This week in Aspen history

“Frank Willoughby first to ride the ‘Roch Run’,” proclaimed The Aspen Daily Times on Nov. 11, 1937. “Frank Willoughby, president of the local ski club, is the first person ever to ride Aspen’s spectacular ski course, the ‘Roch Run.’ Frank strapped on his ‘long shoes’ late Monday afternoon for a leisure jaunt down into the city from above the Midnight Mine, at the head of the course. He reported that it took but 15 minutes for the ‘flight’ which gave all Aspenites who viewed the last part of his descent a real thrill. Snow in the high altitudes is quite deep at this time, but about 10 inches more on the level will make the lower end of the course most ideal for skiing.”

This week in Aspen history

“Mr. William Weller has a lake near his place at the Forest House of about 15 acres in extent,” noted the Rocky Mountain Sun on May 16, 1885. “He lately made a request of the State Fish Commissioner, for the privilege of seining or trapping in the river to get fish to stock the lake. The request was refused. He will procure fish, however, from the State Fishery Association, and intends to fit up a beautiful park, with drives, walks, pavilions, fountains, statues, arbors and a handsome dancing pavilion, on the border of the lake, and will excavate a mammoth cave in the side of the mountain in which to keep wine and beer. He intends that this shall rival the beautiful summer gardens of the east. Gaily painted sail and row boats, with gorgeous awnings, will tread the waves of the lake, and a brass band will discourse sweet music on sunny afternoons from a pavilion on an island. A fine boulevard will connect this beautiful resort with Aspen, a distance of about nine miles. It will cost some money to fit up this little Elysium- money which Mr. Weller has made by keeping the popular wayside inn of the Independence road.”

*Follow-up one year later in the Rocky Mountain Sun, May 8 1886: “Owing to the sickness of Mr. Weller, his ranch, known as the Forest House, nine miles above Aspen on the Independence road, will be sold or rented very cheap.”

Dandelion Day in Carbondale

Dandelion Day celebrated spring, sustainability, and community on Saturday. From its modest roots as a neighborhood event, this annual festival is proudly green and waste free, bringing Sopris Park and the community buzzing to life.

Dandelion Day in Carbondale.
Julie Bielenberg / Aspen Times
Dandelion Day in Carbondale.
Julie Bielenberg / Aspen Times
Dandelion Day in Carbondale.
Julie Bielenberg / Aspen Times
Dandelion Day in Carbondale.
Julie Bielenberg / Aspen Times

This week in Aspen history

“Jumping for joy at Aspen Highlands,” declared The Aspen Times on Jan. 3, 1980. “It all began with Stein Eriksen in the early 1960s. Stein was director of skiing at Aspen Highlands and one of the earliest acrobatic skiers. He did a back flip off a bump close to the spot where the Highlands ski patrol shack has now been built, near the top of the Cloud Nine chairlift. That shack was built in the late ‘60s. It had a small deck. In their spare time, patrolmen built a small jump and one dare led to another, until they were jumping over portions of that deck. Over a period of about six years, the patrol jump became a regular noon event. The patrolmen jumped over the deck to the delight of skiers who were eating cheese and wine and partying on the deck. Tricks were added. The show became more and more spectacular. As many as 600 persons would take time out from their skiing to watch. The lip of the jump these days is seven feet from the deck. The deck itself, made of wooden planks, stretches 47 feet 6 inches away to a steep landing. Kim Atkins does the most difficult jump, a helicopter turn that requires tremendous speed coming into the lip, but Mac Smith usually climaxes the show with another dangerous feat, pulling a toboggan over the jump.”

Willoughby: A different kind of summer tourist

A 1924 Aspen Times editor’s note referred to a problem due to “summer tourists,” but he was not talking about people — it was sheep. Sheep had been grazing in Ute Cemetery. He went on to say, “Either herders should keep their sheep out of the Ute Cemetery or a fence should be put up.”

Sheep were a common sight in 1920s Aspen. They arrived in early summer and left in late fall. They arrived by train, were unloaded, and then driven through town, with locals watching like it was a parade, and then headed up Aspen Mountain for the high country. My father, as a teen in 1922, worked several days with the drive up Aspen Mountain. On the way up ewe and a lamb got trapped 30 feet down an old mine shaft and he had to pull them out with a rope. As summer went on the sheep were moved higher and higher as the snow melted, eventually occupying the open areas above timberline.

To give you some idea of the numbers, in 1920 from June 24 to July 10, 46 railroad cars of sheep were brought to town on the Rio Grande Railway, and more later. Some came from Grand Junction, others from Utah. From Sept. 24 to Oct. 14, 61 train carloads reversed the process.

Sheep were distributed throughout the area with herders setting up high-country camps. In the 1920s, locations included Hunter Creek, Lost Man, Snowmass, Pearl Pass and Independence. The list also included Ashcroft, West Hunter Creek and West Maroon. In 1925 Aspen’s local Forest Service ranger, Len Shoemaker, estimated there were 15,000 sheep in the local Forest Service areas.

