Aspen is the City of Lights for American skiers. There are resorts that have steeper slopes, and there are others with deeper powder or more exclusive clientele; but none can match the variety of the skiing or the rousing night life of the little Rocky Mountain town 217 miles west of Denver.
Aspen draws the country's sophisticated skiers by the lodgeful. They come, like the skiers in the picture above, to enjoy the superb Alpine atmosphere, to ski the miles of trails and to join the round of after-ski dinners and parties for which Aspen is famous. They come by plane from New York and San Francisco, by car from Texas and Michigan, and by rail from Denver on the California Zephyr winding over and under the Rockies to the nearby town of Glenwood Springs.
When they arrive in Aspen, they see a bustling boom town. But Aspen has not always been this way, nor has it been this way long. In fact, 12 years ago it was a half-deserted mining village. Aspen boomed in the 1880s as a silver-mine metropolis, complete with a $90,000 opera house and a mile-long race track. When the price of silver dropped in 1893, Aspen went bust and stayed busted for 50 years.
Then, in 1945, Walter Paepcke, then president of the Container Corporation of America, arrived in town to buy land for a permanent summer cultural festival he hoped to establish. Paepcke found two things in Aspen: real estate lots selling for as little as $85 apiece, and an ex-Army mountain troop ski instructor named Friedl Pfeifer, who thought Aspen could be the greatest ski town in the U.S.
Paepcke listened to Pfeifer and set out to raise money for a lift. Out of this collaboration came the Aspen of 1958: five soaring ski lifts, half a mountain cleared of trees for skiing, some 40 ski lodges, and a real estate bonanza that has ordinary lots selling for $4,000 to $5,000. The president of the Container Corporation of America is now known here as "Mr. Paepcke that made everything possible."
The focus of Aspen skiing is the wonderful snow bowl at the start of the Dipsy Doodle trail. This is the favorite habitat of the mass of intermediate skiers. The bowl serves also as warmup territory for advanced skiers on their way to running the fine powder slopes on either side of Bell Mountain, the steep pitches of the two-mile Silver Queen trail, or the really tough moguls (lay translation: snow mounds) down Ruthie's Run.
Below the Dipsy Doodle is a huge gorge known as Spar Gulch. Spar's friendly, smooth floor, some 30 yards wide, provides an exhilarating funnel down to the top of Little Nell, a beginner's slope with its own double chair and special set of beginner's moguls.
A word should be said here about the moguls, Aspen variety. They are not to be confused with the eastern kind, which usually grow in well-separated groups of twos and threes. Aspen's are bunched like waves in a choppy sea. The efficient ski school run by Co-Directors Friedl Pfeifer and Fred Iselin teaches skiers how to handle them in controlled runs, but moguls can be murder at high speed.
Unacclimated skiers have discovered that storming down Aspen trails leaves them with just enough strength to crawl into bed by the end of the day, an unfortunate result because the after-skiing night life is too good to miss.
The easiest way for skiers to start the evening is to make the final Christy of the day at the door of the Skiers' Chalet at the base of No. 1 lift and go on in for a beer. Or they can pull up at Little Nell Cafe and get a bourbon toddy and a delicious bowl of oyster stew. This strictly American fare gives way to the European influence at Guido's Swiss Inn, a little farther into town. Guido offers Gl�hwein, a hot spiced wine pick-me-up best topped off with some of Guido's Swiss pastry.