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Tales from the Gondola: Best of the Ride, 2009

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

Best of the Gondola 2009

“I’m not like my mother; I like to stereotype. It’s faster.”
– George Clooney, Up in the Air

My friend Will tells me I need a fur coat. I’d like to think he’s simply concerned about my core body temperature but I know his reasons are guided more by the mystique of real fur, the hint of valets and the whiff of private club memberships and promise of Veuve Clicquot, than the fact that decked out in a fur coat is a really warm way to cross the street.

Personally, I’ve always had a penchant for faux fur; apparently, I’m drawn to the mystique of looking warm. Only the finest in stuffed animal for me. I recently found a sumptuous black long-haired vest in a 50% bargain bin in Rifle, Colorado (so much for the mystique) but it looks perplexingly real, shiny and black and plush around the collar, with a thin tail-like waist tie, resembling some sort of sable or mink or lynx; and it only cost $28! Either I’m one savvy fashionista, or my new vest is hypoallergenic.

One cold December night, my faux fur rubbed shoulders with a floor-length fox in line at Paradise Bakery. I felt warmer immediately. The people in Aspen are as much a part of the scenery as the mountains which surround them and by December 19th, there’s a lot to see: town is inundated, hotel shuttles triple-parked and not an elbow’s room in any restaurant, all of which were virtually empty a month ago. It’s worldly and exciting and there’s a hub of energy and it’s chaotic, too, as locals make way for visitors and crosswalks become mine fields and City Market becomes grand central station. The holiday spirit waxes and wanes and tries to stretch itself all the way into the New Year.

There’s one place where we all come together, where Gore-Tex and capilene, wool and down and sable come face to face and toe to toe, for around 14 inescapable minutes; it’s a little place called the Silver Queen Gondola. No matter where you’re from or how private a plane brought you to Aspen, whether you road-tripped from Michigan ala Aspen Extreme or you grew up here and are home for the holidays, you’ll encounter it all- up to six different stories - every time you head up Ajax. It’s the great melting pot in the sky and it’s long enough to get a feel for someone.

The following are some of the best of gondola moments of 2009. Best means most remarkable as in, needing to be remarked upon and quotation marks indicate things actually said, though they may sound made up. Truth is better than fiction and when available, names have been changed to create mystique.

Real Fur and Faux Pas

Jean and I squeezed onto a car, three men in their mid 50’s already on board. We get situated, the car heads out of the station and Man #1 unleashes. # 1, next to me, wastes no time.
#1: “So yeah, she heads down to Argentina and gets a boob job, comes back, says ‘I’m too hot for you now, I want a divorce.’”
Commiserating laughter and a head shake from Man #2, seated next to Jean. I guess he can relate?!
# 1: “Yeah I went out on my first date last night in like 10 years. I haven’t been single since the millennium.
#2: “How’d it go?”
#1: “Eh, alright I guess. She texted today, to thank me for the ‘nice night’.”
I brace myself for the follow-up to the thank-you text, but mercifully, there’s only silence for a minute or two.
#1’s phone rings.
#1 (really loudly): “Yeah, we’re on the gondola. So you got rezzys for Matsu tonight? We’ll hit the Nell first, come meet us for lunch at the Sundeck in about an hour. What’s that?!” (Unbelievably louder.)

I duck through his airspace and lean into talk to Jean; she laughs at my story and says, “Oh Jamie.” #1 has by now finished his phone call and he turns to me.

#1: “Jamie, right?”

I have no desire to enter into conversation with #1 or #2; not sure about #3 but it doesn’t look good. I reluctantly look at #1,

#1: “Jamie! I sold you your coat!”

I look out the window, racking my brain for any memory of that transaction. I got a couple of new ski jackets this season but I don’t recall his opinion on them.

#1: “Your shearling! I sold you that shearling, right?”

Jean bursts out laughing, and in her endearingly mouthy way, says, “Uh no. Not. You did not sell Jamie a shearling.”
#1: “You’re from Texas, right?”

