Aspen shrines pay homage to musicians
January 5, 2008
ASPEN Aspen is a well-known celebrity haunt, so its easy to get wrapped up in the star-gazing frenzy.Last spring, I was eating with friends and family at Lulu Wilson, a new restaurant in town, when we spotted Martha Stewart. There she was a middle-aged woman with dyed-blonde hair and a cocky air, as if she could out-glue-gun anyone in the room sitting with her back to us at the next table.Just when our furtive glances had given way to gawking, the queen of decorating swiveled around and Wow. Yeah. It wasnt Martha Stewart at all. Just a random lady looking frightened by the people staring at her.A few days later, one of my girlfriends was walking down the street, face obscured by a hat, scarf and goggles, when a stranger rushed up to greet her. Oh my God, he breathed. Its Lucy Liu.In the interest of avoiding more stalking blunders, I decided to channel my curiousity about famous people into a more socially-acceptable outlet during my next trip to Aspen.So during this week, I put my binoculars away, climbed out of the bushes outside Goldie Hawns house, and rode to the top of Aspen Mountain to explore its celebrity shrines. Since the mid-1980s, skiers have been detouring into the trees to create slope-side memorials. It started with Elvis. Now, the mountain boasts 20 shrines to everything from Jimmy Buffet to 9/11 victims to Bingo, a patrol dog that died of cancer.No trail map details the shrines, so its best to have a local point them out. I was lucky enough to have Art Nerbonne, the mountains ski patrol lead person, as my guide.
We ducked into the trees alongside Ruthies Run, an intermediate slope, to check out the Grateful Dead shrine. I had been to this one last spring, and two things stood out then: a large painting of Jerry Garcia hanging on a tree and paisley panties someone left on a branch (Since nothing says I care like pre-worn underpants.)To my surprise, both tributes were gone. Either someone had stolen them or bad weather had swept through. Whatever the case, the shrine looked a bit more sparse and all that remained was a Stoner Ave. street sign, concert tickets, trinkets, pictures of the band and what appeared to be a cloth marijuana leaf.Once a shrine to Bob Marley, the Grateful Dead memorabilia took over after Garcia died in August 1995. Rumor claims people partied at the shrine, and at one point visitors left behind donations of marijuana in a sack.A snowboarder who goes only by Othello said the Grateful Dead is his favorite existing shrine.It has a sitting area on which you can sit back and relish in thoughts and think about where you are, the 33-year-old Aspen resident said. The view from it is amazing and after youre done meditating on where you are, you can strap in and take off and do those great powder runs.
A friend had warned me about the Jimi Hendrix shrine. Getting there involves skiing down an expert-rated mogul field, and I wondered whether my skiing abiltiy would hold up.I followed Nerbonne down a brief mogul field called Zaugg Dump, glided into the trees and found myself staring at the remnants of a mine. Jimi Hendrix paraphernalia clung to the trees and the stone remains. A large tapestry bearing Hendrixs face had vanished, but a plastic guitar, posters and a bunch of old skis remained.What do you think inspires people to create shrines like this? I asked Nerbonne.Probably the music and the memories from when they were watching Jimi on stage, he theorized.
Ah, the king. We skied into the trees between Point of Bell and The Ridge to check out the original shrine. Elvis fans decorated the trees with license plates, Elvis posters, photographs, pearls and a worn street signs that now reads just esley Blvd. Nerbonne paused to do an impressive Elvis impersonation, and then we were off.
Aptly named mystic shrines, the memorials on Aspen Mountain are shrouded in mystery. No one knows who built them, how they stared, Othello said. It just started.After lingering in obscurity for many years, the shrines have become slightly more mainstream thanks to news articles and TV spots.They were a local secret for a long time, but over the years with the publicity, more and more people go to look for them and want to know where they are, Nerbonne said.What began as a handful of shrines has exploded into some 20 memorials to everything from Pooper-Trooper toys to local figures who died to celebrities like John Denver and The Beatles. A tribute to 9/11 victims off Gretls Run features a painting of roses and the New York Skyline on a wooden background, along with T-shirts and plaques left behind by locals and visiting New York firemen.I think it speaks to the fellowship of firefighters, not just in the United States but around the world, Aspen Volunteer Fire Department Chief Darrell Grove said.As the years progress, some of the more prominent tributes appear to be on the decline while others are just getting started.Othello said he plans to build a hip hop shrine honoring deceased rappers like Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G. and Wu Tang Clans Ol Dirty Bastard. He wants to pay homeage to the bygone musicians with trinkets like empty forties (beer bottles) and Mercedes emblems. Its just a void that needs to be filled, Othello said. R&B and hip hop plays a major role in the music industry and we have every genre from country with Jimmy Buffet to hippy with Garcia to rock with Jimi Hendrix but theres no hip hop so why not make it well-rounded and have everyone represented?
As the shrines proliferate among the Aspens, they are raising some questions about the line between tributes and trash. Ski patrollers consider the memorials a mixed blessing.In the beginning the few celebrity shrines were kind of fun and quirky, veteran ski patroller Tim Cooney said. Then it went over the top and people started making shrines all over the place so now we discourage shrine-making because the bottom line is: Its trash in the national forest. Its trash in the wilderness and a lot of it is plastic articles and things like that.High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.