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Kaya Williams: Smiles per hour and the summer of S’mass

Kaya Williams, reporter for the Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun

I maxed out on smiles per hour somewhere in the Sugar Bowls.

As a trail runner who takes the grilled cheese approach (cook it low and slow, then take off the heat when your insides get melty), it’s just about the only metric I use to define a good adventure.

I have a hard time seeing the point of going fast or going hard if I’m not having fun while I do it. There’s a time and a place for Type II fun, but only if you make sure that the sufferfest still ends in a goofy grin or a great story or at least a half-decent beer in good company where you can commiserate on the pleasure that sometimes comes only in retrospect after a good hard grind to the summit.



The Power of Two last weekend was no exception to this steadfast personal rule of fun. And on that sweet, sweet singletrack descent through a field of wildflowers just outside of Buttermilk, I beamed.

It was the closest I’ve felt to ridge-running euphoria since a long run last July that had me bounding along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail toward Tahoe’s Twin Peaks. That level of sheer bliss is a sensation I’ll probably be chasing for the rest of my life, but the effervescent joy I felt last weekend on that trail was enough to jog the memory.


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It was around this time last year that I realized the spectacular fun in the long haul — the three- to four-hour, big-climbs-for-big-rewards kind of runs that I could coast on for days after I finished.

Sort of on a whim but mostly on a bout of Strava FOMO, I signed up for last June’s half marathon challenge on the adventure-tracking app; I did it, bonked hard, but then figured I might as well do it again in July, when that ridge run scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. So I did it again in August and September and October, then started the pattern again this June.

(July’s Power of Two was actually more than 2 miles short of the promised 25K, so my 13.06 miles clocked on the app won’t earn me the Strava badge, but I’m still counting it in my heart.)

Turns out most runs get really good about 3 miles in, especially if there are Honey Stinger gummies involved. Around the 5-mile mark, it’s no thoughts, only vibes. Around 6 or 7 miles, it’s time for the first peanut butter and honey sandwich. Nine miles in is dangerous bonk territory, but not if there’s another peanut butter sandwich in the backpack.

And then I was standing at the finish, tired and ready to take a load off but also, maybe, a little disappointed that the adventure wasn’t longer. The best I can do is extol the virtues of the experience to people who won’t believe me until they do it themselves.

It seems like this season is going the way of the long run, too.

When I moved here in late October, I was skeptical of the gushing affection people in this valley shared for the warmer months; I thought I was being spoon-fed summer in Aspen-Snowmass propaganda.

But then came mid-May, and for the first time in forever I killed an entire day spending time hiking and hanging out with new friends. One of them said it was the “summer of S’mass.” I co-opted it while there was still snow on the mountains.

June rolled around, and Fanny Hill concerts became my center of gravity. The days lasted longer. The mountains turned greener. Life was warmer. It wasn’t just more sun that made it feel that way.

July. Sweet, sweet July. Started with a hike to Snowmass Lake, ended with that bound through the Sugar Bowls, packed with nights at Slow Groovin’ in between. It went fast and hard. I bonked and I rallied, fueled by the fun.

And now it’s August. Almost halfway through it at that. I’m told the dog days of summer end this week. Woof. I’ll be standing there at the finish line soon enough. Wishing it was all a little longer.

Kaya Williams is already nostalgic for the summer of 2021 and it isn’t even over yet. She covers education and the town of Snowmass Village for the Aspen Times and the Snowmass Sun.


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