Vagneur: Where else can you buy amazing thrills for such a price?
November 14, 2015
When you've been around town a long time, the inevitable question comes, "You must have seen a lot of changes over the years, huh?" Yes and no, generally speaking. The mountain still skis fairly much the same, the ridge lines circling our town look refreshingly familiar, and after all these years, Aspen still attracts more than its fair share of beautiful women.
Back when, people used to preface remarks to the City Council by saying, "I've been here five (or 10) years, blah, blah …." Nowadays, the common prologue goes something like, "I've lived here 20 (or 25) years and let me tell you …." The general implication seems to be that length of residency is somehow related to depth of cognitive thought, and I'd be the last to argue against the validity of that peculiar philosophy.
Once we relive all of that nonsense, which I've undoubtedly mentioned before, let me say that I honestly believe things are decidedly different, that indeed there have been some major changes over the years. With winter's teasing breath challenging the warmth of our daily wardrobe and dreams of fluffy powder racking our restless sleep, maybe we should think about what's different today.
For a while now, the Aspen Mountain ticket office has been open for preseason pass purchasing, and the common grumbling on the street is, "Man, the locals ought to catch a better break than that." Hell, I couldn't agree more, but still, it's a damned good deal.
On Dec. 14, 1946, Aspen Mountain unofficially opened for business, proudly displaying Lifts One and Two, two single chairlifts combined into what was billed "The World's Longest Chairlift," starting near the top of Aspen Street and continuing up to the Sundeck. We could talk all day about those lifts and the power they brought to town, but the subtle point being, on that first day, an all-day lift ticket cost $3.75. A season pass could be had for $140.00. We all think that's what it should be today, don't we?
One of the biggest changes we've missed over the years, a seemingly small but totally potent nuance, is the one that has added the most cost to lift tickets. The reality is that a majority of skiers have evolved from the tough, macho daredevil who once looked at skiing as an adventure to the one today who isn't anticipating adventure so much as he is fully expecting a certain mountain "product" to be delivered with unflinching consistency.
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Miss a day grooming intermediate runs like Silver Bell or Ruthie's and you'll get an earful of unrestrained complaint from those who were counting on perfect corduroy. The Aspen Skiing Co. grooms a certain number of trails with undaunted reliability every night, but it costs a lot of money to get there — highly technical snowcats, well-trained drivers, multiple work shifts, including the entire backup it all entails. It's come a long way from Johnny Hyrup leveling Snow Bowl moguls with his Caterpillar D7.
When lift tickets cost $3.75, the U.S. Forest Service could grant ski area permits overnight with no more than a promise from the operator to get things done. Today, all changes, expansions or other improvements often require environmental-impact studies, permits from the city or county as well as the Forest Service and the cha-ching factor ratchets itself up the scale exponentially.
The World Cup is coming to Aspen any day now, and it's refreshing to think back to the 1950 FIS Championships (forerunner of the World Cup) held in Aspen, the first in the United States. The Aspen Ski Corp. gave Dick Durrance a budget of $72,000 to get the mountain ready for those races, including the cutting of Spar Gulch, Silver Queen and others, installing telephones and timing equipment and taking care of whatever else was needed for the races. I'm guessing it costs a little more than that now to put on the World Cup, but I doubt it's any more of a big deal now than it was in 1949-50.
Complaining about the price of a season pass is more or less ingrained in the local citizenry, but think about this: If you golf or ride motorcycles or ride horses for recreation or a living or climb mountains, you can stack the costs of that up against what a season pass costs, or even a one-day ticket to ride. Skiing is not inexpensive, but where else can you buy such consistent and amazing thrills for such a price?
When people ask if I've seen a lot of changes, the answer is mostly "yes," but maybe the biggest is the fact that people used to come to Aspen and say, "What a great place. I want to become part of this community." Today, many come here and say, "What a great place. This community is going to love me."
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.