For every leisure suit in Denver, there must be a warm-up suit in Aspen. Last year there were 7,532 registered voters in the Aspen area and 5,000 participants in organized city sports, plus thousands more in sports that weren't sponsored by the city. In one 45-square-block area of downtown Aspen, there are 21 sports stores and perhaps a half dozen health centers. There are approximately 70 tennis courts in Aspen, a municipal golf course and a country club that has open membership. And outside of town, there are hundreds of miles of trout streams, hiking paths and Jeep trails.
Whether such activity draws beautiful people or creates them is arguable, but no one can suggest that Aspen does not have more than its share. To figure the age of an average Aspen local, look, at his or her body, take a reasonable guess based on what bodies should look like at certain years in life, then add about 10 years. "A lot of people come here and see all the beautiful bodies and get intimidated," says one woman with a body beautiful enough to intimidate anyone. "They go away feeling insecure and depressed. They don't realize that those bodies don't just happen; it's because they belong to athletes."
The peer pressure to reap such corporeal rewards through athletics is strong, and it's not very subtle. A lady who works at the local sailplane school says, "Recently I was writing one of those How-I-Spent-My-Summer letters and I came to realize that you've wasted your summer here unless you've done something athletic. People look at you as if they're thinking, 'What's wrong with you, anyhow?' So I learned to ride a motorcycle this summer. It's just keeping up with the Joneses on a different level."
Aspen is best known as a ski town, of course. Aspen Mountain, called Ajax by the locals (Ajax is its name from silver-mining days), is one of the great ski mountains of the world—and the town is full of people who can ski its runs well. The population of the area triples most winters to more than 30,000. Many skiers stay through the winter, decide to settle in town—and then naturally turn to summer sports.
One such is Hank Tomlinson, regarded by many as Aspen's most dedicated ski instructor—and there are 350 of them working at the four ski areas of Ajax, Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. In the summer Tomlinson plays tennis every day. "Aspen has experienced the tennis boom at least as much as the rest of the country," he says. "It's tennis mad. Courts have sprouted up all over. There are probably 20 private courts in the area, and close to 50 courts belonging to clubs and public facilities."
When Tomlinson isn't playing tennis, he sells real estate. The play-before-work order of priorities is endemic. "Hardly anybody is into making money here," says one resident. "They just like to play too much. It's tough to stay here because it's so expensive, but people find a way. The trick is to eke it out."
"Eking it out" requires resourcefulness in a town with one of the highest costs of living in the country. Last year Big Jim Furniss (6'7", 250 pounds, once a Penn State varsity tackle) announced he was going to form a company called Aerial Burial. He got the idea when his brother-in-law opened the door of an airplane to throw the ashes of a gentleman named Old Slim to the wind. One reason the company never got off the ground, so to speak, is that there's not much dying in Aspen. Another is that the test run, so to speak, was less than outstanding—the wind threw Old Slim right back in the pilot's face.
Jim Gibbons, who played tight end for the Detroit Lions from 1958 through 1967 and went to the Pro Bowl three of those years, is now a salesman for an Aspen real estate company owned by another ex-pro, Dick Fitzgerald. Both men, plus another former pro, Charley Podolak, coach junior high school football. "I was just a jock in Detroit, even though it was a big city," says Gibbons. "Here, in a town with a population of only 6,000, no one is a jock because everyone is a jock. In Aspen, I'm just Jim Gibbons. That's why I came here."
One of Gibbons' former associates, Millard Kelley, the Lions' trainer from 1955 to 1967, is the Aspen High School trainer and a physical therapist at the Aspen Alps Health Spa. He will soon become manager of a new health establishment, The Aspen Club. Kelley is 53—an old man in Aspen—and looks 43; silver hair is the only real clue to his age. His eyes are as clear as those of a teen-ager, and his body as fit as that of most men 20 years younger. "I treat a phenomenal number of injuries considering the size of this town, he says. Working on Knees and backs alone could almost keep me in business."
The experience and talents of a professional trainer like Kelley are welcome and appreciated in Aspen. No wonder; there are 48 city-league softball teams and 12 flag football teams, and the leagues include both men's and women's teams. The caliber of flag football—the rules are the same as in touch except a player is considered downed when a plastic strip is pulled from his or her waist—is high; the three ex-pros play in the league, and it is rough. But softball is the town's passion in the summer. For four years Aspen's program was supervised by an energetic man named Tom Burt, who was guided by the theory that softball is supposed to be fun. And he pushed this idea, often in frustration.