Vagneur: Going with the weather’s flow

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

“Now there’s a tornado warning for this area!” Panic builds upon fear until common sense flies away on the southwest wind and we all go to hell. Whoever said that should know better — I’ve seen the guy around before — but as John Wayne once said, “Life is tough; it’s even tougher if you’re stupid.”

Last Friday seemed a not-unusual spring drill — a little sunshine, next some clouds, a blizzard, emergency lift closures and for some, more than a little cause for consternation. It all added up to a beautiful day, in my humble opinion.

I’d had a stellar history tour with six outstanding people, a truly interested group who had an abiding interest in the history of Aspen, more particularly Aspen Mountain, and above all else, they had great senses of humor. An 80-year-old expert skier from Munich, who loved speed and remembered skiing with me from 14 years ago — that’s what you call an expert memory — wanted more speed and less history, but he understood the need to remain as a group.

Another gentleman in our group, apprehensive on the hardpack left over from the World Cup, wanted to know what a 56-year-old intermediate male skier could do to get over his fear on ice. “There’s only one way,” a couple of us explained. Or as I quoted Ken Oakes in this column some weeks ago, “Gravity is your friend.” Use it. He got better as we went.

Just enough time to grab a quick bite at the Sundeck before my next tour, and suddenly a ski pro and a ski patroller took up a seat, including the ski pro’s good-looking private lesson, who modeled tops from the ski shop for us. What better company could there be on a gray Aspen Mountain day, but hey, I’ve got to get back to work. The patrolman, Dan-O, explained that all the lifts, including the gondola, had been closed due to a lightning storm.

As I leave, there’s no one outside and the Guest Service Center, where the ambassadors hang out — the Embassy I call it — is deserted. No afternoon history tour for me. There’s a fierce wind, snowflakes stinging me hard in the face and I’m in the mood to get the hell out of there. As I click in, a family floats by, a father and three young kids, all good skiers, making a chain so they don’t lose each other in the poor visibility. It makes me smile, realizing togetherness like that still exists.

On second thought, forget leaving the mountain; Bonnie’s has some of the best dessert on the planet and my skis can’t be dissuaded from heading that way. I kid myself, thinking I’m taking the Midway Cut-off over to Ruthies, but deep down I really know where I’m going.

Banana cream pie, a few laughs with the help, Laura’s always-smiling face and I start to wonder about those folks questioning me how they’re going to get off the mountain. There’s an element of fear creeping into some of their voices. If you can’t ride No. 3 to the top and catch the gondola, you’ll just have to ski down. Is it sacrilegious to say that in the “new” Aspen? Probably.

Out the door into a romping blizzard and about an inch of wet fresh on top of frozen soft snow and it’s a ride you won’t soon forget. Doing a few little turns here and there, trying it out just in case I really do have to throttle it down, I get an eyeful as I slide over the old dam at the bottom of No. 6 — there’s no one in sight, and I can see about halfway down.

Let ’em run — it’s an obvious tuck down Spar (or “straightlining,” as intermediates like to say) and I’m coming up on the narrows pretty fast. Slow it down, big boy, you never know what’s waiting for you around the corner, especially in bad weather, and sure enough, there are five skiers at a dead stop, lined out across the bottom of Spar, just above Grand Junction. Reacting like a dog lying in the way, they hear and see me coming and confusedly start moving, this way and that, with no definitive purpose. That’s why it’s good to occasionally lay on the brakes.

Little Nell turns out to be a blast on a bit of spring, heat-softened snow and I hit the bottom just in time to hear the above-referenced, “Now there’s a tornado warning for this area!”

Say all you want about an early spring, a warmer winter, or whatever, but keep in mind that the on-mountain blizzard last Friday was but a harbinger of things to come. Winter isn’t over until Mother Nature says so.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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