Jean loses it, laughing uncontrollably and too loudly for me to respond. He now accepts the fact that I am not from Texas and he didn’t even remotely nearly sell me a shearling, and moves on. But not really.

We make our way over Bell Mountain and creep up over the Nastar course.

#1( picking up where he left off, 11 minutes ago): “So yeah, I think it’ll go OK with the kid for a few years. Keep those checks comin’, she won’t do anything rash. Then I’ll cut her off; see how she likes it when the cash cow runs out!”

* * *

VH1 The Von Trapps: Where are they now?

I rode the second gondola one powder morning, a rarity for me to be at the front of the line, much less awake to the world at 8:42 a.m. Some longtime locals were on board and we had a full six pack. I greeted Darius next to me (like these name changes?) who had his headphones in and Ipod on, getting a few laps before heading to work. I actually recognized the couple across from me but forgot their names; no matter, not much time for that sort of thing. They were ecstatic about the day, the powder and just being there together. It was sweet. Sort of.

Darius turned off his Ipod and we chatted a little bit about the day, the surprise snowfall and the couple across the way chimed in.

She: “Oh we have a song for days like these.”
He, laughing: “That’s right honey. Let’s hear it.
She: “Dashing through the snow, on two skis all the way, oh what fun it is to ride on Ajax all the day…”

I smiled and laughed, politely, but not too encouragingly, thinking that’s nice, a little song, good one. Ok. So anyway-
She (voice disturbingly higher, now with vibrato): “Back of Bell, Front of Bell, Ruthie’s and the Dumps! Ohhhh what fun it is to ride on the groomers and the bumps. Ohhh, Back of- “

Darius smiled nervously, looked at me then leaned over his Ipod, surely finding a loud tune, and pressed play. I was on my own.

He (rubbing her knee and smiling wistfully in wonder, then chiming in): “Ohhhh, Back of Bell, Front of Bell…”

* * *

Oh Yeah....

This time, I was alone. Just me and a lone snowboarder who I hadn’t seen before. Lots of leg room, lots of time.

Boarder Dude: “So, here we are. Just the two of us. Ohh yeah. Gonna be a good Gondi ride.” His tone is congratulatory, like I’ve won the jackpot, getting to ride the gondola with him. He nods and winks, pointing at me.

I laugh. Random!

He leans over and picks up the world’s smallest Izze, displaying it in the palm of his hand.

BD: “Mmm hmm. This is the finest drink ever. Check this baby out.”
I look at him, smirking, not sure what’s coming next.
BD: “That’s right. 70% blackberry, 30% carbonation. No caffeine, no added sugar.
Me: “Are you the Izze PR guy or something?
BD, chuckling: “No, but ahh could be. Ohh yeah. I’d offer you some; but there just isn’t enough.”

I assure him I’m all good.

We pass a few minutes in companionable silence, and then he asks me where I’m from.

Me: “Here. I live here.”
BD: “Oh well alright then, nuff said!”
Me: “How bout you?” He has this strange way of speaking, sort of Spiccoli from the South but I’m not sure if it’s an accent, or more of a Jon Lovitz ‘Oh yeahh’ Saturday Night Live kind of thing.
BD: “Oh, I live here too. Uh-huh. That’s right.”
Me: “What’s your name?”
BD: “Ahh’m not tellin’. I don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know my name.”
Me, laughing: “Oh, well, I’m from California –‘
BD: “Too late. Not tellin’.”
I tell him I’ll accept this, and just start calling him random gondola guy.
RGG: “Why aren’t you snowboarding on a powder day?”
I tell him I’m just not snowboarding. Period.
RGG: “Ah see, ah see. You’re a – skier. Tooo bad. For you!”
I agree, to be agreeable, because I want him to keep going.
RGG: “You know what I’ve always wanted to do? Get some of my really good skier buddies, throw Blind Skier vests on ‘em , you know, those neon ones? And just have ‘em tear through the trees, haul ass down the mountain.”

