Tony Vagneur: Snowmass kinda brought out the kid in me
The path to the past is through the future. If you have grandchildren, you know what I’m talking about. My daughter called, inviting me to ski with her and my grandson, Cash, who’s 6.
“Well, give me a minute,” was my reply. That was followed up by the text, “Get your butt on the ski hill with us. We’re going to Snowmass.”
My daughter spent a winter working for mountain manager Steve Sewell back in the day, preparing the snow report and whatever else needed done. She knows the mountain, and I have to say, every time I got a view of the area from a hiking perspective across the valley, there was a deep feeling that I needed to go back sometime. Sewell invited me out for the day and lunch a couple of years ago, and like the snob I am, I never made it. My loss.
There’s no doubt, I’m an Aspen Mountain snob, have been damned near forever, with the rare exception of hiking Highland Bowl occasionally. Oh yeah, now that I have grandkids, I’ve been hitting Buttermilk or the Elk Camp gondola with an astounding regularity, but that’s helping the kids and their friends get the feel of it. First day this season, my grandson chose his favorite, Aspen Mountain.
So, what’s this Snowmass business? “Hell yeah, let’s do it,” was my reply! It’s more convenient than Aspen. There’s a parking garage at the bottom of the mountain; an elevator and a few steps later you’re at the bottom of Fanny Hill, catching the Village Express lift. We passed more than a few memorable places on the way up; the old Timbermill (now Venga Venga); there’s the Woodrun V #5 ski-in, ski-out condo — a long story, where we had more than a few wild parties; and the pond with alligators under the lift. All the while, my brain was trying to calculate the last time I skied Snowmass. Maybe 20 years ago. The one exception being 2009, when Sam’s Smokehouse was dedicated. Located at the top of Sam’s Knob, named after my cousin, Sam Stapleton.
We got to the top of the Village Express, and like wow, we had arrived. I’d been wanting to ski Bonzai Ridge just for fun, and thoughts of the Headwall, after my daughter nudged my memory, danced in my head. In those days, you had to hike the Cirque. She and I also used to ski the hell out of Powerline and Garrett Gulch when she was about 8 or 9. Like a tourist, it took a trail map to bring those trail names back into clarity.
Snowmass was a therapeutic intermission for me after serving on the Aspen Mountain ski patrol in the 1970s. As I’d only skied Snowmass a couple of times, my guide was “Uncle” Dan Oppenheimer, now a professional patroller on Aspen Mountain. He knew the territory and we put in a ton of downhill miles.
Don Stapleton and I used to be in charge of the “hotshot” kids when the Deaf Camp had their annual ski camp and scholarship races at Snowmass. It would take us all day to wear out those kids, that’s how well they skied, teenagers all. We’d get them on Aspen Mountain for a day, for a change of pace. Man, we had some fun with those kids.
That feeling of returning to the past deeply hit me as we turned toward the bottom of the Burn lift and came upon the Ullrhof Restaurant. Our friends Panama and Pat Drake owned the Ullrhof for many years, which naturally made it our stop of choice. Besides, it was kinda like the local’s hangout. The outside deck, on a good day, could really get to rocking.
It’s early season and not much was open, but it didn’t matter to our day. There was recently-opened terrain with plenty of light, fluffy crud along the sides, something that turned into a delight for my grandson. He loved it and wanted more, and then, like a skier who has caught the powder bug, he started looking for the untracked snow, of which there was actually quite a bit. We took turns; I led, he led, his mother led, and we made a big dent in the day.
And then, like with young-uns everywhere, we caught up with one of his best friends and family who were heading to a terrain park, partially open, and that colored the rest of our day. Those kids love to throw air, and who can argue. I lost track of how many laps we made. Soon, the enthusiasm caught me and before it was over, I hit a couple pretty hard myself. Delamination crossed my mind, but that’s life.
Snowmass was a grand day and sleep came blissfully deep that night.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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