The sheep were not welcomed by everyone. In 1921, 40 armed cattleman near Craig blocked the route to the White River National Forest stopping 6,000 sheep. Wolves and mountain lions, however, welcomed them. A study in 1920 estimated that 3,200 sheep were killed in one year in Colorado and Wyoming.

The grazing business was so important to Colorado that people were warned to be more mindful of preventing forest fires because they spread to the grazing areas eliminating sheep food. Herders paid grazing fees to the Forest Service and each county got a share related to how many sheep were in the county, a significant contribution to the budget.

One of my father’s favorite sheep stories was one year in the late summer when there was an early snowstorm. Sheep had been grazing above timberline on the Richmond Hill ridge. When it first started to snow herders recognized that it could be a bad enough storm to kill many of their sheep, so they began moving them to a lower elevation. The storm intensified. Father was in the Midnight Mine bunkhouse in Queens Gulch when he heard a bah-bahing racket. He went outside and after a quick discussion they decided since it was near sunset and the storm was worsening it would be too difficult and dangerous to herd them on down Queens Gulch, so instead they herded them into the midnight tunnel for the night.

I am not sure when the annual sheep migration stopped, but I remember seeing it well into the late 1960s.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at

Willoughby: A seasonal town with a seasonal calendar

Aspen, like most resort towns, has its work seasons. For workers that is both a blessing and a challenge. A blessing because if you are not enjoying your job, you know it won’t be long before it ends and a challenge because you have to find a new one.

I loved the seasonal nature of work in Aspen and combined being a teacher with summer work at the Music Festival. The transitions for some were inconvenient, but for me they elevated my energy level. Since I taught at Aspen Country Day School on the Music School campus, the two jobs overlapped.

At the end of the school year we had to pack up the entire school. In the earliest years we even had to haul everything to storage in town. Over time we built special library shelving that we could put a plywood cover over and move the books without boxing them. One of the greatest challenges was moving the science lab; moving aquariums full of water and fish is awkward at best. The first classroom ACDS arranged to lease for the whole year was the science lab.

Most teachers found the seasonal moving seemingly unnecessary hard physical labor. It did, however, make them very selective in what they boxed for the next school year. Since the Music Festival needed to set up for the season the school moving had a short deadline. In the fall the process repeated, but ACDS was the entity with the deadline. It was not a coincidence that the upper grades (5-12) spent the first week of the school year on outdoor education trips.

Eventually we had storage on campus that made it easier with the challenge being how to cram boxes, student desks and the library mostly into a basement, or after we had the science room, up a narrow set of stairs to the second floor.

The Music Festival seasonal shift was equally challenging. Even more work than moving aquariums is moving pianos. Each season the Festival was loaned hundreds of brand-new crated Baldwin upright pianos. Moving heavy boxes of books up a flight of stairs is a chore but moving a piano to the second floor of a condominium with a narrow stairway that changes direction half-way up is torturous. Doing it without scratching the brand-new finish added another challenge.

Most of my years were spent at the tent. The first job of the summer was to erect it. A small crew of around eight put up the top, and because for many years there were only two of us assigned to the tent, the rest fell to me and my partner. We installed all the side panels that required hours of lacing, and we had to attach each of the 13 top panels to anchors that held them down. The anchors were turnbuckles, I think six per panel, that had to be turned and turned and turned, a slow process.

After that we installed the seat cushions and for many years the wooden stage sections were stored for the winter so we had to reassemble them and correct any winter warping problems.

Every inch of the tent had to be cleaned removing nine months of dirt and dust. In the early years we also were in charge of the lawn so we had to get the watering system up and running, mow the grass and clean out the irrigation ditches that watered the trees.

Our deadline was not the beginning of the festival but in those days it had to be ready for the International Design Conference. We usually got to everything except weeding the gravel sections that surrounded the tent. We weeded the week of the Design Conference listening to the presentations as we dug out dandelions. The end of the season reversed the process, but it took far fewer days and we were more than willing to put in extra hours to end the season.

In those years Aspen had longer and more pronounced shoulder seasons where ski industry workers took a vacation and then many signed on to construction jobs. The erection of the tent was the harbinger of the summer season to the whole community. Finishing the school year celebrated a longer period but with the energy of children. Being part of starting another Music Festival season was a special joy, too. Life in Aspen, tied to the seasons, can be invigorating and fulfilling.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at

Snowmass History: Ever heard of Emmylou?

The 1976 Snowmass Summer Festival of music had quite the lineup, according to the summer edition of that year’s Inside Aspen Magazine.

“Emmylou Harris will perform at the Snowmass Music Pavilion on July 11, at 8 p.m., kicking off the Snowmass Summer Festival,” the magazine reported. “Other performers in the lineup are Doug Kershaw on July 17, John Stewart on August 7, Jimmy Buffett on August 20, Bonnie Raitt on August 27 and 28, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on September 3.

