops is unknown, but his dad was likely the town marshal at the time.
Lud’s brother, Bill, was the operator at the top of Little Nell, which was doubly good to know, but on that day, the top of Nell was intimidating to a kid coming off a broken leg. It was icy as hell (sound familiar), the light was flat and along the bottom of Niagara there were cut aspen trees, laid out longitudinally, posing a real hazard to anyone that got close.
My new skis, measured to the bend in my wrist with arm fully extended upward, were much longer than my old ones, and it was a struggle getting down the steep at the top.
By the time I hit the bottom, however, I was back on my skis with a smile, but I will never get the memory of that potential kidnapping out of my mind.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.