Vagneur: Friends and acquaintances on the gondola |

Vagneur: Friends and acquaintances on the gondola

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Ron Baar recently retired from the Aspen Fire Department. Ron’s a good guy and there were accolades all around speaking to his selfless commitment to the community and the people who make up our town. “Helping neighbors” was his declarative reason for remaining on the force for almost 40 years.

But there’s something about Ron you likely didn’t know, something about his ability to hang tough in a fast-moving situation. He and I were classmates at Aspen High School and teammates on the Skier football squad back in the days when we played at Wagner Park. In my senior year, our coach, Val Tucker, made it known before each contest that he would buy a steak dinner for whomever got the first tackle of the game. I don’t think Ron ever missed one of those honorary dinners. Here’s to you, Ron.

A couple of weeks ago, a robust looking bunch of hardcore skiers grumbled a bit when I crashed in on their gondola bucket at the last second, but that’s how we roll on a crowded day. One thing led to another in a friendly sort of way (unlike a couple of years ago when one of the major stockholders from the 20th Century Fox debacle and I were standing nose-to-nose in the cabin, ready to duke it out until cooler heads prevailed), and the “who do you know” game revealed some interesting information.

Jack Smyth, the man who did most of the talking, is a brother to Clark Smyth, who many years ago was one of our landlords at the Aspen Business Center. Clark now lives in Boulder, for those who knew him in those earlier days, but here’s the rub of the story. Jack and Clark, along with Bill Seelbach and Tom Briggs, have been coming to Aspen every winter for the past 54 years. Somebody’s dad bought a condo at Shadow Mountain when they first were built and that’s still one of their encampments today. Their take on our town: “We love Aspen for the skiing, the apres ski and the dining. Maybe we’ll see each other again next year.”

Now here’s some important news: Are you tired of taking your skis to your favorite ski shop for a tune, never knowing what you’re going to get back in the morning? Some days they come back perfectly; other days you think maybe you should buy a private lesson from Aspen Skiing Co. On other days, you blame your skiing problems on everything from the snow to the weather to yourself, and finally, in a flash of brilliance, the ski tune.

Back in the not too distant past, ski tuning was an art, done by hand by one’s self or a trusted person at a ski shop. Today, computerized machines do most of the tuning, which would lead you to believe that nothing can go wrong, totally ignoring the fact that people with human brains set the parameters on those machines. Anything can go wrong, as attested to in the preceding paragraph. It’s hard to get a well-tuned pair of skis.

Being the Aspen Mountain snob that I am, my skis go to Jerry Scheinbaum, ski tuner extraordinaire, a ski pro who has been at it for many years, working under the auspices of Skico. To give him a try, take your skis to the ski corral at the bottom of Little Nell and tell ’em they’re for Jerry. Pick them up the next morning, hand tuned and ready to fly the way you like. You’ll thank a bastard file you’ve never met.

With a smile under a neatly arranged moustache, his main complaint was that there were too many people on the mountain, slowing him down. By his estimation, it was time to sit it out a while in the Sundeck, letting the crowd dissipate. Like the folks mentioned above, he’s also been coming to Aspen for umpteen or more years, is a friend of Klaus’s, works out at a health club and swims every morning, skis every day he’s here and is 92 years old. Maybe you know him; his name is Max Reinart, a man from the past who skis as much in the present as any of us.

Visiting from Minnesota was my good friend Jim Rogers and his daughter, Amy Laing. Bad traveling weather couldn’t stop them driving from Amy’s compound in Beaver Creek to the Woody Creek Tavern where we met Dave and Ruthie Hoff, members of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Hall of Fame, and Mike Crabtree, renowned Colorado fine art photographer. You don’t have a quick lunch with a crowd like that. Jim, who might have the most engaging smile anywhere, said the world would have to end to keep him from coming here.

Until next week …

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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