Tony Vagneur: Not to worry, we’re safe on our mountain until every weekend is three days

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Maybe it’s just me, but the Aspen Mountain paradigm seems to be shifting a bit. It feels different, too. Of course, like climate, skiing habits are always changing, but it seems to be on a larger scale this winter.

People are skiing in groups, something seldom seen on the easy-going trails such as Dipsy-Doodle and Silver Bell. I mean, people always ski the mountain like they drive the highway — in waves, or clusters, if you will. But these new groups I’m talking about have a little tighter formation about themselves than the regular out-of-towners we normally see.

It’s noticeable, because the skiing styles are relatively foreign to this neck of the woods, even for tourists. You watch a guy or gal make two or three turns and you fairly well know — they’re not from here, but they’re not from Miami or LA, either. They’re in that middle ground that I’m guessing originates on the Eastern Slope.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note how many people we can spot on the hill just by their skiing panache. Before you even see them up close, you can say, “Wow, Erik got a new parka,” or “Looks like Cindy is on her boards.” Or, “Elbert always skis like he’s hauling a toboggan down the hill.” You can’t be anonymous on this mountain, no way.

Yeah, I know about the local ski gangs, but that clearly isn’t it. Our gangs don’t lap the gondola or Ruthie’s, going for vertical, avoiding the double-blacks, or picking the mogul lines with easy outs. Local gangs ski the mountain, period.

As Roger Marolt so eloquently put it, the out-of-towners don’t ski the same trails we do. Part of that is they don’t know the mountain like we do. When someone in the gondola says, “Wow, Aspen Mountain seems so small,” it’s an obvious sign the speaker just recently got off the bus.

Naturally, some of these new folks are thrilled to be skiing with the big boys, but they’re not quite sure how it all works. The other day, I came across the hill from Roch and ran into a group of four, dressed rather oddly, with long, flowing jackets, like dusters out of B-rated westerns. Powder coats, they called them. They’d just come down Aztec (newly groomed) and were wondering what to do next.

They followed me into Spring Pitch, thinking I might know something they didn’t. The crud and bumps were good over there — they’d have never found it. As I stopped at the top of Strawpile, they came whizzing by, whooping and hollering, as though they’d really knocked it, not realizing that by staying on the groomed, they were missing some excellent terrain on the right. As I came out of the bumps, they were stopped at the island, resting their legs, no doubt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in this to be bashing people from out of town. It’s to calm the fear that we’re being overtaken by the Eastern Slope crowd. Rest assured. If you saw the Channel 9 report the other day about the two-hour lift lines in Vail, it’s pretty clear they’re not coming here. Oh sure, some of them are — welcome to good skiing — but they can’t keep it up; the newness will fade along with the vitality for driving farther just to beat a lift line.

The other day was one of those special days. There were relatively long lines at chairs 3 and 6, in weather foggy enough to preclude being able to see much. Snow was coming down and people were out skiing rather than huddling up in restaurants to avoid stormy weather. Dedicated skiers on the high ground.

There was fresh powder on the mountain and I decided to nose around a bit, explore some of my haunts that hadn’t been hit for a while. A couple of those stashes, on the area and in the midafternoon, were untouched, and there was no one around. Maybe no one knows how to get there.

Getting back on a more civilized part of the hill, I was still all by myself. Wait, there comes Gerry Sullivan, a man who knows his way around the mountain, and he didn’t have time to stop. Apparently, a good stash was awaiting him.

Two ski bums, the only ones in the area, passing in the foggy white, each with an eye on a personal prize. As it’s always been.

Yep, there is a change in the feeling of mountain behavior, but I think we’re safe. We lived through it when the gondola was built, when more and more runs became groomed, when prices of everything went up, and even when we got a little longer in the tooth. Unless weekends get longer, we’ll likely survive this, as well.

If you think it’s crowded now, you weren’t here in the ’60s and ’70s. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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