Vagneur: Thoughts from the hill |

Vagneur: Thoughts from the hill

Standing in the singles line at the bottom of No. 3, I kept hearing a loud voice coming up on my right, kind of like a worn-out bull, used up and getting by on belligerence alone, bashing his way through a cattle maze on the ranch.

Bearded and unkempt, loud enough to drown out the music and clomping along on snowboards, there were two of them — no wait, three — the third a shy young girl who seemed out of place with her companions.

The four of us boarded the high-speed quad together and the loudness continued, about how they’d killed this or that run, how they were going to do whatever next, and I kept my mouth shut, hoping for no delays. And then one of them says, “Let’s go all the way to the bottom on this one — smoke some weed for lunch and get stoked for more. We can fill our backpacks up with beer and rip it all afternoon.”

The shy young girl sitting next to me had nothing to say, giving the appearance of one being held captive by the fact that she’d hooked up with them for the day, an ill-advised move born out of a need for company, and could only offer up a half-smile of resignation. “Good luck,” I whispered.

Back in the ’60s, on spring break from college, I was invited to a wine party at the bottom of North American, the year before Gretl’s (Bonnie’s) was built. We laid out our provisions, mostly wine, beer, bread and cheese, although marijuana was beginning to make inroads into the local culture, and entertained ourselves with tales of whatever was cool back then. I’d never skied with an altered state of consciousness before, and when I left the totally relaxed scene I took a few companions along to impress with my newly enhanced skiing ability.

It wasn’t a big jump, a kicker that sent me high in the air but not very far, and when I came down, a little forward of reality, my left thumb, the one on the uphill hand, somehow ended up underneath the edge of my ski, a 210-centimeter, yellow-bottomed Head 360. A broken thumb is not pretty and it took a long time to heal. After that I made a vow to always save my drinking and getting screwed up until I finished whatever I was involved in, work or play.

Last week, the gondola bucket was full, six-up as we like to say, and before long the question was asked, “When are we gonna get some snow?” Nobody with any local experience quite knew, but the couple next to me spoke up. “Day after tomorrow, big snow coming.” They were, well, gray haired with wrinkled, smiling faces, probably somewhere in my demographic and just as cocky, I reckon. Their air of authority made me ask, “Are you sure of that?”

“Yes. We’ve been coming here from Denver for 30 years and know the mountain weather patterns.”

We hear that all the time around here, you know, longevity begets superiority, but I have to say, it always gets me a little pissed-off when Denver people set themselves up as authorities on Aspen. As I write this, Thursday afternoon, the big snowstorm has arrived, a week and a half after the Denver prediction. To be generous, maybe we should say they at least tried.

The other day, I hopped on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus with some fellow skiers headed to Aspen Mountain. A thirty-something kid with Black Crow skis sat directly across from me, an internal grin going from ear-to-ear in anticipation of the day ahead — you could just tell. One of the guys next to him, clearly out of place in a group of ski bums, asked, “Where are you headed?”

“Aspen Mountain,” came the reply, to which the out-of-place creature began his lecture about how you first have to decide where to ski on Aspen Mountain, you can’t just ski it. “There are two sides to Aspen Mountain,” he said, “the east side and the west side. You have to know where you’re going.” Black Crow, visibly unimpressed, ended it by saying, “We’re going skiing, man. Let it go.”

Riding up the gondola with long-time ski pros can be educational. Jerry Scheinbaum, ski tuner extraordinaire, related how ski school director Curt Chase would sometimes hide in the trees, clandestinely observing his instructors. Ken Oakes, another of the pros under Curt, and a veteran top supervisor for the ski school, was observed talking to a student about how to grab the magic of skiing.

To quote Oakes: “Just let it happen.” Throw in a long pause and then, “Gravity is your friend.”

Advice you can take to the bank!

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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