Roger Marolt: A town of two tales
It seems like the beginning of a strange offseason.
There are lots of people still in town. I don’t recognize most, which is not the usual this normally quiet time. Many don’t seem like full-on tourists. They’re not exactly not tourists either.
The fall standard is newbies arriving excited about skiing, hesitant about finding seasonal jobs, and scared to death about housing. This year’s crowd seems young but doesn’t look like the working type. That’s a huge generalization, but overall a lot of them appear a little too polished and poised to be looking forward to a long winter season of waiting tables and loading lifts.
The cars are nicer this fall. Fewer have the telltale dings and dents of recent escapades circling cramped campus parking lots, squeezing into spots within sprinting distance of first period classes. They are more pampered than that, the cars I mean. I saw one young couple cruising Main Street in a convertible Rolls Royce with Texas plates one recent afternoon. I thought I’d seen everything in Aspen. I do not recall seeing that.
There was a crowd of newcomers in front of the local oyster bar at 2 in the afternoon. It was a beautiful afternoon for doing nothing and they appeared to have embraced that purpose. They didn’t look scared, but more puzzled, something along the lines of, is this all there is to the fabled resort town offseason? They have not yet learned that the nothingness about offseason in a ski resort is precisely what is to be held in awe.
There is something I will never be able to know for sure, but it is what many newcomers, I believe, are going to find out. I have always said that this place would be more fun to visit than live in. This is not the same thing as denying it is a wonderful place to build a life and raise a family. It’s just my supposition that coming here for a week or two at a time, briefly but fully leaving the real world and its daily demands behind and engaging with intense focus for a short time on trying to experience all the incredible things this place has to offer in one intensely blissful dose of unreality, is better than the privileged day-to-day drill we enjoy as locals.
Winter is intense in the mountains, even if you have a faux European chalet river rock fireplace to pull your leather recliner up to and read classic novels by dimmed light, since candles are not usually worth the trouble. Honestly, how much of that can anyone take? If anything, my hypothesis is that habitually taking part in forced rituals such as this leads to inadvertent acceleration of horrible cases of cabin fever. I did this once in youthful naiveté during a mere summer thunderstorm and thought the evening would never end.
Shoveling snow, scraping ice from your windshield, and feeling your chest tighten against your heart and lungs as frostbite bares its fangs to your cheeks while making a mad dash across slippery sidewalks to your car after leaving a warm restaurant are the main reasons 9 million people live in Los Angeles and barely 5,000 here. And you thought it was the cost of living. The truth is that this has always been driven and propped up by very wealthy people who spend but a few weeks a year visiting during the major holidays. Supply is tight and demand is intensely seasonal. When it wasn’t like that, they called this a ghost town.
This fall is the honeymoon period for pandemic transplants looking for a better way of life during lockdown. They saw the Instagram posts. They heard our bragging about lots of things to do outside while everywhere else everyone else wondered if they would ever see the sunshine again. I’m not sure this town and its new suitors are well enough acquainted. We have to see how the marriage turns out.
While abundantly safe, beautiful, and comfortable, here is not the easiest place to live. Traditionally, people who have come and made this their home came for the skiing and that has been great enough to make working around everything else worthwhile. It will be interesting to see if those who come for not much more than escaping from somewhere else will find enough to make this place stick for them. Years of observation indicate that isn’t a strategy that has worked well for many.
Roger Marolt plans on sticking around here for awhile longer. He has tested positive for cabin fever antibodies. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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