Tony Vagneur: Memories of past are uplifting reminders and set foundation for future

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

At around 7:30 a.m., we gathered in the locker room at the bottom of Lift One, six days a week, our lockers adjacent to the ski patrol. We were the Aspen Mountain Trail Crew, an elite group of crud-skiing, mogul chopping, ticket-packer overseers. We skied a lot.

The locker rooms, and the ticket office alongside, are long gone. Although they’d been there for umpteen years, they somehow didn’t measure up to historical significance, and somewhere inside, it hurts that they’ve disappeared.

This is where my story begins, sort of, but how I got there is worth mentioning. “2020-21 is a different kind of winter,” many people say. Behaviors have changed along with attitudes and coping mechanisms. There’re a lot of things going on, but probably the coronavirus is having the most impact.

Fellow ski aficionado, Mark Hesselschwerdt, mentioned awhile back that he’s been riding the Little Nell lift, and dancing over to the Bell Mountain chair in his quest to avoid the gondola and reach the top. That is old school, and brilliant.

Yours truly has taken to walking up to 1A from the bottom, a hike that gets your legs warmed up a bit and makes you wonder why the City took away so many needed parking spaces.

Actually, I’ve walked up that hill to Lift One or 1A more times than one can reasonably count. It started when I was a very young school kid and continued up until about ten years ago, when circumstances changed and going up the gondola made more sense. When I was on the ski patrol in the 70s, I felt blessed on those rare days my wife drove me to work and I didn’t have to walk that damned hill.

Now that I’ve been traipsing up to 1A, it is sometimes a walk into the past, as well. Lift One, for those who remember, was an experience never to be forgotten. A single-seater, with a wool-lined, canvas cover hanging on the steel safety gate, a wrapping that could be pulled over your head, giving you an almost complete cocoon from the outside world. There was a round hole that if positioned correctly, allowed you to see the outside world, but could be squeezed together to keep it comfy in there.

There was no “who am I gonna ride up with” … none of that. It was a single chair, a blessing many of us miss today, but don’t know it. Loading up around eight in the morning gave one the perfect chance to get his head together for the coming day. Sitting there in the cold, as the crisp early morning air peacefully brushed your cheeks, it might have been only a 20-minute ride, but was just long enough to reflect on things your mind or your heart needed to sort out.

Today, if you choose, you can get a gondola bucket all to yourself, and that’s good given the microscopic creepy-crawlies in the air, but it’s an enclosed space, not quite emanating the same “original” experience of an early morning, outdoor ride on your own. Some folks eat breakfast or slurp coffee on the gondola, something much more difficult on a single-seater chair lift with no flat places to put your accoutrement.

Not to give all the glory to Lift One, it is good to remember that getting to the top of Aspen Mountain required two chairlift rides, both singles back in the day. Lift Two went from Midway (top of FIS) to the top, was similar to Lift One, and between both of them comprised, at least for a long time, the “Longest Chairlift in the World”. Ankle Grabber, to the skier’s left of Dipsy Bowl, takes up a portion of the old Lift Two lift line.

Just before going sky-high over Tourtelotte Park, Lift Two chugged along very close to the ground, so close in fact that borderline juvenile delinquents could disembark without making hardly a disquieting ripple in the cable. Usually, once of that was enough, because Red’s or Little Percy’s hadn’t yet been cut, and Gretl’s (Bonnie’s) was still an undiscovered dream in someone’s mind.

Remember, it is the memories of the past that reveal us to ourselves and give us the foundation for a better day going forward.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at