I never thought about it, which caught me off guard because I certainly have existed on the periphery of it all my life, but during the holiday season, when Aspen is packed and crazy, the people who love it in its celebratory state of confusion outnumber those of us who are not nuts about it by a ratio of about 5-to-1.
Our visitors love Aspen the most when many of us who live here like it least. Think about that. They are obviously out there with us in the traffic, crowded restaurants and City Market, for sure, because they are the ones making the traffic jams and multi-pronged checkout lines. They can’t find parking any easier than we can. You see them in their fur coats (women, too) bashing their carts through the aisles alongside us working stiffs.
In many ways, the tourists have it even worse. Many have to battle the masses at the equipment rental shops. They have to wait in the longest lines of the years to get their lift tickets. They have to put their names on a waiting list for almost every meal they eat for the week. Have you seen the line of traffic from Snowmass to Aspen at the end of the ski day? Those aren’t locals. The people who live here are backed up the other way, trying to get out of town.
Yet, none of this is the most incredible thing about this oddity of differing perspectives. What is astoundingly incredible is that our visitors are paying good money … incredible money … actually the best money that money can buy to come here during the holidays to experience the very things locals have resolved to put up with only because we are collecting all the money they are throwing around.
Yes, of course I understand that our visitors are skiing all day during this time of year when we, the haters of all things holiday around town, are slaving away, doing our best to make their lives easy, but many of us would just as soon not ski when the conditions are like this. Five-minute lift lines are common. On top of that, it is hard to witness our beautiful early-season conditions scraped off into sharp-edged moguls shading hay growing in rocky soil in the troughs between. There is nothing to be jealous about and we know it.
There is also the practical reason why visitors come this time of year. The kids are out of school and many of their businesses shut down over the holidays, so this is when they can come. Nonetheless, if they loathed the high season here as so many locals do, I don’t think they would pack up their bags of money and come like they do.
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The evidence is indisputable: $180 for one day of skiing! Why would anyone pay that much for what is arguably the worst skiing of the entire season? The answer is simple: They love the chaos of busy-season Aspen and are willing to pay a premium for causing it, even if only in some small ways. They’ll be back next year. You can’t say our visitors aren’t satisfied with what their stockings are getting stuffed.
And, yet, we are inextricably intermingled in this untangle-able juxtaposition of pleasurable versus painful interests as if we are the cord and tourists are the bulbs in a long string of decorative holiday lights wadded up into a messy ball thrown into the attic to be figured out next Thanksgiving. Like the opposing ends of magnets irresistibly flipping to attract rather than repel, they become us and we become them.
The holidays convince visitors that real estate in Aspen is a bargain. Some buy. Some move here. Shortly afterward they begin to dread the time of year that attracted them to this place to begin with. It’s funny in a strange kind of way.
At the same time, the longer we are here, the more we seem to look forward to being somewhere else. If you only had to describe it rather than explain it, you might say, the more we are exposed to this awful phenomenon of tourism in our own town, the greater the desire grows within us to become tourists ourselves and, thus, a pain in other locals’ necks somewhere else for a change.
I admit that I do not understand this oddity. I think it’s called a reality check. Yet, there is nothing to worry about after the bubble bursts. It’s just as easy then to pretend during the offseasons that we are living in a Steinbeck novel. When that wears off, we live our fantasies on a far-away beach, two weeks at a time.
Roger Marolt believes in the magic of Christmas. Email at [email protected].