Tony Vagneur: No matter the lack of some skiers’ finesse, life in hills is still sweet |

Tony Vagneur: No matter the lack of some skiers’ finesse, life in hills is still sweet

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Super 8. Double Black. 1A side of the mountain, very steep at the top. Charlie Maddalone, Aspen native and long-time Aspen Mountain Manager, said it was his favorite run. It was akin to ballet if you happened to catch Charlie ripping it with his distinctive early Aspen Ski Club racing style from back in the day, almost always picking up his inside ski coming through a turn, oftentimes preceded by a double pole plant. Charlie basically grew up on Aspen Mountain and was one of the hotshot Aspen Ski Club racers back in the 1940s.

That run was cut while I was away at college and when I got on the ski patrol, Charlie soon had me skiing it regularly and to this day it’s one of my favorites on the lower mountain. Super 8 or Corkscrew Gulley. What’s your mood?

One day on the patrol, after a big snowstorm, I ducked down there for a few turns and that new snow followed me down. Not enough to bury me and it stopped on the road, but enough that we sent an avalanche crew back to destruct the danger. Sometime after that, a fox moved into the middle of the gulley, her/his home for many years. It was usually marked with ‘boo to encourage skiers to go around.

Copper, from the top of the gondola, is my usual warm-up (unless I get suckered into Summit first). Last week, as I started down, I noticed what was obviously a young guy, way tall, his arms and poles not quite in synch with his legs, coming over to Copper off Silver Bell on my left, going very fast.

Clearly not from here — kids who grow up here are damned good skiers for the most part, but this guy had that gangly look of many young guys from other places, too straight, poles too long, and I figured he was worth looking out for. I had him on speed, I thought, was already a bit ahead of him and moved over to the far skier’s right just to be on the safe side.

Not much further, my peripheral vision caught him coming my direction just before he panic-turned to the left, coming up alongside me. We were the only two on the trail at that moment and within a split second, I was basically wearing him — our bodies were touching, as were our skis; fortunately, we ended up going the same direction and with a shove of my arm, got him away from me. I continued down through Bellissimo and Deer Park, stopping at the SLOW sign on the rise under the lift.

It is impossible to see what is on the other side of that knoll, until you get to it; hence the slow sign, and I usually stop there just to gather the lay of the land and spread of skiers. About that time, here came my “twin” from Copper, going about a hundred, and without benefit of a spotter, blindly launched off the gentle lip alongside the SLOW sign, going up in an obviously uncontrolled and non-stylistic convolution of incredibly bad form. It was over in about a second. After witnessing that, our previous encounter made more sense and I felt sorry for whoever might be below him the rest of the day.

We all learn, we were all young, we all looked bad going for air off bumps at some point, but most of us had sense enough to use spotters or discretion and knew how to turn and miss other skiers on our way down the hill. Some of these young guys need to be “splained” that any jackass can go 90 miles an hour on today’s equipment, but turning and stopping take a bit more skill. Finesse is the name of the game and if you don’t have it, you ain’t that good, period.

On a more positive note, we should be giving thanks to Ullr, the mythical Norse god of skiing (Stein’s right up there, too, don’t get me wrong) for the absolutely great snow conditions we have lately. And the visibility hasn’t been too bad, either.

It’s becoming the kind of winter we’ve all missed the past couple of years, or the good kind of winter that reminds us of treasures long-forgotten, not only on the hill but afterward, rockin’ to those late afternoon, after-ski bands and mingling with the ladies with an apres-ski glow.

But mostly, it just reminds us of how good life really is.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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