When I was 12, skiing Lake Tahoe in Levis and thinking I was cooler than the guy in the stretch pants (I was, wasn’t I?) I wore this sweatshirt with a picture of a mountain and a stick figure whizzing down it that said, “My life is going downhill.” No pun intended at age 12, but I do stop and wonder every now and then at the fact that I’m still spending an inordinate amount of time, in effect, simply pointing them.
A similar sequence plays out each and every day: Get on chair, get clunked on the head by over-eager safety bar zealot, get off chair, buckle boots to the brink of searing shin pain, ski down hill; repeat. Really, it seems kind of inane. Here we go again...Wheee!!
Yet I’ve been doing it for 32 years, and 12 of those have been around 90 days a season, here in Aspen.
It’s always about the skiing; there’s the weighty look of the trees after a foot of fresh and the thrill of making first tracks down Ridge of Bell – sans moguls –on a sneaky powder morning, the joy of slush bumps on Deception on a ridiculously warm spring afternoon; but skiing our mountains day in and day out is equally about a lifestyle, and the local institutions on and around the hill make up some of the more poignant memories of each and every season.
With only a few days left till Highlands closing, be sure you fully appreciate the spring debauchery that ends the ski day at Cloud 9. All season, I’ve had a weekly ski date with my friend Heidi; when we first met, I was looking for reliable ski partners, and she told me she skied each and every Friday. I put her in my phone under Heidi Friday, and sure enough, one thing I can count on, Heidi will be skiing Highlands on Fridays and stopping into Cloud 9 for a bowl of soup, a glass of wine, and a front row seat to the inevitable antics once the plates are cleared.
The delectable nature of Cloud 9’s menu goes without saying, but around 3:15 or so, the music goes from 4 to 11 with one dial rotation; with no warning, lively conversations are drowned out by Kanye, Led Zeppelin, and Neil Diamond, depending on the mix. The change is startling, the music at odds with the pristine checked tablecloths and quaint Chianti-bottles dripping wax, but Chef Andreas likes to turn it up and he reads the crowd well. The staff remains unphased as Beyonce cautions “put a ring on it”; plates are pushed aside, hot spiced wines are refilled and large parties of vacationing women turn table-tops into dance floors. The place warms up, and layers- at times too many – are cast off and flung around. On a sunny afternoon, the couches are pulled outside for optimal lounging, to reassure you that you truly are on Cloud 9.
Around 4Pm or so, a lone ski patroller opens the door and peers in, to assess the damage and get a game plan together for last call. My friend Patroller Mike put it this way: “That’s right, Jamie. I just see a party, people having a good time, and I break it up.” Andreas usually squeezes in a final tune or two, “Last Dance” or some fitting baby please don’t go song, while patrol amiably escorts the stragglers onto the hill and toward the exit, off the mountain. Everyone always prattles on about first tracks, but last track on Thunder Bowl with no one in your way? Good times.
And then, there’s the best part of spring: the Bell Chair on Aspen Mountain. It’s open till 5PM. And if you’re skiing the hill at 5PM, it means you’re not in a hurry and that’s good news for the Bell Chair. The Bell Chair answers to no one. Clear your schedule and hold all calls – come to think of it, you could probably take all calls, and return some emails, by the time you get to the top.
New gondolas, faster chairs…blah blah blah. There’s a sublime feel to traversing Aspen Mountain on a sunny day in a rickety old two seater with a bar in the middle and a friend by your side.
It crosses Bingo Glades and swoops down toward Uncle Wiggly’s Woods; I remember skiing below the Bell Chair and hearing my name. I looked up to see a visiting friend hovering above. We had a full-on conversation, made happy hour plans, I waved to his ski tip and continued on my way.
And if you time it right, there’s the savory Bell Chair barbeques, where the lifties grill up sausages and pass them on to those who have a little more time to enjoy the mountain. Sure, the gondola will get you up the hill faster; but like the Slowskys, fast isn’t for everyone. You can get to know someone pretty well on the Bell Chair; and if you’re sick of each other by the time the bar is lifted, there’s always F.I.S. the next time around.