Vagneur: Living the dream
It might not have been the winter that was, but it certainly was different. My grandfather died the previous spring, and with an uneasy mind about inheritance taxes and what direction the ranch was headed, my dad took a job with the Aspen Ski Corp. just to clear his mind, I reckon.
We had a regular hired hand, a solid man who could handle just about everything, and out of consideration for him, Dad hired a part-time kid to help out with feeding the cattle. Room, board and a ski pass was about all Dave wanted, plus a little money for beer. He was about 20, and his only job was to help feed the cows in the morning, with the rest of the day off to ski. People still kill for jobs like that.
I wasn’t privy to all of this when it started, for I was a member of the Aspen ski team, a fledgling racer who became increasingly frustrated when stacked up against guys like Billy Marolt and Tommy Moore. Forget that they were four years older than me — nobody explained the nuances of age and skill differences and that I needed to gain some physical maturity if I was to compete on the same level with them. Before it was all over, I hung up my race skis and said the hell with it, although in a last blast of precocity, I placed third in the Corcoran Cup, a race no longer run.
Logistics was a foreign word to me in those days, but my father could see it all clearly. If I was no longer ski racing, then surely I had time to help out on the ranch. Thus, he gave the regular hired hand the weekend off, instructing me to help Dave feed the cows, and then the both of us could go skiing. You don’t argue about stuff like that.
And in what seemed like a heartbeat, two dichotomous worlds collided. Out of bed just before daylight on Saturday and Sunday, helping harness the horses for the feed sled, shoveling snow from atop haystacks placed strategically around the ranch, loading the sled three or four times to get all the cows fed, breaking ice in Woody Creek when necessary and then finishing it off by throwing some hay to the replacement heifers and a small band of horses. Quick shower, throw on my ski clothes, race to town and we’d be at the bottom of Lift 1 by 11 or 11:30 a.m. Not much of a ski day for a kid, but hey, better than no skiing at all.
My cattle-feeding companion liked powder and jumps, but needed some coaching and he didn’t have the legs of a 12-year-old. Sometimes, I’d ditch him when a gang of kids my age crossed our path, but through it all, he became a better skier and I became a more patient and understanding person. Before it was over, we were friends.
But the upshot came shortly after we’d put that arrangement together. My dad was proud of me for helping Dave out, and he made the offer that he would be willing to take me to work with him at the Ski Corp. That way, I could ride the lift up to Midway and then blast down Ruthie’s to my heart’s content, arriving at the Red Brick just in time for school.
I was getting a lot of skiing in — the only kids doing better were the Wirths, who lived at the Sundeck and skied down to school each morning.
The irony of it all, I suppose, was that even though no one clearly knew it at the time, I was a ski bum helping a ski bum get his fix on. With those early morning shots down Ruthie’s in addition to the weekend forays, I was living what I considered a dream. When Red Rowland, the mountain manager, finally caught on to our well-practiced game, he told my dad maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. He was worried about me getting hurt and laying there in a snow-covered, cold heap for an hour until the mountain opened. I thought such reasoning to be without merit and it took me a long time to get over what I felt was a cruel decision.
In today’s winters, I still have one foot in my agricultural past, feeding my horses well before I do anything else. Then, with subservience to an imaginary rule I created for myself long ago, I take a run on Aspen Mountain to see if the conditions can hold me for a day of skiing. If not, I go home and write something like this.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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