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By Bill Fetcher
During the 1950s Aspen and Winter Park were Colorado’s only two major (which
is to say large) ski resorts, there being dozens of small ski hills throughout the state.
Aspen would become world famous as a cultural mecca with the founding of the
Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and the Aspen Music Festival in the late
‘40s. In later years these institutions, perhaps more than the skiing would lead to the
influx of moneyed celebrities and the eventual over-commercialization of the town.
But during the late ‘50s, when my dad, my two brothers, sister and I would go there
to ski, these effects had yet to kick in. Aspen was a funky little ski town. Readers
may wonder what one got for their lift-ticket dollars, at that time a scandalous $6.00
a day. Depending on your viewpoint you got either (1) quite a lot or (2) not much.
Having learned to ski on Steamboat Springs’ Howelsen Hill with its 440’ vertical
rise, along with the rope tow hill on our ranch, Aspen (Ajax) Mountain was a treat!
I’m talking of only Aspen Mountain; Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass were still
in the making. Served by five chairlifts (two singles and three doubles) the mountain
offered seemingly endless terrain on which to work on our snowplow and stem
christi turns. On the other hand there was little intermediate terrain and no slope
grooming or snowmaking, these too were a few years off.
The town itself was beginning to waken from its long years as almost a ghost mining
town. Vacant lots, run-down Victorian houses and old miner’s cabins were in
plentiful and cheap supply. The hillsides were pocked by ruins of mines and mills
with names like Smuggler and Little Nell, names that would live on in new
incarnations. The Wheeler Opera House stood as a fire-damaged hulk. At the peak
of available lodging was the Hotel Jerome, below that a few motels, lodges and
B&Bs. At the bottom was Ed’s Beds, a collection of miner’s cabins where for two
or three dollars a night you could roll out a sleeping bag on a bunk bed. For a dollar
a night you got a square marked out with yellow highway paint for your sleeping bag
on the floor of an old warehouse. There were a number of good restaurants, among
them the Red Onion and the Golden Horn, both still with us. Lost during those years
was railroad passenger service from Glenwood Springs, now badly needed.
Determined to get our $6.00 worth we would be at the No. 1 chairlift for what was
literally a milk run; before skiers could begin loading, five-gallon cans of milk from
local dairies would be sent up to the Sundeck aboard the single chairs. Aspen
Mountain is currently billed as intermediate and expert skiing only. Back then it was
all there was. Skiing its steep, bumpy slopes on (by today’s standards) primitive
equipment could be a struggle for low-intermediate skiers like my brothers and me.
For us it could be said that riding Aspen’s chairlifts was perhaps more of a thrill than
the actual skiing.
|Another View of Aspen's #1 Lift
|Aspen's Shadow Mountain lift, which
replaced the #1 single chair.