The solitary jogger padded along the valley road that ends in the ruddy face of the Maroon Bells mountain southwest of Aspen, Colo. It was early; the sun had reached the valley's western cliff, turning it to burnt sienna, but the eastern cliff was still a shadowed mauve. The landscape looked like a wedge of layer cake: a bottom layer of mist, a middle layer of mountain spotted with the fall's first snowfall, the icing formed by wind-whipped clouds and white sky. Puddles from the previous night's storm lay un-rippled on the road, and the jogger, dressed only in track shorts and a T shirt, dodged them like a halfback. Vapor puffed from his lips in measured exhales, taken on every fourth step; he knew that at Aspen's altitude, nearly 8,000 feet, the trick to breathing is in the exhale; concentrate on the exhale and the rhythm of the inhale will come on its own.
A red Monte Carlo with a white vinyl top approached from the opposite direction, the windows shut and steamy. It slowed, then stopped and the driver's window rolled down. "Excuse me," began a woman, "but does this road lead to Maroon Lake?"
"It's about a mile up," panted the runner, without breaking the rhythm of his breathing.
"Aren't you terribly cold dressed like that?" asked the woman.
"No," the runner said, responding to her look of incredulity with a small smile. "I just keep moving."
"What are you getting ready for, the ski season or something?"
The runner was not a skier. "No," he said, "just the day."
The woman was a tourist. An Aspen resident wouldn't have given the runner a second thought. Aspen is perhaps the most sports-conscious town in the country. It has the environment for virtually every athletic activity known to man. About the only thing missing is an ocean.
Aspen was once one of the greatest silver camps in the West, but the economic bottom dropped out in 1893 with the repeal of the Sherman Act. For the next four decades Aspen's population dwindled from a peak of nearly 12,000 to 600. Then, during World War II, the Tenth Mountain Division trained at nearby Camp Hale. After the war, many of its members returned to settle in Aspen and created the new boom: physical fitness. A Chicago industrialist named Walter Paepcke discovered the town and decided it would be the ideal setting for his dream of an institute, which, as he put it, would be devoted to "Man's complete life—to earn a livelihood, to enjoy nature and physical recreation and to have available facilities for education."
Paepcke, who died in 1960, saw Aspen as an American Salzburg and the town remembers him as a patron, not an exploiter. His philosophy and values are the basis of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, a renowned think tank founded in 1949. The Institute studies problems in population, communication, environment, science and technology and holds seminars on the classics and humanities each summer. For every three hours devoted to academics, at least another hour is spent in some form of physical activity.