Tony Vagneur: One of those sweet Aspen Mountain days, thanks to a lifetime of skiing

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It’s a lucky world when you can just walk out your door, so to speak, and be on Aspen Mountain. One of the many privileges of living here, with few roadblocks. Four words can describe the Aspen experience: Aspen days, Aspen nights. Two different worlds and there is no “manage the middle” — it’s a revolving time machine, 24/7.

It got a little rough last spring, easing up on one of those 100-day seasons, like a lot of people, when that world as we knew it ended on March 10 or 12, whatever day it was. Being of that coronavirus age of “get ready to die,” I retired to my little cabin on the mountaintop and didn’t come out for at least a month, maybe longer. I’d lived through lockdowns before, all self-imposed.

Spring and summer are long past; I’ve had two surgeries that have taken an additional month out of last summer and another one this winter. What the hell, you say. I’m healed up, and the surprising thing is the continuing return of my energy. No wonder I didn’t mind the lockdown — I wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere, but didn’t know it.

It’s a sickness probably, this overriding desire to ski bumps, even when there’s a groomed alternative. My knees are still young, and my well-worked back doesn’t holler about it if I stay relatively smooth. We used to love schussing (straight-lining to the uninitiated) a field of moguls, like ungroomed Snowbowl from the road, just to see if we could, knees coming up around our ears like pistons on a runaway steam locomotive.

A couple of weeks ago, still sticking to groomers although the Doc said do whatever was comfortable, I was shanghaied by my buddy Bob and ski pro Amo and we hit the bumps. Sunrise/Sunset, International, old Lift One lift line for a warm-up and then Little Percy’s before an early lunch at Bonnie’s. My legs felt fine and that afternoon, on my own, I went back to the place I had missed the most, Summit. Three times. What the hell is wrong with me? Yes, the energy was coming back.

My 3-year-old granddaughter, Charli, has learned how to set an edge and stop. Our trips to Buttermilk don’t count unless we take at least one run down the kid’s halfpipe. I think that’s where she really learned to turn; that and the excellent instruction she gets from her mother. We make a good team, her mother and I. We’ve been at this for a few years.

My grandson, Cash, 7, has come on like gangbusters this winter, and is in to Moment of Truth and other such runs at Highlands. “Come on, Ampa, let’s hit the ‘experts only.'” He thinks the face of Highlands is a downhill course. Oh yeah, and he really likes getting air, probably more than anything. I gotta stay ahead of ’em as long as I can.

The other day, standing at the top, I felt a restlessness, and got trapped in a memory time zone. The first year I was on the ski patrol, early season, I wasn’t thinking too clearly and figured the entire mountain was open to me, closed or not. And really that was the case, although we had no radios to keep track of each other, and with the arrogance of a 23-year-old kid, without telling anyone where I was going, came to my senses in a very rocky, closed, Silver Queen, with just enough powder to hide some sharp rocks. If I did something stupid in there and couldn’t get out, I might just die. Eventually, they’d have found me, ’cause that’s what they do, saving lives.

With the memory of those days fading to black, I took off toward the East side, somewhere I hadn’t been all winter and Northstar, an old favorite, caught my eye. (That meant I had to skip Hyrup’s, another favorite, but could catch it the next round.) Damn, it was good, and after that there was Zero, and over to the Ridge, which was skiing excellent. Had to do the slalom hill just to get down to 1A, and then back up and did the East side all over again, ducking into the trees for a few favorite shots that I hadn’t hit in a long while.

The moguls were relatively soft and round, considering, and it was a couple of the best runs I’ve had lately. Maybe it was the maneuverability of the bumps, but what seemed to make it really unforgettable was the seclusion, no one around. The supreme whiteness, contrasted with the evergreens and interspersed, scraggly aspens, cradled the solitude of the quiet aloneness.

A lifetime of skiing led to that special afternoon, a coming together of many qualities, creating a memory to be cherished, maybe to never be repeated.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at