Lo Semple and I are standing at the top of Ridge of Bell with a local ripper, a former freestyle skier who now judges skiing events at the X Games. I got this far with them via screaming down Copper Connector at speeds far exceeding normal warm-up pace and then barely catching my breath before it bid adieu again as we plunged into Christmas Tree, engulfed in his cloud of vaporized powder. Thank goodness for the powder! I would have been back in even thicker dust if it had been hard bumps. You can’t hang with a guy a quarter-century younger whose thing used to be blasting moguls in competitions designed for survival of the fittest.
So, I am huffing and puffing there with Lo and the young guy, Andrew Wickes. The top third of The Ridge above the ski school cut-in from Copper Bowl is officially covered with 5 inches of untracked snow, but it looks and feels more like 8-plus, which has been confirmed on the trip to get here from the top. It’s a cross between the perfect set-up to settle an old battle between Lo and me and too much adrenaline for the circulatory system to manage effectively. This could go several directions, staying on track being the least likely.
Lo thinks he’s a better skier than I am. I know he’s not. For years we have been trying to settle this in the letters section of the newspapers, but that’s turned out to be less effective than loud-mouthing about it in a bar. Now we are perched on the perfect run, under a perfectly contrasted ski, with new powder sprinkled generously over the slopes inviting us to prove our self-worth as Aspenites in front of a guy who determines alpine superiority among the pros for a living, at least some of the time. He does other things, too.
Which reminds me, we did not come here specifically to ski. Neither of us planned on this impromptu contest, although looking at Lo in his spiffy new Obermeyer jacket, I believe it might have been in the back of his mind. The costume counts, right?
What we came for was to participate in Wickes’ brilliant idea for a serial podcast. It’s called The Gondolacast and it is exactly what it sounds like. Andrew invites guests to take a couple of laps with him up the bucket and he records the conversation for others to enjoy. In between, you get to ski with a guy who does it with authority, to say the least, and collect your thoughts and assess the ski conditions for round two of the conversation. All elements for great discussions are there: captive participants in a perfectly familiar setting fully amped up to partake in the vigorous sport of skiing and hypoxia. Think about how often you have laughed, learned something interesting or nearly gotten into a fight in the gondola. It is the most interesting place in town; a petri dish for local legend.
They say talk is cheap, but that is definitely not true before a street fight or a ski-off. The stakes in both cases are inflated into the thin air of Maslow’s hierarchy. Neither Lo nor I are crass enough to tell Andrew about our rivalry; we assume he knows. And, of course, we do not ask him to watch us ski and render a verdict. That would be utterly childish, so we keep quiet and secretly hope he notices. We have faith that our prowess displayed in front of him on the boards this morning will be so overwhelmingly stunning that he won’t be able to contain his amazement at what he witnessed and will blurt out that the winner is the most incredible skier he has ever seen. It is all the better that it might be revealed on the podcast. At least I’m pretty sure this is what Lo was thinking.
We are making small talk on The Ridge, but calculating, too. Each of us knows that we can’t let Andrew take off first. If that happens, we won’t see him again until we get back to the gondola where he will be waiting for us, having missed seeing the precision of our turns and face shots. I think I see Andrew’s ski budge, so I take off in mid-sentence. Lo is right on my tails. I have to admit that the skiing was so good and so fun that I actually might have lost sight of the competition for a moment in the middle of the run. At any rate, I won. Now, it was all up to Andrew to confirm it into the infinity of cyberspace.
Sadly, he didn’t, perhaps to save Lo’s feelings. It ended up not mattering. The next ride up was even better than the first. A couple of random skiers joined us and the lift ride seemed oddly too short. Andrew is definitely onto something here. He is chronicling Aspen history in a very entertaining way. If these things are fun to listen to now, imagine their value after we are all cruising Buttermilk on artificial knees.
Roger Marolt encourages you to ask anybody other than a baby boomer how to download The Gondolacast. At least he thinks that’s how to do it. Email at [email protected].