He laughs at his genius and takes one last hopeful swig from the Smurf Izze.
“Ohh yeah. That’d be allright.”

Gondola over ParadiseGondola over Paradise
* * *

One Mountain, Under Gondola, with Liberty and Justice for All

There were three of us on board, good friends on a sunny afternoon off work early, and two of them, just visiting for the holidays. He had a raccoon hat and she wore a white Postcard one piece with a fur collar. We all smiled and said hello, then my friends and I started to gab, as we do, while the couple looked on, holding hands. Katie was telling a story and stopped herself at the punchline: “You guys, it was so funny.”

Me: “Like, funny, ha HA?” The woman giggled. Her man chuckled. We all laughed. We all started to chat.
He: “It’s our first day on the hill!”

We asked where they were from and how they liked Aspen, then they looked on, squeezing each other’s hands and smiling at as we three continued to heckle each other and talk healthy degrees of good-natured smack, much to our fellow passengers’ delight.

They liked us! They were nice. They thought we were nice. So of course, they were cool.

Me: “I hope we weren’t too much for the ride up. Yikes.”
He and she: “No, you guys were great! Perfect. We really enjoyed it.”

I felt like I’d been given a gold star. Look at us, making new friends! I couldn’t wait to tell someone. And just like on Animal Planet, they’d spied local wildlife in its natural habitat and now they, too, would have something to tell their friends.

We saw them again in the lift line, and asked how their run was. We even let them merge in front of us.

It became a little contagious, this getting to know random gondola people and becoming a part of their Aspen experience. We carried the torch all day and spread a little love around the Sundeck.

There was a table full of British tourists, with full glasses of white wine and another bottle chilling. We’d just finished our heaping bowls of chili with bonus oyster crackers and were all suited up; my jacket was zipped, my helmet was buckled and I stood up to go.

“Excuse me, miss, will you take a picture?”

“Uh…sure!” I said, turning back to the table. I took my gloves off, but left the helmet fastened (can’t be too safe with these Aspen photo shoots, paparazzi and all).

Katie and William saw me being helpful and ran across the room; as the group leaned in for the shot, my friends waltzed behind the table and threw their arms in the air.

“You guys, don’t get in their photo,” I chided, laughing, hoping the tourists knew about Photoshop. I took three pictures, just to be safe, then handed the woman her camera. She scrolled through the first couple and I chuckled; I told her to go back one more and there it was, Katie pirouetting and William twirling in the background.

She laughed and laughed. “That’s wonderful!” she declared, toasting us, and returned to her wine with a little more gusto.

We skied down via Long Face to Meadow and stopped before the bottom pitch, to woo hoo for a minute or two. There’s something about a group of people stopped above a slope that creates a certain mystique; soon, we had visitors.

“So, what’ve you got? The man had skied up besides us, his crew of four not far behind.

“Oh, just enjoying the view,” said Katie.

“Ah yes. It’s lovely.” His group joined him, catching their breath. We all nodded and looked out over the mountain, across to the Dumps and the pencil-thin Aspens.

“Well, then, guess we better forge on,” he said, a trace of an accent, politely taking leave of us.

“After you, please,” said William, gesturing down the hill.

One by one they hopped into the fall line, dodging a mogul here, maneuvering a little tentatively there; one of the women hesitated, but Katie gave her the thumbs up: “Go for it! You got it!”

The woman smiled gratefully and took her first turn. We skied ahead and hung out on Spar for a minute or two, watching them come down. They skied over to us to regroup and to process. They seemed invigorated and revived after tackling the run.

“That was excellent!” said the ringleader. “I so enjoyed it!” We agreed and said we were glad they liked it, as though we’d created it just for them.

The woman skied over to Katie and said, quietly,” I really needed the encouragement. Thanks so much.”

Happy New Year to you, ski well and ride often and remember, you never really know someone until you share a gondola ride.