Marolt: Power of multiple (four) personalities

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

I know it’s generally not fair to generalize. The good news is that we almost never have to do it because, in most cases, it’s already done. Take for example our four ski mountains. We have pegged them for what they are or what we think they ought to be.

Start with Snowmass. Is there anybody who would argue that this isn’t the family-values mountain? Obviously I am not talking about getting bang for your buck when I say this. Clipping coupons will get you nowhere anywhere that has anything to do with skiing. What I mean is that Snowmass is the solidly Republican mountain. That’s the only party going on there.

Snowmass likely has considered relabeling its massive inventory of “blue runs” to red ones. I think the reason this hasn’t happened is due to the incredible number of trail signs that would have to be replaced. This has nothing to do with the negative impact on so-called “global warming” from the manufacture of all that new plastic and the disposal of all the old signs, by the way. It just wouldn’t be fiscally conservative. Besides, people need to rely on themselves to find their ways down the mountain. Signage and trail maps have become crutches. Just follow gravity’s pull, for crying out loud. The most comprehensive ski-run grooming plan in the world, however, is a tangible reward for those who have earned the right to afford it. You might say it’s survival of the financially fittest who are not physically fit enough to ski moguls.

Contrast this to Highlands ski area. This is the locals’ mountain — some would say “hippies.” Many skiers here use duct tape to mend tears in their jackets that occur from skiing too fast, too close to trees on the too-steep, too-ungroomed, too-gladed ski “trails” there. Yes, it’s extreme. Duct tape is like sergeant stripes. When you ski the same hidden powder stashes all winter long, as the snow gets deeper, the tears in your jacket sleeves move lower on your arms.

It’s not like Aspen Skiing Co. doesn’t capitalize on its image, either. Do you know the difference between a “group ski lesson” and “adult performance coaching”? It’s $90, and you can’t get the former at Highlands. Even the ski instructors cum coaches can’t explain any other differences. So entrenched is the public’s perception of our generalization of this ski area that Skico could no longer convince anyone who went there to stoop to taking a group ski lesson, whether they needed one or not. Chalk it up to the new mother of invention — relabeling. It’s learning to spell “cha-ching” with a catchy new acronym.

Aspen Mountain is the painful one to talk about for me. I say this because it is my personal favorite ski area in the entire world, not that there is anything wrong with that. What is a compact mountain packed with the most incredible ski terrain per claimed acreage anywhere has become the chameleon mountain. It pretends to be whatever is necessary to bring non-skiers to “ski.”

For example, this week Ajax is the gay mountain. Here’s the problem with that: A couple of weeks ago it was the jet-setter mountain. Next week it will be the ESPN wine-and-dine mountain. Do you see where I’m going with this? The mountain’s personality has nothing to do with its own personality. It is the embodiment of Aspen! It’s all about what’s shakin’ at the bottom of Little Nell and what’s happening up top at the Aspen Mountain Club. Its strength is actually its weakness.

And I’ll close with Buttermilk. For years we didn’t know what to do with it. Modern ski gear and grooming made it all but obsolete for even the least experienced beginner. It’s too easy for skiing. We finally figured it out, though: It is our publicity stunt. This is the area with the shortest ski season. Yes, it is officially open from mid-December through March, but its true operating season lasts only one long weekend. It hops the last week of January during X Games. The rest of the winter it is a temporary museum exhibit of gigantic jumps, bumps and the world’s greatest halfpipe to look at but not touch. You have to admit, it is an incredible surprise to see someone actually take flight off one of those props.

There you have it — the results of our four ski areas’ personality tests. Enjoy!

Roger Marolt will be doing more research on this topic in the coming months. Contact him at


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