| The Downhill Report, December 1996|
Aspen Mountain, the red-hot center of schuss-n-glitz, celebrates the golden anniversary of Lift 1 this year, and despite the envious carping of critics and rivals, the place only gets better with age. And this season, as the morning light spills onto the sundeck, as the gullies and faces speckle up with skiers like a wedding cake left to the ants, these slopes will be almost entirely free of the riffraff that overrun lesser resorts: the young, the middle class, the upper middle class, anyone who naively believes that several grand ought to net you a day on the hill, dinner, a bed, and enough change to buy gas for the trip home. It's been years since I could afford it, but that's not all bad. The rich need a place of their own, after all, and clubs that are too exclusive to have me as a member are the only ones I've ever wanted to belong to.
There is some scruff left, of course. Just the right amount, actually. Someone has to spoon the caviar and hard-boil the plover's eggs; someone has to wash the dishes. And Hunter Thompson is still hanging on, although the civic dogs are on him like never before. After 30 years without an arrest that stuck, he was busted last year for driving while impaired. "A vicious political setup," he calls it. Nevertheless, the authorities are pressing the case, and whatever happens, this shot across the old pirate's bow is bound to echo as a warning that the good old days of assorted miscreant behaviors are about to be as dead as the furs in the coat check room at the Ritz.
Ah, but nothing can change the aching beauty of the place: the view off the mountain down into the prettiest river valley in the Rockies, the crisp perfection of the snow, the gnarly steeps and delicious runouts, the chance to see someone in a $3,000 Bogner jumpsuit face-plant in the middle of Corkscrew Gully. Worth whatever it costs, if you've got it, and you probably don't. Last spring, Skico, which manages the resort, scoffed at a suggestion that it might be nice to honor the golden anniversary by charging 50 bucks for a one-day lift ticket. No way, they said, were they about to roll prices back from last year's $52. And if you have a problem with that, shut up and go to Vail.