Roger Marolt: It could be a winter mirage, but I think it’s a bandit ski trail
Once you see it, you can’t not see it. This is not to say I’m not seeing things.
I think somebody cut a new ski line on the flanks of Aspen Mountain over the summer. It’s not a run. It’s not a trail. It’s not something created by Aspen Skiing Co. Like I said, it looks like a ski line through the trees, as wide as one or maybe two sets of tight turns. If it really exists, it was cut by rogues, uptight skiers with nothing better to do on summer vacation after maybe pedaling their bicycles up to Maroon Lake seven days straight as part of an offseason training regiment. Carrying a chainsaw up the side of a mountain and dragging deadfall through dense underbrush is the upper body workout to complement the leg-centric needs of a ski bum. Traipsing through the woods doesn’t hurt the balance, either.
This sight is ironically more likely to be seen by Snowmass Villagers than Aspenites. We get a straight-on look at it rounding the curve at the bottom of the hill on Owl Creek Road right before it straightens out along the airport runway. I noticed it the other day after a light dusting of snow, like detectives use white dust to uncover fingerprints on a doorknob. After the snow melted it was much more difficult to spot, but once you know where it is, you can pick it out.
If you don’t know the history, you may find it hard to believe what I’m saying. It wasn’t a common thing in times past, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to hear gossip in local bars about so-and-so hiking up the mountain and clearing out a few branches here and there to make a cleaner ski line for the next winter. Nobody really cared. Some diehards thought it was cool. Perpetrators believed they were being helpful, performing a public service.
One of the most ambitious, surreptitious run-cutting projects happened about 20 years ago on Aspen Mountain. A well-known local had been working on clearing a ski line on a relatively short but challenging pitch between Aztec and Ruthie’s runs. The project morphed into several lines over the years and finally into a powdery thoroughfare wide enough to get noticed by the general skiing public and then by Skico.
The very public revealing of a scandal ensued. The witch hunt produced a warlock, chainsaw, axes, scythes and all. He was a ski instructor moonlighting as a one-man nightshift trail crew, or at least protected his accomplices. To strip the bark off the trunk of this tall tree tale, the stealth trail cutter lost his ski instructor job and season ski pass indefinitely.
Allowing this legend to reseed, Skico has mysteriously never named the new trail that appeared, even after they later spent considerable resources to clear it properly for the general public’s enjoyment. Some locals call it “Pink Slip” due to the reward Skico handed out to the perpetrator. I prefer “Dark Side of the Moon,” which is a not so subtle eponymous recognition.
The thing is, it turned out to be a great new run on the mountain, a long overdue addition to Aspen Mountain’s challenging but stagnating offerings. The incident freshened things up, both in new terrain and thinking. It seems Skico was inspired to look at fresh prospects like the T-chutes, Bingo Glades, Rayburn’s area of The Dumps, Silver Queen Ridge, and Anaconda. These probably should have been opened decades earlier.
But, before I sound like I am advocating in favor of it, this is just the positive view of bandit runs. The negatives are completely offsetting. We don’t need vigilante ski area development, not anymore anyway.
As I look at what I think I see, I know I will not venture there anytime soon. It won’t be patrolled. It leads nowhere I want to be at the end of a ski run, a logistical nightmare of getting back to the lifts. An injury there would not be a toboggan ride down the mountain but a full-blown Mountain Rescue scene. It has the potential to be the starting zone for a big avalanche that will run through a cheese grater of trees below.
Maybe someday it will be developed into a legit ski run. Until then, it’s better to let my imagination run down it and end up reminiscing over quirky local skiing history.
Roger Marolt would rather be a skier than a lumberjack. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.