Aspen – "just too much fun’
Early in the spring of 1950, I began to suspect that life in Aspen was just too much fun and wasn’t leading me where I wanted to go. I had been there for more than four years. The seasons blurred gloriously together, and the cycle of work and play repeated itself year after year.
Once the winter snow melted, the top of Independence Pass opened to summer traffic and we began another season of mountain work – new trails to cut, old ones to widen, winter debris to be cleared and burned. There was also lumberjack work, carpentry, truck repairs and a million other things to do.
For fun we climbed the great rock faces of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells beyond Aspen. We skinny-dipped in mountain lakes that were about 2 degrees above turning to ice. We rafted on the Roaring Fork River. We played tennis, softball, touch football and soccer with our European friends. Anything competitive lent itself to a friendly beer bust at the Red Onion bar when the games were over.
With fall came the first golden aspen leaves and the occasional sound of an elk bugling in the distance. The increasingly cold truck rides up the mountain each morning marked the progression from gorgeous autumn radiance to winter frost.
At that time of year the town was almost deserted. Klaus Obermeyer, my roommate for a time in a closet-sized room at the Hotel Jerome, used to come off the mountain and skate on his skis through the empty town.
“By the time I reached the Jerome, I would have about 10 dogs barking and chasing along behind me,” he would later recall.
We had a wonderful crowd in Aspen. The Austrian Friedl Pfeifer and New Englanders Percy Rideout and John Litchfield, all fellow soldiers from the 10th, ran the Aspen Ski School. Steve Knowlton opened the madhouse Golden Horn, where he sold imported Molitor boots in the sports shop upstairs and starred in slapstick floor shows in the cellar restaurant, wearing a bearskin coat, a derby and sunglasses.
Everywhere one turned was something wild and wonderful. The Austrian racer Toni Spiess could ski on one ski while yodeling all the way down Spar Gulch. The actor Gary Cooper played goalie for the weekly broomball games between the ski school and the ski patrol.
Throughout most of my Aspen days, I lived in the same small rustic log cabin across the road from the Red Onion. It was cold in the mornings. But at night, assuming I wasn’t participating in an “away game” in a bed elsewhere, my friends and I would gather by the potbelly stove glowing in the corner of the cabin and talk about today’s skiing and yesterday’s skiing and tomorrow’s skiing.
Besides the pure joy of daily life in Aspen, there was the mad, colorful world of ski racing, in both winter and spring. Racing was an addictive activity, offering massive doses of glitz, girls, thrills, drama, girls, endless parties and adoration by the masses, which included girls.
In later years, I often thought that if I had won the second Roch Cup in 1948 instead of losing because of my sticky skis, I might have been hooked. I might have committed myself wholly to winning the third Roch downhill and retiring the trophy for good.
No doubt I had the genes, the heart and the ego to spend my life as a racer. But I didn’t do it. The dream of building my own ski area was still in place, and I knew there was only one way to make it come true – work at it.