Tony Vagneur: Time to pull off the lid to Pandora’s
Tim Howe, long-time “Avalanchero” of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol, picked me and a couple other guys to do some out-of-bounds skiing. What a thrill — a rookie on the patrol, in my early 20s, and being chosen for a “secret” mission fraught with potential danger. Let’s go!
We cut through some thick trees, came out on an overhang of substantial proportion at the top of a hugely steep drop-off, all of this covered with a foot or more of fresh, untracked light powder on top of earlier snowpack, bright sunlight glistening off the crystals. It was about 9 a.m., and colder than hell. Ours were the only tracks going in. Perfect powder weather.
“Hit it,” said Howe, and I launched off the abutment with all the confidence in the world, landing with a smooth hiss of steel edge and P-tex against powder snow crystals, oh how sweet it was. About the second turn down the steep one of my skis dove for the dirt like a runaway submarine and popped off. We didn’t have safety straps or long thongs on our control skis, so it wasn’t easy to find. Bob Appleton, “Apples,” came right behind me and between the two of us, we began digging around through the deep snow, eventually finding the damned ski.
A bit cranky at that point, putting myself back together, I asked, “Where the hell are we, anyway?” Pandora’s. Unforgettable to me because of that errant ski, but there was something about that name, a suggested mystery, the calling of a muse, magical snow, something deep. Something I’ve never forgotten.
I’d been skiing Aspen Mountain since 1950 and had never heard of Pandora’s. Bought a pair of Miller Softs soon after that and skied Pandora’s about a million times with whoever I could talk into going with me. OK, maybe it was only a thousand times. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, the snow is always better back there.
Raising a daughter and running a business kept me off the mountain other than a day or two a week and Pandora’s was just a memory. But I couldn’t forget that snow. Better than anything at Jackson or Canada, in my mind.
About 20 years ago, it was catch-up time for me, and I started skiing five or six days a week — how spoiled can a guy get? My cousin Don Stapleton and I ripped everything on Aspen Mountain, but we mostly stayed in-bounds because back then we still had a few secret powder stashes that seemed to wait for us until we got there.
Bob Snyder, the Yeti Man, and I got on an out-of-bounds (or what people like to call “side-country” nowadays) kick about 15 years ago, and started hitting Pandora’s with regularity, at least when we figured the snow to be good. And it always was. On some days, we had a foursome, Bob, Bruce, Valerie and me, either hitting the open expanses or crashing through the trees, seeing how good we could make it happen. Always a great experience.
And now the Aspen Skiing Company wants to get Pandora’s legitimately opened up, clear a few glades, make the way in a little easier, and build a lift from the bottom that can bring us back to the top. That’s a great idea, plus those other dark side trails, Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi will be able to go a little farther down the backside and you won’t have to walk out on Lud’s Lane. If you’ve ever had to extricate someone who missed Lud’s Lane and went over the edge, under the rope and off the area, you know full well how wonderful having a lift out of there will be.
It could be that old curmudgeons like myself might get a little testy having to share the Pandora terrain with other people, but the way I look at it is that it will spread out the skier population a little wider. You know how some people are about new terrain — there will be some old Aspen Mountain dogs who will make Pandora’s their main area, for most of their day, like they did when Walsh’s opened. Think how that will potentially let other stuff be a little less crowded, like Bell Mountain, the Dumps, or my favorite, Summit. Known in the vernacular as Vomit.
Aspen Mountain will forever be known as the Big Mountain — let’s add to her intrigue by pulling off the lid to Pandora’s and opening it up to those who like the style. Go Skico!
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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