“Emmylou Harris has been preforming on club and concert circuits off and on since 1967, but her career has just recently taken off with the recording of her first solo album, ‘Pieces of the Sky,’ released in 1975,” the article continued. “The breadth of the material on the album showed the strikingly beautiful Alabama-born singer-guitarist to be a talented performer whose time had come. Songs by Merle Haggard, the Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings sparked the album. It and one of its singles, ‘If I could Only Win Your Love,’ both hit the top of the Country charts.”

Willoughby: Goose gossip

My father spent many days and nights in Queens Gulch at the Midnight Mine camp. He enjoyed its location, especially the abundance of wildlife. He passed on this memory.

It was late in October 1933. There had been a couple of light snowstorms that fall but the snow had melted. Father was outside, while most of the employees were either in the tunnel or working inside in the mill. Sensitive to even small changes in weather at that altitude, 9,500 feet, he could sense a major change in the air. The camp did not have a barometer, but he concluded, from experience, it was a change to lower air pressure.

Around 4 in the afternoon there was a loud noise overhead. A sizable flock of wild geese were flying fast and honking like they were excited about something. They were flying in formation heading east. Queens Gulch is narrow, so the view of them was short as they flew out of sight quickly. Father concluded a storm might be coming as most storms came from the southwest and the geese were flying away from its path.

Others who were outside and witnessed the geese chimed in agreeing that a storm was coming, and the storm grew larger to the point where they speculated on the camp being buried in snow.

The goose gossip went on and on until the evening meal. Good grub silenced the discussion for a while as they couldn’t swallow and talk goose at the same time. After dinner, Father phoned town to check barometer readings and was told it was reaching very low local levels. Father bunked with a Swedish miner named Carl in one of the camp’s cabins. Carl recalled that in the “old country” when geese honked like that, Swedes would stoke their fires with 10 times the usual firewood.

Father did not sleep well that night thinking about the goose omen. He remembered the winter of 1932 when the camp gulch was attacked by snowslides so bad that it closed the camp road for two weeks. Poles and telephone lines were also destroyed, a costly expense to repair in those Depression days. He fell asleep dreaming of deep deep snow.

He awoke the next morning to a colder day than the previous day, but the sky was clear. There had, however, been a snowstorm, but only 3 inches lay on the ground. There was no goose convention at the breakfast table.

Not only was there little snow that night, but little for the whole winter. There was so little the teamsters that hauled food and materials to the camp and ore out had difficulty with their sleds. In late March there was about 2 feet of snow measured in the camp. A normal winter would show about 6 feet or more. There was even less in town. Kobey’s clothing store was stuck at the end of the year with an overstock of overshoes.

We have NOAA and the National Weather Service to inform us today, but wouldn’t it be more fun to pay attention to goose omens?

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at

Snowmass history: Launching creativity in Snowmass

“New art school goes into orbit at S-mass,” announced The Snowmass Villager on July 4, 1968.

“’The newest Summer Art Scene,’ as it is called in the brochure, is now happening. Sam’s Knob School of Art at Snowmass-at-Aspen started classes on June 24 and is scheduled to run through Aug. 2,” the Villager reported. “The school is under the direction of Bill Lifton, owner of The Gallery in Denver. Also here as an instructor is Jerry Johnson, an art teacher at the Denver Center of Colorado University. … He says art, like other things in contemporary life, has splintered off, that now there is a need to pull things together, to involve the public as well as the students.

“‘The greatest educational thing we can do here this summer is to see what kind of possibilities these things have. I am happy just to stay in the studio and work,’ he says, ‘but there is such a need for dialogue now, for reaching the people on the street.’ The summer will be devoted to interacting, investigating, testing, sharing, Johnson said, among the teachers, the graduate students and the artists.”

Snowmass history: Aspenites get to know the village

A 2-inch white button with "Aspen Day, Snowmass-at-Aspen, Grand Opening, Summer 1968" and a pink, orange and green flower. In the center is a white sticker with "Helen" written on it in pen.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

“Snowmass opens with ‘Aspen Day,'” announced The Snowmass Villager on June 13, 1968.

“A cattle run through the Village square, an open pit barbecue, a variety of summer activities and a presentation of a live play is all scheduled for the summer opening of Snowmass-at-Aspen on Saturday, June 15. The day has been designated ‘Aspen Day’ and Aspenites purchasing the souvenir Aspen Day button will be entitled to participate in golf, horseback riding, swimming, archery, volleyball, paddle tennis, miniature golf, arts and crafts and other activities at no additional cost.”

Cowpokes and cattle, riders and barbecue, all the sports you could ever enjoy and a live performance of “The Fantasticks” at the Opticon Theater were all offered to introduce the new Snowmass Village to the community.