Marolt: Shrine on!
There are shrines erected by transplanted natives throughout the woods bordering the trails on all four of our ski mountains. Among the few I know are for the Boston Red Sox (the formerly best team money could buy), Marilyn Monroe (I would have liked to know her, but I was just a kid), The Grateful Dead (this one always smells like pot), and one for a lot of deceased locals (which is like a cemetery decorated with faded photos and yellowed newspaper clippings behind cracked plastic coverings, which is sort of creepy, and it’s right next to one of my favorite summertime picnic spots, which was there first, fire ring and all).
There are others I’ve seen, but don’t remember or I couldn’t figure out what they were all about. Most of the time I was pulling off the open ski trails to relieve myself and came across them. A few times I was already in the middle of answering nature’s call before I looked up to see decorations and relics surrounding me. Apparently mountain pit stops and shrines are best situated on similar tracts of convenient but guarded slopeside real estate.
I don’t mean to offend, but the shrines to the dead I find more than a little eerie. I appreciate the sentiment, but the execution is difficult. In my mind, the best shrines to the dearly departed built in nature are the ones like the yin-yang circle on the top of South Rim Trail. You stand there in the sun and have a 360-degree view including Mounts Daly, Sopris and Capitol Peak. You can see all four ski areas, all of Snowmass Village and parts of Aspen. If you are so inclined, you can turn the other way and marvel at Basalt and Sunlight mountains aspiring off to the west, so near and yet so far away. The natural surroundings say it all. Knick-knacks tied to sage brush would ruin it.
This is not a criticism of the ski mountain shrines, though. All the would-be great spots for shrines which require a lift ticket or set of climbing skins to get to are covered with expensive restaurants and private clubs, so the shrines have to find the dark spots in the woods that aren’t, for the most part, too dangerous to access on skis.
I wonder how the whole shrine erection movement began. It seems to have gained traction back in the late 90s after Aspen City Councilman and City Market grocery checker, Terry Paulson, set up a replica Ute Indian sacred burial ground on Burnt Mountain in order to fool the federal government into blocking ski area expansion there so as not to inadvertently unearth poltergeists. It almost worked before Paulson almost ended up in prison. Maybe the thrill of that escapade spurred the rush to surreptitiously squat lands to honor the dead along with The Dead.
We have to be careful with these shrines. There is definitive proof that they can be taken too far, beyond the borders of sociopathy. There is a tract of land just off Highway 82 at about the midpoint between the top of Independence Pass and the outhouses for the boat launch at Twin Lakes.
If it is not the creepiest sight at the side of any highway in the world, then I shall now vow to never drive outside Pitkin County ever again. I’ll spare the gory details and get right to the point: at this clearing in the woods close enough for kids in the backs of minivans to see are hundreds of old doll heads rammed onto the tops of sharp sticks in the ground. I once stopped to take a picture of this site and lost my nerve as soon as I stepped out of the car. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I know it is extremely dangerous to drive with my eyes closed, but I do it anyway for the few seconds it takes to pass that spot at 30 miles per hour over the legal speed limit.
Subconsciously, I think this disturbing, anything-but-random act of modern expression has inspired some of the local shrine makers. It is why I don’t visit shrines on the ski slopes. It is why I have been avoiding an invitation to visit even the innocuous sounding golf shrine by David Wood. On the other hand, supposedly you get a shot of fine Scotch when you are there — an example of the one-upmanship to attract visitors. I might be running out of excuses not to go visit.
Learn more about these local treasures (?) in David Wood’s book, “Sanctuaries in the Snow: The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass.” firstname.lastname@example.org
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