Back in Aspen again
The Jerome was for decades just about the classiest hotel west of the Mississippi River. When it opened in 1889, this three-story red-brick pile of elegance featured hot running water, electric lights, a water-powered elevator, a greenhouse, a French chef, a livery stable and a barbershop. Room rates were higher in those days than when I stayed there 50 years later.
As early as 1935, skiers were transported in a miner’s truck from the Jerome up the back side of Aspen Mountain on old mining roads to the Midnight Mine. From there, they would strap on skins, hike to the top, and fling themselves joyously down the face of Aspen Mountain or Little Annie Basin.
Another form of transport up the hill was the “boat tow,” a device that pulled eight skiers at a time to the bottom of “the Corkscrew” at the base of Roch Run. The “boat” was made from parts of discarded mining equipment and ran about 400 vertical feet up the mountain, giving us a good slalom slope on which to practice technique and creating some exciting bumps at the bottom of the downhill course.
Aspen had been a skiing wonderland for us back in army days, but now I felt I had arrived at the absolute center of the skiing universe. The longest chairlift in the world was going up. Some of the best trails ever to grace a mountain were being sculpted and cleared on Aspen: Ruthie’s Run, Spar Gulch, Silver Queen.
It seemed as if every great skier in the U.S. – many of whom were my colleagues from the 10th Mountain Division – was there. But we never spent much time reminiscing about the war. We didn’t talk about the comrades we had left in Europe or the crippled ones who would never make it back to Aspen. We had what we wanted here – our old army friends and our new Aspen friends, all mixed together in a grand melting pot of skiing.
In the early morning we would grab a bite to eat, pack our lunches, and trudge over to the bottom of the new Number 1 lift. The lift towers flowed up the mountain and out of sight near the top of the Corkscrew. The cable had not yet been strung, but the very sight of this shiny new lift made us want to sing out loud as we loaded onto the trucks that would take us up the mountain. Once on top, we worked at tree-cutting and cleaning up the slash that remained after the merchantable timber had been hauled down the steep, winding roads to the base.
The days all flowed together. It grew colder, and we watched the skies to the west for the first signs of winter. Finally the cable was spliced, the chairs were hung on the new Heron lift, the cleanup was finished, and we were ready to ski.
This is the 25th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Five, entitled “Colorado Days.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.